Southeast Asia has been reinventing itself in the reflection of tourists’ expectations for a long time now. Similarly, tourists project a reality onto Southeast Asia – and Vietnam specifically – that has never really existed. This is where they come to lose themselves, get their hair braided, buy long baggy clothes, discuss the natural simplicity of the people and lay the groundwork for the hundred anecdotes they’ll tell over a hundred dinner parties. Continue reading
I knew I was going to do this as soon as I heard about it, but still, holding the beating heart of a recently living animal is quite another thing. However, like so much in life, there comes a time to silence the voices, close your mind and take a step forward.
In this case, a swallow forward. Continue reading
Within what must have been ten minutes of entering the city, it soon became apparent that he was using my bike more as battering ram than paying cargo. Roundabouts, chaotic at the best of times, were approached with a speed and confidence I’ve never experienced as a xe om passenger. The Bonus and I would be pushed mercilessly into the midst of the whirling traffic, while his grinning face would take refuge against the deafening roar of the approaching motorbikes in my lee. Continue reading
In retrospect, this was probably luck, as what happened next would have made a sober man very nervous. Drunkenness has many advantages over sobriety, bravery is just one. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, or why we had stopped. The first thing I was aware of was a uniformed head sticking itself into the cab and ordering us out on to the street. Leaving any car and getting into the freezing cold of a dark Moscow night is always disconcerting, not least when that dark Moscow night is populated by three Militia of varying ages and a nervous looking Gypsy cab driver. However, the nerves didn’t appear to be entirely contained to the cab driver. I remember one of the Militia, probably still in his teens, also seeming quite nervous. That should probably have been the cause for some concern and I remember telling myself that someone else should probably be quite concerned about it. From here, and after some fairly abrupt questioning, we were bundled into the back of the Militia Car, flanked on either side, and driven across the city. It’s worth stressing at this point that neither of us were in any way scared. In fact, sticking with that whole commitment to honesty thing, I should admit to a shared drunken thrill in the experience. However, maybe that’s just me. I don’t know. Certainly, looking out of the window and staring out at the city passing me by, I don’t remember feeling any real sense of dread. There’s something inherently reassuring about being driven through a city night. Perhaps it’s the neon light, maybe it’s the warmth of the car against the nighttime’s cold, I don’t really know, but it’s soothing and, even under those fairly extreme circumstances, I was failing to get overly excited. Rather,I remember an idle curiosity as to what would happen next and an almost lazy detachment to events as I calculated the odds of getting a beating. As it was, we came to halt in a darkened and fairly secluded residential area where we were removed from the car and our documents taken off us, (I know we were supposed to keep them but they had guns). I think this was the fist time I became aware of my nerves. I had no idea where we were, but I knew it was dark and no one was about. Furthermore, I knew that they now had my passport and were not looking at us in a very friendly way. The details of what happened next are pretty blurred, but matters soon came to rest on the subject of how much money we had and how much money we were going to give them. For reasons that entirely escape me now, I made the decision to haggle, before conceding to reality and handing over most of our money. Duty done and richer for the experience, the Militia drove off leaving us to the Moscow night. Continue reading
I can’t imagine doing this without risks. Let’s take that a step further, I can’t imagine wanting do this without risks. I’m not saying that I plan on seeking out brawls with giant slavic psycopaths, or that I’m trawling the streets of Moscow looking for the next race riot. I’m simply saying that there has to be a risk of failure for any of this to mean anything. It’s a critical aspect. Think about anything that’s worth doing, take it apart and really consider it. Nine times out of ten, the one thing that made it worth doing was the risk of failure. Failure isn’t always something to be feared. Sometimes – just to know that you’re alive – you need to place yourself directly in its path. What’s more, the greater the risk and the greater the degree of failure, sometimes the greater the argument for placing yourself in its way. Continue reading