Visions of Vietnam -- Part 10

By Jon Dillingham, Thanh Nien News

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The author in a river valley on the way from Đồng Văn to Quản Bạ. Photo: Olof The author in a river valley on the way from Đồng Văn to Quản Bạ. Photo: Olof


Dharma bumming, Zen lunatic-ing and kicking around on pieces of ground far from your hometown…
Just hang your ass out there…
We awoke before sunrise on Tuệ’s wood-plank bed, without much sleep, but no worse for wear. Hard beds make for hard bodies. It was our last day with Tuệ, and our last day on the karst plateau. 
We had an instant-noodle breakfast with him and he asked if we wanted to go on a sunrise walk before we left. But before we went, Olof asked us to wait. He had been sullen after receiving some text messages from his lady back in Europe.
“Time for a revolution?” he asked.
I nodded and he headed for the hills with cigarettes in hand. He came back with a monkey-smile that was like the first smile at the dawn of man. 
On his face was writ a newly undefeated desire for life. During his revolution, he’d phoned his lady and straightened things out. All had been repaired! 
All that love had been un-subdued. It’s shitting in the woods (like stopping by woods on a snowy evening) and revolutions of the scatological sort that make the trillion-year revolution for the liberation of all sentient beings (including the rocks and furniture) seem like a real possibility.
We headed down the road and Tuệ said we could only walk a kilometer as the border was only one more kilometer after that.
“What’s there?” I asked.
“There’s a stone marker.”
“What does it say?”
“Nothing. Sometimes there’s a guard there.”
“But if there’s no guard?”
“Then you can go through. Many people go through everyday. But you don’t know if the guard will be there when you get back.”
…ah, there’ll be a problem, but it’ll be ok…
We walked to a bend in the road and stopped for a moment of silence. There was forest and mountains north of us, just as there was forest and mountains south of us. 
We walked back to the house, gave Tuệ VND500,000 for his troubles, and rambled down the road without a plan. The whole trip had been a wonderful stop by woods on a snowy evening, and though we had miles and miles to go before we would sleep, I did not have any promises to keep…
At some unmapped fork in the road we decided we would drive the full 50km loop of the karst plateau: Đồng Văn to Yên Minh to Meo Vạc and back to Đồng Văn where we would sleep in a hotel with soft beds and hot water. 
I had not had a bath in 9 days. Ăn bẩn sống lâu.
When we got to the Nho Quế again, the river was cold and green instead of the bright orange brown it had been two days before. 
Everything had changed. It started to drizzle and an indomitable fog hung everywhere, moving like smoke over our heads.
I took Olof’s camera and tried to take pictures and video of the electrifying beauty. But it was impossible to catch the fog coming around the mountains.
I got frustrated and we drove on. I wanted so desperately to capture something in that fog but eventually I said fuck it. The monks have thoughts only so they can forget them. 
I decided I would no longer be a slave to my ideas. Or anything else. I’d already given up my home and all my stuff when I left Sài Gòn 6 months ago and when this trip was over I was going to quit my job, too. 
I didn’t have a computer or any possessions save the bike, a bag with not enough underwear in it, and a guitar and yoga mat. 
And I might give those things up, too, I thought. But giving up the possessions wasn’t important. The important thing, I thought at the time, was to no longer have a job. 
To no longer have promises to keep. To start living off my wits. That was it. 
I would aimlessly wander Dr. Seuss roads like this one. If Olof were to return, maybe we’d eat fungus salads and drink fungus teas and walk them together, aimlessly wandering and embracing the holy emptinesses inside ourselves…or maybe we wouldn’t…
I was beginning to see that when I looked at things long enough, when I would really witness them, there was nothing. 
So why worry about having a job just to make money? I’d been thinking about this decision of no decision for at least a million days, but now I’d finally make it. 
Time to see what it’s really like out there, what it’s really like to not have any money and just hang my ass out there. Out there.
Some kind of piano began to lift off my back and like Hank Aaron after his 715th, all of a sudden it was light as a feather. 
The rain came down harder and we stopped at a cliff to stand in our áo mưa under it. The rain was like a sacred baptism. Someone in the distance somewhere played a lonely flute. 
We took some medicine and performed ablutions on the side of the road before giving some cigarettes to a few more sickle-and-rope-wielding bad-ass mofo kids. 
One asked why I wasn’t married. I said I wanted to be free and he said I shouldn’t want so much out of life…
“…even for stealing water
for my rice field…
I take my parasol…”
 * Jon Dillingham wrote his bachelor's thesis on the (poor) American press coverage of the Vietnam War and used his graduation money to fund a trip through Asia that never left Vietnam. He spent eight years getting married (and divorced), getting a Master's Degree in Journalism at the University of Southern California (AKA Clown College) and editing every state-owned English-language endeavor in Saigon. About a year ago he snapped, gave away all of his things and headed North to đi phượt--an expression that translates, roughly, to abandoning the material world on a motorbike in pursuit of enlightenment (at best) and relaxation (at worst). These are his chronicles. He can be contacted at For more Visions of Vietnam pictures and stories, follow him on Tumblr, Twitter: @JonDillingham1 and Facebook: 

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