Osama Bin Laden Is Now Dead, Enjoy Your Flight. Vietnam: Part 1
“Really @SLUTLUST is writing his will on twitter #soft” @Scarlettsmithin
I have a 7:30pm flight to Vietnam on May 3rd. I wake up at 12pm. My girlfriend is already packed and at work counting down the hours to our adventure time. My stuff is part in the dry cleaners, part in the laundry, and half in a pile on my bedroom floor. I still don’t have a traveling bag. She sends me a couple of BBM’s making sure I’m ready and on time. I selfishly masturbate, smoke a blunt, and watch the Daily Show. Osama Bin Laden is now dead and my paranoia needed a travel forecast.
Her BBMs are now turning in text messages and phone calls. I wipe the blunt ashes off my chest and start my day in the middle of the afternoon. It’s 1pm when I get my laundry out. 1:45 when I bump into Frog at the barber shop on Allen Street and make an appointment for around 2:30. I love how I can always walk in and always find a barber available. My dry cleaning still isn’t done. 2:15pm when I pass my brother in front of The Hotel On Rivington on my way to get a military bag from the Army & Navy store on Houston Street. I haven’t even seen a boarding pass and I’ve already spent 200 bucks. While paying for the bag I tell the Korean cashier where I’m going;
“Oh you be careful out there, they a little confused…”
Excuse me? Whatever, can’t think about that at the moment. I glanced at the glass counter and look for a Cambodian anti – cannibal repellant. Did he really just tell me that? When I’ve been all apprehensive about going to some jungle where they don’t speak English and Hanoi – North Vietnam – where they don’t like Americans?! I run back to the Barbershop and get my shape up. By the time I pick up my dry cleaning and give the yellow cab driver my traditional one dollar tip its 3:54pm I’m supposed to pick up Kara at her job on the way to Kennedy airport by 4:30. Her phone calls and text message has now turned into a full multi social network – anyway she can get a hold of me – blitz. I literally have to turn my ringer off in order to concentrate and perform the fastest packing job ever on this side of procrastination.
I arrive at her job 4:45 after bickering over the directions provided by Google Maps. Our anger turns into an anxious vibration of anticipation. She passive aggressively attacks me with the dictionary sized travel itinerary she has prepared for us. I joke about how I’m just going to be the dumb trophy of a blonde on this trip. She knows me all too well; our flight really isn’t until 9pm.
Here I am – once again – in front of TSA. I don’t know why I’m so afraid of these checkpoints. I have nightmares thinking about a half empty bag of coke I might have in my tiny jean pocket or some weed residue I might have in my wallet. Can you go to jail for the redness in your eyes? I stop at the bathroom before I pass the checkpoint. I’m wearing a business blue Gap button down with some dirty “tan” Converse, blue jeans with the American flag sown into the back pocket, and a athletic grey t shirt with the words “Under new Management” in the shape of the United States- a great outfit for the 4th of July or voting for a black guy, not so great for traveling to a communist/ socialist county. Did I mention my glasses were red shop class/ scientist goggles? The traveling hipster from New Yawk city! I clear myself of any accidental contraband and move my Yankee Doodle Dandy ass on.
Kara somehow walks right through security wearing what could be called a designer dagger hanging off her neck. We were leaving Singapore by the time anyone even questions it.
Dude we just killed Osama Bin Laden.
Kara points to page 67 in her itinerary. We have a stop in Frankfort, Germany. I thought the flight was 20 hours turns out its 300. I’m excited about all the airplane food and the muscle relaxer I’m going to take the minute Kara stops keeping it from me. I dose in and out of sleep, only waking up to eat or adjust myself like trying to fit that snake Rubik Cube toy they used to sell in the 80’s into a trapezoid box. We joke about the Mile High Club and have one awkward trip to the bathroom. Fucking travel geeks. I lock the door – then she can’t get in – and she knocks – I panic and don’t open the door. I walk out; we laugh and collapsed into our corniness.
Germany is weird. People are riding bikes in the airport. There’s something haunting and Aryan white about it – real Children of The Corn-ish. Even the chubby German at the gate with the soft chin and turkey neck seem intimidating. This is the first time I’ve been in a county that has been at war with the United States. War. That’s right we just killed Bin Laden. Now my eyes are darting everywhere, looking for terrorist like a Dominican Elmer Fudd during “wabbit season”. All I see is the little Asian kid that would later kick the back of my seat all the way to Vietnam. I take a deep breath and try to ignore the newspapers reminding me of the extraordinary time I am living in. Couldn’t escape it – it was written on the carton of duty free Camel cigarettes I brought for a steal.
Singapore Airlines is just an orgy of food. They feed you every hour on the hour, making it impossible to sleep – or stop eating. It doesn’t help my cannibal argument. Are they fattening us up? My eye remains glued to the LCD screen the embedded in the seat 2 inches in front of my nose. My eyes slowly dilating as the little plane crawls over the Middle East. The Middle East? I press my nose against the window. It’s dark as shit outside minus the full and pregnant clouds we were flying over. Then I see the lighting. The clouds lighting up like they covered some cosmic pinball machine. There was no mention of bad weather. I had seen the weather being told in about 5 different languages by that time. Kara tries to convince me otherwise but my paranoia mushes her in the face. That’s war. Holy shit that’s war…
When I arrive in Singapore I take the deepest breath of my life. And I’m surprised that unlike Broome Street back in Chinatown NYC, Asia doesn’t stink.
Singapore has an amusement park of an airport. You can surf on the Coy fish that swim in the lake that’s in the middle of a super mall of an airport. I found a DJ lounge. They offer an outside smoking section surrounded by sunflowers and bamboo sticks and the most relaxed security ever. Someone mentions a spa and a rollercoaster but forgets to mention how huge the airport is. I smoke 3 Camels in a row and re-board, praying that little fuck of an un-aborted Asian sperm got on another flight or at least another seat. I settle on being grateful I made it over the Middle East alive – the karate kid is, once again, right behind me.
Kara is a doll the entire flight, even taking it upon herself to physically threaten the kid and vigilantly glare at him from time to time to keep him in check. She mixes this up with a few Cambodian cannibal jokes to keep the experience interesting. I try to read the Keith Richards book in a panic but find it hard to read like a collage made by a heroin addict. The longest I’ve ever been on a flight before this was maybe 5 hours. This is now hour number 28. My clothes started to feel tighter than usual. This is a flying traveling triathlon. Kara patiently stokes my dreads until I settle to a quiet purr. I stare at the fasten seatbelt sign until it finally goes off.
I’m in Vietnam.
Our Hostel has arranged transportation for us from the airport to the front desk. Thank God. This is the first time I don’t complain about Kara’s meticulous planning. The airport itself is frenetic in the sense that every inch of it is trying to hustle you. Everyone sounds like they are screaming and angry or rabid and confused. It reminds me of the corruption I used to deal with when going to the Dominican Republic. I pretend I’m on the floor of the New York Stock exchange taking the best offer for anything that makes sense. Soon we are ushered past the tiny military men with their machine guns and are in our van. The car ride vacuums out the loudness and randomness of the city down to a gentle hum of the air conditioning. I catch my breath and squeeze the shit out of my Asian Adventure teammate as I realize I am totally in her hands. She has the itinerary with copies of our visas, passports, embassy numbers, and social security numbers, DNA samples. All of my money is in her bank account. Guess I won’t be starting any fights with her. Kara has now gone from my travel companion to my international life raft.
We arrive at 9 May May in Hoan Kiem, Hanoi: The capitol of Vietnam. Imagine the corner of Rivington St. and Ludlow in the town of The Corner of Rivington St. and Ludlow or Canal St. in the capitol of Canal St. The streets are just so full of “stuff”. Nick-knacks for a bottom feeder of an economy. Everything is a bootleg of something else. Everyone is busy moving around at a rapid spread – faster than money fluctuating – and I can’t capture anything because I’m fumbling with 2 film cameras dangling off my wrist and holy shit it smells like cinnamon!!!
I go from frazzled traveler to curious child. I let Kara handle absolutely everything. I’m on vacation from my vacation.
Our Hostel is an open door dorm room filled with foreign bros and a lobby that doubles as an internet café and bar. The novelty of this is quickly erased when I realize I can’t log on to FaceBook because it’s blocked by the government. Everyone here speaks decent English and is polite with a mix of apathy. I assume it comes from the loud music and the party hardy bar-tending that’s encouraging everyone to dance on the bar. Kara and I give each other the “way too old for this” look. They’re playing an abundant amount of Mexican music. Are Mexicans even in Vietnam?! Kara tells me Vietnam is known as the Cancun for Australian alcoholics.
Wait, what day is this?
It’s the afternoon of a cloudy and humid May 5th. I started flying May 3rd. It’s May 4th in New York City. I decide not to fix any of my watches.
Our room is beautiful. The first thing I notice is the water hose near the toilet. For a 3rd world country they are pretty serious about hygiene down there. The room is decorated in warm Persian/ Oriental colors with Indian influences. I immediately pick that up when I jump on the bed. It’s literally a comforter over a queen sized wooden board. I lift off the covers to see if I’m sleeping on a bed of needles. Great, a huge cutting board for chopping up tourist. Sleeping off a little jetlag is now out of the question. I change my T-shirt and take my exhausted girlfriend to hit the ”Saucy Aussie” bar downstairs before a little sightseeing.
The streets of Vietnam are an episode of Fear Factor for anyone traumatized by a car accident. Having walked away from an accident less than a year ago myself, I Trojan Horse my fear into a hybrid of vacant amusement and fickle fascination. The traffic reminds me of a row of moped riding ants carrying large crumbs shaped like cars and trucks overflowing with cargo – or junk I couldn’t tell. Everything is so 3D I remove my poser glasses and put my aware face on. Kara is visibly nervous for me. She takes my hand as maneuvers me through the old Vietnamese women selling us weird fruits and the young kids in fake Dolce and Gabbana shades trying to sell us weed off their motorbikes.
Her hands have never felt softer.
“Hoan Kiem Lake (Vietnamese: Hồ Hoàn Kiếm, meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” or “Lake of the Restored Sword”, also known as Hồ Gươm – Sword Lake) is a lake in the historical center of Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam. The lake is one of the major scenic spots in the city and serves as a focal point for its public life.”
After leaving a “traditional offering” at Ngoc Son Temple, we take a stroll around the Hoan Kiem Lake. Life seems slower here, little kids are swinging on trees while couples sit near the water. Every once in a while I jump at the sound of a motorbike because there are so fucking many of them. What calms me down is the sight of the floating gardens, these beautiful patches of flowers that float in the middle of the late. Kara tells me about the floating village we will see when we go to Cambodia. The humidity is now a wet and sticky breeze coming from the lake as the sun starts to take a dip in it. The vibe feels like a good blow job with the possibility of being caught… It’s dark, early, in a strange place – we opt for food and a few more drinks back at Cinco de Mayo Hell, aka our hostel, and brave the streets of Hanoi again.
Our 1st dinner in Hanoi: Beef Pho, shrimp fritters, some strange spicy fish, pineapple beef, chicken stuffed with mushrooms, & honey fried bananas. We water bottle everything in fear of some intestinal bug we can get from the tap. Of course the notion is silly, what do you think they wash the food and cook in? Whatever, we go into our table like fancy pants Americans just off a hunger strike. Next to us is a table full of European Businessmen in town for some banking conference. We scoff at them like they are petty tourist – with their ordering like they know the place – and swear we would never be like that. We pay our bill with our noses turned high as I put my 3 cameras away in a fanny pack and Kara puts the receipt and change in an envelope given to us when we exchanged our currency.
Our walk back to the hostel is more confident and romantic. The idea of war/ cannibalism/ being locked up abroad/ kidnapping and extortion/ basically anything that could go wrong on foreign land- and all the fears I had soon start to ebb away with every motorcycle I successfully dodge. I stop and take pictures of everything now, being careful as to not seem exploitive. Everywhere I go the kids point and laugh. I assume it’s my hair. The teenagers look at me with some MTV familiarity and everyone calls for me by yelling “Yo YO YO!” The elders looked at me like I’m some weird ancient living spell or an anomaly of existence while the grown men could care less unless I was going into my wallet.
I’m more concerned with the communist police force and their leathery cigar smoking faces – terrifying like socialist flesh eating zombies.
The color red is everywhere. I soon get used to it and play it up. I treat it like a walk in the Lower East Side complete with undercover police and people I kind of know and wish to avoid – except here I really don’t know anyone here. Not even the little Vietnamese boy, who runs up to me, casually pulls down his underwear, and pisses right on my expensive basketball sneakers.
I’m not even mad. It’s my first hearty laugh of what will turn out to be the most epic adventure of my life.
The look on Kara’s face…
Even the Australian drunk that streaked naked past us while Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” blasted out of our ultra dorm hostel’s speakers as we were walking in, couldn’t change it.