Christmas in Limbo

Day 53: Merry Christmas, Hanoi

I grab a coffee from the mezzanine and sit outside to send messages to my family. The shiny plastic balls dangling limply from the lobby ceiling are a cheap reminder that today is Christmas. I’m not convinced. There isn’t a trace of that jolly chubster anywhere. But I don’t mind getting snubbed by Santa on his annual visit if I it means I get to have fun the rest of the year.
Flo joins me for our daily crepe date and the chocolate sauce is the best it’s ever been. Uh oh. Has it peaked?
For five nights we’ve slept amongst sixteen strangers in a dorm; for five mornings we’ve shared a mugful of sugary cocoa sauce. Stagnancy is pulling into the harbour with a shipment of monotony. We’re stuck in Hanoi until our passports arrive with visa extensions, but we can at least change hostels.
Leaving our bags at reception, we cruise around on The Last Motorbike to look for fresh accommodation and find a place nearby with cheap rooms. We go back and stack our crap on the single bike rack as though challenging the locals to a game of ‘who can carry the most’. I ride around with over a hundred litres of baggage teetering behind me while Flo walks a mountainous armload to the new place. A blind senile leg amputee in a dark maze could navigate better than I do on the way to the hostel. When I finally pull up, Flo is waiting out front with a knitted brow. We climb three flights of stairs to our room overlooking the street below. It’s still Hanoi, but even these new digs are a satiating snack for our nomadic cravings.


Then, back on the motorbike. This thing will find a new owner, today. There’s a sticker slapped on the gas tank advertising “Mr. Tony’s Bike Shop” who purchases bikes at the “best price”. We go to the address printed on it and meet the humourless Mr. Tony. He has zero interest in haggling. After jetting around to find a better deal, it would appear that his sticker propaganda holds true.
We make a stopover at the travel agency to discover that our visas are still in limbo. We’re going to die here.
Flo goes for a workout and meets me for a beer after. We agree that it is now time to pass over the Honda keys once and for all. We clink our cups and return to the smile-free face of Mr. Tony, who hands us the money without so much as a lip twitch or hint of a laugh line. It’s not enough cash to keep us traveling for the rest of our days, but the bike is gone! No more redundant mechanic visits, no more breakdowns, no more parking mishaps or riding through icy downpours in dorky ponchos. We’re condemned to walking, but there is freedom in that, too. I will miss those Hondas, though. Our first motorbikes; bought, rode and SOLD!
It’s raining. We stomp through puddles to a little clothing store stocked with printed shirts; “Vietnamese traffic laws: Green light – I can go. Yellow light – I can go. Red light – I still can go.”
Then we pitter-patter to the big man-made lake in the centre of the city, surrounded by tall buildings engulfed in smog, their blaring lights reflected on the smooth surface. A ceiling of patterned Christmas bobbles illuminate the sidewalk bordering it. A bridge leads to a tiny park in the centre of the water, glowing red. Around the edge of the lake, we teeter on the lip between wet and dry, one eye closed, balancing one foot in front of the other. Flo dangles the last paper advertisement of our now-sold bikes in one hand.


I flick my lighter beneath its delicate edge and it explodes into a ball of fire over the lake and we scream in celebration as it crumbles to ash and floats away. Bye-bye, bike trip. Farewell, Hondas. Ode to many a-firsts.
My grumbling stomach leads us to a restaurant balcony overlooking the intersection by our new hostel. We order shisha, and when the hookah arrives we puff until our heads are obscured by an apple-scented cloud.


Eavesdropping on a couple German guys whining about lady drama over caesars on Christmas Day doesn’t bring about a “home for the holidays” tingle. Suddenly we can’t stop laughing. We’re in a foreign country with no passports, no flights booked to our next destinations, and no bikes. Where are those clunky motorcycles now, anyways? Probably at the mechanic.
Tipsy, we giggle our way across the street and up three flights of stairs.
Merry Christmas, Vietnam. Salut, Sinterklaas. No hard feelings, but take me outta your address book, okay, big guy?

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