Day 51: Hanoi
It can’t be avoided any longer: it’s time our dear motorbikes had new butts to call home. I’m stuffed up and sleepy but I get up early to write downstairs anyhow. Flo joins me half an hour later for chocolate crepes and then we walk to the parking lot for a photoshoot with our bikes–they will make the cover of this month’s For Sale poster.
Attempting to leave the lot, my bike squeals in resistance and refuses to start up. After much coaxing, Flo wheedles it into a hesitant rumble and we hit the road for our daily mechanic-shop hop. The first guy quotes a thievin’ amount for a tune-up, but down an alley we leave it in the hands of what we deem an honest-seemin’ fixer-upper.
Across the street and up a steep spiral staircase is a flaming BBQ joint. After pork and cabbage on rice we check the progress of my Honda.
“Fixed!” The mechanic smiles.
The engine rattles. It doesn’t start. This time, we sit with the mechanical duo while they tinker away.
They convince Flo to take bong hoots of tobacco with them and when the bike is finally in working order, we ride off and park both motorcycles in front of Hanoi Rocks. At the computer station upstairs, we whip up a ‘For Sale’ poster and print out a handful. Outside the hostel front door is where all the partying vagabonds hang out, smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap pints. The sidewalk is a roving mass of commotion–tourists and locals and dogs and parked motorbikes. We settle into the stoop out front after taping the freshly pressed posters to our Honda exhibit. Flo brings out his guitar and over the course of multiple beers and many an out-of-tune note, we garner some interest in our well-loved two-wheelers.
But hunger whines a single crescendo note until our stomachs put a foot down and demand us to pack up the drunken salesmen antics and leave the stoop. We drop the bikes at the lot, stuff noodles into our whining bellies and zonk out at eleven.
Day 52: Hanoi
By 730 we’re inhaling chocolate crepes when Flo’s phone beeps. It’s a message from Yung: he is waiting for us on the sidewalk. Yung is a Chinese guy in the market for a bike. Specifically, my bike. We meet him out front and promise to return soon with them so he can go for a test ride.
Flo and I walk the ten minutes to the parking lot, but my bike refuses to start. Either it is taking this selling thing too personally or the local mechanics are in the business of making their own business, if you know what I mean. It takes Flo ten minutes to get my bike started this time (the old run and jump-on technique), but I stall it in an intersection and watch Flo disappear in the traffic ahead. Stranded with a broken bike, I walk it bicycle-style in the direction of the hostel and park it on the sidewalk close to Hanoi Rocks. Rolling up to a potential buyer with a crippled product is a poor selling tactic. I hear Flo yelling from across the street. He found me! With either magic or manliness he gets the thing going again, and I jump on behind him. What should have taken fifteen minutes, has taken forty-five, and when we arrive at Hanoi Rocks, Flo apologizes profusely to one of the staff members standing outside the hostel. The guy doesn’t say much, and goes inside.
“Um, you realize that wasn’t Yung, right?” I cross my eyes at Flo.
“That guy works here. Yung was the guy wearing all denim.”
I guess you could say they looked similar, but my laugh is an obnoxious uproar that blows his blonde strands in the backwards position. Yung arrives soon after with a girl from Paris. She takes Flo’s bike for a test ride while he takes mine to the damn mechanic again. She comes back; doesn’t want it. Flo returns with my bike; still broken. Things are going well. This Yung character is still hanging out, though. He has a strange attachment to my green defect of a motorcycle. It doesn’t start at all now, but he wants it, he says. Wants the broken bike. Of the hundreds of identical Honda Wins being sold in this city, of the dozens of For Sale posters flying around the hostels, Yung wants this dysfunctional scrap metal.
Flo (two parts stubborn and three parts insane), is determined to get this thing in working(ish) order. He goes inside and returns with a length of rope from his backpack. Looping it through his bike rack, he attaches it to the front fender of my broken bike, so that a few metres of rope connects them. I see what he’s getting at now, but he can’t be serious. Can he? Not only is he serious, but this Yung guy is on board too. Flo hops on his Honda and Yung gets on mine, the rope hanging between them like an unenthused wet noodle.
“You ready?” Flo yells over his shoulder. “Just make sure you stay far back enough so that the rope is always taut!”
“Okay!” Yung is ready.
The engine roars on the lead bike as Flo steers into traffic, Yung trailing behind like a…well, like a guy on a broken bike being towed by another bike. The spectacle has garnered an audience, and we stare as Flo and Yung zip off on their shotty contraption, Flo cheering, us cheering, everybody wondering which crockpot Flo cooked this idea up from.
I head inside, shower, then buy a bag of jackfruit and am chewing it on the bench out front when Flo shows up again. The bike is in the shop. We take this time to hit up a bunch of hostels with our posters, featuring a photo of a black Honda, and a picture of a green one crossed out in black Sharpie. Bike shop owners approach us with low-ball offers, but we take a spin around the lake instead and go back to Hanoi Rocks to meet Yung. Him and Flo head off to the bike doctor to check on Ye Broken One. They return with both bikes and a raring Yung–his helmet is on tight, his backpack is strapped to the rack, his GoPro is in the on position. He’s off to meet his Parisien friend in Ninh Binh today. I gotta admire the guys’ faith.
But whatever ‘fixing’ the mechanics did is futile. The bike doesn’t start. Our audience watches. What will Flo do next? He runs. With Yung holding the handlebars, Flo gets behind and pushes the bike down the street in a full-out sprint, hopefully giving it enough momentum to kick-start the engine. I stand with the crowd on the sidewalk, watching the two of them disappear down the road into the mess of traffic. What a send off.
Bye-bye, motorbike. We had a good run.
Flo reappears ten minutes later, sweat pouring down his face.
“It finally started, and he’s on his way. I can’t believe he bought a broken bike!”
“Me either! He could just have bought yours. I think he might be more insane than both of us.”
Lunchtime. We eat strange appetizers on a patio corner, washing it down with Bia Hoi and park our one remaining bike at the parking lot. We nap at the hostel and wake in perfect harmony with free beer hour. Downstairs in the bar-cum-lobby, snacks are laid out. Coloured tinsel and decorations dangle from the ceiling. The restaurant area is crowded with beer-guzzlers and slurring Santas. It’s Christmas Eve.
‘Die Hard’ is projected onto the wall, and a list of rules for a corresponding drinking game is posted next to Bruce Willis’ huge face–everytime someone dies, everytime glass breaks, drink, drink, chug. There are twenty rules, and it’s obvious from these that Hanoi Rocks is pushing every patron to spend their last dong at the bar, despite the very Messy Christmas it will be this year.
We go for a walk outside, and happen upon a magical restaurant hidden from the rest of Hanoi. The rooftop patio has a roof of floating umbrellas. Strings of lights line the four foot walls and the sounds of the city are muffled by trailing plants and languorous vines.
“Let’s eat here!”
A fluffy cat watches us slurp spaghetti and begs for bites of our chicken salad. The other patrons scattered about stare into laptops. Little glowing apples wink at us through the shrubbery. Some kind of silent holiday meeting?
We float home and the entire Christmas party is a full scale drunker than during Die Hard. Uh, because of Die Hard. We end up in the dark lights of the hostel “club” and dance as though we’d be denied chocolate crepes in the morning unless sweat stained every inch of our t-shirts. A stray balloon crosses our path and we adopt it for a game of gravity defying soccer, or space-volleyball, or whatever hybrid balloon sport it is we are now playing between groups of white-girl-wasted boys and gyrating teenagers. With one last serve, we go upstairs and brush our teeth.
Scrubbing my dental units, I look in the mirror and think about what I learned this Christmas Eve.
In Germany, as Flo informed me, Die Hard is dubbed over–it doesn’t have subtitles. And the German John McClane doesn’t say “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.”
The German John McClane says “Yippee-yah-yei, schweinebacke.”
That’s right, he calls those motherfuckers a “pig-cheek”, and then he blows shit up.
Also, I feel confident that I’ll be eating chocolate crepes for Christmas breakfast tomorrow morning.