Leaving Saigon

“I’m off on a bike ride, see you in four weeks.” Some say that my emails to my mother are on the brief side.

After a brief trip to the mechanic, some more riding lessons, and one last night on the town, I departed Saigon. I rode off with mixed feelings. Saigon is a delightful soap bubble of a city. Polished black sky scrapers brush the heavens. They look straight out of Tron, with slender colored lights illuminating their edges. In the streets, from broad avenues and narrow alleys, torrential rain falls among bright neon lights and street food vendors. Down at the bottom, Saigon. Is gritty and noir, reminiscent of Blade Runner. All around, Saigon is a futurist playground.

Guidebooks talk about Istanbul as being a mixture of the East and the West. But the cultures collide in Saigon in a more exciting way. Banner Western Brands highlight the windows of high end boutiques, while just streets away a haberdasher will tailor you a suit for a fiftieth the price.

My trip to the mechanic was necessitated by constant stalls during my riding leasing with Linh. I would pull up to a light, and the bike would idle for a bit before sputtering and coughing. “Must be the carb. Too low an idle.” Was my initial thought.

So, I headed off to the mechanic. It was my first time riding without a guide through the crowded streets. And, after only a few wrong turns but no peaking at the map, I found Saigon Minsk.

I pointed out the issue by stalling the bike.

The mechanic quickly went to work, pulling out the spark plug. It was matte black. Aha. He replaced spark plug and wire, and put the bike back together. It fired right up. Here’s hoping the new plug doesn’t foul.

I pointed to the engine block, where there was a hole where a screw used to go. “Is somehing missing?” I asked. “Naw. Is ok.” He said.

However, he reached for a spare screw and screwdriver it in. Unfortunately, the engine block appeared stripped. So, with little adieu, he took out the screw and hammered on the threads. “Ah yes, the old hammer on the threads trick. Goof thinking,” I thought. Somehow, this worked as well as drilling and coiling the block, since the screw held fast in the block. Hammering works wonders.

Hammering would later be used to help fix my wheel.

It is though I traded the Fiat 500 for a vehicle in a similarly degraded condition. By the end, the Marabby had gotten to be a little unhappy, often blowing tires, turning off the fuel pump because of non-existent crashes, and slipping a belt while starting up. The Valkyrie (named after the famous US-Aus croquet match held in Kazakhstan) needed to be kicked to start, sputtered along with a wine that sounds like squirrels in heat, and got a flat on day one of the drive.

Luckily, flats are easy to deal with, especially in Vietnam.

In the morning, I noticed that the steering felt a bit loose. But didn’t make mun of it. On the road, heading east from Saigon, a local motioned to the rear of my bike. I looked back, making sure that all the straps were clear of my wheel. And then I saw that the tire was running with ridiculously low air pressure.

I pulled to the side. “Shit. I need a tire mechanic.” These were all over in Saigon, but where would I find one on the road? I glanced to my left, to my right, and then in front of me. Oh hey! Tire shop in one hundred feet. Result.

The two boys working on my bike cleverly removed the inner tube from the tire without having to remove the wheel. They slowly spun the tube and wheel together, dipping each bit into a small bucket of water. Upon finding a puncture, they set about with a patch kit. They put on a dab of epoxy, put on the rubber patch, and hen hammered away on it. This is not quite what I remember doing as a kid, fixing bike tires, before I realized that buying new tubes was generally better.

But, the hammering works, and the Valkyire is happily on the road. She has done well so far in getting me to a very pretty strip of beach to the east of the city. That’s all I can ask from a bike.