Sa Pa

In the spirit of This American Life and Ira Glass, I offer today’s post in two chapters. 1) Hey now, I’m a rock star. 2) The joys of motorcycling.

Chapter 1) Journeying through a rather non-desript life, I’ve always been waiting for my 15 minutes of fame. Traveling through the backroads of Vietnam may have finally satisfied that. Our guide is taking us to where tourists rarely go, and therefore anybody that is not Asian gets a wave, a hearty "Hello!", and sometimes the best "Hello, I love you!".  It helps that I try to ride at the rear of our motorcade (only three bikes), usually behind the French couple. The husband has a long white beard that gets numerous double takes, stares, smiles, and even a few "Santa!" cheers. Following him, I witness the stumbles, the almost-bike-wrecks, and the general neck strains from people trying to get a better look at this strange couple on a motorbike. By the time they see me, if they have recovered from the shock, they make sure and greet me as enthusiastically as possible, including kids running out from houses, parents holding their kids high to get a good look, and school girls giggling and yelling hello despite their better training.

Now don’t pop my bubble by assuming that any foreigner would get the same response. I’d rather live in my own world where the grapevine has notified everyone of my imminent arrival, and my faithful fans are enjoying the only glimpse of me that they will have their whole life. Delusion is a good thing, and I think I’ll stick to my status of a rock star for at least a few more days.

Chapter 2) For many of you, my joy of motorcycling is either a mystery or a unfortunate phase that I will hopefully outgrow. However, imagine this: Riding the back roads of Vietnam, every moment is a sensory explosion. You’re not just seeing the country, you’re feeling, smelling, hearing, and tasting the country as you move through the changing air in your breath, the changing earth underneath your wheels, and the changing personalities of each face that you see not through a impersonal pane of glass in a vehicle that isolates you, but a mode of transportation that almost bridges the personal space of the people as you ride by.

Img_2611After climbing a mountain pass, watching the flora change from rice paddies to slope side gardens, to sparse natural plants, and finally to native jungle, you smell the change as much as you see it. Each patch of earth and the plants in it give the landscape a third dimension, filling it out and making almost like you are taking a bite out of it and chewing as you move on. Suddenly, you enter the clouds that have been above you the whole time, masking sounds, trapping time in an ethereal other-world experience that you’re not sure is reality. Cresting the pass, you slip the bike into neutral and turn off the engine. Now there isn’t even the sound of mechanical parts to interrupt the bonding with the environment. You watch with amazement as the clouds part, revealing a completely different landscape and flora, and you get the feeling you are a ghost, a spirit riding through a world that is not your own, watching light dance off of distant slopes, water glistening off of waterfalls, and the wind caressing the luxuriant grasses and trees. The downslope eases, the road changes, and you’re forced to start the engine again, transporting you back to a more solid state, where now you can interact with the people that start to appear again on the roadside and in the landscape. Img_2628_2

This is what motorcycling is all about – not just riding through an environment, but being part of the environment. 

I will send further updates with less esoteric descriptions of my experiences (including pictures), but that will have to wait for another day. My fans are waiting….

Categories: Travel

2 replies »

  1. You should really read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, unless you wrote it :). Happy bug eating!

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