April 11, 2002 GMT
Vietnam, north

Overland bikers tend to gravitate together; the magnetic pull of the aluminium panniers or something. Seven of us cross en mass into Vietnam. It is great fun. What a sight we make ploughing north through the rain to Hanoi. Feeling smug. Hanoi is my favourite city so far. It is small, it is raining, there are few tourists. Perfect.

The tunnels at Vinh Moc central Vietnam were dug so the villagers could avoid the murderous bombs in the American waróa testament to both human perseverance and brutality. The couples of Vietnam now use them for far less martial pursuits. Before leaving, our party had to wait until the panting stopped. Now thatís a multi-use building.

Hue market

Stay at one of those government places that have a huge Karaoke screen under the giant bust of Ho Chi Minh in the hall. This is one of the landís great terrific contradictions. ďWe make sing-songĒ the hotelier explains cheerfully on my arrival. Six thirty in the morning the sing song kicks off, agggghhhh.

But this is what I like about Vietnam, the combination of the command economy, Stalinist bureaucracy and a money free for all. Someone said that they are trying to build capitalism without the instruction manual. Thatís about right. At the moment it is still endearing. Wonít be in a decade though, when the poverty, inequality and exclusion are as normal as coca-cola and McDonalds.

I overhaul the front brake. Getting through too many pairs of flip-flops using the sole of my foot on the front wheel. Connect up the tubes the wrong way off the petcock into the rear cylinder. It makes a horrible noise on start-up. I think itís blown the pistons rings. Itís burning oil and smells real bad. My biker compatriots now refuse to go behind me. Feel like the classí smelly boy no one wants to go near.

Vietnam still has the propaganda tannoys in smaller towns. Mr. Speakerman kicks off at 5.30am, with a selection of his favourite marching tunes. Not my favourite wake-up.

The guidebook hates Vietnamís architecture. I donít. Concrete is a pretty good medium for a developing country. And thereís nothing wrong with squares and rectangles. Coming around to the benefits of plastic and combustion engines too. They bring huge problems with them, but, in practice, it is obvious that they have improved the living standards of millions.

Mark, Ennio and me (left to right)

Real difficult getting the toothless hotel lady out of my room at night. I think she is after more than an extended English lesson. Everything is being communicated on paper, us not sharing a language. It could have made for a fascinating night of expressive drawing. Although, on reflection, given that I failed my art O level, things might have gotten snapped. Nasty.

Posted by at April 11, 2002 11:56 PM GMT
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