Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hello from 2016

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I feel like an explorer. An astronaut, maybe. Reporting from unknown regions. From far away. And it's true. Everyday I wake up and It's Vietnam Outside. 

But today it's a different year than it is at home in Kentucky, USA. In other words: "Duuuuuuuude.... It's January 1, 2016 up in this bitch."

More importantly, it's breakfast time, and I'm writing to you with all the wisdom that a fairly hungover, hungry, uncaffeinated stranger in a strange land could posibly offer. Such are my gìts to you from the Future. 

Let's see: It's bright here in The Future. I'm blaming that on the big windows and my hangover, but do not let that detract from your own soon-to-be-bestowed future = brightness equation.

It's also kind of still Christmas, at least almost as much as it's ever been, which is to say: completely manufactured. I will say that those who are concerned about the loss of the Big C in Christmas should come over here and stomp their feet, because these Buddhists seem to give not one fuuuck the baby Jesus. He's nice enough, I'm sure many of them would agree. But the Viet people are niceness incarnate, so no need to mince over some kind of immaculate conception. 

"SANTA! Christmas tree! How long until Tet?"

The Viets just want a big decorative tree, a red and white Santa hat, too small, often with the world "Santa" embroidered on it (which is a little on the obvious side, don't you think, Vietnam?), and, y'know --- Jingle all the way. And what's wrong with that? 

It's pretty great. In the US, we fight about it; they're actually full of joy about it. Hard to argue with that in terms of the "reason for the season." And anyway, failing a crèche (and I've seen not one image of Jesus in Vietnam, although Chris's bumper car the other night in Tuy Hôa did seem to sport a lit-up cross on the back, so let's just say "Chrismas" from now on, shall we?),

 "Thank you for funny smashing into frightened children's bumper cars. Now get out, and come again!"

They've got altars out the Yin-Yang -- from along the glorious wonderful muddy country roads, all the way up to big city hotels, like this one. In fact, here's Mick's Favorite Altar Award #1

Lobby of the Legendsea* hotel. Baby Jesus don't get Choco-Pies, does he?

(*Quick note: Last night, I heard the hotel clerk proudly pronounce the place's strange name and she said "Lee-Jen-see." So... get it? SPELLING IS HARD. Or  maybe somebody already has a joint called the "Regency.")

Back to the altars and their offerings of food for the Buddha: I don't know what happens if you're dumb enough to try to take some of Buddha's Choco-Pies, but I suspect it could be kind of embarrassment-inducing. Kind of like ambling into a funeral, snapping photos. 

Which we did. 


"Cool! Country dress-up party! No? Wedding? No? High School Graduation? NO?? Funeral! Come on in and take photos, though? Great plan! Sorry for your loss!"

"Thanks for insisting we come in and take pictures of your graduation or whatever. Say, isn't that a coffin in the back room? Cause it sure looks like a coffin..." (not pictured, because I'm not that bad)

Oh, sorry -- back to my report from the future. It's great! I need more coffee and breakfast Phô, pronto. In a little while, I'm going to get my feet fixed up, in a plush pedicure chair. I found a place that has that type of chair, which hopefully guarantees that I'm not accidentally hiring a hooker. You can't be too careful. I've resolved not to have a massage here because I just don't know where that's going. An Aussie friend told me that if somebody says "You want massage baby?" then cover your junk. That's a handjob. A comma can make all the difference. 

Nonetheless, I was offered a massage here at the hotel because last night I was the only one clownish enough to get up in front of a lobby of people with the staff emcee and lead the hotel NYE revelers in "some New Years songs," as she requested of me. All they've got is ABBA's "Happy New Year," which she had sung or played over the lobby PA several times prior to drafting me. People seem generally pleased, but where do you go from there? "Some New Year's songs?" Hmm, I didn't think they'd know Deathcab for Cutie, and my rendition of Auld Ang Syne didn't quite ascend to "It's A Wonderful Life" altitudes -- though the look of glee on Viet faces whenever I play ukulele makes it worth more than all the Dong in the world. Sorry -- unfortunate word choice. It's the Vietnamese currency. What do you want me to say? 

But I've got a trick up my sleeve because I know The Song. And I told her. Somehow she produces sheets of lyrics of The Song. The Song that has enchanted young and old alike across the land, from the most backwater rice paddy burg right up to the cosmopolitan gleam of Panama City-like Nha Trang. The Song is magic. The Song is baffling. The Song is .... Leo Sayer's 70's hit "More Than I Can Say." She and I practice a couple of times -- a few feet away from where we'll sing it together in the center of the lobby. Into an open mic, we practice it. So, you know, this is going to be a huge surprise to our eager fans, who, like me, are really there for the snacks and free booze. 

But sure enough it slays. I never doubted the power of The Song. I hope one day to find out why in the fucking fuck every person in Vietnam knows The Song.

In fact, here it is, so "Happy New Year, Happy New Year," something something something something something, whatever ABBA says.

Finally: Despite being horribly underpracticed, I decided to drop the Frank Loesser Classic, probably my favorite holiday song ever, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

Twice even. Because later after most of a bottle of Vietnamese rum that tasted like grapes and probably didn't have any grapes in it but was full of booze, I played it again for some drinker than I South Africans on the roof of the Legendsea. 

So happy new year, my loves. Don't hate me because I get to celebrate it twice.  It's only because this is the Best Day of my Life So Far.

What are YOU doing?

My NYE is complete because I got to play Frank Loesser's timeless gem "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" for two appreciative audiences tonight. I'm out. G'night, America! #drunktiredhappy

@amahiukulele around the world bringing peace and love. #Vietnam #ukulele

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HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM The Jeffries Brothers in Vietnam!!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Accidental grab, Comrade, I promise: Guy taking a leak beside typical Communist billboard, the #graphicdesign of which I love and delight in every time. This juxtaposition was happenstance. After the shot, I noticed this guy's buddy kind of staring at me laughing and I realized what I'd just captured. #Vietnam #oops #pissoncomrade #shityouseeinvietnam

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Teaching #ukulele to school kids in rural #Vietnam. My @amahiukulele soprano wins the day, EVERY time: "I've seen a million Viets, and I've uked them all." #wanted

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This gent replaces the battery on my motorbike, Comrade Jane, and I play my #amahi #ukulele for him. Brother "Jeff" calls the ukulele the "universal symbol of goodwill." All I I can say is: "I've seen a million Viets, and I've Uked them all."

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say "chào bạn" to one of my new custom-tailored Vietnamese aloha-style shirt from Su!

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Wi-Fi Baby

(Note: If you're reading this on Facebook, you really ought to hop over to my blog . You're missing italics, bold, and some photos, how can you stand it? )

I've written a 12-bar blues song based on the ubiquitous nature -- and need -- for wifi on my travels.

I want your wifi, baby
Here's my phone, type it right in.
I want your wifi, baby
Won't you please it right in?

I need to check my email,
and tell the Facebook places I've been.

(Please feel free to write more couplets)

I start playing ukulele, and the locals come swarming. Every time. This was a random stop to reexamine riding directions. 15 seconds after I get the uke out, people snapping photos, clapping, clowning. It's pretty good for one's confidence, gotta admit.

Like lots of travelers, I'm on an endless 
quest for wifi. My phone plan -- which AT&T epically over promised and under delivered, but then, after hours on the phone over 3 days, did their all-thumbs best to honor -- has no data component. Short meaning: beyond txting (free, unlimited) and actual animal-like phone calling ($1/min. hahaha), I gotta have wifi to do anything. Thus, the quest. The endless quest. 

Fortunately it's everywhere. 

Hell, I spent a glorious afternoon at a place called Hidden Beach, lolling in the surf and wifi. 

South China Sea, y'all. Near Phường Cam An. Water, wifi, seafood, Seagrams and soda.

But here's what's so great. The Viets are so friendly and me no speakie, so anywhere I go, I just go to the wifi screen on my phone and hand it to the nearest employee of any given joint. This seems common, by the way. Without hesitation, they type in the password, smile and hand it back to me. Blam, it's on again, Internet friends.

So much confusion is avoided and I wish we could adopt this custom in the US. I know -- type it yourself, lazy white boy. You may not be familiar with the Viet alphabet. It's the same letters but they get cray cray crazy.

Using a Viet keyboard (go ahead, a look, your phone will probably install one w/o much effort, my iPhone did. Had no idea it would do that), watching a Vietnamese person type is like some kinda crazy-ass Magic. Their fingers move like mine, but crazy shit winds up showing up on the screen. 

So here, in Vietnam, considering my lameness, it's totally legit to hand the phone to somebody with a polite and sincere "thank you," a smile, and slight bow of the head.

So anyway -- service sector employees of America -- think of the time that could be saved with high maintenance people: "It's not working. Is that a capital B? Is that a zero or an O?'" It's possible, quite possible that everybody would be happier if servers, clerks, host and other valued service-industry peeps would just grab our phones out of our dumbass hands and type in the password and hand the phone back. I know I like it.

Best day of my life so far, on and offline.

Oh, your moment of Vietnam Zen:

Ring around the swimming pool. Morning scrubbing. 

Jeffries the Younger, in full effect, #motorbiking high above Da Nang #vietnam

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Ok I try not to make posts like this, but sometimes, after being hounded mercilessly by trinket sellers, this kind of culturally insensitive post is one's only recourse. "Other languages so funny to monolingual American tourist!" After this, I promise to go back to awe-filled posts about #vietnam

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signs leading into town along the highway to Hoi An. For some reason, I just thrill to any giant Commie signage

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let's ride, let's play #ukulele I expect my #amahi sponsorship to begin at any moment.

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one more time: #Shazam #motorbike owner again. #fortheWIN #win #honda #chinesecopy #helpuslord

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It happened again:

Blam, motorbike owner. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

I am your Doctor! Here, search through this convenient box of high potency steroids and high test antibiotics and fail to find what you want! (hydrocortisone)

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Same model as my scooter, but mine didn't come with a washing machine. #rippedoff #shityouseeinvietnam

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On The Day After Christmas, Viet Santa Gave to Me...

On the day after Christmas, Viet Santa gave to me: Some Phờ. We're done here. Thanks, Viet Santa!

Exhibit A: The Noodles in question.

Phờ is the food of the gods and everybody else, too -- a magic meat and veggie-laden broth that you could look just call "chicken soup," if you wanted. But it's more fun to say "Phờ" to people who will almost certainly look at you in confusion as you speak their most oft-spoken food-centric monosyllabic world. I mean? The only time I don't hear Vietnamese saying "Phờ" is when they're eating Phờ. 

Let's practice. Pretend I'm a foreigner and I say: "Phờ, please." You're Vietnamese: Look confused but concerned, while always kind of smiling. Say nothing but look deeply into my eyes. Maybe nod your desire to understand my strange, foreign words. Me: "Phờ." (But with a little more emphasis this time, as if being more abbreviated will help me sound like I have any idea what I'm saying.) You: look confused and shake head vaguely. Me: "Phờ. Phờ! You: Silent, squinting, shaking head in pity and contrition for not understanding. Me: (Gesturing with hands like using chopsticks to slurp noodles and) "Phờ?" You: (Eyes widen in acknowledgement and you cheerfully correct me): "Ah, Phờ!" 

Translation: "So sad that poor American does not know how to say "noodle soup" in Vietnamese. Please bring him some Phờ as a gesture of sympathy."

Hope your xmas was merry and bright. Mine was muddy and dirt-road driven. More on that to come... Right after I have some Phờ.

Best Day of my Life So Far. 

Happy December 26, from Da Nang, Vietnam, on the other side of the world.

Viet Christmas (Part 1)

Up the dirt road, on the motorbikes, We came around the corner and the first thing I see is the guard station. Uh-oh.

The lowered barrier rail. Checkpoint Charlie? Should we even try to talk to this guy, or just turn around and beat it?

(Note: If you're reading this on Facebook, you really ought to hop over to my blog . You're missing italics, bold, and some photos, how can you stand it? )

The facts are these: We'd planned to plan on something special for Christmas Day, my brother and I. We've spend most of his 47 of them together, for sure. 

But I could never have predicted that we'd be yuling by riding a motorbikes in the rain through rural roads, past free-roaming oxen, communities of ducks and a variety of field workers for whom Santa was on his own. And across dinky DIY toll bridges. 

But let's back up a bit.

Christmas Day started out fine, or as fine as a day can after you ride motorbikes on Christmas Eve through a well-traveled industrial corridor like we had just done, jousting with everything on wheels or feet. We wisely chose to de-bike at dusk. I don't mind matching wits with the native drivers (bikes, motos, buses, cars, semi's and the all-important "other" category) in the broad daylight, but this industrial corridor had been plenty daunting enough that continuing into the night? No thanks, even though we were late for a train-catching date. So we rolled up at a roadside H O T E L sign and wandered into the sprawling retail joint of some kind into the back seating area, right up onto a couple large tables of locals having dinner. 

And drinking rice wine. 
And giving us the dinner. 
And the rice wine. 

And then the ukulele came out. Uh-oh. This seemed like a recipe for a massive hangover. But you do what you have to do to get by here, am I right?

My rice wine drinkin' homies, who demanded that we eat and drink with them. Just out of the frame on the right is The Cop (or maybe security guard) most responsible for pouring rice wine into us.

Christmas Eve in Roadside Vietnam:"First we give you more rice wine, and then Mick become Elvis Buddy, OK?" Chris is opening act.

The next morning and I learn from a FaceTime with my family that it's Christmas Day. Right. Kind of forgot that. Also I've got some mild hives. Fuck you, rice wine. OK, then!

I do my morning routine of writing, playing ukulele, having funny weird transactions with the locals, heavily enabled by the miracle of Google Translate. Figure out that the giant store that's in front of the hotel is kind of a tourist department store -- they've got booze, shoes, toys, snacks, sunglasses, you name it. I figure this out when a tour bus rolls up and unloads a bunch of Viet businessmen who come in, smoke, drink tea, maaaaaybe buy a trinket or two. I show them live FaceTime of Lucy and Libby Lee and they laugh, smile, say "May Kissmas!" and one of them makes the universal "honking boobies" gesture at my wife. Easy, Charlie. Then load back on the bus. Right before they roll out though, I ask to jump on the bus and play Jingle Bells. They clap along in that strange arrhythmic Vietnamese way I've come to know so well. They cheer like I am, actually, Elvis. If they, in fact, actually, knew who Elvis even was. Which I doubt they do. 

Do lots of "Merry Christmas" saying.. the Viets love to say it, too, usually accompanied by a very exuberant peace sign, which is the universal photobomb here. 

Look: Now ever I do it. Peace, everybody!

I told you Santa rides a motorbike in Vietnam. Here he has his own driver, though. "Velly nice."

So, great Christmas morning so far: Video chat with my girls. Check. With my mom: check. Breakfast, ukulele, Nescafé: check! Suit up and ride motorbikes 50 miles in the rain with a helmet that has no visor. Mmmmmmm..... yay? I am not enthused at this prospect. In fact, I think "afraid" might be a little closer to the truth. Not "terrified," but let's say "discomforted." It has to be done. We've got a plan and now we've got plane tickets -- "skin in the game," as brother Chris is fond of saying. We HAVE to ride, rain or not or we'll miss our flight. 

OK, fine. In the motorbike corral (which has a tin roof, making the light rain sound monsoon-like and maybe it IS), I suit up in the complimentary (as in "free," not as in "slimming") rain suit that came with the bike and which I'd hoped I'd never need.

Slimming rain gear. Ripped out crotch compliments of My Leg Lifting One Time.

The bike corral, where I really really reeeeeally don't want to leave for what's outside: rainy roads. vague to non-existent route. Etc. Great Plan!

Fairly immediately the crotch rips out. Good, good... 

Now-- right as the rubber is literally about to meet the road, I just can't do it. Not with this helmet. Not without a visor. See, I've got a helmet (we always wear helmets, gentle reader, always), but it's got no visor. Not good. Right now, I feel like the best case scenario is we have to keep stopping so I can cry and curse and try to wipe off my glasses one more time and probably catch a cold. The worst case scenario? Well, let's not talk worst case, I think we can all agree.

So I get an idea: I go to the department store downstairs and find one of my rice wine drinking buddies -- the security guard who looks like he's "in bits" as some of the Euro backpackers describe hangovers. And in that now familiar combination language of speech, pantomime and Google Translate, I summon magic for me, simply by being humble and asking: "Please help me. We ride bikes. It is raining. I am worried about my face. No visor. Buy better helmet?" 

Let me stop right here and say something to the Universe: "Universe? thank you for helping me to see my limitations and helping me to ask for help when I need it. It's not always in my nature, or genes to do so. Thank you for helping me with this defining character flaw."

OK, so -- security dude swings into action. He tells me to get my motorbike. I do, and he jumps on back, then he thinks better of my skills, and demotes me to the back of my own bike. Away we go, down a road headed who knows where. 

Zooming into the unknown, I remember that Chris was ready and left me with the adviso: "Keep in mind: If we don't get to Hanoi in the next 4ish hours, we're out $150." Right. "Skin in the Game." 

Now I'm wondering where I'm headed with the security guard who's driving my bike. Is this going to take 10 minutes? 2 hours? Great plan!

Bumping and bomping down a dirt road in the rain, I'm privately reevaluating. Is it too late for: "Please take me back. I'll be fine." It is, and, furthermore, I won't. I need a new helmet with a visor or it ain't on. Fortunately, in just a short spit, we wind up at some kind of venue, like so many, that's equal parts grocery, home goods, notions, bric-a-brac, living room, maybe bedroom, restaurant, and in this case, motorcycle accessories store! Security guard talks, they nod, and look at me with giggles, shiny eyes and -- thankfully -- head nods, not shakes. A coterie of helmets begins to emerge and .... too small, next... too small, next... way too small, next! It's like a vaudeville act or something, with each one illiciting greater and greater hilarity. (I will take credit for my part in this, since funny faces are the universal language and I'm nothing if not a ham. Plus surely it's karma points, possibly shaving off some "tourist tax." As in all things in this very foreign land: Who can really say?) 

Eventually we settle on a shiny newish Honda helmet with a flip down visor that's only about one and a half sizes too small. That'll work. I feel better already. OK, time for me to bite the bullet. I suck it up and ask how much. There's some chatter thrown around and a number comes back. 480,000 Dong (shut up, it's what they call their money, the jokes are infinite, don't you think I know?)


I still haven't gotten used to the astronomical inflation here, and am resigned to overpaying because I need this. But just for edification (and shame), I do the math. The helmet: $18. 


Thank you, God of Vietnamese kindness and vaudeville ukulele comedy! You are too kind to me.

Outside, it's Vietnam

Can you believe we haven't even gotten on the road yet? That's for Part 2 of Christmas Day in Vietnam, so sprawling is this story because this is, undoubtedly, the Best Day of My Life So Far.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas from the Future

Being 12 hours ahead has been a peculiar experience. Not bad, just peculiar. One of the oddest things was realizing that today is Christmas Day (morning), even as I video chatted with my family for whom it is Christmas Eve(ning). So: Merry Christmas from the future, here in Ngã Ba Đọ, Đông Hải, Quỳnh Phụ , Thái Bình, Vietnam. I can tell you for a fact that Santa could and would fit All The Toys for Vietnamese kids onto one scooter. Believe.

tasty as a caramel-flavored soft drink can be, but I mainly drink it for its heat-relieving qualities. #vietnam

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So there we were, on a Sleeper Bus

Could I make it across the street? I was alone and had two motorbikes, four bags, two ukuleles, and two helmets. One of the motorbikes wouldn't start, we knew that. The other one was anybody's guess. Did I mention I was alone?

The fact is, we were kinda-sorta broken down. Or really "kicked to the curb" is more accurate. Voluntarily.

The Jeffries brothers planning and drinking facility, on Tuesday in Ha Long, before catching the "sleeping bus." Center right, is "Jeff" Jeffries, planning incredible feats of travel, while his brother gawks and goofs around, mostly blogging and drawing crowds for ukulele concerts.

Not really, but let's call it that for now. Chris had disappeared in a taxi to get gas -- because anyone who's ever seen any classic horror movie knows that the first thing to do in times of trouble is everybody split up. 

"What kind of trouble?" is a question you're probably asking. And at this point, I'd have to confess that "trouble" is a strong word which in this case more accurately translates to "signing up for an 18 hour bus ride, and bailing after 45 minutes and being dropped off on the curb in an unknown locale." Great plan!

There's one thing for sure: it was superior to the plan we'd thus far hatched, to our stark surprise. 

The facts were these: We'd been helped by the most we'll-meaning couple of women (sisters? never can tell) who operated a travel agency in Ha Long. They'd signed us up for the "luxury cruise" (simultaneously too luxurious and not luxurious enough for us, in retrospect. Next time: Pirate cruise) and had helped us now with our desire to make a giant geographic leap a few hundred miles south, so that we could ride our motorbikes in warmer climes AND be a somewhat more manageable distance from our destination of Saigon. (if you want to mince over the details, you will be welcomed into our daily miasma. Would you like a bowl of Pho with that?)

The answer: a Sleeper Bus, a common global phenomenon that Chris had experienced in Brazil. "Oooh, you've never experienced a sleeper bus! Oh, you're in for a treat," relished Chris. Some enticements followed: personal video screens, prone position, but the ability to sit upright, you know, these kinds of luxuries. PLUS they're going to put our motorbikes underneath in the cargo hold. Great plan! What could go wrong?

Next stop: the bus station! Orrrrrrr.... a provincial storefront, where several guys set about removing our rear view mirrors and emptying our gas tanks, siphoned by mouth, which I have done as a teenager (story for another time) and which is awful. On the up side? They've got a few liters of gas which they promptly pour into their own scooters. Well played, gents!

The whole fam-damily is here, as is often the case and I decide that it's time for -- wait for it -- ukulele concert #391. Because the Viets always lose their minds when I play ukulele. I like to play Elvis, Buddy, and ole Hank because I feel very comfortable singing to the point of parody in a cartoonish hillbilly voice. Also, Jingle Bells. Lots and lots of Jingle Bells. As usual, everybody acts like internationally famous. Cameras come out, relatives are called. 

One of our travel agent girls, who I loved for her Hello Kitty helmet (with pony tail hole) and smiley Viet eyes, which are everywhere, I'm happy to say. On the downside, anytime she escorted us places that one would think would be in her bailiwick -- bus station, repair shop, etc. -- we spent a great deal of the trip with her stopping to ask directions. Or calling "her brother" for directions. Who knows? Every day here is blissfully, hilariously full of "who knows?"

Then, in a blink, the adults are gesturing for us to get on the bikes (the just-drained-of-gas bikes, right?), get our bags, go-go-go. I'm thinking "Um, did we miss the bus?" After an impossible hustle, during which I'm terrified for a moment that I've lost Chris and our leader/gas-siphoner, 100 yards down the road, I'm waved into a paddock area that is the bus station. I guess. 

You have no idea the Purgatory that lies within.

There it is: The Sleeping Bus. The cargo bays are opened and our motorbikes are picked up and heave-ho'd into the bay.. on their sides? yes, on their sides. The bags of the riders are tossed in on top of our bikes. Hoo-Kay, no need for alarm, haha... 

"Sure! We can take your bikes! We'll put 'em... here, how about here? Yes, we'll just put them HERE!"

Now: its' time to get on the Bus.. at the threshold: several "employees" sitting around. Oops! Shoes come off? OF course they do. Put them in this plastic bag? OK. Climb over you into the ... aisle? But the aisle ... it's padding, crazy narrow and flanged on both sides and down the middle with double decker um, let's call them chaise longues. And they're all full that I can see. Headed back, back... having trouble squeezing in between... Viet employee guy kind of pushing me just a tad... aggressive nudging, we could call it, and split the difference. Back, back, still no empty "seats" ... back, back ... to ... the very back of the bus. The guy somehow gets from behind me to in front of me, and heaves my bag, my ukulele, my other bag up into a 4-across hidey-hole that is 5/8ths occupied by 2 large boxes and a Brit backpacker couple, reclined (because there's no other option) with heads at the very very back and feet facing forward. Next: the clear and unmistakable gesture from the attendant, with whom I share no language: "You go. Up there."

OK, haha, but I'm.... uh ... right now? Me? Up there? Yes, of course. I clamber up the 3 rungs (to say "steps" would be far too generous) and pile in, next to the Brits, who seem calm. Impossibly calm. Me, I'm breathing at a slightly elevated rate, looking for my brother who's behind me, and being ushered into the down-low hidey-hole, completely out of my line of sight, next to a couple of travelers, if I remember correctly, from, oh 35 seconds ago. I see him disappear below me. 

Up top: I lie back and soaking in the weirdness, the uncertainty. I think shock is setting in, actually. I do some calculations: maybe people will get off soon," which doesn't really calculate, I'm quite aware, but I need something. The bus starts rolling -- rollicking, careening, honking, braking, jostling, honking and honking and honking. Is this real? 

The Brit guy -- pony tail, scraggly backpacker beard -- says with inconceivable calm (resignation?) that they're on for 16 hours and that probably, the staff will load more people on, because the aisles are padded and thus people could lie there. My cognitive processes are shutting down at this point. I can't do math anymore, either out of overload or terror. All I know is, we got on at 4pm and are due to arrive at noon the next day. I'm beginning to privately wonder how I'm going to survive the next 15 minutes.

So I start thinking about drugs

I planned for this! Hooray! I haven't come to the other side of the world without at least the ability to sedate myself if necessary! 

And this is looking more and more necessary. 

First I conjecture and take inventory: Valium. Vicodin. That's it for the "V's," let's move on to X as in Xanax. I also have Hydroxyzine, which in addition to being an anti-nausea medicine which I terribly afraid I may very soon need, claims to be an anxiety medicine and also has "xyz" in it's name. From the back of this bus ON my back, I'm starting to feel pretty near the end of MY alphabet so it feels fitting, from a poetry standpoint. Then I remember my phone. TEXTING. 

And here's how two brothers got out of a freaky situation: Texting each other from a distance of about 5 feet apart, but without any visual contact:

So, we didn't actually wait until the next gas station. "Now will be fine," is how it ended up. 

And that's how two brothers wound up on the curb in Uông Bí. Kinda freaked out. Making a plan to split up. Like in a horror movie. But ours turned out fine, I'm happy to say. Once Chris head out in a taxi for gas replenishments, I realized that across a busy street was the My Way Coffee Shop, which has many attractions but #1 was wi-fi -- because it's always about the wi-fi. With some elbow grease, I could get all of our bags and bikes .... over there. I just wasn't sure what to take first. Finally, I got up my gumption and strapped ALL of mine and Chris's bags to myself and to my scooter and shambled across an intersection to the promised land: My Way Coffee -- just in time for the owner of the shop to notice this kind of frazzled looking American pushing, hauling, dragging towards his joint. Smiles. Wi-fi. Charades. Google Translate. Bam, everything is officially fine. Soon, we've got a hotel down the street and some time to fall back and regroup with some local TV. Let me tell you that the English-language edition of Korea's version of Entertainment Tonight is inexplicably mesmerizing.

In retrospect, getting off the Sleeping Bus was 100% the right move. Doing so slowed our Southbound roll by a couple of days, it's true. But as Chris said: "No question this is an experience, but one that I could be quite happy not to have."

Could we have done it? Yes. Maybe. Fuck, I don't know. I might have lost my marbles a few hours in, or: if having chosen to be rendered unconscious by meds, only to later wake up some handful of hours later still on that bus -- that's when the serious marble-losing might have happened.

So this was an experience that cost us each $50. A story came out of it, for sure. And I think $50 is a pretty fair price.

And that's why this is still the Best Day of My Life So Far.