A couple weeks ago I got a text from a new Vietnamese friend. He asked 'tomorow you want motorbike to china 2 nights. pls tell me soon'. And so unaware of Rebel's horrible return to Hanoi, I packed my bag and hopped on the back of the motorbike with no idea what I was getting into.
It turns out we joined a group of 22 other people - all Vietnamese. A group of young people who use an internet forum to organise motorbike trips around Northern Vietnam. The kind of organising that the communist government wants to stop.
After about a total of 12 hours sitting on a motorbike my ass hurt more than I could ever have imagined. It was a bit of a long journey just to frolic around a waterfall. We made several stops along the way, though. And the actual route was a loop, so we didn't have to backtrack.
Here are some photos of the butt-busting trip.
Eleven motorbikes were in the flot.
It was terrifying going around the mountains. Up up up then over and then down down down into another valley.
Halfway through our trip we stopped at a spring where national hero Ho Chi Minh had hid during the American War. This mountain is called Karl Marx (Cac Mac) and the spring is named after Lenin (Le-Nin). I got to see and touch Uncle Ho's actual bed inside the cave where he camped, although at first I thought it was a dinner table.
I don`t know who in the group decided on the route, but most of the roads where just blasted. And not yet finished. Though apparently they looked finished on the map. Someone must have accidentally bought the map titled "National Highway Masterplan 2008-2020"
This beauty of a road went on for about 13 kilometres. It took about an hour to go through. Not pictured here is the incredible incline that would probably not even be considered on developed roads anywhere else. I couldn't get a photo of the incline because I was holding on for my life. We passed many construction crews. Some of them asking me to come and smoke from their tabacco pipe with them. I kindly declined as what I needed to get me through the experience would have been much stronger.
This was the place we camped out on the second night. I say 'place' as I think that a cafeteria of a park station with all the chairs taken out and blankets spread out would be considered a place. Where else would you house 23 people who come knocking on your door.
I finally arrived at the waterfall. Except foreigners are not allowed in the border lands between China and Vietnam without a proper permit. The solution was to cover my face up like a criminal as we went through the check point. Who would notice?
Yes. Those are two men fishing on top of the waterfall in their underwear.
So what happens when you live in a society where opposite-sex intimacy is not acceptable in public? And what about if, in the same society, people live with their extended family?
You get Love Cafés!
Little cafés where you can sit in a booth that's hidden from view. Near work there was this cute love café down the hill from the main street. Little bamboo huts with bamboo blinds could be had with coffee or a smoothie. All of them come complete with a table and ONE long bench.
I tried once to get one. My Vietnamese teacher and I were trying to find a private place from the prying ears of Vietnamese youth (who had taken a liking to hearing me speak Vietnamese, going so far as sitting in the next table and silently observing me). The owner of the love café would have nothing of it, and refused to allow us in a booth. No same-sex couples (it's not like that... I pay him for lessons).
It doesn't matter because the Love Café has been destroyed by a storm. One day, while I was heading for a lesson, the main section where non-lovers would sit had complety collapsed. Nothing but a crushed straw roof.