An Inauspicious Day

February 23, 2007

Note to self: if a tour company in Vietnam tells you it’s not running a tour because it’s an “inauspicious day,” believe them.
dsc01277.JPGThe other day, we asked our hotel to book us a tour to Tam Coc, a town with picturesque karst mountains and rice fields lining a winding river. Tet break is over for most tour operators, but they tell us that the company isn’t running trips on that day. Apparently, it’s an inauspicious day to go pagodas, and a stop at a pagoda is included in the tour. Okay, we figure the tour company can believe in that hocus-pocus, but we’ll just do the independent traveler thing and see Tam Coc sans tour. Others have done it, so can we. And thus begins a series of bad luck that will plague us for the whole day.

It starts with inauspicious happening #1: We aim for the 8:45 train, which would get us into the closest town to Tam Coc by 11:30. We get to the train station to discover they just don’t feel like running the train that day, so we settle for the 10:00 train and wait three hours in the Hanoi train station.

Inauspicious happening #2: Once we’ve arrived, we get lost on the way to our guesthouse. No big deal. We usually get lost trying to find most things, but then there’s…

Inauspicious happening #3: We set out at 2:00 for Tam Coc. The hotel tells us it’s a simple 15-minute ride on a straightforward road. Actually, it was more like an hour-long drive winding through villages and rice paddies on rocky, potholed pavement. We made about a dozen wrong turns and had to ask amused locals where the hell we were in rudimentary Vietnamese, i.e. just repeating “Tam Coc” over and over again until they figured out where we wanted to go. Some of them didn’t even require words. They simply saw lost tourists and pointed us in the right direction.

Inauspicious happening #4: Did I mention we were doing all of this on motorbike? My boyfriend drove. He hasn’t driven a motorbike in six years and never one with gears. Oh, did I also mention it was my first time on any kind of motorbike whatsoever? Well, it was.

Inauspicious happening #5: It starts to drizzle half-way on the 2-hour rowboat ride down the river. There is no cover, nor do we have an umbrella. Luckily, it never full-on rains, but that doesn’t stop…

Inauspicious happening #6: After the roawboat ride, it’s 5 p.m. and we have about an hour left of sunlight. During our whirlwind tour through Tam Coc’s rice fields, we passed a pagoda high on a mountain with great views of the river and countryside. We decided to backtrack to our secret pagoda once our boatride was over. Never happened. As we leave the motorbike parking lot of Tam Coc, we see some local women giggling at us. “The tire feels weird,” says my boyfriend. You guessed it: a flat. One of the giggling women points us to a makeshift bike repair shed at the other end of the pier. We push our bike over, which is hysterical to a few men sitting in the shop waiting on their bicycles. And we wait. I decide to call the hotel from where we rented the motorbikes, just to let them know what happened and to ask them how much it should cost to fix the flat tire. Their English wasn’t too great, and my Vietnamese is nonexistant, so in the end they say “Wait there, we’ll come get you.” I’m sure you can guess what happens next…

Inauspicious event #7: I return, our bike is fixed and ready to go, and we now have to wait for the people from the hotel to show up. In the meantime, there’s a fist-fight down the road, which the local Vietnamese people leap onto their motorbikes to see. Not many exciting things happenings in Tam Coc apparently. Finally, the manager of our hotel shows up and takes us home. FYI, it cost about $1.50 to fix the tire.

But, no it doesn’t end there.

Inauspicious event #8: At dinner that night, a few men who have had way too many bottles of the local fruit wine invite me to join them in their drinking party. I decline. Then, they start rubbing their thumb and middle-fingers together, the universal sign for moola. Clued in by their lecherous staring and disgusting gestures, I finally deduce that they think I’m a prostitute and want to purchase me for the night. Which makes perfect sense considering I was dressed in my sexiest get-up of a formless, long-sleeved shirt, khaki pants, sneakers, and tussled, greasy hair.

And finally, inauspicious event #9: Nearly sprinting home from dinner and the pervy men, we run into a group of children, thrilled to see two foreigners. They are so thrilled that one of the little boys slaps his hands firmly on my butt and begins pushing me. Only after I start shrieking, does his mother call him away.

On the bright side, we did have a lot of fun that day.

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4 Responses to “An Inauspicious Day”

  1. Tammie said

    Remind me that any time I hear the word “inauspicious” from now on, I, too, should run! You seem to have quite a reputation with men of Asia, my dear…career change? :)

  2. Mel said

    I had my inauspicious day on Thursday… I had a meeting with Pumpkin which was the gala event of all discussions to date. I couldn’t help but think of you during the meeting, floating down some river on a bamboo raft or something – I was truly jealous!!

    Loved your biking adventure – hilarious!

  3. Keiko said

    After reading #9 I remembered a game we used to play in elementary school called “zap”. I think it was kind of like tag but you had to “zap” the other person in the butt. Kids are so weird. But it gets better…then I think we (you, me, Tammie) renamed it to “cookie”. Anyway, I won’t be offended if you delete this comment because then people might think you’re weird. Or more realistically, you have some weird friend that goes on and on about some weird butt-tag game!!!

  4. Jessi said

    Tam,

    And this isn’t even the first time I’ve been solicticed! Career change, indeed!

    Mel,
    Say no more. The mere thought of Pumpkin makes my skin crawl. Hope everything went well with him and I have on my things to do list to return your e-mail sometime this millenium.

    Keiko,
    Holy crap! I was cookie-ed!! Don’t remember zap, but how could I forget the infamous cookie?

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