December 16, 2006


No, I don’t mean the “sporting” activity involving a big glove and a bird of prey in bondage gear, I mean the activity closely related to clearing of the throat.

Hawking is big in Asia, a major pastime. It’s something you can’t escape. On several mornings I’ve been woken up at 5am by that inimitable noise of phlegm being wrenched up from the depths and spat out. Asian people (men especially) seem to be able to keep this up for hours. Surely it hurts the throat?

I know it’s ethnocentric, and we do things that disgust and trouble people here (like wearing shorts and vest tops; something most backpackers do freely but I try to save for only the most western-oriented beach scenarios), but it’s hard to comprehend how hawking isn’t universally considered disgusting.

On a bus yesterday for about six hours. An old Vietnamese chap sat down right in front of us and proceeded to hawk, cough and splutter for the entire journey. When he reclined his seat so far that his head was basically below my chin and my legs were crushed, we changed seats. It was bad enough feeling like we were on a sanitarian ambulance, but having this plague victim so close really was profoundly unpleasant. TB? Emphysema? Who knows. Who cares – just please stop. (The same bus journey also had a woman hawking and spitting into a plastic bag most of the way. Gah).

Addendum: Talking with a very intense Aussie guy we came round to this subject. The point we were discussing was how in Vietnam (and other places in Asia) it’s considered rude and socially unacceptable to hold hangs, hug or show any affection in public with your friends and loved ones, yet you can mine your nose to your heart’s content, hawk, spit, hawk some more, cough, sneeze and spread your germs about as much as you like. So foul and filthy is fine, gently loving is not. That’s very messed up.


Despite this distraction, and another unpleasant factor (a grotesque old European who was rude to me, but odiously bullying to his tiny, third-his-age SE Asian internet bride/girlfriend/whatever), the daylight hours of this journey (two buses, the second part overnight for about 11 hours), were fabulous. After leaving the beach at Mui Ne, we drove through what looked like desert, then into areas that looked like I imagine central Spain or parts of Mexico. Then into areas that resembled parts of southern France – with rising Cezanne-esque mountains and vineyards (or what looked like vineyards).

Later on came more paddyfields and myriad pictureseque oxen, water buffalo, and the classic image of Vietnamese girls riding their bikes and clad in long white shirts and trousers.

The dark period wasn’t quite so compelling, though at several intervals along the coast (near the town of Nha Trang) the sea was full of brightly lit fishing boats. It looked like a town, gently undulating on the water. Or a landscape full of oversized, semi-static fireflies.

Bath time

The bus dumped us outside the bus company’s affiliated hotel, which we checked out and said yes, thanks, to. It being 6.30am, it was just good to get into a room. Best of all though it had a bathtub, something I didn’t think I’d see until Australia at New Years. Hot water is treat enough, but a bath tub? Bliss. I’ve always said baths are one of life’s top five pleasures.


Insomniac on the bus last night I was enjoying using the Creative Zen Vision: M 30GB music player, but – would you adam and eve it – it crashed. First time it’s misbehaved. But then it is only about three months old. Gutted, I thought it had died on me. It was stuck on a lit screen, with the battery icon, but wouldn’t go off. So I just left its battery to die and recharged it. It seems to be okay, but these things really are a concern. I’ve said it before, but contemporary, gadget-heavy backpacking is nervewracking – will you fancy kit survive, will it crap out, will it get stolen? Gah!


Just to change the subject radically, despite the vast amounts of cheap clothes piling the streets and markets of the tourist-oriented areas, I couldn’t for the life of me find any…. underpants. Seemed a bit excessive to get a tailor to make some. Finally found some on a dusty market stall. Couldn’t quite see them through the packet, but needs must so I made the purchase. Oh dear. Comedy underwear. In my haste to sort it, to haggle, to overcome my mild embarassment I managed to buy some brown Y-front esque
grundies, replete with string-vest side stylings. Nice. Fran’s very enamoured of them.


Please, no more SE Asian karaoke. Long bus journeys through Cambodia are one thing, but long bus journeys through Cambodia with a TV blaring singa-longa-southeast-Asian pop take things to a whole new level. Buses in Vietnam are quieter, but we did book into a lovely peaceful seaside hotel the other day, only to find when evening came a bar across the road was frequented by locals with serious delusions about their vocal talents.

Suits you sir

Hoi An in Vietnam is a beautiful little old town, with strong Chinese influences. Its little streets are lined with old buildings, some Chinesey and timber, many others ocre-painted and pictureseque. Traffic is mostly scooters and bikes. And every second shop seems to be a tailors, where they can replicated, emulate and fabricate pretty much anything. The textile choices aren’t infinite, but it’s still amazing. A got just one shirt made, for a few quid. Very nice to have something that fits, as, being a tall, skinny type, I frequently have to make do with long-enough-but-too-baggy. Hard to control the desire to order masses of items though. Maybe I’ll come back for my fortieth and finally get that bespoke suit (for $30).

Just like home

Rained most of yesterday and today. For the first time since we left home, we’ve been somewhere that’s cooler than 30C. Probably about 15C. With the rain, it feels like home. All the Vietnamese reach for their coats and woolly hats.

Visited the My Son ruins today, in the hills 40km away from Hoi An. Very beautiful, with clouds weaving through the jungle.

The B52s

Beautiful at My Son (like Angkor, and Hoi An itself, another UNESCO rubber stamped place), but very sad. Why? Because these remarkable temples, built centuries ago from brick and apparently no mortar (no one can fathom the mysterious of the technique), were used as a base by the Vietcong then bombed half-way to oblivion by the US.

It’s easy to blame the US for this heinous situation, but I think more accurately it’s a tragedy of war. War has a habits of destroying cultural heritage – the Germans bombing Exeter etc as part of the Baedeker raids, or the Allies paying them back by hitting Dresden etc. There are umpteen such examples. (We’re very lucky to still have any of Da Vinci’s Last Supper for example, as it was very nearly trashed.)

In this case, I’d argue it was a monstrous deed by the US (you can still see the craters, all around the piles of rubble that remain where for several centuries unique temples stood), but the VC are culpable too (something the guides and guide books don’t seem to dare moot). Why use the temples for a base when it’s pretty obvious a wartime enemy will throw ordnance at you? Such a shame.


3 Responses to “Miscellaneous”

  1. Editor at large Says:

    Goddammit Dether, get a hold of yourself man! Shorter, sharper, less less less = more.

    This has taken me a week to read, by which point your next novel is out and I’m back to another epic monologue. A man only has so much time on the shitter!

    (only joking, of course ;oP )

  2. Hehe. Hey, there’s no word-counts here. Blogging = sanctioned textual diarrhoea.

  3. Sam Says:

    I like this entry! The list is fun. I’m going to borrow that idea some time for sure.

    Hope you’re enjoying that christmas resort by now.

    Yours just about to drive into the fog,


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