So while you and I were busy discussing the color of mango flesh yesterday, some rather more important stuff was going on in Thailand. Sean and I awoke at 4:30 this morning in order to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat---which itself is another post, titled perhaps Ten Things I Hate About Tourists---and turned on the TV just in time to see the headline "Thailand in Crisis," accompanied by reports of tanks patrolling the streets of Bangkok.
When you're traveling with someone, you're generally spending 24 hours a day with them. And when you're spending 24 hours a day with someone, you're inevitably going to---pardon my French---get on each others' tits a little bit. One of the first arguments Sean and I ever had was during an otherwise perfectly pleasant afternoon walking around Paris five years ago.
When I was in Beijing, I tried to visit Chairman Mao, but pink flip-flops don't go down so well with dead communist leaders, apparently, and I wasn't allowed inside the mausoleum in case he accidentally caught a glimpse of my naked toes. In Hanoi, I filed past the security guards outside Ho Chi Minh's tomb, discreetly tugging my dress down past my knees in the hopes that it would be long enough to pass muster.
I've had this feeling for the last few days, the kind you get a week or so after Christmas or your birthday when you know there's someone you haven't sent a thank you note to, but you can't remember who it is or what they got you. I was thinking about this today, wondering who it could be that I hadn't thanked, and then I realized: it's you, Internet, you with your lovely comments and your kind words and compliments.
My mother taught me never to drive in a thunderstorm if it wasn't absolutely neccessary, never to put a plastic bag over my head, and never to get on the back of a strange man's motorbike. Or on the motorbike of any man who was going to drive me miles and miles through deserted streets in order to show me his really awesome record collection. Or, in this case, his really awesome sand dunes. And though I've known these rules for ages, yesterday I broke them on all three counts.
We were talking the other day about our lives this time last year. I'd recently spent the whole of the sunny Labor Day weekend inside transcribing tapes for a story that was set to be my big break, until the national women's magazine who'd wanted to publish it dropped it at the last minute due to "lack of space"---or, more likely, lack of interest.
The first day we arrived in Hoi An, we took a walk around the town to get our bearings. We've taken to doing this as soon as we set down our backpacks in a new place, because the bus will either drop us at an out-of-the-way hotel, hoping we'll choose to stay there so the busdriver gets his commission, or we'll become immediately disoriented by the vendors who jump on us as we arrive, trying to sell us all manner of things. Cigarettes? No thanks, we don't smoke. Fake photocopied books? No thanks, read 'em all. Two-for-one shots at Klub Krazy Apple?
Seeing an elephant when you're not expecting to see an elephant can come as quite a surprise. We were walking around a very deserted part of Hue's old Imperial City a few days ago, talking about something mundane---who bought the last bottle of water, perhaps, because this is what we seem to be spending our entire food and lodging budget on, damn this threat of dehydration, why can't we buy more Oreos instead?---when Sean suddenly looked up and said "Oh, wow."
It's impossible to prepare yourself for Vietnam. It's also impossible, upon arrival, to arm yourself with an eloquent response to Vietnam. I believe my own was "whoa, they actually do wear the pointy hats!" Sean's, I think, was "Dude. So many people!"