Misadventure

I hardly dare tell the story. I know how it sounds. But the thing is, I already went. I already did it. And by myself, too. Hitchlessly. Took myself there, got around, made it back again with only a minor foray into the hospital to show for my troubles. There were no major problems, no incidences to speak of. I was a female traveler, flying solo, getting myself around SE Asia, being competent and on-the-ball the entire way; having fun, of course, and remaining inappropriate, of course, but competent, functional, like a Packsafe handbag or colourful socks. Others looked to me for advice and direction – not existential but important nonetheless. I navigated new cities, negotiated bad deals on bargains I didn’t need and traveled in successful mediocrity from place to place without disaster. In short, dear reader, I knew where my shit was at.

Fastforward a few months. I’m flying back to Vietnam. I’m participating in a skate tournament: speed slalom, are you kidding me? It’s organized for me, everything is arranged on my behalf. All I have to do is show up.

3 days before I leave I can be found at immigration getting my re-entry permit. I feel smug. Look at me, remembering my administrative loose ends like a queen – on it, in control, the boss.

“Don’t you need a visa?” Wei asks me.

“No,” I say, “I asked”, I tell her, “Lion says I don’t”. Matter solved. Unarguable. Lion travels all over for skate competitions. He too knows where his shit is at.

“Oh,” says Wei in her considering and thankful manner. “Is he British?”

“No,” I say, “He’s Thai,”, I tell her, and then I say more things to justify the veracity of his knowledge. But even as I hear myself saying words, there’s the worried tightening of intestines, the stomach-clench of anxiety. I think back to trip 1. I got a visa in advance that time, but why? There was a reason, I know there was. What was it? How does this memory relate to my current situation? There’s something important here, I can feel it, but it’s just out of reach. My brain’s sounding a warning call into the fog, but it’s not clear whether this is the real deal or just a drill. A drill, surely. They would’ve told me. Someone would’ve mentioned it. I’m no longer sure. The ghost warning remains indistinct. There’s a thought in there somewhere, Jim, but not as we know it.

I go home. I get on Google. The first thing I see are the mighty and glorious words VISA ON ARRIVAL. The concertina relaxes. A sigh of relief. ON ARRIVAL, by air. Simple. And of course, last time, overland, buy in advance. I relax. I am safe.

Even when the flight attendant – the last checkpoint before the plane; mentally I’ve boarded, I’m flicking through the in-flight magazine, looking at the people on the safety brochures; we’re taking off! It’s happening! I’m on my way! – even when she says to me “Visa?”, there’s no glimmer of fear. I’ve looked this shit up, man, I know what I’m talking about.

She looks at me, taps my old, used Vietnamese visa…

Ah.

There’s a peculiar beauty in the absoluteness of being refused boarding on a flight. Your expectations for your day, your evening, your weekend, your fortnight judders. It’s physical, a crunching of gears that puts the world off-kilter. I was living in the 5-minutes-from-now, I was in the future; I was at the skate event, I was laughing off my slalom failure, I was open-mouthed at the skate cross, cheering the kids who’d come with us… and now this? Thwarted? Denied? Suddenly I’m facing a wall of quiet refusal so impervious that it’s almost impressive.

Being led the wrong way through immigration is fun. People look at you like you’re some kind of drug smuggler. I’m as clean as roses in real life so the perceived notoriety is briefly  pleasing – after all, nobody knows. I could be anyone, a baddie, a gangster, a Notorious Person. Or not.

Right now I’m in the business centre of the posh airport hotel tapping this into a Word document that will cost 250 baht. I’ve just paid 70USD to apply for a visa I could apply for for nothing at the embassy. The visa itself will cost 50USD, the flight changes well over THB1000. All because I’m too apt to trust what I’m told, to trust others to think for me so I don’t have to think for myself.

It’s 8.55am and I’ve been awake for 24.5 hours after a quick hour-and-a-half’s nap on the airport floor this morning. But even as I wait, I find myself doing the occasional little grin. An adventure is in progress, an anecdote in the making. We get so little time, we may as well enjoy what we can, right? Even if it isn’t quite what we expected or hoped it would be? Who knows.

 Stay tuned for the next installment of Enid’s Misadventures.

Day 17: The Bristol 7s

The fish in Phnom Pehn feels like lifetimes ago. I’ve remained classy. You can tell I’ve remained classy because I’ve had the shits for 3 days straight – we’re talking a 7 on the Bristol Scale. Not kidding. You’re welcome. But not only that. Also because I’ve got mozzie bites in unspeakable places, because the sunburn on my legs looks like a map of a haphazard archipelago, and because I bought a bad taste wolf tshirt on purpose for lolz. My legs are unshaven, my clothes are filthy, and I smell slightly gone off. I wear a fanny pack every day and not even ironically. Total mess. Bloody love it.

The following has happened: Laura went south to the Cambodian beaches; I headed East and crossed the boarder into Vietnam. In Saigon I stayed in a dodgy guesthouse with ants on the walls, bars on the windows and stains on the curtains, all for the knockdown price of $10, buy today, offer ends midnight. At night they pull a huge metal gate across the front of the building and lock it with an enormous padlock. Terrifying. At first I thought I was the only one there and that I was definitely going to get murdered, but I awoke the first morning to hear the father of the family who owns the guesthouse giving his daughter French lessons, which made it OK. People deffo don’t die in places where dads give their kids French lessons. It’s just science.

Saigon. Sounds so exotic. Or warsome. Bit of both. I wasn’t really there long enough to form an option. It’s a city. They have ALL motorbikes. They have street vendors. They have a cool indoor market that sells All Of The Things, including coffee made from beans that have been picked out of weasel shit. Nic and Rob, if you’re reading this, expect some through the post in the next month or so. I have no idea how the postal system works here. I’m carrying a bag-load of postcards but haven’t seen a single post-place. I should get on that.

As well as weasel-shit coffee, Saigon also has non-weasel Vietnamese drip coffee (totally delicious – iced, of course), road signs and traffic police (unlike Phnom Phen), a presidential palace (so dull I left the tour after 5 minutes, fuck the entrance fee), and a War Remnants museum that’s easily worth triple what you pay to get in.

In Saigon I had my first pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) with chicken – maybe the most delicious thing I’ve eaten so far – but I also ate mystery-fish pho, which resulted in the old Bristol 7s, stomach cramps, and a complete aversion to all foods, possibly forever. Ups and downs.

From Saigon I caught a coach north to Mui Ne. Beach town. Lots of Russians. 6 hours on a coach with the shits but no toilet. Pretty wild. HOWEVER, not only did I manage to NOT soil myself, I buddied up off the coach with a friendly giant, found a guesthouse with a pool for $10 a night, went to a beach with creamy sand and lined with palms, and swam in the warm green waters of the South China sea. Tough gig. Except that then I felt even worse so went back “home” and slept for 15 hrs straight.

Tonight (it’s 22:15 here) I’m in Nha Trang, massive beach city 5 hrs north of Mui Ne. Yesterday I spent hours by the pool, then had a walk by the sea, then went to watch the friendly giant eat crocodile. Tasted a bit. SRSLY YUMZA! Like meaty tuna steak. Was filled with jealousy. Also on offer in tanks along the ocean road – all live! – were fish, lobsters, MASSIVE shrimp, crabs, frogs, eels, turtles and A PYTHON. I really wanted lobster but was too much death.

I’m too sick to explore Nha Trang so am under a sheet in an air-con room thinking about the one dollar kid in Angkor and grinning to myself.

Kid (with a massive grin the whole way through): “Hey laydeeeeeee! You buy flute? One dollar.”
Me: “No thanks”
Kid: “Want water? One dollar.”
Me: “No, I’ve got water thanks”
Kid: “Postcard? Ten only one dollar”
Me: “Just bought postcards, thanks. I don’t need anything.”
Kid: “Nothing?”
Me: “Yeah.”
Kid: “Want nothing, one dollar.”

LOLZ.

Oh, here’s a photo of (among other things) the item I’m most glad I brought travelling – a bad taste Ross Kemp pillowcase

ROSS KEMP PROS
– Flat-pack travel companion
– Do an actual out-loud chuckle every time I look at it
– Convenient for separating and transporting dirty washing
– Protects head from minging guesthouse pillows
– The bestworst of ALL the shitbutbrilliant things
– Can be the first in a long line of shitbutbrilliant pillow cases

ROSS KEMP CONS
– There are literally no cons to owning a Ross Kemp pillowcase

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