A Vietnamese boatman
Petal Power – Page Two
By Lisa Lubin
But at the top instead of being greeted by fans, we were faced with eager salesladies that I’m pretty sure managed to sell every one of us a bead bracelet or two.
They know all the tactics that probably take four years of business school: they get to know their client first, asking our names and where we are from, they develop a relationship with us and then go in for the kill and then you feel too guilty to say ‘no’ since they invested all this time with you. But of course, if that doesn’t work with them, they always resort to more guilt-inducing tactics.
“Buy from me.”
“Please buy from me, I talk to you, Lisa.”
“Please, I need money for my baby.”
“OK, how much?”
After some bartering, I’d pay about $1.20 for a bracelet. It’s so cheap and goes a long way for these ladies; it just seems silly to have even said ‘no’ in the first place. But I guess it’s all part of the game. Plus they basically follow you around until you buy something anyway.
The wonderful payoff of the pass was heading down the eleven kilometers on the other side. We hit speeds of close to 30 mph, which is pretty fast on a bike, and cruised down the mountain with a wonderful cooling breeze in our faces.
This time I was one of the first to the bottom… love the speed.
Now, on our way to Hoi An, we cruised past the infamous China Beach where U.S. soldiers went for a little ‘R & R’ during the Vietnam War (or American War as they call it here — makes sense, I guess).
Inevitably I always ended in the back of the herd, many times because I would stop and take photos while many of the girls raced on by, but mostly because I just wasn’t as fast as them and didn’t care to try to be –- that’s not why I was doing this ride.
Many of these girls were on a mission to be number one, whereas I was on a mission to just get good exercise and see the country from this unique perspective.
The author with kids
Another thing that inevitably slowed me down were these amazingly adorable kids that we would pass on the way. As we cruised by, eager kids greeted us with excited ‘hellos’ every few yards the entire way.
I’ve never seen such innocent smiles as the kids would run out of their homes and drop anything and everything just to be able see us and to shout their one English word. I’ve never heard so many “hellos” shouted at me in my entire life.
Plus from all the cyclists that go this route over the years they have learned to do hand slaps. I would slow down and give them a “high five” as I whizzed by. And then you would hear their chuckles as you continued down the road to the next group of excited kids. These are mostly incredibly poor kids, that couldn’t look happier. It always made me smile to see them, even if bugs were getting in my teeth. And I did my best to wave and say hello to each one knowing it made their day.
Happy Tree, Happy Rock
During my two-week cycle trip, not only did I improve my cycling skills and stamina, I also began to master the art of peeing outdoors (enjoy that image) and using the infamous Asian “squat toilets.”
Some of these are in a stall just like at home except instead of a toilet bowl, there is just a hole and porcelain bowl shape in the floor. So like the name says, you have to squat over it. Of course, I had to do this while balancing as to not touch anything around me plus keep my shorts out of the line of fire and avoid getting any splatter on my shoes or ankles.
It actually wasn’t so bad as long as you brought toilet paper in with you and also tried to hold your breath because the rank, stale smell of urine was a bit unpleasant (that’s an understatement).
The even more basic ‘latrines’ we’d come across consisted of a tile trough in the floor with raised blocks for your feet. There were literally pairs of blocks in a row where several bladder-full women could squat together and have a lovely little pee.
Of course, when we came upon this we went one at a time. Not only is it unpleasant getting splattered with your ‘own,’ you certainly don’t want someone else’s getting on you!
It’s very common in Vietnam and other parts of Asia for people to just pull alongside the road and have a little bathroom break. Men usually just turn their backs to the street, while the women do usually go behind a tree or bush.
The Intrepid tour leaders called these “happy trees, happy bush, or happy rock.” Once we stopped on a coffee plantation — in which it was “happy coffee bush.” Coffee trees were good because they are a bit taller and good for a little private moment. I much preferred the ‘happy tree’ to the squat toilet — at least you could breathe in the fresh air and the bottoms of your shoes weren’t standing in urine. You can go take a bathroom break now if you need to.
The Final Stretch
The home stretch
After a night of hilarious Karaoke with our whole group and even our truck drivers, we all descended from Dalat, in the Central Highlands, for our final ride of the trip. It was kind of bittersweet.
I remembered back before the trip started and during some of the first few rides, I was second guessing my decision to do this two week adventure as I huffed and puffed my way across the countryside. Some days the heat was utterly unbearable and the hills were too many and too steep for my legs and lungs.
Our final day we rode about 60 kilometers down through the lush green mountainsides of coffee and tea crops.
The first part was my favorite—all downhill and super fast. The last 30 kilometers or so was what our guide called “undulating” which meant some up hills and some downhills. It would be ‘same same, but different.’ This is a popular phrase in Vietnam. It basically means ‘similar’ and you hear it all the time. There are even t-shirts here printed with the phrase.
Learning the ropes
I let most of the group pass me and got into my own rhythm and loved it, hills and all. I was finally hitting my stride and it was our last day. Or maybe psychologically, I knew it was our last day so it was just easier.
But ‘same same’ as on previous days, just when I would start to wither from exhaustion and heat with sweat pouring into and stinging my eyes, local kids would be smiling and waving at me as I rode past, just in time to take my mind off any exhaustion I was feeling.
Now, I welcomed the dust in my face, horrible exhaust fumes up my nose, and horns honking in my ears. It was all a part of this amazing country — alive, growing and vibrant.
I had trouble not smiling most of the time that I was riding — a problem because of bugs flying into my mouth.
Nearly all the people we met along the journey were extremely poor, but extremely happy and friendly. As I’ve said before, most tours are good or bad depending on the people. And this one proved that once again.
Not only were most of the girls fun and friendly, it was the truck driver, our bus driver, Loi, our wonderful leader, Phuc, and the people of Vietnam that made it special.
They all made the trip so good for us and we were all in it together. We rode together, we drank together, ate together, took mud baths together, and sang together.
Mot, Hai, Ba….Yooooo! (One, Two, Three, Cheers!!!)
||Lisa Lubin is an Emmy-award winning TV Writer/Producer from ABC Chicago who gave it all up (at least for now!) to travel the world. You can read more about her travels on her website: LLworldtour.com.|
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