Saturday, April 27, 2013

The time I shit my pants.

                I happened to be in a bar, talking to a super hot girl from Denmark. The stories were usually answers to questions she had about my bike trip and as the stories I told her reflected the stories I write in my blog, slightly depressing with glimmers of hope, sad and tragic, usually over dramatic. Before I knew it we both sat there silently with a table between us, thinking about the tragedies and sorrow of some of the experiences in my life, neither one of us feeling the urge to lunge across the table and seduce the other in furry of saliva exchange and curious fingers. Those are good stories but not the type that get you a mouth exam from a Danish med student’s tongue. So being the charmer I am, I told her the story about one of the most embarrassing, humiliating, awful, yet funny stories about the time I shit my pants in Vietnam. It’s not generally a story most people flaunt or brag about but I’ve told a few people prior to this in more of a confession format rather than a story and the results have been surprisingly hilarious. By the time my beer was almost finished and the last details of that dreaded day were explained, I found a beautiful girls arm around my neck and a hand clenched against my knee as she braced herself from the rib splitting laughter that brought tears to her eyes. Some guys talk about surfing 35’ waves, some guys just wear a muscle shirt and look pretty, I tell girls the story about the time I shit myself and I can guarantee you they will understand me allot better than the other guys when I dash off mid meal on our first date to an Indian restaurant.
                I had been in Vietnam for over a month already; I had had gut rot and diarrhea since Papua New Guinea three months prior. Succumbing to the crippling pain in my stomach and endless rolls of toilet paper, I went against my unreasonable manly stigma about going to the doctor. “The last time I saw I doctor was when I had a brain eating parasite in Africa and I would have died if I didn’t see a professional” I preached to the Physician in the clinic who sorted me out with some basic Anti parasite medication and de worming tablets. I woke up one morning after nearly a week in my hotel room bed in Hanoi feeling healthy and revitalized. More importantly I fought the urge to sell my bike and head back home because up until this point my trip was pretty shit, little did I know how shitty it was about to get. My morals were high and my spirit to finish the trip and enjoy myself was barely enough to leave the city behind me and embark on a new adventure all alone this time.
                I left early in the morning to beat the rush hour traffic in the city and skipped breakfast all together. Reaching the country side and the open road it was nearly ten o’clock and my stomach did a good job at reminding me of the forgotten meal. A nice little family restaurant on the side of the road sent my stomach into a throbbing belly ache at the sight of it. As the only customer, the woman tending the hot pots of rice and boiling soup was shy and excited that a white guy on a motorbike was in her front room looking for some food. I ordered my meal using all the best and polite Vietnamese words I knew and she was so overjoyed I was concerned she wanted to adopt me. So far so good, this is much better than feeling sorry for myself in a hotel room. ‘I can’t believe I forgot how fun it was to ride a motorcycle through this country’. My Pho Noodle soup came in a delicious waft of garlic, beef, and mint leaf. I don’t handle spicy foods well and I know this, but like that last beer that tips us over the edge and we know we shouldn’t have, a scoop of chilly fell from my spoon and mixed among the mid-morning feast. Mistake #1. It was hot, I mean really hot so an Ice Coffee helped wash it all down. Mistake #2. I don’t even drink coffee and there’s a good reason for that. Full of hot liquids, chilies, and coffee, I hit the road again before anything had a chance to hit bottom.

               The drive was nice but like any road in Vietnam, it was bumpy. The constant ups and downs have a tendency to loosen things up on the inside. The final hump into the small rural town was enough to dislodge whatever forces where holding the torrent at bay. It was urgent but I still had a few minutes grace before all hell broke loose so I needed not panic… Unfortunately however I just drove into the biggest small town in Vietnam. I dare not stop because most restaurants only have a trough out back to pee in for men and women, asking to use a toilet without buying a meal is absolutely unheard of in Vietnamese culture so my best bet was to take a jungle dump once I got to the other side of the town. The houses just kept on going and the pot holes and bumps in the road just kept getting worse. I painfully counted at the kilometer markers, ticking away each km as it was a new Olympic record. Six kilometers later I hit the end of the metropolis but with the extra speed also brought a more ruthless barrage of ups and downs on my seat. Tears in my eyes, I came to skidding stop onto a grassy shoulder next to a lightly forested patch of trees. I couldn’t drop my bike with all the weight strapped down on it in fear of breaking off indicators, clutch levers, and mirrors. I desperately struggled like a rabbit caught in a snare to get my bike up on its center stand but the slope of the hill, compounded by the soft ground and weight on the rack made my predicament very bad. Using all my core strength to lift my bike and the shift between sitting to standing was a cocktail of unpleasant movements, it was like a script for the sequel of ‘The Perfect Strom’. The chili soup and coffee tore at my insides screaming for freedom, someone just turned on a washing machine in my stomach, drain cycle. A heroic fight but the battle was lost the moment I left the comfort of my porcelain throne that morning. Against my best efforts for control, I was defenseless against the chemical bomb that just exploded inside my gut. It came. I stood there shitting my pants on the side of the road watching the gruesome stares I received from families on motorbikes driving past.  All I could do was keep my motorbike on its wheels and wait until the gush of partially digested food finished oozing from all escape roots out of my briefs, off the legs of my shorts and down the back of my legs.
                There’s a sudden change of mentality as everything switches from panic and disparity to disbelief and shock. There was a small muddy stream just down the embankment and it took every bit of optimism and positive thinking to salvage my pride and moral from this unfortunate event. “no big deal, il just clean myself off down there, wash my clothes and put new ones on” All good in theory but of course shitting your pants in Vietnam is never so practical. My bike popped up on its center stand with ease (of course it did) I trudged down the embankment being careful to remember where I walked as I left a trail of human fertilizer on any bush or tree that brushed me on my way past. I did my very best to be methodical about the order of cleaning myself off but I’m not ashamed to say I was new at this and it got everywhere. Now humiliation is a funny thing, I’ve experienced it allot life and thought I was calloused to it even in this situation however the man mustering his heard of water buffalo introduced me to a whole new level.
               Anybody who’s been to Vietnam will know that the people have little to no boundaries about privacy and personal space. The one man who saw it all whilst grazing his buffalo took it upon his rightful duty to call everyone he knew and invite his extended family to the spectacle of the white guy who just shit himself in his front yard. At that point I was completely naked crouched in the muddy stream washing away the embarrassment that coated the lower half of my body. Now there is humiliation and then there is this, men and women alike dismounted their motorbikes and grouped around at the top of the river bank plugging their noses and giggling as they took cell phone pictures of me like I was monkey doing tricks for biscuits. This wasn’t the way I had planned on going viral on YouTube. It seemed like nothing could possibly get worse but it did. In my rage of self-consciousness and anxiety, I clumsily dunked my soiled shorts into the muddy stream to clean them however I forgot my blackberry and money were still inside the pockets.. I was considering calling my mom and crying but I couldn’t even do that because my phone was now dead. Eventually all the spectators except the guy grazing his stock left and I also continued on my way. Moral of the story is that if you’re going to shit yourself, you mind as well do it with a smile on your face and throw up the peace sign.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Vietnamese Death Certificate.

There have been instances of regret in my life where I felt completely helpless to contribute to situations that could determine the life or death of somebody else. I think most of us can relate to a particular instance in our lives where we watched something happen when we could have helped in one way or another. There was that time I was driving home from work and a young university girl talking on a cell phone cleaned a guy out who was walking across the street. I was the first vehicle behind her and I watched the entire thing unfold from the point he stepped out into the street, to the point his body rolled off the windshield and smashing it into pieces, to the point where he lay shaking in the fetal positing in the other lane. I was less than a meter away from him on my motorbike and the unsung hero inside of me had no voice that day. I sat on my motorcycle and stared at him on the ground while he was shaking, it’s not that I didn’t want to help, because I did, but I simply didn’t know how. Overwhelmed by shock I remember only a few things after that, one of them being a woman who I recall walking home from work two blocks earlier had knelt down next to him and yelled over to me to call an ambulance. I didn’t, I couldn’t, I had no breath in my lungs and no blood in my veins, I couldn’t move. Judging by the distance she had to walk before reaching the accident, I must have been watching him for over a minute before she took control of the situation. The young girl was of course in hysterics, still not quite believing what had just happened and of course, like me, was no help to the injured man on the ground. I watched for another five minutes as more people gathered to comfort him and help while the ambulance made its way to the scene. I simply drove away in complete confusion of what I had just experienced.
There have been other instances such as riding a midnight train in Australia when the girl sitting opposite of me fell to the floor in a seizure. Knowing enough to stabilize them and prevent them from hitting their head while the seizure passed, I was still concreted to the floor and chained to my seat.  More recently at a beach in Vietnam, four Vietnamese kids went into the water fully clothes with jeans and shirts and started drowning because they didn’t know how to swim. Yet again, within arms distance away I couldn’t do anything, I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation than you’ll know what I mean when I say it feels like shit. Knowing that we can help but not quick or brave enough to act, it eats away at my inside. Knowing that those precious seconds of indecisiveness and delayed reaction could cost somebody their life.  After each occasion I always reflect on it and promise myself that if it ever happens again, I won’t be the helpless bystander holding the statue stance. Ironically enough I got to put this into practice sooner than anticipated.
The day after I watched the kids drowning and being saved by other people, I was back at the same beach, in the same place enjoying an afternoon of lazing in the shade. The screams and cry’s for help still echoed in my mind as the warm sand kissed my feet and gentle breeze tickled at the sweat trickling down my back.  But with the breeze brought a familiar sound, a sound I knew and thought about allot in past 24 hours. It was the sound of disparity and fear; it was the sound of people drowning…. Again. The only thing different this time was I was ready for it. I had just spent the past day thinking about all the things I could have and should have done but this time it was impulse that pumped my legs towards the water instead of the fear that cemented them down so many times before.

They were three older Vietnamese men who got pulled out a little ways beyond where their feet could touch. My twisted ankle felt no pain as I did the Pamela Anderson Bay Watch sprint and dive into the water, remembering to spike my headband in the sand before committing myself to getting wet (maybe for the extra effect). I was quick enough to save two of them before more helped arrived to save the last guy. It was all over in less than a minute where I was back, heart racing, sitting on the sand in the shade under a coconut tree. Contrary to what I thought it would feel like to be the hero of the day, I was embarrassed for the men and mostly annoyed with their ignorance of water safety. If I hadn’t of saved them, someone else would have so I didn’t expect a parade and banners to be flown in my favor so the day just kind went on like it was clock work. Personally though, I was proud to finally follow through with my own threats to react instead of stutter. So unlike the previous night, it felt good to know that I did everything I could in a situation where my actions could define the fate of life or death for someone other than myself. I was proud and happy, as I should have been, however little did I know what this new responsibility meant because not all perilous situations have happy endings and unfortunately neither does this story.
I’ve been warned, preached to, educated, and advised about the dangers of driving a motorcycle and still with the consistently proven statistics; it can’t keep me off of them. It’s probably the most encouraging factor as the risk taker I like to think of myself as being. That being said, there are things that can certainly slow me down and what I experienced yesterday was the first time in my life I ever honestly considered given them up. I like to drive fast, in fact I’ve already been in a bad motorcycle accident in Vietnam because of my overzealous throttle grip and still it wasn’t enough to slow me down. I had just dropped out of a 2000 meter decline along a mountain pass heading for Nha Trang on the Central Coast of Vietnam. Maxing my wimpy little 110 cc Honda Win out in top gear down the awesome pristine curvy roads, the adrenaline was still pumping as I checked my rear view mirror to see I’ve lost view my German friend Tim who was trying to keep up with me on his Russian Minsk. I was grinning and cocky about my superior leaning and perfect apex turns with the delusion that I was driving a real motorbike but in reality it’s only a scooter. I cracked the throttle even harder as I went into a long smooth bend and that’s when this motorcycle trip exposed the dark side and reality of the dangers involved with driving a motorbike, especially in Vietnam. I knew by the eerie silence that there had been a bad accident, the shards of plastic and glass lay still and undisturbed like a fresh snowfall in the streets at night. I knew I was the first person to see the accident as the fuel and coolant from what remained of the crumpled motorbike still trickled from the wreck making a fresh stream down the road. Being it had only been a week since I saved those men from drowning, I was reminded of the last time I was the first person behind the scene of an accident. This is one instance is where being the frozen statue probably would have served me better. I jumped off my bike and ran towards the man lying face down in an awkward unnatural bodily position. I saw the cargo truck fifty meters beyond with a trail of debris leading up to it painting a picture of the events that occurred moments before I rounded that same corner. It was a truck and a motorcycle and he lay on the ground motionless, I knew what ever happened, it was bad and bad enough that the next few minutes of my actions could define if this man lives or dies. As I reached the man I was about to extend my fingers to his neck and check for a pulse. I’m not a medical expert in anyway but there was a sudden natural realization that I didn’t need to touch him to know the extent of his injuries. There was no need to check for a pulse, I knew there would be none. The shock factor set in pretty quick as my only reaction was to run back to my bike muttering oh shit, oh *&%#, he’s dead.
The silence that surrounded us when my friend Tim caught up to me was deafening. Even the birds and crickets could sense the tragedy that had just occurred. The driver of the truck was M.I.A and it was just Me, Tim, and the body of this man who’s wife and children are about to go through the toughest experience of their lives. Knowing that there was nothing more that could be done for him and by the odd disappearance of the driver, we knew that sticking around for the police to arrive is a definite no no in Vietnam. I don’t think my speedometer passed 40km/h for the remaining journey into the city as I had to fight back the dry heaving erg to puke inside my helmet thinking about what I had just witnessed. I’ve come to terms with it and knew I was going to see something like it along the way considering the 300,000 Annual motorcycle deaths in Vietnam. But it’s like any realization, like how we know our grandparent has died and no matter how much we think about it or suppress our emotions, nothing can prepare us for the moment we touch their cold hand as they lay peacefully in their casket. It was a helpless and awful thing to see and I may never feel the same way about driving again but as a young reckless risk taker, it’s probably the most important thing I could have seen on this trip. We’re not invincible, no one can live forever, we’re fragile creatures with unrealistic ideas of life expectancy. Life is a gift and sometimes we need reminding of how truly grateful we need to be with our limited amount of time in this world. I know that the only reason it was another man’s body on the ground and not mine is pure luck, I knew the risks involved in what I do but only recently have I realized them. He may have made the ultimate sacrifice, but if it makes me a better driver and prevents another accident similar to this one, his death will not be in vain.
Love , live, laugh, and drive safely.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Poetic Dreams

I’ve been asleep for too long,
I’m tired now, loathing for that bed time song,

I rest my heavy head,
Upon this lonely bed.

I lay and I dream,
This sleep is not as seems.

Black, blue, white, pupils exposed,
I lay here but my eyes are not closed.

I’m dreaming, always dreaming,
It’s not the eyes but the mind that needs seeing.

A time and place where we dream while awake,
I realize this dream is no mistake.

Feeling like something’s been left behind,
The piece of us we always search and must someday find.

Canadian soil fills the dream with familiarity.
It’s been too long since I’ve had such clarity.

I’ve been gone for too long,
I’m awake now, loathing that familiar song.

My dreams no longer hold the desire to roam,
I’m coming home.