Version 0.78 (Quibbles, Complaints, Observations, Happiness, Contentment, Sa Pa)

07/02/19

Ahhh, there are seemingly always some sort of little niggling issues when I travel (I’m sure this is true for everyone of course). It’s death by a thousand papercuts. Why is it that every review of these “sleeper” buses states that even though they arrive at 4 a.m. customers are allowed to sleep until six, yet all us riders were promptly notified of our arrival and given the boot? I suppose because I paid more for an extra fancy sleeper bus to see what that was like is why; pay more and receive worse service. Why can’t the cafe I am at make a good Vietnamese coffee? Why is the music so bad? (American pop again) Honestly though, I have little to complain about. I’m in Sa Pa , sitting on a patio at a cafe that I won’t return to, eating a slice of chocolate cake, sipping a coffee (not a very good one, albeit), writing in my journal and watching the world do its thing. The temperature is even tolerable way up here in the mountains (it’s quite a bit cooler, and describing it as tolerable is doing it a disservice as it is certainly quite devine).

There is something so sad about sitting here watching this little minority, ethnic girl in her native dress walk the street, carrying various souvenirs, and approaching probable tourists to sell them. There has been, on the sidewalk by the little garden across the street, an “ethnic” woman talking to a Vietnamese guy on a motorbike for the last fifteen minutes. She’s strangely remarkable in her dress, and her pink barbie or little mermaid backpack, and the beautiful pale, red hat that looks like several stitched together beanbags resting atop her skull. It has just begun to rain though, and the guy on the bike motored off in his plastic poncho, and the woman wandered off on her own. And a man on a scooter has just driven by with an umbrella open. Driving quite slowly to be sure!

Well, this cafe is awful. I just can’t handle this music. It’s loud. It’s bad. It’s simply intolerable.

[Later]
Checked into my capsule hotel. Very exciting as I’ve never spent a night in one. Seems cool, and feels like I’m in some future world, a la Star Trek or Star Wars. The family running it is charming. I’m almost sad to be doing a homestay in Lao Chai, and likely Ta Van, the next couple of nights, but Sa Pa itself is busy and isn’t really the point of coming out here unless one is just using it as a base for trekking.

Regarding my homestay in Lao Chai, that all came about from a woman in the village being in Sa Pa, presumably to sell some of her wares as that seems reason for many of them to be in town. This being so, she and her friend from a different village approached me. As an aside, I’m very impressed with the level of English these women have. It’s better than most “non-ethnic” Vietnamese. I guess that’s a natural progeression of catering to tourists. Anyway, we talked, she asked how long I was staying, if I had any nights other than tonight booked, which I did not, and we exchanged numbers agreeing to meet around 11 a.m. at the church tomorrow morning, so that’s that. Afterward I left them for the cafe I was on my way to when they approached me that was recommended by the hotel for its splendid and stunning views. They were right in this regard, and I settled in, gazing over the valley, the river at its bottom, rice terraces bright vibrant green, and forests climbing the mount slopes. Green, green, green everywhere; a defining color, and countless shades of it too. I ordered a lime juice and mixed fruit yogurt. These things were too expensive I thought. When the banging like someone hammering on the bottom of a stock pot began, I was rather dismayed. It went on long enough that I eventually had to leave for it completely shattered the peaceful atmosphere.

I’m writing all of this having found an absolute gem of a cafe, though without the view, around the city center. Quiet, gentle atmosphere, instrumental music playing in the background, view out onto the the main square, baskets of flowers and vases of flowers and pots of plants all over. It’s an absolute gem.

I talked to an ethnic woman while sitting on a bench researching dinner choices. So many of these women wandering around Sa Pa hawking their wares, or, I should say pestering people. It’s a sorry state of affairs….

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Version 0.77 (The Grab Bike Driver Prompts Wonderings)

06/30/19

Sometimes when I sit here at the cafe watching the world go by as it does an individual will stop who for whatever reason affects me in such a way that I begin to wonder about his life. I write this because just a moment ago a Grab bike driver stopped at the mini-market on the corner where a table and stools are set up. Even as he was parking his bike I was wondering about his life, for it was clear that he hadn’t arrived to pick anyone up, but had just arrived for a smoke and a drink. I got to wondering about how much money he made in a day or a month, where he lived, if he had a family to support. How many hours does he work and what does he do on his time off? I am thinking about all these things as he sits there contentedly smoking from his pipe. I realize I will never know the answer to any of those questions though. But I am curious, and I think it would be wonderful were I to be a fly on a wall of his home, or could somehow secretly ride along with him on his motorbike as he drives people around the city. And to understand the language and listen-in on his conversations such as the one he is having right now with the other guy at the table!

Version 0.76 (An Illusion of Prosperity, and the Joy of a Haircut)

06/24/19

I’m sitting at a bia hơi near the apartment where I’m staying, just a stone’s throw from the lake, watching a few chickens scratch and peck along the sidewalk and the park. The usual hangers-on of dogs are roaming about scavenging for scraps of food and looking for handouts, and up and down the streets the usual and constant parade of motorscooters, the occasional bicycle or car, families out walking (late evening, just as the sun is going down and the heat of the day begins to subside is when neighborhoods become most active), children are shouting gleefully holding their parents’ hands. The lights of highrises across the lake shine brightly reflecting in its surface like dreams of prosperity that should be so easy to achieve if only by walking down to the water’s edge and scooping up with one’s hands or a pail. And then I look around me more closely and see the lights hanging from the corrugated steel awnings, and listen to the chatter of the family having dinner behind me (presumably the family that runs the place) and I see that right here, on this unassuming street corner that is like nearly every other in Hanoi that prosperity of a kind has already been acheived by some, if not many, and that illusion of prosperity rocked gently by the ripples on the surface of the lake is exactly that—an illusion.

I was down around Old Quarter today to enjoy a coffee at a favorite spot, and to have a slice of banana bread that unfortunately wasn’t available. Very basic things, and I had some delicious fried morsels at a little street food stall near the famous cathedral as well as a bahn mi. I’ve been pondering a haircut for probably over a month now, and today it finally happened. Walking back to my apartment it was along a stretch of road by a park where there are always several barbers, their chairs, mirrors, and other accoutrements of the trade at particular spots day in and day out. Each man to his station. I just happened to be looking at a certain gentleman whose chair was empty when he turned and saw me. We made eye contact and he made a shaving motion across his cheeks whereupon I made a cutting motion above my head. It was a fine thing this, having my haircut out in the open, watching children play at the memorial park in front of me, and young girls pose for photos with friends. Something so wonderfully joyous and life-affirming having a haircut outside while the world whirls by around you. The cars, buses, scooters, horns beeping, children playing, people walking and photographing, shop owners selling whatever goods they’re selling on the strip behind me, the trees and the sky overhead, the grass and the sidewalk beneath. It seems almost a crime to force people indoors for a haircut. Here, under the joy of the sky I was able to get one for $5 or so, and I would have gladly paid twice that.

Version 0.75 (Updates, Thoughts, Craft Beer in Hanoi)

06/23/19

I’m writing this at a craft beer bar in Tay Ho. They have one or two more locations scattered around Hanoi as well. This first beer I’m having is inspired by phơ. It is fantastic, though the phơ that I’ve had is not nearly as complex in flavor as this beer (not really sure if that says more about the beer or the phơ). Frankly I think it’s the spices, or lack thereof which they use up here. The phơ I’ve had farther south has been better flavored in my opinion. That said, it’s a delicious beer, and probably not a bad rendition on the theme. And they just brought me another beer as a gift (so she says). Also delicious. Seriously some of the best craft beer I’ve had anywhere on Earth.

Anyway, it’s a quiet Sunday night for me, though it usually is, traveling or not; and seemingly a quiet night in Quang An as well, though it ususally is, weekend or not. Some of the bia hơis—various corner shops selling cheap, fresh beer, snacks, and perhaps a banh mi or fried rice—may be busy however. Maybe that is why I like the area so much. Old Quarter is a mad house 100% of the time, but Tay Ho, and most specificfally Quang An, is quieter, and just western enough to feel comfortable to a westerner, plus it has a variety of food you won’t find elsewhere in Hanoi.

My camera should perhaps be returned from Fuji’s repair shop on the 27th. Right now I am at my apartment until the 28th, so the timing could be perfect. It likely won’t work out that way, but instead some other way, and that’s fine too. There is no great rush into anything.

Prices to rent a motorbike seem to be much cheaper than I first thought, so I may opt to rent one for a month. The freedom of movement that would afford me would be wonderful, rather than having to take trains and busses all over. But again, I will just have to wait, and make sure I read the prices correctly.

Furbrew, the beer bar I am at, is a modern bar set inside a building with windows and a front door. This means there is also a/c. Very different from the bia hơis one see everywhere, usually just set into a concrete bunker with a tin roof, an open front and plastic tables and stools tumbling out onto the sidewalk, which means if it’s hot like it always is this time of year, you know… hopefully there are fans where you’re sitting; there are always some scattered around these open air joints.

The staff inside Furbrew was mainly young girls, high school age, maybe one was college age, though it’s often difficult to determine age so I’m quite possibly far off target. I find it interesting (though hardly surprising, nor does it bother me in some moralistic or ethical way like it would some other ninnies) that they’re working a bar, although it looks like some really good food is served too. I guess one would describe it as a gastropub or bistro rather than a bar. My bill for my three beers, one of which I received for free was only 95k dong. I left them a 25k tip which is basically a dollar, and their faces lit up like the Christmas tree in Times Square. The appreciation for that extra bit of money is astounding to me, and warms my heart.

I love being here so much. It is unfortunate that I don’t have an unlimited supply of money or else I’d consider buying a place.

Version 0.73 (Cafe Doppio: Nexus of all Quang An)

06/14/19

Rereading messages from Jasper and now I’m not sure what to make of what happened to me in Kuala Lumpur. The only other option means it was just a normal attack that anyone with M.S. would have, and NOT as a result of losing my worms to sickness or food related issues, which it seems I have not. Yet it still seems obvious to me that if certain Indian foods or spices are not affecting my worm family they are at least affecting me. Because it always seems there is a trouble after partaking of the tasty stuff.

I so love this little, yellow cafe that is like a dandelion on a street corner from which I can watch the world whiz about in no apparent meaning, but to each of those lives out there zipping by on a scooter or walking past there is a sense of purpose, at least in the immediate present. However, if there isn’t, there certainly seems a good show of it.

The cafe sits at the confluence of two narrow streets and two separate gated compounds opposite those streets that contain offices, schools, apartments and a fitness studio in one, and government-related business in another. Sitting in here safely behind the glass, and looking out on all that goes on outside is a bit like watching two rivers flow together into a central pool which then flows outward to either of the two compounds, but sometimes in reverse order, or in any other direction so that there are nearly always near-head-on collisions and traffic jams, yet for the most part a regular flow is maintained and very rearely does traffic get so snarled up that it grinds to a standstill.

Sitting in this cafe and looking out through the glass it seems as though I am at the very nexus of Quang An, Tay Ho, that I am a little bit like God looking out at his kingdom, or that I am an eye located in some central vessel of a great body observing its movements, and the flow of cells and microbes through the arteries of this one central part, that I am in the world but not necessarily of the world, and even to say that I am in it is a stretch. The world is temporary and spins by an ever and always new cast of characters, but I am permanent. I am and always will be I am.

Version 0.72 (The Berryfield)

06/12/19

Back at The Berryfield, most certainly my favorite cafe in Hanoi. Up a narrow stairway to the second floor of a building, the first floor of which is used as motorbike parking in evenings, and as a kitchen and place to eat during lunch hour. The third floor is a roasting space.

The cafe is secretively tucked away down an alley off a side street off a main street a short walk south of the Old Quarter. On the second floor one finds the cafe, but no gargantuan espresso machine taking up counter space, and this leaves the intimate room feeling more spacious than it otherwise would. The owner says that he is not fond of the coffee produced by espresso machines, and so makes his “espresso” drinks with moka pots, a unique way for sure to be brewing specialty coffee in a shop. He also does pour-overs utilizing the V-60 by Hario. Opposite the counter where one would study the menu and order is a sliding door which opens onto a small balcony with tiny wooden stools and tables, enough to seat no more than four people I would judge. Photographs of landscapes of coffee growing regions adorn the walls inside, and a bench seat against the walls wraps around the interior with several square, wooden tables and a few more chairs free to move around in order to create the seating environment of your and/or your friends’ choice. The music normally played interestingly enough has a folksy, country tinge to it; very obviously American (sounding at least), but thankfully not the same American pop music that is played in most every other cafe popular with the younger generation in Vietnam these days. The space is comfortable and intimate, cozy in a way, and the owner is a wonderful, quiet and affable man whose love of coffee, and relaxing, comforting spaces has helped him to create the perfect cafe, in my opinion, for enjoying a uniquely and carefully made cup of coffee. It’s unfortunate that it is so far from where I typically stay when I am here.

I’m already a bit exhausted with being back here in the city. It’s just the thought of being here for perhaps a month that gets to me. Perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking about it, but it’s a fact that I will have to be here, for I have to have my hookworm larvae shipped somewhere that I may retrieve them as quickly as possible. And it is necessary to get my camera repaired, and that could take two or three weeks for all I know. However, I still haven’t settled on an apartment. A decision I must make quickly for it just delays shipment of the larvae otherwise.

Version 0.71 (Brief Moments)

06/11/19

A wind drifts over the lake, lazily, like the heat that wafts from an open oven. The supple, flexible ends of branches of trees sway in the dragon’s breath. Lotus blossoms protuding from the mud of the lake look like candle flames. And as the magenta giant sun falls away behind the clouds, the local bat population takes to wing. People are out, lounging in the shade or zooming around on scooters. Construction workers are busy laying down new tile for the sidewalks that line the perimeter of the lake, or hammering marble curbs into place. Daily there is something new to be seen here. The same same everyday. But different. The same motif painted in the same colors, but in different tones, like Monet’s Haystack, or Rouen Cathedral.

Version 0.70 (Feeling Ill, Ill, Ill, and One Last Memory of Kuala Lumpur)

06/10/19

Haven’t written anything in a long fucking time. Fuuuucking Kuala Lumpur. That past month was a total disaster, and it’s rolling into the present. But why, Scott!? Why was it so bad? Because, at least for the moment, my health has suffered tremendously. Well, what happened with that? Well, it starts with M.S. (almost certainly after this recent episode, though I’ve never actually been diagnosed by a doctor) which I’ve likely been “suffering” from for sixteen years now, but have treated with remarkable effect thanks to the efforts largely of Jasper Lawrence, and others, until my last two weeks in KL. I mean my whole time there I wasn’t terribly happy or feeling good physically, and there are so many reasons for that—the dump of a hostel I worked at and slept in, the selfish manager who I worked for, the food that while delicious I could feel was affecting my health in a not positive way, and my time spent working at the hostel which limited the amount of time I could apply to more preferential things (while also preventing me from seeing other parts of Malaysia)—but the last two weeks, when I suffered from IBS for a week from something bad that I ate or drank, and then the “attack” that I had the night before my last day there that had me exhausted and sleeping through the day because I was so weak and so tired that I could do little but sleep: that is what soured my time in Kuala Lumpu the most for me. Oh, and I left my Patagonia jacket at the hostel.

At this point I don’t even think I have any memories that I wish to put down which, when I was considering a final journal entry from KL, I thought I might. Now, I think not. Or I just don’t care to. It could also be that I am exhausted due to my current condition.

There is perhaps one small anecdote which I don’t mind jotting down. On the night of my “attack,” as I was out looking for my supper, an Indian boy approached me asking if I would be so kind as to buy him a meal, just something cheap, maybe from McDonald’s? He was wearing a backpack hung loosely from his shoulders, and he sort of shuffled along in an odd sort of Quasimodo-like way, but he had these brilliant, glowing eyes that shone like two polished gems with an unquestionable warmth and friendliness. He kept insisiting on sharing his food with me—a generous gesture but one which I refused over and over as McDonald’s isn’t my thing (though I can’t say I wasn’t curious to try), but also because I just wanted to buy him a meal and be on my way, alone. However, he insisted on following me around, or rather, guiding me to various places he thought I should see. I’m not sure if his asking for food was a pretense for finding someone to while away the evening with, although I’m quite certain he was hungry as he scarfed his food like a half-starved animal (offering to share with me all the while) once we arrived at “The Place,” it seemed quite plain to me that he was lonely. “The Place” was the Sultan Abdul Amad Building, a late nineteenth century colonial government building with simple gardens, beautiful tilework, and numerous fountains, just across the Gombak River from the Masjid Jamek Mosque, one of the more beautiful and popular mosques in KL. It was unsurprisingly a peaceful place as the two of us were the only ones there, though he ruined it a bit by talking so much. He couldn’t stop telling me how kind I was, and then went on a long rant about how self-righteous the muslims in Kuala Lumpur are, and how the Chinese don’t care about anyone who isn’t Chinese, but how I was so kind because I bought him a meal and listened to him. He said he has not been able to work for a long time on account of some sort of illness or inury that he is only now recovering from. We continued walking together mainly because I was too nice to tell him to get the hell away. I only wanted to buy him a meal; I wasn’t paying for his companionship. And while he was a very nice guy, I simply wanted to be alone. Eventually I told him just that, that I wanted to be alone, no more and no less—to eat alone, and to walk alone. He told me several times how sad I looked, which, while not entirely inaccurate, was not what he was seeing. His interpretation of sadness in my visage was simply my desire to be without his company. It’s rather sad that in order to achieve that, my solitude, I had to insist on it in such a forceful way.

Version 0.69 (Her, in my Head)

05/28/19

A bit worn out with thinking of Huyen so much. She has been the primary object of my mental awareness and focus since I left Vietnam almost two months ago. And that mainly sexual, which is strange because I don’t maintain a strong focus on sex in my life. I’m pretty indifferent, and frankly, feel like much time spent on that sort of thing is time wasted, time that could be spent more fruitfully. It’s only after having spent time with her that this has become so manifest. They are irritating though, these intrusions in my life, particularly when they occur during times that I’m writing or being (ahem, trying to be) productive. What it is with her that is, and has remained, so titillating, so sexually provocative I know not; that has so captured my attention that I am fairly powerless in keeping her from my thoughts, and truthfully often welcome the intrusions. My thoughts of her, in the way which they are imagined are felt like a drug. My mind clouds over completely, and all sensation softens, becomes fuzzy, nebulous, and she is that cloud that I am wreathed in, which I breathe in, and breathe out. It is exactly like a drug because these imaginings of her and I are of such ecstasy at the times, but afterwards I look at the time, or at my regularly distracted journaling, or at a book and I can only be annoyed.

What a waste….

I want no more of these thoughts to intrude. I want my creative, or at least semi-productive life back. Right now I don’t feel her within me.

Right now.

Is this a good thing?

Version 0.68 (Daily Doings)

05/24/19

I spend my days doing little. I’ve come to a sort of peace with being here despite the food causing some sort of inflammation—I can’t wait to get back to eating Vietnamese; I felt better in Vietnam than I had anywhere else in ages. I still hate the bathrooms here though: the awful combination of shower and toilet in one small closet-like space, and no towel at the sink to boot. I’m used to the lack of air-conditioning though; and besides, plenty of cafes around the city are air-conditioned.

Mostly my days consist of a cheap breakfast of toast with peanut-butter, jelly, and bananas (I bought my own peanut butter because I just couldn’t stomach the idea of ingesting margarine (THE STUFF IS STILL MADE!!!!) for more than the first few days I was at the hostel), and appallingly bad instant coffee; shooting the breeze with my co-workers and a particular longish term guest; then lunch; stop at a cafe for reading, writing, real coffee; a run through KLCC park fit in somewhere every other day; continual check-ups on crypto and forex charts; then work at night. It’s simple, on the whole enjoyable, and routine which means some level of comfort.

I dropped my camera off at Fuji’s repair center here for a price and time quote. Not sure I will have enough time left here to have the repairs done before I go back to Vietnam.