‘Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’ — Hunter S. Thompson.
I found myself in some dimly lit living room with the Brazilian. We were ushered in and told to sit on the sofa like two siblings in a maternity ward waiting room.
This strangely enthusiastic man cooked us a feast. Duck breast and thighs and some exotic mix of green vegetables and soups and enough rice to fill the the Amazonian basin.
We ate until our stomachs begged to regurgitate it all back out, and then we all drank rice wine out of little tea cups and sang karaoke for hours into the late evening.
We were honoured guests, we were knights returning from a great battle, we were two ignorant travellers recieving the undeserved grace of Vietnamese hospitality and laughing our guts out with strange men and their families. This was just another one of those days.
This was the guy that the Brazilian bought his motorbike scooter from, he was a motorbike taxi driver. How exactly the Brazilian managed to persuade this guy to sell his means of earning I have no idea, but I went along with it.
Later that night, after downing another pint of iced beer right before turning the keys, we proceeded to both get on the back on the scooter and allow this drunk man to drive us home.
Yes, he insisted, it would be fine. He’s done this before, many times, and I don’t deny it.
We had no choice. We got on, and gritted our teeth and clenched our fists as the precarious ride through the city streets began.
Within 15 minutes we collided side on with a taxi and hit the ground. This guy then proceeded to leap onto his feet like some fucking maniac, and began screaming at the taxi and throwing rocks towards it as it sped away through traffic. He was in some god awful rage as he jumped onto the scooter again and rode off in hot pursuit, leaving me and Brazilian dazed and clueless as to whether we’d see the guy, and the bike that had just been paid for, again.
To cut a long story short, we found him 100 metres down the road, sitting on the pavement being de-enraged by some majestic old woman.
Me and Brazilian set off down the coast early next afternoon at some blazing speed, our bags tied precariously to the back of our bikes with bungee cords, our eyes set ahead on hundreds of kilometres of dust leaded tarmac and hot air thick with exhaust fumes that pasted our faces and hands in a filthy black tar.
We pounded north like mad men, our eyes full of fire and leaking salt water.
After a few hours my exhaust starting coughing and spluttering again, an ugly choking for air, a desperate thirst.
When the bike gave up and rolled to a holt, still choking on its own oils and guts, I walked it some short distance along the side of the highway and had it fixed up faster than I could smoke a cigarette by a gang of wiry spanner-men.
I handed over some meager sum of Vietnamese banknotes, of which they were ecstatic to receive for their improvised handiwork, and me and Brazilian fired up our engines and hit the road; the late afternoon sun lazing down over the forest-lined horizon.
The next day we rose out of our beds at noon in the the famous tourist-town of Hoi An, still weary from the day before, our legs cramped and stiff.
We wandered around the town under the thumping heat of the eastern sun, staring wide eyed at this beautifully vibrant and colourful labyrinth of old colonial houses and winding cobbled alleyways that seemed to expand outward like a jungle, infested with movement and noise and foreign smells.
A never-ending maze of straw cone-hats and noodle soup broths and trees and wires and old dilapidated stone walls.
We were tourists, or it looked so, but we were not in our hearts. We walked the same well-trodden paths as the American families and the swarms of Chinese iPhone photographers, but we were quite set apart from them. We didn’t come here on a plane, or an air conditioned bus that serves toasties and bottle water.
We came here on our shitty excuses for motorcycles, along hours and hours of disgusting polluted highway, and we will leave here by the same means.
That night, after my accomplice had returned to our dormitory, I roamed the quiet streets alone, and before long found myself sitting on a doorstep with some middle-aged men shooting rice wine down our throats and smoking from a tobacco bong.
I remember it feeling so normal, so mundane — like I had been doing this every evening for years. I remember sitting on the doorstep with these drunken men, probably equally intoxicated myself, and buzzing with these wild tobacco hits, staring down the empty narrow street with a kind of smile plastered across my face that cannot be faked. It was the smile of the adventurer in the midst of a great story, threaded with the feeling that I was living there in that moment — I was really there, experiencing it — a story that was worth telling, a story that was surreal and fantastic and mad all at the same time.
That smile was life in it’s rawest form.
The next morning the Brazilian took off on the road north in a crazed rush to make it to Hanoi before his flight, I stayed back for one more day nursing my churning stomach.
So again, I was alone on my journey, and the next day I saddled up and kicked the bike into life once again — and within 30 minutes, before I had even made it out of the town, I was approached at a gas station by a group of 6 or 7 Australians on rented scooters — hopelessly lost and confused, and I led them forth towards our shared destination, the town of Hue — where more chaos was sure to insue.
It is moments like these that I look back upon my life; where I have been and where I am going, and I think to myself how wonderful it is to be free and young and as wild as I am. I could not see myself living the life of the mundane, no. Anything but that. I suppose for the many, the average lifestyle is quite alright, or atleast it may seem so.
But I say this, swerve your head over your shoulders and gaze but momentarily out of your bedroom window, into the vast unknown of the blue sky or the blackest night by which thick clouds obscure the glowing stars beyond.
I say, when you read of such stories as the one I am proceeding to tell — that which is real and tangible, do you not feel a part of yourself that says, ‘Yes! How wonderful! Wouldn’t I love to have an adventure such as this! Wouldn’t it be exhillerating to pack my bags and set forth into the world — to experience something truly novel, truly alive!’.
Tell me, do you not hear that part of you which beckons for something beyond meagre existence? Were you born to survive, to reproduce — or for something beyond simple necessity? Why, it is not for me to say. It is not for me to tell you how to live. I simply feel that, when I look into the eyes of men and women as they march down the street to their next obligation, that harbouring within the souls of the people there is a yearning for excitement, for love — real love — real life.
I sense something deep down in my own soul that sees the glistening frailty my own existence; something that says, ‘wake up! Why, you have been given such a gift as to be a human being with an intelligent mind capable of great thought, and a body capable of great adventure. Do you see the wonder of this oppurtunity? Why, you are free! You are young! The world is yours for the taking! Don’t waste your time wrapped up in the soft blanket of convention and mediocrity — no! Stand up! Run! Anything but a blank existence! Anything! Anything! Anything that scares the living hell out of you! Anything that makes your spine shiver and your soft eyes light up; anything that stirs your soul and makes your heart burn like wildfire and your mind go mad with delight — with fascination! Fast! Fast! The reaper is not but a step away at any moment! What are you waiting for?’.
c. 1600, from French exister (17c.), from Latin existere/exsistere “to step out, stand forth, emerge, appear; exist, be”