This is where I write now

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This is where I write now, while a sciatic nerve stabs me in the back as I sip on cold beers at a picnic table outside a convenience store in Pyeongchang Dong. A chill in the air makes me shiver – just a little and it’s always pen to paper in these moments.

The fluorescent lights fire through the glass walls behind me that encase a cornucopia of noodles in small polystyrene bowls. A surly night-clerk with acne scars on his face nods the nod of a man trying not to fall asleep with his arms folded across his chest.

Two young girls at a small table inhale noodles behind the glass barricade while glued to their phones. They share no conversation – their TV dinners rest beside smaller screens, but the premise is the same. They look like sisters with matching glasses and similar haircuts, but I could never know. They could merely be friends Facebooking their way to internet-addiction camp.

A boarded-up house, filled with ghosts, sits across the street with cardboard boxes and bags filled with trash leant up against its walls disrespecting the angry spirits inside.

Ugly apartment blocks with rattling air-con units jut out from faux balconies like so many uncomfortable warts hanging off the facades of plastic lives.

The crates of empty rice wine bottles tell a story that is all new to me, but the smell of lager and cigarettes on my breath is just a twenty-year-old fable over-told and endlessly regurgitated. Faded and picked-at no smoking signs try to enforce rules that will forever be broken by the old boys drinking their evenings away from their wives and children.

The children that step out of luxury saloons want chocolate milk and strange plastic tubes filled with a cheese product labelled the same in a language I don’t understand. With different hand-writing comes a different tone – a schizophrenic orthodox writer wishing he was a southpaw so that he could confuse reluctant readers.

What is Korea? What is this part of the world? Almost two years on the continent and still not a fucking clue as to what is going on.

The cigarette packets emblazoned with cool gorillas wearing sunglasses and aloha shirts sling menthol by the kilo – dealers of death with a minty freshness. Just give me my pack of Camels and shut the fuck up.

Advertising has pretty young girls resting glasses of ice tea against their ambivalent faces on shelves surrounded by discounted products fighting off their expiration. The owner is apparently Chinese – cashing in on a franchise that destroys Mom and Pop stores all over the world. And I’m a guilty consumer of convenience. Make it snappy, just like everyone else I have no time – never enough time, and if there’s a queue of one people or more I will absolutely meander down the road to where I can find more convenient convenience.

This bath of white, electric light dilates the pupils of the staff turning them into zombie-like shells of walking human skin and the giant mountain mosquitoes are absolutely relentless. I need to piss, but my apartment is twenty feet away and that’s just way too inconvenient so I guess I’ll just piss myself.

Taipei to Ho Chi Minh City With Vietjet

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Taiwan to Vietnam on VietJet airlines.

 

It was my smart-ass idea to sleep at the airport in Taipei. A good money-saving technique when you’re on a travel shoestring. Luckily Taipei is a place where you can sleep on the ass-crack-sweat seats of a quiet Burger King – if you can call being woken up every ten minutes by a group of ten-year-old twenty-somethings giggling at their phones – sleep.

Functioning on what felt like constantly hitting the snooze button we boarded our flight from Taipei to Ho Chi Minh city – excited about the prospect of new surroundings, but dog-tired from our airport sleepover. I wasn’t expecting much. The flights were cheap. I should have known better.

The seats were jammed together like bunches of bananas with humans squeezed in between the creases – the whole plane smelled like a festival port-a-loo. The air stewards looked like they were at the end of their shifts – or ropes, difficult to tell when you’re half asleep. They looked haggard and angry. They gave the safety instructions with a look on their faces that said: ‘I sure hope this bird plummets into the god-damned ocean so all of these miserable fucks get eaten by hungry sharks who will subsequently excrete them into the bottomless abyss of crushing pressure to become endless shark-shit soup’.

Of course, there was a woman close enough to me to infect me with her crackly mucus cough that was splattering all over the seats in huge dirt-green globules. She unceremoniously spat half of it into the handkerchief she kept tucked away against her bosom like a precious emerald she would one day pass on to her awful grandchildren.

We couldn’t open the blinds because the sun wanted to nuclear-bomb our retinas into glittering dust and it was hot. Hot as hell and I was trying to figure out why the air up in the sky was colder than the air down on the ground.

I’ve had some rough flights in my time – been thrown around in turbulence, puked my guts up in a 9-seater over the Grand Canyon, bounced off a runway in Acapulco, almost crashed because of ice on the tarmac in Norway. But, when it comes to the sheer wanting to get off an aeroplane because of its hot-ass, super cramped, stinking, old-people hauling Vietjet piece of flying fucking rat AIDS – that one, took the fucking biscuit.

All I wanted was shelter, a cigarette and a million Christ-loving years of beautiful, dream-free sleep. But, no.

The hilarity of at least being able to peek through the crease in the banana seats was at least allowing me to crack a cloudy smile. I watched as a Vietnamese woman was being bested by a Candy Crush-esque app. She was becoming more and more irate as she jabbed her rusty, old wrinkly sausage fingers at the screen of her phone. Then it rang – up in the sky and she answered it. When did the rules change? Are we allowed to do that now? Where was the email blast? The office memo I didn’t receive letting all the other passengers know she could do whatever the hell she wanted with zero reprimand from the uncaring attendants even if it meant infuriating all of the passengers in her immediate radius. I pondered for a moment whether it would be possible to open the door and throw only her out into the oxygen-free sky without endangering any of the other passengers.

The savagery up there was like the Heart of Darkness had a love child with Requiem for a Dream and mind-fucked us all – she had to be an ex-VietCong torture expert. There is simply no other explanation for it.

What is Hanoi part five. Animals

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What is Hanoi part five… Animals

 

I’ll start with dogs – an extra toe shows apparent pedigree

Just an extra little useless appendage flapping on the ankle

A neck – through spine – to tail Mohawk runs long the back

All black and tan, like little German Shepherds running around

Get up to their own business in harmless, inquisitive packs

I’m a fan of the chickens, a fan of all chickens

Scratching about and shouting at strangers and other chickens

That they hear in distant alleyways, crowing in echoes of the walls

Flapping their wings, trying to fly I presume, but never getting far

Cockroaches everywhere, from tiny little ones to prehistoric monsters skittering around on floors and walls.

Children yell at them in neon hallways while pointing fingers

And dancing on their toes.

Ants, for the most part are harmless and non invasive

And happy to clean up the mosquitoes I kill

I’ve massacred hundreds of them, the ear-buzzing little assholes

Geckos chirp at you from the darkness of cracks in walls

Noisy little warriors screaming at their green foes who encroach on their feeding territories. Eating up all the flying stingers and biters that make a person itch in the morning if you leave a window open.

An urban owl that flies among the rooftops hunting bats in an aerial dog-fight under the hot sky sits atop a rusted water tank.

A guardian of the night, swooping to feast on squeaking rats

Rats that climb up the insane, tangled phone lines that snake through every corner of every alleyway and road in Hanoi.

Everywhere the rats – hopping around – acrobats of the fading hours, ducking into holes under kerbs and burrowing into giant trash piles. Dinner for the rats.

Me and the rats should go out for a beer – I bet they have stories.

Giant snails and butterflies always surprise, not so used to the giant bugs. I don’t think I ever will be.

 

What is Hanoi part 4. Stinky River

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What is Hanoi? Part 4

Stinky River

 

I walk to work past this river five days a week

It stinks like a sweaty ball sack.

Stuck to the hairy leg.

Of an obese, alcoholic Vietnamese gentleman

With a rotten colon

Hotter days bring the humidity – which means you are literally inhaling

All of the drowned, festering rats that live in the holes between the bricks

Of the crumbling walls that surround the once-fancy houses

Owned by the offspring of French colonialists and their annoying dogs.

Little dogs that shit out little turds right in the middle of the path

Where I will inevitably step into them because of my oft-hungover condition

The two chickens – dirty and fat – kick around in the trash

Hunting for little bugs to feast on, or a worm, maybe a cockroach. Scratchy little talons lifting up minute piles of waste and pecking at the ground with their little pink beaks. Fearless birds, without a care in the world – especially not afraid of the tall Tay strolling past with a cigarette hanging from his bottom lip and sweat on his brow.

A wise old mutt with cropped ears and a coat way too thick for the weather

Sits in front of the shack where the recyclers recycle everything

From rubber hoses to entire apartments stripped bare and dumped

By the side of the river where the river runs grey.

I’d never seen a grey river before I walked past the stinky river.

I call the dog ‘Big Pup’ and he has kind eyes and a fair temperament.

More deterrent than attack dog – big enough to scare off the locals,

But, we’re buddies – me and Big Pup – we say hello on weekday evenings

And weekend mornings.

A giant teddy bear lies dead, face down in a pile of garbage and rat skeletons. This once-white giant, probably loved by someone small for a minute or two, is now covered in shit in the most disgusting pile in Hanoi.

I think about taking photos, calling in a crime scene investigation team, because the poor bear has been dumped like so many puppies by the side of the water to rot and decay with his little button nose resting on a faded three of diamonds.

One evening when strolling home with that post-Sunday work swagger it was dark in the alleyway along the stinky river. The sepia glow from the street lamps had burnt out – leaving the walk more treacherous than usual as it was almost impossible to see the bank. A wrong foot could mean a grey dip.

In the immediate distance I noticed a ping-pong paddle sticking straight up.

A peculiar place to find such a thing. But, as I inched closer it moved, flapped and jumped and headed straight for me.

I have never seen a Jurrasic night butterfly before, but now I have.

It made me shriek and perform a small dance of fear in the dark.

A snail the size of a softball tripped me once, a chicken took the feet right out from beneath me.

The day the water flooded I had to wade through the water to get home. All the clothes I was wearing went directly into the trash. I had grey ankles for a week.

What is Hanoi part three. That one hellish summer.

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What is Hanoi Part Three.

That one hellish summer.

 

A year in Vietnam sounds fun, right? Well, hold your horses, slow your roll.

Think on it for a minute. Cause it’s a hell of a commitment.

Because when you’re not used to heat – unbelievable, unbearable

Unfathomable, disgusting, humid, insane, lung destroying

Stinking, stormy, hot tropical madness.

You’re not ready. Nobody is.

Not. A. Single human that has never spent a summer in Hanoi

Could possibly know – even guess

How insanely uncomfortable a Hanoi summer is.

Imagine – if you will, an obese human’s sweat evaporated

And was collected and stored within the filter of a gas mask.

And then every sweaty day you have to wear said mask

And inhale that stinking, sweat-essence.

It gets in your lungs and lives there, mix that up

With arguably the most polluted city in the world

Sip it down, swallow it whole and integrate it into your drowning soul.

Drowning in your own sweat.

Now you’re a little closer, closer to the truth

Of the purgatory you will experience because

You don’t wanna go outside, because if you’re lucky enough

To have air conditioning you should stay inside.

You should really just stay inside.

Because, hiding out where the city isn’t trying to actively murder you

Is safer.

I like to sleep in a cold room – it brings me peaceful sleep

And I’ve slept sans-aircon in Uganda, Valencia in high summer

In a little caravan, the Nevada desert, London when it’s brutal

And NOTHING compares to the relentless un-comfort you feel

When trying to sleep in Hanoi in August.

Blast the air condition, balls out – no covers and good luck

I had a balcony, it was wonderful – the sun rose over the rusty rooftops

sun dancing over Cardinals arguing on lightning rods

But, during those three summer months

When the sun is hell-bent on burning your retinas

You can sit up all night drinking Bia Ha Nois as the aircon soothes you

But, the very millisecond the morning sun rises over the giant red flag

With yellow star,

You can’t breathe, your skin turns to jerky

Your beer turns to warm piss

And you have to shut the doors – draw the curtains

And Cry into your bed-soup while you pray for December.

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