In Over My Head

Note: one third of the Gobis remain abroad. Hans, nit having enough driving on the Mongol Rally has flown to Vietnam and acquired a Honda Win. Currently, he is halfway up the country.

I am incapable of sitting still for more than twelve hours. This is one thing I learned about myself on the Mongol rally. (Don’t worry, this post isn’t going to be a self-reflective male version of Eat, Pray, Love.) One thing I have also learned is to attempt to be more spontaneous.

So, when I realized I had booked four nights in Hoi An, I wondered what I would do with myself. My main goal in the city was to get a suit tailored to my specifications. I had no secondary goals.

So, on day one, I asked my tailor if she recommended any bars in town. This was asked after we had spent a very long time debating the proper width of lapels and the amount of shoulder padding required. Asian tailors (in my limited experience of a few suits and endless conversations) seem of the opinion that the eighties will be back any day. They like lapels with enough material to tailor a second suit, like a spare tire. The shoulders should be padded enough that the suit can stand vertically with no one inside. Ties should be wide enough to use as a landing strip.

So tensions were playfully heated as I specified a tight and narrow suit with slim lapels and a minimum of pads. Hang, the sartorial mastermind, seemed skeptically and under the impression I was ordering a suit for a school boy.

Speaking of, in clothing districts, if you are ever hassles by tailors, as I am in Hoi An, here is a sure-fire way of avoiding them: walk around with a photo of a heavily striped regatta jacket. Like the one Ford Prefect wore in the 80′s Hitchhiker’s TV series, or the Brooks Brothers Gatsby collection jacket. They will look at the photo, eye you as if you should be committed, and scurry back into their shop. Some may point sheepishly to some pinstripe fabric. To this, simply respond, “no, no. I desire something ridiculous and traditionally British.” That ends each sales pitch.

So, I asked Hang for a bar recommendation.

“The die bar is always packed.”

Shit. Debate didn’t seem that heated. Maybe something was lost in pronounciation. “Awesome. How do you spell that?”

“D-I-V-E. Die bar.”

“I see. A dive bar. Neat and generic title.”

“Used to work across the corner. It was always pretty packed.”

Dive bars usually are. Oh well. A jukebox and pool table and peanuts on the floor could be in order.

This was a presumptuous thought, and I realized my error once I walked through the door of a mixture scuba school and bar. Aha! They mean a dive bar! Literally.

One gin and tonic in, and I remembered that diving was something I always meant to do. However, while abroad in Australia and Barbados, I never quite had enough saved for a class. But, I was on Hoi An for a few days. Why not?

The next morning, I was registered for a dive class. One joy of travel in the off season is that places are pretty empty. I met my instructor, an Aussies from Brisbane, and discovered the class would be a one-on-one one.

We watched the videos. Normally, this would be a skull-numbing activity. Luckily, the added commentary from the instructor turned the PADI instructional videos into a satire that Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have applauded. “Ignore that bit,” he quipped, “and that bit … eh.”

A no-worries attitude to any water sport is always a good approach. Don’t overthink it, right?

At the end of a solid pool session, where I realized just how dirty resort pools are, I asked him if there were any good bars in the area. (Notice a trend).

Thirty minutes later, I crashed onto a sofa on the beach at Banyan. Banyan is by far the pinnacle of saloons in Vietnam. Set on a light-sand beach, it features authentic French food cooked by an expat, beds and couches on the beach looking out on turquoise surf, and a baser list that featured more than two beers. In Asia, this is all I have learned to ask for.

The beer list also included Chimay Blue.

Sipping the dark Belgian ale and looking out at something that closely resembled paradise, my mind wandered down a dangerous line of counterfactual reasoning. It started calculating precisely how long I could live on my savings in Vietnam while still travelling the rest of South East Asia.

This is dangerous reasoning.

Mentally, I composed the first sentence of a resignation. Certainly, others had left their job while on the Mongol Rally. It wasn’t unheard of.

Quickly, I shook my head and filed the fantasy away under the part of my mind tthat contains things that would be awesome to do but I am unlikely to execute.

Back in town, I found out that my dive instructor was also a motorcycle tour operator in the off season. (What a life, right?) He showed me some extremely twisty roads that lead to Hanoi and will help me finish the trip.

So far, serendipty and spontaneity has worked well. I intend to continue this course of action.