Vietnam: Life is 1/4 over; "Back when I was in Nam."

Bangkok Airport Sleep - 2012

It’s three days after the demise of my band, my life’s work of the past 4 years. I’m in between jobs with a small travel fund set aside from playing Beatles covers in Midwest suburban pubs. Time is on my mitts. Time to do something weird. At the moment of this documentation, it’s 3 a.m. I am sitting in the Bangkok airport, typing next to a peg-legged man from the slums of Narnia. The airport looks like a state-of-the-art NASA space station, but the clientele is less flashy. His teeth are scurvy ridden, his vision is cockeyed, and his raspy broken English cuts in a shivering dialect. “Yu gimme da goola money freela,” says the Goonie monster. I would be scared if I wasn’t sitting across from the tourist police office.

“Sorry man, I don’t have any goola”, I reply. He looks pissed. This man is one eye patch away from a Captain Blackbeard that would make Ferdinand Magellan pee in his skirt.

There are 3 more hours to kill before my flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. On my budget, getting a taxi to a pricey airport hotel would be pointless. I opt for the airport bench for some shut-eye. Clutching my baggage I zonk out for no more than 30 minutes, too pumped up to sleep. Traveling the developing world with no itinerary, I’m elated.

The flight to Bangkok was primo. I ate eel next to a cute Chinese girl from Beijing. She was grouchy. Her sister had pawned off her 6-year-old boy for the second time to visit his relatives in Chicago. She spoke minimal English, but I could comprehend it was a chore of a trip for her. “I sick of lil kid,” Chinese girl says. I laugh. She laughs. We talk about American rock n’ roll. Trying to find common ground, I ask her if she has ever heard of Arcade Fire. “No. Who dat?”, she responds. I counter, “you know U2? The Bono Man?” Notta. I rattle off the 5 most popular bands I can think of. Nothing. China is definitely a shielded world, and the following quote says it all. “I like you but we can’t be friends because the Government no let us have Facebook,” she says. We exchange laughter over our language barrier. Somewhere along the line I must have said something right, and she offers a back massage. I realize the chronology of my dialogue doesn’t yield the charisma suave enough to deserve a back massage, but I got one. I wouldn’t believe me either. We land in Beijing and she departs with her sister’s kid. “Bye! Miss you later,” she says.

Back in the Bangkok airport, I hop a plane to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The flight was rather uneventful except for one remarkable element; there were footprints on the bathroom mirror. Footprints on the bathroom mirror?! Did someone just get laid? Who joins the MileHigh Club on a 90-minute flight? Glenn Goulia maybe? Outrageous.

Completely cracked out from lack of sleep and excess of 7/11 fish-flavored snacks, I arrive at the Bee Saigon hostel in Nam to stumble upon my best amigo for the next three days.

“I’m kind of going through a quarter life crises,” explains Griffin Randolf, a 24-year-old garage rocker from Brooklyn, NY. This seems to be a common theme among travelers. They are either in-between jobs, addicted to travel, dodging reality, or more commonly, a combination of the three.

I get this kid. He too is in between bands and work. He offers travel tips and gives me his albums for free. Randolf’s coolness goes beyond the blessing of a great stage-name on his birth certificate. He has a conservative hipster combover, but lacks all the arrogance of trendsetter majesty. “I got a massage yesterday. This tiny Vietnamese lady was walking all over me like a sexy ninja. I tried to fight off the boner, but dude, it was impossible. Pretty embarrassing.”

His honesty is commendable considering that’s the third thing he ever told me. Randolf had recorded an entire album on GarageBand before having his laptop stolen just 2 days prior. We grab food down the block and talk about our rock n’ roll hopes and dreams.

Here’s an idea of how far your dollar goes in Vietnam (in $USD)… • Restaurant meal - $1.50 • Accommodation w/ air con - $3 to $9 • 1 bottle of beer from 7/11 - $0.60 • Haircut - $2 • 30 minute massage - $3 • Hand job - $4

I’m not condoning HJ’s, BJ’s, or TJ’s for monetary compensation, but it gives you a better grasp on the sliding scale of Vietnamese goods and services.

Ho Chi Minh City is a sprawl of controlled chaos. Motorbikes dominate every inch of road and sidewalk while cabbies mêlée for your business. Stop signs are generally disobeyed and crossing the street becomes a thrill in itself. Children sell fake Lonely Planet books for $2 (In past travels I met a young kid who worked for a business of selling these pseudo books on Ebay. The US Government caught him and destroyed his credit score, but spared him prison time since he was only a middleman).

The buildings are tall and slender, stacked close together like Dominos. Copious signage hovers over the sidewalk. Mobile venders watch your every move. In one block’s walk, a tourist is  hounded by 3-4 dudes selling sunglasses, lighters, and/or marijuana. The best part about Vietnam is that crime is extremely mild. Despite the hectic nature of the beast, it’s generally safe to walk anywhere at anytime of day. I love it here. The food sits atop the totem pole of culinary goodness (as Anthony Bourdain would attest). I recommend everything on the menu, even the cooked dog.