Pull up a chair, and get out your reading glasses. I wrote a big one. It's long. That's what she said. No, really, a girl said that the blog post was really long. Anyway, back in '06(?) i went on a solo trip to south east asia where i encountered weird experience after weird experience. I wrote this experience for an ebook that never happened, but i have been itching to get it out on the interweb for my mom to read. Good luck!!!!
As I entered Vietnam, a sick, yet exhilarating, yet definitely sick feeling entered my stomach. Looking back, the most likely culprit was the food, but at the time, I was under the assumption it was something else. “What am I doing here?” was a question I had asked myself just about every day since I’d left home.
When I started my trip a month before, I had high expectations of life changing events. I was in Thailand and had loosely planned a trip to tour around South East Asia in hopes that I could beef up my photography portfolio. At least that’s what I told myself. In retrospect, I was there for different reasons. I had grown up In rural Idaho and will admit that I was somewhat sheltered from the world on a macro scale. Sure, I understood people. My super-human ability to empathize had left me tearing up to Hallmark commercials on more than one occasion, but I wanted more. I wanted to see life for myself. Not the cookie cutter life I had grown up with, but real life. The daily struggle to survive. The struggle to etch out an existence in this complete and utter mad house.
The stamp on my passport was still wet and I considered going back to Cambodia. I would have done so but I was no more comfortable there than I was in Vietnam and it would have been a hassle to go back through the border. The guards had eye-balled me as I made my way through and I was convinced that the more time spent under their hawk-like gaze, the more likely I was to end up In jail. I hate confrontation, the very thought of it gives me subtle panic attacks. Not noticeable to anyone buy myself.
I pressed on, flagged down a moto and started heading towards Ho Chi Minh City. As I sat on the back, with the wind whipping through my hair, my eyes closed. “I’m in Vietnam”. The stresses of travel drifted away like the Galileo space probe and the thought slowly rolled through the insides of my brain. As it did, a smile crept across my face. I had traveled for these exact moments. The moments when you realize that you’re in an incredible country surrounded by a fascinating culture and so much of it is at your fingertips. The world around you seems to beg to be explored and you are ready to explore it.
Unfortunately, it seems that when you travel, you have more of the “other” moments. The moment you realize you have just been robbed, missed your bus, or are completely lost. Or the moment when you realize that the food you ate the night before is no longer in agreements with your stomach and has decided to make some strategic attacks on your lower intestine, which in turn leaves you with messy underwear, and since you don’t have any extra underwear, you’re forced to just throw them in to a canal and go commando. It’s these moments in particular that seem to be permanently cemented in my mind.
After a certain number of incredibly weird experiences In Vietnam, one of which was getting destroyed in badminton by the oldest tiniest lady I had ever seen, I boarded a bus bound for Vientiane, the capital of Laos. The bus ride, which took 24 hours, was hands down the second worst travel experience of my life. Sitting three to a two person seat, no room to sit normally, i had to awkwardly lean my legs one direction or the other. Bags of (i’m assuming) rice in the isle, chickens right behind me, probably goats on the other side, and one angry faced Americano waiting to punch people in the face. That was the bus ride. The experience that comes in at number one, happened about a week after the bus ride from hell.
The loud obnoxious drone of the giant engine pierced through the jungle and continued towards the cosmos. I was now in the process of leaving Laos on a slow boat, loaded to the brim with tourists, heading up the Mekong to the border of Thailand. As i sat there, wearing my tan Carhartts and green t-shirt, the same tan Carhartts and green t-shirt I had worn the previous 5 weeks, I tried to differentiate myself from all the other foreigners on the boat. What set me apart from them? I wracked my brain, trying to find any sort of distinction, but gave up after a couple hours and just decided I was cooler for no other reason than the fact that I had facial hair. Extremely scruffy facial hair.
Eff . . . . I chose the slow boat because a) it was cheaper; b) I didn’t have to be in Thailand for a couple days; c) I didn’t have to wear a helmet; and d) I was told that I might in fact die if I tried the faster boats, thus the reason for the helmet. I often wish I would have risked the fast boat, but I didn’t so I was stuck. The drone continued infiltrating my soul. BAAAAAAA. LIterally, I could write that for days because that’s how long it went on for. 2 effing days.
It actually wasn’t that bad (it was). After a couple hours on the first day, I got “used” to it enough so that I was able to start processing thought. First I started with single words. Tired, Hungry, Lonely, Bored, Noisy. Comfort. Then my thoughts turned to complete sentences. I’m tired. I’m hungry. I’m lonely. I’m bored. It’s noisy. I’m not comfortable. Once I realized what I was thinking, I made my way to the back of the boat to find a better place to relax. That’s when I found it.
A nice looking 3 part folding chair was hidden amongst the other “things” that were on the boat. It was sort of a recliner. I was so excited. I didn’t have to sit on the wooden bench that had plagued my lower back any longer. I could now sit in the lap of luxury. Or at least the lap of a cheap wooden recliner. I moved my meager belongings back underneath my new found chair and laid down. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to sleep, but I was hell-bent on relaxing. After what seemed like definitely less than 10 seconds, it was obvious that I wasn’t going to relax, but I could at least lay down instead of sit up. I figured it would have to do.
After about an hour of laying down, I had to relieve myself, so I got up, ran back to the toilet (a hole in the boat) and did my business. I moseyed back to my chair only to find an ugly, hairy Canadian (i’m assuming he’s canadian because he was ugly and hairy) laying in my chair. His beady eyes (i’m guessing), sitting behind his pedophile sunglasses with his pervy mustache covering up his face. “What a pervert”, I thought to myself. I also thought that my bags underneath the chair had qualified as a seat save, but I guess Canadians don’t know these rules. I stood there for a minute, not knowing what to do. When I finally got enough courage, I walked over and made a huge passive aggressive scene of grabbing my bags from underneath my chair. He didn’t even flinch. “well played” I thought to myself.
Discouraged, but not broken, I once again searched for a place to hang out. I tried laying on some things, but that didn’t work so I wandered to the edge of the boat to watch the scenery slowly creep by. Every so often, my heart would sink as I would watch a fast boat rip past us. The occupants looking at us with what I can only presume was a look of pity/enjoyment/fear of death on their face. They looked like they were having so much fun. Eff the slow boat.
After what seemed like an eternity of feeling sorry for myself, that actually only turned out to be five minutes, I once again started searching for a place to pass the time. After about 10 minutes of heavy searching, I found another lawn chair type thing. It was like a less exciting Christmas all over again. I set it up towards the back and resumed laying down. I was in heaven. . . . . . Or at least limbo.
After an hour or so, I had the urge to urinate (I should have stopped drinking water), so I made sure to set my bags on my chair, which clearly is a seat save, and walked back to the bathroom. After the deed was done, I made my way back to my chair only to find the exact same ugly Canadian in my new chair. He was laying there smugly, still wearing his sunglasses, shielding his eyes from the sun, and from my look of consternation. I stood by, speechless. In awe of what this man had so boldly done. I looked around at others who were acutely aware of the situation and was met with eyes that said, “don’t know what to tell you, that guy is obviously an alpha male and you are not”. My mind raced.
I would like to tell you that I picked him up with my super human strength and hurled him overboard, the crowd cheering all the while. I would like to tell you that I talked to him like a gentlemen and asked him to dual. I would be psyched to tell you that I WWF’ed him up from the top of the boat. I would even be ok with telling you that I took a cheap shot and punched him in the head from behind, but I didn’t. I didn’t do anything. I grabbed my bags that he had moved and went and found a different place to hang out.
The day seemed to move slower after that. I was convinced that the captain slowed it to an idle, because it seemed to last forever. I ended up sitting next to a japanese girl who knew a bit of English. We chatted back and forth, struggling to communicate. After a while, we had said everything we could say to each other and I drifted off.
That night, we all stayed in a town along the river. The hostel’s walls were paper thin and I spent most of the night listening to a guy from Nepal hit on the Japanese girl. It was painful, yet I found it to be incredibly funny. If I had popcorn, It would have been like listening to an entertaining movie through an incredibly thin wall at a hostel in the middle of Laos, but I didn’t have popcorn, so I just laid there with a stupid grin on my face, chuckling to myself. After his failure, I heard him leave, I pounded on the wall. It took a couple tries, but she finally answered. I asked her how her date went, then burst into laughter. No response. The next day, we awkwardly avoided eye contact the entire trip. It was weird. Really really weird.
The rest of the trip went off without a hitch. And by hitch, I mean I didn’t die, or get any limbs cut off, however I was still stuck on that boat. Traveling up the River Styx, in my own personal hell. Luckily for me, in the grand scheme of things, two days isn’t really that big of deal and life was moving forward.
I met up with my friends on Christmas day, and we spent the rest of the time wandering around, getting lost, and generally having a good time.
One thing i’ve learned from all of my travels, aside from carrying more than one pair of underwear, is to try and be as non-confrontational as possible, in every situation. Nobody likes confrontation and most everyone will do anything to avoid it. If you have trouble remembering that, try memorizing this short little ditty: When in doubt, smooth things out. But if push comes to shove, and shove comes to shank, make sure that you’re the one shanking first because heaven knows you don’t want to be shanked. It would hurt really really bad.