This is (part of) one of my favourite pictures from this year. It says more to me about that trip than most of the other ten billion pictures I took. Perhaps because it’s not a pose, as most pictures you take of yourself are by default. It’s a rest for shoes that are only about halfway done their job.
And now these shoes are waiting for me to get around to throwing them away.
The bottoms are worn flat and the whole waterproof thing is a distant memory because of holes. Three straight months of pounding two continents worth of dirt and pavement and train corridors, trails and stairs and banks of various bodies of water, often under the strain of 40-60 extra kilos on top of their wearer’s usual 80ish. Not often warm enough – laughed off as summer-wear by my Mongolian hosts – and then suddenly too warm.
No shoe on the planet was designed to cope with the shit I threw at these. You’d be ready for the footwear dumpster in the sky too. (Can you recycle hiking shoes? I should find out.)
I recently watched Werner Herzog’s Into The Inferno, during which he muses on how comforting it is that the earth gives exactly zero shits what mythologies or traditions humans assign to forces of nature. If you’re in the wrong place when that hole in the earth spews a red hot lava bomb, you are dying whether you believe it’s god’s will or not.
This of course doesn’t mean stories are worthless. You need a way to handle a hunk of molten rock flying at you. Anything is suitable and nothing is suitable. You do what you can. That’s human.
While I was pondering ditching my shoes, I decided to re-read my trip journal cover to cover. I was amazed, not so much at the things I’d forgotten about, but at all the things it made me remember that I didn’t write down.
Will I remember the same little things the next time I read it through, or will they be lost to the ages while I recall things that I didn’t this time around? Either way, I refused to make additions. The story will keep changing, but it will always be suitable.
Hanging on to a pair of shoes wouldn’t anchor any stories. I’ve recently moved them from the floor of my bedroom to the floor in the hall. That’s about 10 feet closer to the door. But I felt they deserved some kind of eulogy before I take them all the way out.
To everyone else, they are rubber barely worthy of all this thought. But they took me through temples and mythologies of all kinds. To the tops and bottoms of literal and figurative walls and mountains. The world doesn’t have to care. For me they’re a book cover, a carrier bag, the right tool for the job, used snout to tail.
I woke up on the train to Danang to find the family who’d been in my compartment had gotten off sometime very early in the morning. I was alone, which was nice, but I was freezing. The air conditioning was turned up so high that I could see my breath. I found this hilarious considering I’d just come through Russia on trains that were storming through frozen Siberia but heated to sauna-like temperatures inside. NO ONE knows how to regulate train interior temperatures, it seems.
So I stood in the corridor with mostly everyone else, warming up and looking at the coastline along the last hour of the way. It’s pretty stunning. But I also saw how rough the water was, so I had an early indication I probably wouldn’t be swimming anytime soon. Apparently this was all caused by the same storm making Hanoi very cold.
I met a guy called Rob from Boston in the corridor traveling with his 9-year-old twins, Ella and Dylan. They were also headed to Hoi An, hoping to go on the local bus like I was, so we went off to find it together when we got off in Danang. I don’t spend a lot of time around kids, so this was a bit of a novelty for me.
Rob was a teacher on sabbatical so they were all traveling for the year in China, and they were just taking a few weeks break in Vietnam. By the looks of things, the kids were handling it pretty well. I didn’t talk much to Dylan because Ella latched onto me and talked my ear off about eee-verything from summer camp to how old her father was to what they did for their birthdays in Hong Kong to Goldfish and Cheez-its. When I asked what they missed about being home that was the main thing. Goldfish and Cheez-its. And they were really excited to find them when they were in Hong Kong. But overall they seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I was super impressed that Rob was doing all of this on his own. In CHINA. I’ve already told you how hard China is. I can’t imagine having to look after two kids in addition to myself there.
We all got to Hoi An in one piece and went our separate ways. I didn’t run into them again, but I’m sure they had a good time. Hoi An was a pretty chilled out, easy place to be. So chilled out that I decided almost immediately to spend 5 nights there instead of 3.
Coffee AND ice cream
My continuing efforts to try the local crap wine everywhere
In town with my trusty steed
Spring rolls and Cao Lau
Perhaps my brain knew what was about to happen, because the next morning, when walking out of the shop where I was getting shoes made (more on which in a minute), I stepped wrong on the lip of the sidewalk, rolled my foot, and pulled a tendon in it. And inside my head, I just went ‘FUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKKK’.
I have not had an injury since I started dancing and I knew it would happen sooner or later, but this was just a little over a month before the Lindy extravaganza I’ve been looking forward to in Bangkok, and I was immediately worried about HOW injured I might be and how long it was going to take to heal, particularly while traveling.
I hobbled back to my hostel (which was actually quite a long walk when your foot is screaming in pain) and asked the owners if there was a doctor nearby. They were so lovely and helpful, the owner’s sister took me on her motorbike to a local clinic where a doctor had a look, did some crazy ultrasound treatment which was super strange, had me ice it for 10 minutes, then gave me painkillers and anti-inflammatories and told me it was not broken (relief) and it would start feeling much better in 3-4 days, but I needed to elevate it and ice it and all that stuff as much as possible. (All that cost me about £4.)
Hoi An was probably the best place for something like this to happen because it’s not some huge city with mad traffic and everything all spread out. I was able to do more than just lying around in the hostel by using a bicycle to get everywhere. So I spent the next few days going between various places to eat and drink, and the shoe shop and tailors where I was getting stuff made while doing as little walking as possible.
In addition to lanterns and food, Hoi An is known for its tailors, and there are also a bunch of shoemakers there. I had been planning to get a few things made from the minute I decided it was going on the itinerary. What probably put it there was the fact that the website for the Vietnam Lindy Exchange (which is held in Danang and Hoi An every year) suggests getting vintage repro done there during the event. I am tall and I have broad shoulders. I’m difficult to fit at the best of times and I have almost zero patience for sifting through charity and vintage shop racks to find something that fits AND that I like. So this, to me, was potentially the best idea ever if I could find a good tailor. And I did!
I love. This dress.
Based on a few blogs and Tripadvisor reviews, I went to Ha Na tailors, and they made me some great stuff. I got a copy of my favourite tea dress with a few adjustments to make it even better, and then I got them to make a 30s style dress, and a 40s style pair of garter trousers and buttondown top, all based on things I’ve found on the interweb and knew would never fit me properly off the rack. They did such an amazing job (and they didn’t do any hard selling). The dress in particular is stunning and I can’t waaaaaait to show it off at the Big Bang vintage party. AND it’s machine washable, which is like music to my cash-strapped ears.
I got some shoes made as well because I have enormous feet and the only dance shoes I can buy in my size are canvas sneakers. That suits me fine, but I have ZERO vintage-y, fancy options because none of them are made in my size. So I got some flat t-straps and also some brogues. I’ve not been able to wear either of these yet, so I really don’t know how well they’ll hold up or how comfortable they are. But even if they only last a year, they cost less than cheap shoes most normal-size-footed people would buy on the high street, and they’re probably much better quality. So I’m happy with them in that respect.
I had to try these shoes on with one swollen, non-functioning foot though, so that was a bit of an issue. The ladies in the shop were laughing at me because I kept doing swivels and half-assed (PAINFUL) suzie-qs across the floor to see if the shoes would be comfortable to move in and if the soles could take it.
When I wasn’t in the tailor or shoe shop getting things adjusted, I was eating. Eating eating eating so much. Or drinking iced coffee. But mostly eating.
I went to Anthony Bourdain’s favourite Banh Mi shop about ten billion times (…ok 3). I had Com Ga (chicken rice), Cao Lau (Pork noodles in strong broth), Banh Xeo (rice pancake), spring rolls, fish, papaya salad, and a banana pancake nearly EVERY morning at the hostel because the ladies there made them so well that I couldn’t bring myself to order anything else.
I also drank a lot of cocktails and beer and more Bia Hoy. And met some fun people in my hostel who hung out with me even though I slowed them down a bit with my hobbling. One of the girls, Lisa, was from Luleå, Sweden, and I was like, ‘I know where that is because one of my favourite bands is from there!’ She had never met anyone outside Sweden who even knew who Movits! were, and I’ve never really met anyone but my friends Duncan and Dan who know who they are, so that was kind of cool.
Hoi An by night
The famous lantern market
Going over the bridge
Streets all lanterned up
I managed to meet Wayne AND Emma of New Year Train fame because they both happened to come into town from different directions while I was there. I met Wayne in Dive Bar one night (so called because it’s the home of the local dive centre), which had outstanding cocktails. I had the first Negroni I’ve had since summer and it was The. Best. They also had live music on from this French girl who was playing various covers and amazing gypsy jazz. Then I met Emma on my last day before I had to leave at night for the train. We had drinks and lunch and rode bikes out to the beach for yet another cocktail and it was lovely.
Farms on the ride out to An Bang beach
Obligatory beach selfie
I actually went to the beach 3 days in a row, basically as soon as my foot felt like it could take a small walk. The first day was cloudy and the water was so rough they had ‘no swimming’ signs up and the lifeguards were there simply to keep people out of the water. But I had a nice walk and a lounge and a pina colada. It seemed walking in the wet sand was actually good for strengthening my foot back up, so I went again the next day. It was sunny, but the water still wasn’t swimmable. The third day swimming was allowed but I was with Emma and I had no bathing suit with me so I just figured I’d wait til Cambodia. But this beach was much better than what I had been looking forward to in Cambodia (which you’ll hear about later) so it’s a shame I didn’t just stay even longer.
I hopped on a late shuttle bus back to Danang to catch the night train to Saigon, and driving through Danang at night was crazy. It was lit up like Vegas. I don’t really know what the place is like, although Eddy, my Couchsurfing dinner host in Hanoi, did tell me it was his favourite place in Vietnam. The beaches did look good and it also looke dlike there was some cool stuff along the river. All the more reason to come back for VLX I suppose.
The last train?
View from my compartment.
Anyway, that train was probably my last train of the trip (unless I decide to take the one from the Thai border into Bangkok), which I guess was a little like closing the book on one big part of the whole thing. It was so anti-climactic though. Everyone else in my compartment again got off fairly early in the morning, and the rest of the trip was during the day so I was not surprised that no one paid for a soft sleeper for that portion of the trip. there was no one to share the final moments with, so I napped and drank overpriced coffee from a vendor who hopped on at Nha Trang and stared out the window at some incredible landscapes chugging by one last time.
PS: As I write this, roughly 3 weeks later, my foot is at about 85%. Not perfect, but the alarming-looking bruising has gone away and I can more or less walk normally. More on how that progressed in following posts. I’m a week away from the first chance for social dancing in Bangkok, and two weeks from 3 straight days of dancing, so I’m hopeful that it won’t be too big of an issue.