Being weekday teachers, Ruth and I sometimes have the luxury of a Saturday ride. Although these rides are not in any way lazy, they usually qualify as a bit more relaxing as the roads are usually less busy. Yesterday, we started off as usual, passing the occasional public bus and funeral procession, stopping to get some more air in our tires right before the predictable rain.
For the most part the highway is in good condition, and we have ridden it enough times to know the bad parts, though some bumpy parts are unavoidable. There are appeared to be no puncture, but the bumps were causing some real problems for Ruth's front tire yesterday. Although I popped a tire on the ride last week, this was the first real experience trying to get a repair on the open road.
The interesting thing about places like Vietnam is that pretty much anyone can open up a little stand, provide only one service or product, and make a living doing it. As this is a country of motorbikes, there are tire repair stations about every 100 meters. Yesterday, however, we had the bad luck of arriving at nap time. Now although many of these stands serve only one function, the people manning them feel no obligation to actually do their job. Taking one look at our strange bikes, the mechanics predictably shook their hands (that is synonymous with shaking your head in this part of the world). No reference to why they couldn't help us or where we could go to get help, just a shake and back to sleep. When pushed to give us more information about where we could actually find help, they merely waved their hands to indicate that there were shops further down the road. Through various hand signals, we attempted to decipher if this meant a long way in that direction or just a little way. Again, we received the hand shake. That is the really strange thing about this country. Some people don't want to help you and then when you finally find someone to blow up your tire they refuse to take money, really hit or miss.
Three memorable events from the ride yesterday. Since it is in no way common for people to be riding road bikes in this country, it is very typical that if you stop a Vietnamese man will come up and lift your bike, just to see how heavy it is. Then a look of approval will cross his face, and he will look over his shoulder at his friends to show how brave he is, touching a foreigner's bike. The man yesterday took this a step further. Staring me straight in the eye, he flipped up my kickstand and hopped on. My immediate thought was I am going to stand here and watch this man steal my bike, but when I saw him totter away I knew he wouldn't get very far all that fast. Not easy to deal with the skinny tires.
Second event, Ruth got her first touch. In an effort to turn ourselves into subjects instead of objects on the road, and to combat the inquisitive Vietnamese stares, we have developed a game. Basically, when someone rides along next to you just staring (many times we go about the same speed as the motorbikes), you reach out your hand, touch their shoulder, gently put on your brakes, and the most important part, fade away. We are still trying to work out a point system for the game, but Ruth's touch yesterday definitely worth at least 3 points, as it was initiated by a Vietnamese man. James currently holds the record for the coolest touch...a high five from a truck, but Chet is definitely the winner based on sheer number of touches. For those of you who think this sounds like a strange game, try riding the same strip of highway twice a week for 6 weeks and see what games your brain starts to play.
The final sighting, and winning the award for the strangest thing seen on the road yesterday, was a baseball cap with an orange wig attached to it. Acrylic roadkill if you will.
Justine and Chet will be leaving tonight for a training trip to Dalat to check out the mountains we will be battling in about 5 weeks. Wish you luck guys!!