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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Never Saw That Coming

Life in Saigon is fast. It is busy. It is hectic. It is intoxicating. It is also a little dangerous. On Sunday night, Me and Candice hopped on my motor bike, and Greg and Joanna were on another motorbike. We were on our way out near Korea town in Ho Chi Minh City to go for a stroll around a lake and take some photos. I discovered the location a couple of weeks ago and knew they would love it.

As we are driving along Nguyen Van Linh street, suddenly I hear a crash and see a flash of light out of the corner of my left eye. The motorbike is losing control and everything is turning sideways. Shit, I think, we have been hit and we are going down in the middle of the road! I do my best to maintain control of the motorbike as we are now almost horizontal. It was all strangely happening in slow motion. My knee scrapes the pavement. Then my elbow. There is a sudden impact as my left shoulder hits the ground. It bounces so hard that I bounce up and roll over. My ankle twists.

I look back and Candice is getting up. "Are you ok," I ask. She is a bit in shock but nods her head. She is alert and mostly ok. We are a long way from the happiness we had the night before: being reunited with my sister-like friend from Busan.


I look up and the guy who hit us is laying prone in the street. His friends turn him over and start shaking him. Greg has parked the other motorbike and run back to the scene. He stops the guys from shaking their friend. (he is in bad shape and I think that he may be dead.) At first Greg is ready to go into CPR mode, but the guy comes to and starts vomiting blood and his dinner.

 His friend manage to drag his limp body up and on to a motorbike. He is wedged between them and they drive off. I am still dazed and confused, but trying to remain calm in the face of this chaotic scene.

A lot of nothing happens over the next 1.5 hours as we wait for the police to arrive on the scene. People translate. People congregate to look at the foreigners. People speed by, drunk, on their motorbikes. We are sitting on the patio of a nearby hotel that rents rooms by the hour for about $2.50 an hour. It is a sketchy scene.

Two days later we are at the district police office filling out reports and what not. After a while, the guy who hit us comes in with his brother. He is wearing a hat and sunglasses, and a mask over his mouth. He does not say a word, but his brother looks contrite. It is translated to us that the driver is really sorry for what he as done.

I have never been in a more uncomfortable setting: in pain from the accident, talking to the police, and next to the guy who caused the pain.  He takes off his sunglasses and his mask. Much like the Elephant Man, he reveals his battle wounds. One of his eyes is flanked by scars and red scratches. His chin and mouth are bruised and seem to mirror the pattern that asphalt makes when exposed skin is dragged on it.

One of his ears is swollen and I can see the black and blue bruises forming. His hands and arms are more damaged than my own wounds. He is in bad shape. He is lucky to be alive. We are lucky to be alive.

I am still uncomfortable.

I will skip most of the details, but the end result is that the police don't want to deal with the situation because Candice and I are foreign and my driver's license is from the USA and not Vietnam. There is a lot of paperwork involving the size and position of the motorbikes, the injuries to all involved parties, and other details that were never translated.

The look on my face probably told what I was feeling: it seemed like I was suddenly partially to blame because I am not Vietnamese and this complicates the whole process. It is made clear to us that this guy is totally to blame, but the police are trying to get some sort of bribe out of me or of the motorbike owner for dropping this mess in his lap.

Not sure what fees I will eventually have to pay, but there will be some cost.  Meh, I am alive (that is what I keep thinking).

"Everything is finished. You can leave," the head police guy says. The owner of the motorbike I am renting has agreed to cover the repair cost. We are not taking the guy's life savings and future income from him. I am not being terrible hosed for being of the wrong nationality in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

My mood is somber as we drive away. I am alive. I will heal. At least we are not as physically damaged as the guy who hit us.  I never saw that coming.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

End of the World, As We Know it

So many times I look at the road ahead of me and wonder if I should rethink the course I am on. Every time doubts creep in, the Universe nudges me in the right direction.

They Mayans believed that December, 2012 would be the eventual end of the world. They might have been right. But I don't imagine some apocalyptic physical demise lays in our path. It is simple the end of the world as we know it.

2011 saw the rise and fall of the Tea Party protesters in the States, the Arabic Spring across the Middle East, the death of a dictator in North Korea, the discovery of over 700 planets orbiting nearby stars, the emergence of the 99%, and a host of other developments. This life -this world, is changing.

Personally, I left a life in South Korea that I absolutely loved.  Granted, teaching a midst the bureaucracy of public schools in Busan was not always easy, but the challenges almost always lead to discoveries about myself or to rewarding experiences.

Today as I sat here watching Dick Clark's NYE celebration that I downloaded, I teared up thinking about the people and places that I have known as home.

Over 2 years ago I went to Korea and Korea is by no means perfect. But now I find myself in an apartment in Saigon, living in a neighborhood where most people don't speak any English other than Hello or Hi, and I am intoxicated with this life. It is hard. But damn, it is so rewarding.

This is one of those moments of clarity when I know that I am making the right decisions.

Happy New Year.

Now I look back at the last few months before I saw the dawning of the end of the world as I knew it.  Here are a few pictures. By the way, a good number of the pictures are from Laos, and Thailand. I really do plan to blog about those adventures, but transitioning into a new life has me a little behind on my blog posts.

2011
I managed to visit Laos. Most of my time was spent relaxing in a hammock or sitting by the Mekong River. But there were a few parties. Here is one from Vang Vieng.


Sunrise after the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, Thailand

Random night out in Laos with Tracy and Martin

This picture is from my first days in Saigon with Rae, before I actually "moved" here.

Fishing on the Mekong River with a bunch of cool guys.

This is Lena. She was also a teacher in South Korea and we traveled together for a month through Cambodia and Thailand. I miss her smile, charm, attitude, and Irish ways.

I climbed up a waterfall in Luang Prabang, Laos. I am sure there is a metaphor about life somewhere in this image, but for once, I will leave that up to you.

I am so lazy. This picture is also from Vang Vieng, Laos, but I couldn't be bothered to group it with the one from above. This is Norjta and Siri. I only met Nortja in Laos, but I first met Siri in Thailand. She was also on the trip of a life time.

Baptized by the waters of a waterfall
Drifting in the sea of life
Washing away all doubts and fears
This is the end of the world as I know it

Ah, sitting with Michelle in Railay, Thailand. I have a lot more to say about Michelle, but she really opened my heart and mind.  Thank you Michelle.

In the mountains of Laos, the kids rarely meet Falangs. Falang is Lao for foreigner.

And so we ride off into the wild
Looking forward
Moving on

 On the streets of Hanoi: when the idea of moving to Vietnam was just a little seed.  Now it has taken root and is growing branches.

On the second to last day of 2011, I get to hang out with a couple of teachers from Busan. What a great way to close the year.

Rejoice!
Sing!
Dance like no one is looking!
This.is.your.life.
Live it