Đội Cấn Notes

Almost Two Years to the Day

I'm looking back on something that I wrote almost two years ago to the day. When all this wayward adventuring was merely a daydream from a desk in a shared house off Devenger Road in Greenville, South Carolina.

Now the reality's here. It's been here for a while.

Thing's have been weirder, wilder and more wonderful than even I could have fathomed. And I've got quite the imagination.

I got held up in Chiang Mai longer than I expected after obtaining the Cambridge CELTA Certification. I ended up appearing alongside the top finalists on Thailand's Got Talent with my then Thai girlfriend, Anna. After monthly trips back and forth between Chiang Mai and Bangkok for auditions and additional rounds -- and another hard and heavy two weeks down the Mekong River in Laos for a brief holiday retreat -- we eventually lost. And I subsequently wound up in Hanoi, Vietnam to replenish my bank account based on widespread rumors of the Great Rush of high-paying English teaching jobs against an insanely low cost of living situation.

These rumors ended up carrying great merit, and many, including myself, have reaped the benefits. 

This was originally a six-month plan that turned into almost two years of hard-wired exploits while jerkily climbing the rungs of the rope ladder that is the ESL Industry.

I'll delve into more details at another time. Especially considering that this is merely the beginning of the story.

But the prediction of my "plans" from two years ago, as loose as they were to begin with, have proven to be fairly on par.

I do have a solid plan now. And that is that I'll be fleeing Hanoi in late April of 2015 to hit a very symbolic, lawn-seated Van Morrison concert with my father and mother on April 24th, then bang around the Carolinas for a couple of months -- catching up with family and friends, playing reunion shows with the band and also a run of solo gigs. I'm hitting a very important wedding in Charleston, South Carolina as well before jetting off for Prague in the early summer.

In the words of Col. Frank Slade: "Hold me down, son!"

Below are some original musings from December 2013:

 

It's a strange feeling, buying a one-way ticket to Bangkok.

Though I must admit, it's good to have these pangs of wild-eyed nervousness and hard-wired daydreams back again. In a few months I'm clocking out. I'll be bound for Thailand, making my way to International House in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where I've been accepted to take the CELTA -- an English-teaching certification that allows one gainful employment in most countries across the globe. From there, it's anybody's guess what city I'm heading to: maybe Osaka, Tokyo, or hell, get back to Bangkok. Really dig in the heels. Maybe Budapest, Venice, Brussels or Barcelona later on. The list goes on and on. Hey, I'm open to suggestions. Anywhere with a steady influx of music, mayhem, laughter, good food, good people and a guitar nearby is just fine by me. Here's to the next step -- however truly mad it may be.

Another Reason to Love Vietnam

Reason No. 237 to love Vietnam. Your motorbike runs out of gas at 2 a.m. because you bought one where the gauge doesn't work and the last time you had a look in the tank, hey, all was well. After a few "oh no" shudders and a short bike hike, a taxi driver stops and you explain in broken Vietnamese that you're "Khong xăng!" But he's already got it. Out of juice. And the bastard pulls a giant Sprite bottle full of gas out of his trunk and loads up your tank. He won't take more than $1 for it, either. Bro hugs.

Gotta love the Good People.

Cảm ơn Vietnam.

Phố Đội Cấn

Phố Đội Cấn. Hà Nội. Or "Doi Can Street. Hanoi." Grumbled in a thick Tex-Gringo accent like some character in a Cormac McCarthy novel.

This is home? Been held up in Vietnam for nearly a year now. Slinging guitar on the club circuit with my band, Young Buffalo, and teaching English guerrilla style to stack the bank account. A freelancer. How'd that happen, anyways? Does it really matter? You'd never believe me if I told you anyways.

But I need to start documenting this campaign. So maybe we can scratch the surface. So I've set up a desk on Phố Đội Cấn to do just that. Here lie the notes, Jack.

Selfie Witness Protection

Just witnessed my first-ever "duck-face, car/driving selfie" in-person.

To wit:

Red light. Gentle stop. My peripheral vision has picked up on some movement coming from a Black Suburban.

I let out a dry sniff, wrap my arm around the passenger's seat and let my gaze wander casually to the right.

Quintessential bleached-blonde beater -- not particularly cute, not particularly heinous-looking -- is jerkin' and gyrating around in her seat like she's dodgin' jabs from Muhammad Ali, her self-cocked iPhone catching all kinds of different poses and angles as it clicks-clicks-clicks away.

My forehead is pinching shut.

She's twitching her lips and eyebrows recklessly as an imaginary photographer barks: "Give me happy, baby! No, now pain! And anguish! Now you're strolling, now you're strolling, just havin' a stroll on The Boardwalk..."

She continues to fire off selfies as she lurches out into the intersection, rolling one wheel onto the curb, then off again -- the Suburban bobbles back into the right lane.

A driver behind me palms his horn twice. The light is now green.

I let my foot off the brake and try to un-furrow my brow as I watch her pull into a Walgreens.

I'm trying to make sense of it.

I'm trying, Ringo. I'm trying real hard.

But I can't.

Desperate Charades En Route to Seoul

 

I was finally finished with a heavy week in Busan, South Korea.  Done.  Finito.  I was beaten-down, ridiculously sore, and half-drunk on Cass beer and Soju.  But I'd somehow managed to navigate the sprawling Korean subway system and made it to the Busan bus terminal, without so much as ten minutes to spare.

I was on my bus, a 10:15 p.m. bound for Incheon Airport in Seoul.  My one, essential bag tucked away in the storage area underneath the bus.  I figured I'd try to catch up on some sleep on the nearly eight-hour ride through the night, before catching my flight to Phuket, Thailand.

I looked at my iPhone.  10:13 p.m.  Headed out in no time.  Ah, yes.  Finally, some peace after a week's worth of booze-laden sunrises across that fine, coastal city, enjoyed with an eclectic mix of cohorts: my English-teaching, world-wandering little sister, Madison; Matt, the rabid Englishman; and a band of Korean comrades -- Amy-eunji, Annette, Kandy, FiFi and Hye-rin, among others.

I gently closed my eyes to slip into some memories before blackness.  With a little luck, maybe a weird, foreign dream later on.

A gentle prodding at my ribs roused me from meditation.  The old bus driver was signaling he wanted something.  I tried to throw him a warm, Carolina smile, but my road-weariness only tolerated a deranged smirk.

With a meek smile, he murmured, "Tick-ett."

Oh, of course, I thought.  "Absolutely.  Here you are," I said, shoving the confirmation page that Amy had printed out earlier into his hands, and waving him off.  "You can have it.  It's yours."

I shut my eyes again.

I heard the paper rustling as he read it, and then he poked at me again.  I cocked one eye open sinisterly, to let him know I was on the verge of a sleep-deprivation freak-out.  Still smiling, he shook his head.

"No, no.  Uh, uh..." He asked for something from the passenger across the aisle.  "You, tick-ett," he said, gesturing toward a little green ticket, peppered with Korean letters.  "Need.  Tick-ett."  A ticket, I did not have.

I felt the first pangs of fear begin to seep in.  Those bolts and jolts that clench your heart a bit, jerk your eyes open a little wider and take your breathing up a notch.  I can never tell adrenaline from an extreme freak-out.

 

The Indian woman next to me nodded and gave the driver hers, as if to confirm my new situation: I will not be riding this bus without one of these little green tickets.  All I had was an online confirmation.

Ok.  Ok.  I blinked wearily.  Let's all stay calm here.  All I've got to do is get a ticket.  No big deal.  It's 10:14 p.m.  No problem.

I charged down the aisle and rocketed off the bus.  Blowing through the terminal, I dug into the monstrous stairs leading up to the ticket counters with both hands and feet, scaling them like Daniel Day-Lewis clearing rocky cliffs in Last of the Mohicans.

Colliding with the ticket counter, I thrust my confirmation print-off toward the young Korean girl slathered in make-up.  She looked like she was in one of those prison visitation booths.

"Hey, sorry.  I need a ticket for the 10:15 p.m., I thought this confirmation would do the trick, but apparently, well, it's not," I said with a laugh.  "So, if I could get that ticket..."  She replied with a blank stare.  A fine time for no English.

Charades it is.

"Ah, -- TICKET, TEN-FIFTEEN," I said monotonously, giving her all ten fingers, then three, one-handed five-fingered flashes.  She looks at her computer, then at her clock.  10:15 p.m. on the dot.  And then signals an "X" with her index fingers and shakes her head.

"No, no.  It's OK.  He waits," I said pointing down the stairs and tapping an imaginary wristwatch.  She just looks befuddled, and says: "Ah, cancel?"

I point at her as I back away from the counter, and for some reason push against an imaginary wall.  "I'll be right back," I tell her as she stares.  There's no way she could comprehend what was happening.  And there was no one around the terminal this late to explain it in Korean.

I plunge down those God-forsaken stairs two at a time, then power through the gate all the way to the bus, which is now easing out of the station.  That's when the dire nature of this situation kicked in -- my bag is on that bus.  My life, as I know it at this moment, is on that bus.

"DON'T YOU DARE!" I bellow in my best John Wayne voice, aiming my entire right arm square at that bus door.  The driver stops and I hear the hiss of air brakes.  I start waving my arms maniacally, as I jog forward toward the door.  "SHE... says OK!" I say, jabbing my index finger upstairs toward the ticket booths, and then giving two thumbs up, way up.

"NO TICKET?! IS OK!" I say, fully extending my arms like an umpire signaling a base runner safe, then returning to the trusty, two thumbs-up again.  I give him the big Southern grin, again.

Did he buy it?  Did he remotely comprehend?

"No," he winced painfully.  "Need.  Tick-ett."

Shit, I thought, my stomach digging deeper into my spine.  The whole bus began to groan with a mix of sympathy and impatience.  One woman yelled: "He need more time!" then followed up with something in Korean.

I emphatically signaled the driver with two hands; two index fingers jutting intensely toward him, then toward the ground.  "You.  Stay here. You.  Do NOT go."

I tore off the bus, again.  Up the Daniel Day-Lewis stairwell, this time my legs burning a bit in the thighs.  I'd taken those steps one too many times and far too quickly in the past few minutes.

By this point, the Korean girl with the makeup was bug-eyed and genuinely fearful when she saw me barreling toward her booth, again. She could tell I was a desperate man and that something was going to happen, one way or the other.

Stress sweat was beginning to trickle from my forehead, my eyes were getting wilder, and my breathing more labored as I skidded to a stop just before the glass.  At this point, I unleashed a barrage of high-stakes charades and screamed:

"HE!" (Arms and fingers thrusting violently downstairs, then jerking an air-steering wheel like a stockcar racer) "IS WAITING" (Slapping a non-existent wristwatch, and impatiently stomping my foot into ground) "FOR ME!" (I jam two thumbs into my chest repeatedly and painfully).  "I'VE GOT TO GET ON THAT BUS!"

I stood there, eyes darting and chest heaving.  I'd made my move.  What was hers?

She'd had enough.  She took mercy on the weird American seconds from mental collapse at a bus station in Busan.  A guy that had lost his grip and was slipping very quickly.

Or maybe she didn't understand at all.  Maybe she was just worried of what I was capable of if I missed that bus.  I don't know.

But she yanked a little green ticket from the machine, and slapped it into that little metal tray below the oval prison-microphone without hesitation.  And then took two big steps back from the glass.

I gave her a bow, then kissed my hand, slapped the glass and bolted down those stairs once again.  Thank God.  I had the ticket, but did my charades showcase go on one act too long?

Scrambling down the stairs, I could see the bus parking space was empty.  I charged through the gate once again outside, out onto the lot. I felt like a rabid dog.  Or the Wolf Man.

I saw a security guy out of the corner of my eye, and heard him jabbering about something but, at this point, all I could see was the gleaming red bus.

And I could see the old driver smiling -- one foot on the gas and one hand on the door handle.  He was leaning over as far as he could, beckoning me to jump onto the moving bus and yelling in Korean.  I got the gist of it.

I made a break across the lot, ignoring the security, and leapt onboard, pinning myself to the safety rail as we lurched off into the night.

I gazed down the aisle, huffing and puffing and looking across all the dazed faces of disbelief.

"TICKET!" I yelled, shoving it toward the chuckling driver and not resisting the urge to laugh.

The bus erupted with cheers, applause and laughter, and an overwhelming sense of relief.  I air-pummeled an imaginary punching bag, Joe Frazier-style, as the bus rumbled onto the freeway.

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