I don’t know if I screamed before I crawled on my bleeding knees through the dust to turn the key of the fallen motorbike. Nothing, but a bit of my pride, hurt at that moment.
A Vietnamese man grabbed my hand, while another propped the motorbike back up on its kickstand. He led to me a water tank, gave me soap and a bucket and motioned for me to wash the dust off of myself—he disappeared into a near by hut.
My friend had yelled Oh my god! after the fall. She watched it, it could have been worse, but we were still not in a good position. Vulnerable. She watched him prop up the bike and he signaled for her to join him to drink something.
The man returned with a tin of Tiger Balm, he slathered my cuts with the medicated cream, but only after he patted my legs, arms and hand dry with a clean cloth. Kindness. He placed the tin in my palm and closed my hand, meaning that this was for me to keep. Generosity.
He led me to where my friend was drinking green tea and playing a game of language barrier charades with another Vietnamese man, this was a game we had both mastered after months of being expats. After many rounds we won, and had communicated the story of the broken bike. The Vietnamese, mechanical motorbike geniuses, took 15 minutes and had solved the problem. Go-getters. They asked for nothing in return and sent us on our way.
This was my favorite Vietnamese moment.
As I’ve begun this trip, I’m finding myself saying that this is not a trip, a vacation or a holiday. I am traveling. Someone who is on a vacation is packing in, planning their days, making lists and getting things done; someone who is traveling is observing, they are relaxing and being somewhere.
Last week I found my way up to Pai, Thailand. I arrived in awe of the mountains, ready to tour the wats and hike the trails bathe in a waterfall and soak in the hot springs. Tuesday night I settled into my bungalow about to walk the town and taste one of the meals I had heard about from the amazing restaurants that were recommended in my travel books. Instead, on my way to town the bungalow owners stopped me and handed me a beer and a bag of bugs: “here, you do this,” he showed me how to pull the wings and legs off, “we will fry, it is cicada season! Cheap, delicious, aroi.”
The night continued from there. We had a family dinner at the Family Huts Bungalow and this is how my three nights turned into four, this is how I slowed down and decided that sitting at a coffee shop called The Good Life talking about life, energy, the past and future was more important than touring the mountains.
Don’t get me wrong, I got up each morning and went for a quick run before the sun got too hot, I did a yoga practice or two on the porch of my bungalow, I drank fruit lassis, I added spirulina algae to my beet and carrot juice, I drank wheat grass and got my ass kicked at Muay Thai. I sat and wrote. I people watched. I talked and listened with new friends, I drank beers under the moon at a bar where we lounged in hammocks and listened to bad cover music. I also went to bed at 9pm.
My slice of Pai has kicked off this travel right. It was hard to leave but I was afraid that if I didn’t I wouldn’t have left. There’s so much to observe and I have a feeling I’m going to see less but experience more.
When I left the Bangkok hostel, turned left down an alley and right onto the main road. I ducked under the BTS, Chong Nassi station, hopping up curbs and around food carts. I dodged Thais on their way to work; I was on my toes nimbly able to move quickly in any direction. Horns honked and motorbikes passed me as I hugged the side of the street in order to avoid pedestrians and stray dogs. Concrete jungle was never such a clear term as it was on my run to Lumpini Park through the city of Bangkok.
Arriving at one of the many entrances to the park I was quickly swooped to the right in order to flow with traffic. Pedestrian and bicyletrian traffic has a schedule of directionality around the lake within the gates—that day it was right. Running faster than some, I passed cautiously, I was unsure of the community ‘norm’ here. On the trail I’m alone and just follow the path, in this ‘jungle’ I was out of my comfort zone and was forced to look around and try to integrate myself into the foreign culture.
Birds manifested in groups of women flapping colorful fans. I imagined the men with swords practicing some sort of slow, methodical chorography as dragons. The deer I often see leaping through the trails of Oregon were long, lean women doing sun salutations to the 7am sun. Bears were transformed into heavy men sweating in the already hot day running the same course as me. Instead of the wind rustling the branches of trees I heard music blasted from speakers high up on lampposts.
I was in the wilderness—just not the kind I’m used to.