Apr 13, 2015

Cats, a mountain road, and a fish farm restaurant

Hello Again! It's been three weeks since my last post and even longer since I've talked about my experiences. There is quite a lot to write about and I'll see if I can get caught up with at least two posts a week for a while.

Over the past few months a couple friends made off-handed comments to the effect that they "really enjoy reading the travel parts" of my blog... Thank you!

Does that mean the non-travel stuff is less important? To me, no. This blog is about the adventure of living and traveling overseas. Almost every day I learn something new or have a new experience, some of which make good reading. Those are the ones I attempt to write about.

I'll warn you now that this isn't one of travel posts, though there is a bit of a road adventure below =:-0

If you can force yourself to read on, I promise a couple smiles (maybe even a chuckle), at least one "WHAT?!", and one or two things that get those of you for whom "Why am I still working?" is not already a weekly or daily question to ask it.

As for why I'm on this adventure:
1) Watermelon is in season and local year-round
2) Because I can
3) My body is deteriorating and I don't know how much longer I will be able to travel
4) After 49 years (I started cutting neighbors' lawns at 12), I'm tired of working
5) It's nice to have total monthly expenses less than $700

One bonus to all this that I've thought about a few times and have yet to write about is this... liquidating my "estate" last fall and enjoying the proceeds myself saved someone else from having to go through my accumulated crap after I move off-planet and try to deal with it. It's also much better for me :-D

Quick (and funny-to-many) story...
Every time I've encountered a cat in VN and I'm with natives and they acknowledge the cat's presence, they say "Meow" (the locals, not the cat). I thought that this was like someone driving past a field of cows and yelling "MOO!" out the window. It's not. I recently learned that the Vietnamese word for cat is mèo. Can you guess how it's pronounced?

I'm still laughing!

Soon after I arrived back in Đà Lạt after my adventure in Lao, I was invited to join a group of 30+ for morning coffee/tea, followed by (I found out later) lunch at a fish farm/restaurant. Hell yes, I'm in!

The first venue is less than 2 km from my house, mostly open-air, and on a nice property along the lake at the north end. The market and most of the tourists are at the southern end. Although I'd ridden past the place a few times, it's set back from the road enough that I never noticed it. As is most-frequently the case, I was the only Westerner in sight and everyone made an effort to make me feel welcome. For most that's a smile and "Hello!" because that is the extent of the English they're willing to try on someone who can actually (most days) pass for a native-speaker. My reply is usually "Xin Chao!" (pronounced sin-chow) which is the Vietnamese greeting that interprets as hello. Often I am rewarded with a smile, other times a polite laugh accompanied by a comment (in Vietnamese) to the others that I take as along the lines of, "Wow! He's trying to speak Vietnamese!" They are usually a little disappointed when they learn that other than "Xin Chao" and numbers under 100, my ability to speak their native tongue is about equal to that of the flipping dogs who bark their heads off at every stranger.

I keep meaning to start VN language lessons beyond the Pimseuler CDs that I only got halfway through, though I've yet to actually do it. Soon, I promise myself again...

After coffee/tea about 23 of us headed out for lunch. Everyone else was in an SUV (only rich or well-connected people [yes, that's redundant] have SUVs here) while Quynh Chau (pronounced "quinn chow") and I were on my cruiser. The main road out of Đà Lạt to the south is a narrow, twisty two-lane job with occasional spots for pulling safely off to the side. It's uphill coming into town, for example from the airport or HCMC, and downhill going out of town (again, I'm redundant); and it can be fun IF the tour vans don't decide to pass on a curve coming at you.

Oh, wait... this is Việt Nam.

In a long-ago post I mentioned that size of vehicle is all that matters here as far as who has the right-of-way or even the right to occupy a particular patch of pavement. Did I mention that the double white lines and, if fact all pavement markings in VN, are only decorative? As Quynh Chau and I followed the SUV caravan downhill, a Toyota Corolla (a mid-sized sedan in VN) decided to pass us on a curve with traffic coming at us... and me with nowhere to go but into a ditch and/or the trees—the cruiser is the on-road bike

and it does very poorly if you're off the paved surfaces!

The asshole's Corolla's first attempt to pass us pushed us to the every edge with my LOUD aftermarket horns blaring the whole time. Because of the narrow road and the on-coming traffic, he didn't give me the customary one+ car width or room as he passed. Instead, he allowed me just over half the width of my motorcycle and that decreased rapidly as he failed to follow the curve of the road. At some point, he must've noticed that I wasn't Vietnamese—and killing people that don't look like "us" is frowned on by the police here, not practiced by them as is now acceptable in 'merica—so he backed off. I should mention here that I tried to slow down and let him past, but then he slowed. WTF??? Maybe it was target fixation...

Within 0.5 km, though, he just had to get past me, so here he comes again. This time, I was ready for him.

As he slid closer and closer to me, I lifted my leg and kicked to the left as hard as I could. I was immediately rewarded with a very satisfying "THINK"! A "think" is a higher-pitched version of the "thunk" you get when striking quality metal with an air gap behind it. Remember, this is a Corolla. I hope I dented his door; I was too busy keeping the rubber side down to look. He immediately backed off and didn't try again. Mission Accomplished! As a bonus, right after the kick I was greeted with a laugh and a squeeze of delight from my passenger. She later told me that she didn't notice a dent and also hoped I'd made one. Maybe word will get around not to mess with the crazy SOB on the big blue bike... that would be nice, though I'm NOT holding my breath.

The fish farm restaurant is on the motorcycles-allowed part of Highway 20 and was quite something. Everything is outdoors and under cover of thatched roofs; the fish and eels are raised in ponds on the property; the restaurant part consists of wooden-plank tables with the omnipresent plastic chairs in numerous structures built over a big pond. I was so taken by the whole thing that I took only a few photos... none of which I am able to find :-( This is a shot of the entrance that I took on the way back from Ho Chi Minh last week:

My second big experience for the day was when I tried the eel. At first hesitant, I then thought, "it's not killing them, so it probably won't kill me."

It was GOOD! Although it was fried, the bright white meat inside had no hit of greasiness and was very rich and firm. I know I had a photo of that, so I'll keep looking.

The rainy season is ending in Olympia and ramping up here. I've already lost some stuff to a ceiling leak that is just part of the deficiencies in my rental house that I'll talk about in a future post, and yesterday we got caught in a downpour while out riding. The rain here is more like that of South Florida—short STRONG showers with big drops—than the long misty, drizzly, damp perpetual rain of the Pacific Northwest. They say the rainy season is six months-long, so I'll be packing my rain gear every outing for a while.

I'll end with an Irish saying I recently saw again:

"If you can see the mountain, it's going to rain. If you can't see the mountain, it's raining."

1 comment:

  1. Dear John,

    My name is Joe Pinzone and I'm casting an international travel show about expats moving abroad. We'd love to film in Vietnam and wanted to know if you could help us find expats who have moved there within the last 15 months or have been there for 3-4 years, but recently moved into a new home. The show documents their move to a new country and will place the country in fabulous light. The contributors on the show would also receive monetary compensation if they are filmed. If you'd like more information, please give me a call at 212-231-7716 or skype me at joefromnyc. You can also email me at Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Joe Pinzone
    Casting Producer
    P: 212-231-7716
    Skype: Joefromnyc