I have never really understood why people think motorcycles are so great. Or why you would seriously consider buying one. I think I always thought it was a macho guy thing...
...but now I get it.
This weekend I escaped the fumes, noise, and crowds of Ha Noi to the idyllic village of Mai Chau (idyllic being a loose term, considering its touristy nature). My church organized a group trip to this White Thai (Viet Nam ethinc minority) village in the mountains a few hours from Ha Noi. Most of the group (about 35 people) took a tour bus to Mai Chau, but some of us resigned ourselves to having sore butts and decided to ride xe may (motorbike) there instead. I fully expected to enjoy riding xe may for the first couple hours, then to be sick of it, but actually, I think the rides there and back were my favorite parts of the trip!
At Mai Chau, the group did "home-stay." We slept on the floors of a couple of traditional stilt houses, draped with mosquito nets, and a family cooked for us. Other highlights included making it all the way to the top of the longest flight of stairs I have ever climbed that went right up the side of a mountain, talking with various people from church, and even playing a game of Euchre.
Sunday morning, a few of us explored a cave where wise, gentle Ho Chi Minh planned a famous epic battle (so famous that I can't remember the name of it). It was the type of place that, at home, you would have to pay a guide to take you through, and even then, you probably wouldn't get to see the best parts. We, on the other hand, just walked into pitch blackness with a couple of very questionable flashlights....it was spectacular!
After flying back over the mountain, we...took a detour, let's say, on our way back to Ha Noi--a two-hour detour. So the five hour trip took us seven, but it was totally worth it. We ended up on a much smaller (much rougher) road that wound through the countryside. I saw a completely random, gorgeous cathedral on top of a mountain, about a million ornery-looking water buffalo, continuous National Geographic views, and a bunch of kids who waved wildly as we passed. Trying to describe all this really makes me wish I was a better picture-taker (as in, makes me wish I actually took pictures--ever).
It's not that easy to talk while riding xe may, so, though Joel and I had some great conversation and I soaked in the scenery a lot, I also had quite a bit of time to think. As we flew down the mountains I thought about my homesickness, about how some days I wish I was in Chicago or somewhere like that, with a normal job, hanging out with my friends every weekend, going to watch the Chicago Marathon, dancing at the Radpad Halloween party...I thought about the moments when, even though I know deep down that Viet Nam is where I'm supposed to be, I don't actually feel that way at all...and at one moment I thought, very clearly, I'm in Viet Nam, flying down a mountain on a motorbike, with people who aren't my best friends, but who are pretty cool. This is the life. Why would I want to be anywhere else?
Well, I guess I've come back down a bit from that high by now (Mondays will do that to you), and I can think of a few reasons I might want to be elsewhere. But even though I arrived home tired, sore, caked in dirt, with lungs probably half-full of soot, smog, dirt, and all kinds of nastiness, I didn't regret the trip--or the detour--in the slightest. And even though every day isn't a trip to Mai Chau, I'm moving on Saturday, I find living with a host family stressful most days, I still can't figure out how to dress for the weather, I still can't ask a question in Vietnamese without raising my tone at the end, the article at work is translated horribly, I still almost cry every time I look at cross country results, my friends at home are getting engaged and/or moving on with life without me, and I sometimes don't even feel like myself...
What am I complaining about? It's not like I thought it would be easy. Moreover,...
I'm in Viet Nam. And I'm glad I came.