Res ipsa loquitur…
The next morning, the handsomest of the handsome brothers made us coffee and ridiculous ground pork burrito-shaped tomato and onion omelets that he put on top of fried instant noodles served with a cup of spring onion broth. A divine breakfast. We said goodbye to him and Duyên and his wife and she looked at Olof and said she would miss him. He looked like a child.
“Tell her I’ll miss her too,” he said.
So I did and I wanted for just a moment to have promises to keep. But then we saddled up and bojangled our janglers down through the hills, just a couple of good-for-nothing bầu rượu túi thơ motherfuckers who come and go like water and cloud…
We got to Tuyên Quang and checked into the same hotel we’d stayed at 3 weeks earlier. They remembered us. They gave us the same “VIP” room with a urinal in the bathroom. For dinner (and breakfast again the next morning) we sat with all the sick and old blue-pajama-clad people at the airy cơm phở shop in the hospital parking lot across the street from the hotel. They remembered us. That night I walked alone through the nearby swamps over to the local brothel where I met a pretty Tay girl named Thủy with long black hair down to her thighs. In the allotted hour we twice pressed our warm naked bodies against each other in ways I’ve thought about every day since. In the morning, Olof and I had coffee at the bearded Muslim guy’s café – not sure if he remembered us or not – before getting the hell out of town.
Dharma bumming, Zen lunatic-ing and kicking around on pieces of ground far from your hometown...
On the road, this the final road before we’d back to life in the big city, I sped up ahead like some crazed devil because I wanted to be alone. After all the bliss of the trip I’d started to feel like some poor bastard with no soul. I’d found a way, as Hunter said, to live out where the real winds blow-to sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whisky, and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested. But I was still looking Out instead of In.
Some of the hill tribes still say that photographs steal people’s souls, and they’re right. Photographs (even those in the mind) are great crimes, crimes against truth. And the writer is even worse than the photographer.
With these strange thoughts on high I had new visions of a fantastic racer-daredevil death, going out with skin and hair on fire, spinning on the concrete as it rips my melting flesh off the bone. But contemplating that, I thought I’d still rather end it as the peeping tom I was, a bus swiping me away as a I try to get the best look at that young girl’s ass to take home and away with me forever, like a photograph in my mind. Some of the hill tribes still say that photographs steal people’s souls, and they’re right. Photographs (even those in the mind) are great crimes, crimes against truth. And the writer is even worse than the photographer. As the detective of his own life, he poisons everything he sees with the black ink of a pen, poisons his existence with investigations and analysis imprisons his own soul. He is the judge, jury and executioner of his forever-spirit. In his clever disguise (he calls himself a “journalist,” “poet,” or “scholar,” etc) he washes everything he touches in an invisible venom that kills slowly, like the komodo dragon, so that his victims might not even know it……But would my fate actually be that young peasant girl in pajamas? It would probably be something less-abstract, I thought. An STD? Recklessly fathering an army of children and the crushing poverty that comes with it? Some other terrible, clumsy accident – bloody and absurd – the product of un-awareness, of absentmindfulness, of not being conscious of anything real? A more vicious dissent into alcohol and/or drugs, another pancreas attack? A vengeful lover, or the vengeful lover of a lover? Lung cancer or some other sick disease? A prison murder while rotting away in jail for statutory? Or simply rotting away in jail for some other eventuality? These were the only ways I could see it!
A buffalo walks by Ol’ Duyen’s house in Quản Bạ
But slowly as I continued to breathe and lean with the turns, the road took over. Like a surfer riding a wave, you’ve got to just let the road pull you. The road feeds your movement like that water pulled across the light years by the moon. The bike is easily pullable when it’s well-oiled and in good condition. And the Ol’ Bonus was fine that day. A buffalo taking a shit on the side of the road reassured me. Enough with all this. If I were Nabokov, maybe 13-year-old Thoa would’ve been my Lolita, but if I were me, all she’d really be is the poetic vision of my figurative, literary, metaphorical death, the last beautiful thing a reader’s ugly eyes glance at on the last unturned page of some story being her bubble rump in pretty pink pants gently moving. Enough of all this! I was tired of chasing the ghost of my misremembered ex-wife, chasing dreams of girls on bicycles with hair past their asses and down to their knees. Surfing that long cement slab I saw just how much the cup really did runneth over. The universe is finite, but the inside is infinite, new eyes are more important than new landscapes…drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested indeed…
I stopped for the final nước mía of the journey and waited for Olof. It was fuckshit hot and I had two before he even arrived, sweating through my shirt and jeans. A guy in a car pulled up for thuốc lào and asked the mía girl if she wanted to go to Hà Nội with him for the weekend. She politely declined, saying she had to stay there and sell mía, and I blessed his soul and hers as he drove off. I asked her mother where we could go down to the river for a swim. Just around the corner, she said.
Olof arrived and we drove around the corner and delivered ourselves to the water. We walked down to the muddy banks of the river that gently lapped up onto a long stairway that led to a large Đình above. There was a silent bird on a wire nearby and a drunk singing in the tiny floating fishing village across the way. The wire was already broken and looked about to snap, a loose rubber sliver hanging up like a strand of cow-lick hair. Olof sat on the steps to the Đình while down below I stripped and waded into what looked like cà phê sữa đá. There were cackles from teenage construction workers over yonder. The liquid rushed across my skin and pores. The water really flooooows here, I thought. My pitiful sense of relativity! I made sure I was deep enough and then had a sad, magical mini-revolution. Two revolutionary floaters rose to the surface in bubbling elutriation as the cool water ran over me. I was evacuated. The tiny turds slowly drifted away. They veered off from each other and then came back together again. They’d go somewhere, and at some point they’d be separated forever.
Finally leaving Hà Giang province
* 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 email@example.com