Since both days more or less blend together, I have combined the two into one whole post. I woke up late (because I could, thanks to the best damn air-con in the land) and began my adventure through the backpacker streets of Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon) in search of a steed worthy enough for a ride to the north and Hanoi. While eyeing up two backpacker bikes on my first lap down the street I ran across the two Dutch Survivor boys from Koh Rong Island. They too were looking for motorbikes themselves so I decided to join them in our shared search while catching up on the gap in time since we diverged. Finding a motorbike is easy thanks to the multitude lining the streets; the difficult task on the other hand is purchasing. These bikes come in all matter of states and cloudy histories: busted up and fresh; cheap and beyond a regular backpacker’s monthly budget; manual, semi-automatic, and fully automatic; etc. Since I know little to nothing about motorbikes (with only several days prior experience riding occasionally on rentals in Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia), I had no idea what to look for. I had done some research that said $250 was an average price for a fair bike in the Chinese-made Honda Wave or Win models along with technical things to look out for and into when testing a bike but all of that seemed to go to the way side when overwhelmed with people calling out for your money and making convincing cases for their bike and reputation. Every local with a motorbike catcalled from the sidewalks prying you to check out their bikes. I followed the Dutch guys lead since the one has prior experience with motorbikes back in Holland. They were determined to get the cheapest bikes possible and called off any bikes higher than their $230 asking price and even that figure seemed too high at times. My original thoughts on what bike to buy were being altered by their choices and opinions. A drunk Irishman (irony at its finest) walking or teetering on the streets wanted to help us ‘lads’ out and get us some bikes. He called his Vietnamese friend who owned bikes to talk to us. The more time I spent around him the more I felt bad feelings about the situation. He was pissed drunk and I eventually didn’t care how he felt that I “didn’t know anything about this business”. I started walking back to the hostel and tested out some other bikes from the dealers on the streets. One bike was a clean red, white, and blue but I stubbornly stuck to the belief that I should get a bike for cheaper like the Dutch guys. From there I met a dealer named Sam who spoke quite a bit of English. He was friendly showing me his bikes that he had on sale whether semi-automatic or manual, since I was still having an inner debate over which way I was going to ride. He even took me for a ride with the manual while showing me how to use the clutch to change gears. He offered to teach me properly when traffic died either this evening or tomorrow morning. His price sat around $260. Although I felt comfortable with him, I wanted to think it over and possibly find a cheaper deal for me since that is what the pressing need turned into (even though at the end of the day who cares about twenty dollars or so either way when I will be joint at the hip with this potential machine for the next month and a half or so). To relax from a full day of shopping for motorbikes (I honestly felt like I was camping out on a used car dealership lot with no way to escape with the world’s shrewdest dealers tugging my sweat soaked cloth of a shirt from every which direction), I got my happy hour Saigon beer and joined a Dutch girl and Argentinian guy for some pho soup ($1.50 per bowl) plus more drinks down the street. The beer here is dirt cheap by only setting you back roughly 40 cents per bottle at a bar for the standard Saigon lager. These two made great company fitting in line with the type of people I like to be represented with. As I came back to the hostel for the night, I ran across the Dutch guys once again. I already arranged to move into their share hotel for the following night but their friendliness had begun to sour. They jokingly bragged about the fact that they had already purchased their bikes at ultra low prices. I was content with waiting to find my bike since I had time to spare but I was already getting sick of dealing with the process of buying a bike; I wanted to get it over with and begin my journey on the road. I went to bed thinking I had to buy a motorbike sometime tomorrow. After some breakfast in the form of banh xeo, which is a thin, crisp crepe-like pancake brought to life with a light yellow hue from turmeric (almost like an Indian dosa) and filled with bean sprouts, spices and herbs, and shrimp, I hit the road once more in search of my potential bike. I had more or less made arrangements to meet with Sam the motorbike dealer that morning to test out his bikes but I skirted past him to retest the red, white, and blue bike since it was cheaper. I liked the bike and was close to coming to a deal but I felt that I had to get something cheaper to be on par with the Dutch guys. Some much for avoiding the company line and the bewildered herd but then again everyone makes mistakes no matter how firm and straight we try to stay with ourselves. While continuing to walk the streets, a man on a motorbike asked if I was looking to buy (as many cat callers had done yesterday) and for some reason I chose to acknowledge him and say yes. I told him that I would not buy anything pricier than $230. He called his “friend” and returned to me saying that he had something. I hoped onto his motorbike and rode across town to the shop to see the array of bikes available. The bikes he was selling obviously did not look as nice as the ones on the backpacker street but were on offer as cheaper (since price is always the number one thing to consider when evaluating a product). The owner spoke no English along with the rest of the Vietnamese staff mechanics so I had to speak directly through this in-between man, which is never a good idea because he could craft whatever story his imagination could come up with. I worked the price down to $215 while pointing out what I thought were minor flaws in the bike that needed to be fixed, which the mechanic went about tweaking little by little. Even though I did not fall in love with the bike, with each twist of the mechanic’s wrench and adjustment to the bike I felt more obligated to buy it. I gave it a test run down the street with the owner sitting on behind me and felt that it could serve its purpose. They continued to make further improvements while my inner conscience tried to alert me that something was not quite right but I chose to ignore the little voice in my head. The fact that the Dutch guys got such cheap bikes drove me to think likewise. I ended up buying the bike just like a guy ends up with a girl at the end of the night even though he doesn’t like her. For whatever reason, he doesn’t find the girl that he set out to find whether through indecision, fear, or laziness. When the bar slowly begins to clear out as last call starts to approach, he panics finding himself with limited options causing him to dive in blindly for the closest thing to him just to say he got a girl that night. I turned over the money in exchange for what I would now be calling my bike. After the owner departed, I was now left with this weasel of a man that convinced me to go over to the shop. I bought it satisfied with the fact that I had a bike but not necessarily pleased with the bike itself since my inner conscience was beginning to return to the surface, growing in strength by the minute. He whined about his misfortune in life and wanted me to buy his soda drink. Just to shut him up I bought it but I still kind of needed him to find me a welder to get a bike rack attached to the bike as well as bungee cords and a lock. After much time riding around, I got my lock and bungee cords and then at long last found a welder. After dropping off the bike with the specifications written down to be completed, he took me back to the backpacker street so that I could meet one of the Dutch guys. He asked for more money since he “helped” me get a “good deal” on the bike and supplies. Again I gave him a little money but felt stupid for doing so because it clearly didn’t feel right to me. When I saw Sam the dealer again I told him about the bike I bought while saying sorry that we couldn’t come to terms since I just wanted a lower price. After telling him where I was getting my bike welded (turns out it was his uncle – or maybe not, who knows with these lying jackals), the two of us rode out there together since he needed to pick up one of his customers’ bikes. He saw my bike and he looked at me with dismay that I had gotten a poor bike. After testing it out with a short dry run, he thought it was decent but believed I would have difficulty riding for such a long journey up north with a machine like that. I felt worse and worse but what was I to do since I had already purchased the bike. Eventually the bike got welded and the oil changed (even though I told the owner and his mechanic to do it but I am too unaware to realize what it should look like). I rode back with my bike but lacked the enthusiasm I sorely wanted from an experience I had been awaiting for some time now ever since I rode my first rental in Thailand. More and more, I began to think I had made a grave error in purchasing such a bike. I had grown sick of the Dutch guys and how disingenuous they were but I was stuck sleeping in their hotel for the night. I disappeared away from them to return to my old hostel to be in the company of good people. I sat around talking to the kind, joyful to be alive, hippy older man with his scraggly white beard and draping locks as well as the Dutch girl from the night before. The Dutch girl and I went around to walk the streets for some time (eating of course along the way: Rau Muong – stir fried morning glory or water spinach depending on your preference) and arranged to meet again tomorrow so that I could drive the two of us to Can Tho in the heart of the Mekong Delta. I went back to the hotel where the Dutch guys were ready to go out on the town. I wanted nothing to do with them, only desiring to spend my time with my own thoughts and far away from the cluttered mess that they brought to my mind. Thanks to them, I lost track of who I was and what I wanted. I ignored my inner thoughts where my true voice resides. I scrapped my entire well-thought out plan of how I was going to buy a motorbike to realize my dream of riding a motorbike through Vietnam so that I could succumb to what they wanted, how they saw my situation to be. As my thoughts filled with greater and greater regret, I went back to my own conscience and thought deeply about who I am and who I was always made to be. My mom raised a son to look up with clear eyes focusing on the path ahead staying true to his own inner compass. I got away from that. I like to think that I am a person who stays true to his own values and doesn’t fall into the trap of peer pressure. Well as you know we all succumb to failures as human beings from time to time (an inherent description of our existence as living people) but it is how we rise up from these moments and occasions that define us.
Riding Vietnam Day 145 and 146: The Mind Numbing Process of Buying a Motorbike