Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Travellers

So, my dear folks, here's the moment you've been waiting for.

Because let's face it, everyone loves a good trash-talkin'. Some shit-talkin'. Some dirt-layin' sonovagun who can tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

It's not that bad, of course. If it was horrible, no one would travel and your facebook feed wouldn't be occasionally submerged by posts like "Why I travel", "Why travel ROOLZ GUYZ", "What I learned during my amazing travels", "Travel frees the soul, is the school of life, OMG iz SO GOOD".

I consciously leave most of the annoyances, negativity and other insects of that family out of my posts to make it a pleasant and uplifting reading experience (but then again, when I look at the blog stats, the most popular entries are the sad ones).



My biggest pet peeve, I would say, are other travellers. While away, no matter if you're on the road for 6 weeks or 6 months, you will meet a diversity of characters richer than a Tolkien novel, as diverse as the inhabitants of the lands of Westeros, and sometimes just as ludicrous as, well, any spoof of said literature.

The order of this list follows my train of thoughts, and nothing else. Literally whatever comes to mind goes first, and then second, and then well you know how lists go.

First!

The Traveller Fashion

Yes, my dear drinkers of knowledge, there is such a thing.(try Google-ing it too!) To put things in perspective: you leave home with a bag weighting under the 12 kg. limit to avoid airline penalties and so you pack light. That means leaving a few shirts behind because you'd rather pack a book - and anyways there's shirts where you're going (probably) and it's a nice souvenir too.

So! If you're like me, you just landed in Thailand and are walking among the unorthodox mess that is Koh San road. It's fucking hot. So you think, ''Hey, I'll get me some tank-tops, it's like 4 dollars each and I can probably get a deal if I buy more than one''. Little do you know, you've just taken your irrevocable first step into Traveller Fashion (add echo).

Douchebag / laidback / fuck yeah vacation look:
Local beer tops. Tubing in Laos tops. Muay Thai tops. Tribal turtle tops. Elephant pattern pants. Swimsuit all the time.
Cheap flip-flops, or if you went all out, those with the fake grass so you feel like you're playing mini-golf bare-foot all the time.
Fake Ray-bans should complete the look.
It's what I wear, I totally get it when people silently eye me dơwn in hostels. With my tattoos hanging out I can look like a total dick.


I'm going Into the Wild! look:
Picture African safari pictures of olde. Black and white photograph , and the subject is some old white dude with a sweet curly mustache and a hunting rifle; indigenous men in the background, out of focus, carry his crap. Now picture how he is dressed. Yes, exactly like that!
Some olive, savannah-colored cargo shorts and when he sits they go up to the middle of his thighs.
A matching button-down shirt with those nifty straps on the sleeves so you can tight them up even more, you know, so you don't get caught in the heavy bush.
Maybe some sleeveless army-green mesh shirt with lots of pockets worn on top of that shirt.
To complete the look, my favorite: trekking sandals. I love those!
I've never worn any but every time I see a pair of them on some sweaty feet I'm like "Damn, that's luxury right thurr".
It's like a Jeep for your feet.
So yeah, some people dress like that, usually in the range of 35 to 45 but sometimes you see a kid, like 19, sportin' the look.


I'm a free soul look:
This one puzzles me. I don't know where it comes from. Who decided collectively for all the hippies and off-the-grid survivors, think-outside-the-box, I'm-saving-Gaia-by-eating-only-plants that this look was the official one? And if you're so original, why do you dress all the same?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging: I come from the punk scene, where everyone says they're marginal, but everyone follows a rigid uniform code.
Anyways. Long hair for both male and female. Bandanas are welcome, tied around the forehead to support all that hair and those revolutionary ideas.
Tie-dye shirts are not uncommon, but usually the tribal turtle shirt is sported, or maybe some loose cotton shirt (looks fucking comfortable, not gonna lie) or straight up their clothes from home.
Since they don't burden themselves with artifacts of the material world, they can pack more clothes and still be under 12 kg, I guess.
The elephant print pants are an absolute must, on guys and girls alike. Very popular are also those pants where you look like you have 3-inches high legs, where that part that usually holds your butt is by your ankles (you make me think of Obelix).
Shoes, sandals, anything for your feet is optional. They go bare-feet wherever, in a complete disregard of local cultures. They can probably walk on Legos, their sole is so tough and caked with shit.
Also, dreads.

I don't give a fuck look:
My favorite, and what I went for thís time. Basically what you wear at home, fuck it. T-shirt and jeans are good for nearly every occasion, anyways.
Special mention to the guy wearing his american football jersey.

Not very negative, as you can see, just some observations. Judgmental as fuck, actually.

Next logical item on the list (I lied! There is an order!)

Personalities:

I hate to judge based on looks, to think that humans can be so easily categorized, that we're nothing more than some straight-out-of-the-box, pre-made characters for some Higher Power's sunday Role-Playing game sesh, so I will not attach their personality to their looks.

And here starts the bitching, friends.

I think it's because I'm laidback and can actually listen to people when they are talking, but I meet a lot of:

Know-it-all(z):
Armed with their cellphone and roaming data package, they always know the best spot to eat, the cheapest guesthouse, the next temple.
They stop you from walking spontaneously into a Wat on the corner of the street because there's a bigger, better one just 2 kms away.
If you answer ''I don't know'' to questions like ''Where are you going next'', better grab some pen and paper, this guy knows where you're going next!
For people like me who prefer to see as you go, who are not too stressed about paying $1-2 more for a dorm because the cheapest one in town is full, it's fucking annoying.
Granted, sometimes I would have missed really cool things if it wasn't for a random person suggesting what I should do next, of course.
But being figuratively taken by the hand by some random stranger and dragged (or followed) around town can be quite the mood-killer.
Their mouth hands out unwelcomed, basic knowledge like their minds are the sharpest. They don't listen to you when you speak, will interupt you or repeat exactly what you just said in different words to seem like they thought about it first.
They annoy me.

Lonely Planet Zombies:
Their weapon of choice: the latest edition of the traveller's bible. The books are pretty useful, of course, but some people are treating it as a holy book, the one that contains all the knowledge and that will show you the path to a perfect voyage.
First of all, these books were written by people, like you and me. So, it follows their preferences and taste, most of the time.
Second, when I say zombies, I mean it. Some people quite literally leave their brains at the guesthouse and wander around town, nose in the pages, not even looking around to absorb whatever it is that they came for to absorb. I've seen people stop in the middle of the street in front of incoming traffic to look at a map.
There's only so much the authors can cram in there! You're bound to miss out if you think you've done everything in a town because you did the 5 suggested activites.
Also, and this is from experience, their cultural Do's and Don't' miss the nails more often than they hit it, at least for ASEA.
I'm not saying they're useless, I personally use Frommer's Rough Guide when I'm about to cross borders to get up to speed on the upcoming country. I'm just saying, once in a while, leave the book on your dorm bed and go explore. Get lost. There's no instructions on how to get invited to 4am, drunken karaoke with the locals.

Ze Bros:
They can be the life of the party, or they can be the death of the soul.
Usually super cut, and I suspect they carry a wax-a-chest kit with them.
They say stuff like ''I'll never go to X town, it's way too touristy'' (actually everyone says that) but the only time they leave the confines of their guesthouse it's to go to the bar.
They're loud, they command attention, they're big, they're having so much fun.
If you look closely, you can see a faint glimmer of jealousy in the eye of everyone they are annoying. ''How can they be so free! Is it because they're so cut? Muscles bring freedom?''
Sometimes followed by one smaller, bearded, beer-gutted dude.
They treat the locals like Disney World mascots, don't bother to learn ''Hi'' in whatever local dialect, and will just talk louder and LOUDER if the waiter doesn't understand their order. ''Pizza. Pizza! PIZZA. PIZZA!!!''




Well folks, there's plenty more but I don't like to be this bitchy for this long and I am also quite lazy all of a sudden. I hope I could get a few laughs out of you.

I let the inner geek out more than usual. Deal with it!

I hate being a salesman but I do love attention so if you ẹnjoyed this, go ahead and like the Biere de Route facebook page, share your stories! I want to hear them! Also share the page! Tell your friends!
There's an Instagram page as well, Bierederoute. I got a new phone and the camera's real nice so I'm posting regularly.

Peace out mafakas!



MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! 
JOYEUX NOEL A TOUS! 




Saturday, 20 December 2014

I'm okay u guyz

I would like to start by saying to everyone: I'm doing okay! I'm not depressed or anything, just turning my cosmic sight inwards, like hơw Captain Marvel (not the Shazam! one) did some decades ago.

I did not discover that I had cancer like he did, however.

If you look back at how this blog started, it used to be personnal as fuck. I kind of stepped away fron that for a while, because sometimes I met people at parties who would go "I love your stuff! I read everything!" And of course I appreciate the dedication, but I felt too much like an open book, and so I put up the natural force field of protection and write more about my travels around the world, and not those of the mind, of the heart.

So yeah, that last post was a little outburst of bottled-up thoughts let loose. But I'm fine, really.

The follow-up was a plethora of messages from friends, some of which opened the door to very meaningful conversations, for which I am very grateful.

On to other things.

I am sitting at a little wooden table in a restaurant in Hue, Vietnam, the ancient capital of the country, housing the "Purple Forbidden City".

I came down here to give some love to my girl, Lucy, my motorbike. She's been waiting patiently for over a month.

I am in a period of transition, for in about 3 weeks I will stop being a backpacker and turn into a sedentary foreigner.

A student, of all things.

My backpack is filled to capacity, since my needs have changed. It's too cold for my light trekking shoes, shorts and tank-tops. I had to obtain new shoes, jeans and shirts, even a light jacket.

My mindset is adapting as well. I spent 4 days in Hanoi and haven't visited a single attraction. My time was spent shopping for clothes and a cellphone.

The rest of the time I would simply read a book in a small café or wander aimlessly, sort of like what I do back home during my free time.

One night I was approached by 2 university teachers looking to practice their english. They invited me for some street food and even drove me to a cellphone store. Mighty generous of them.

The next day a Vietnamese lady who studied in Holland more than 15 years ago offered to buy me a coffee so we could talk and she could refresh her language skills.

It's been quite interesting, going for food with strangers but this time, my companions are not other travelers. I have actually grown quite anti-social towards them, to my own surprise.

I also want to mention that for good times' sake I rarely mention anything negative about my travels, painting a very Disney-esque picture of the whole thing.

I will shed some light on the whole affaire soon, like Dick Tracy exploring under the cover of darkness a clandestine warehouse down on the waterfront.

But not right now, the last post was heavy enough.

It's Christmas very soon. I hope everybody is doing well.

Hugs and ball-punching,

Ho ho ho
Ha ha
Ho hee
Ha~


(Joker style)

Monday, 15 December 2014

Back to Hanoi

Well, it is always a culture shock to leave Don Det.

When you're at home, where every day connects effortlessly into the next, like riding a subway train from one end of the lane to the other and your only stops are small inconveniences in your life... Go to doctor station, holiday station, my SO just dumped me station - it's hard to miagine that 3 weeks can seem like a lifetime. That in just 3 weeks your way of thinking, your way of acting, walking, eating, talking, being, can change so much - or reveal itself so much.

Don Det was even better this time around. I think it's because I came back. When you're a local there - as I was for 3 months 2 years ago - you tend to stop investing so much in friendships and the like with travelers because let's face it, after a while, continuously saying goodbye, hope to see you again one day, it was great, well, it takes it's toll. So you tuck your shirt's sleeve over your heart and maintain a degree of separation.

Since I came back though, I showed the residents that I'm not just a backpacker anymore. I belong here. I feel it, and I think they feel it too. The last night, hosting ex-pats and Lao peeps alike, sitting under the stars on nothing but a traditional carpet, drinking Lao-Lao out of one glass for the whole group, I could feel it. People care. I care too. The feeling is amazing.

A lot of people came to my good-bye BBQ before I left Montreal and I am very grateful for it. However, there is a certain group of people, let's call them The Inner Circle, the boys that I've known since I moved back to Montreal when I was 14... Well only 2-3 of them showed up. During a short moment of quietness between two board games, Phil looked at me with a mild expression of concern and asked: "Etienne, where are all the boys?". I shrugged my shoulders in a two-sided body language of "I don't know" and "I don't care".

Truth is, of course I care, but like when I was on Don Det, I can't let it get to me, or I'll just get sad and I don't like being sad.

I understand that everyone's got their own life to live - and that's why I was able to leave again, maybe this time for ever. I have my own life to live as well, I hope you understand, is what I am trying to say.

 The bonds I have forged with Ken, Jon, Adam, Phil, Manni, Phone's family, Sit and everyone are as important to me as if I had known them my whole life.

So, leaving Don Det after 3 weeks of waking up naturally in my wooden bungalow, to slowly go eat breakfast with my Lao family (sticky rice and spicy stuff), then walking around talking to people, helping dig foundations or build a bamboo fence or preparing a BBQ. To sit down on a bench and just talk about life with Phil while he paints his new Burger Kong sign, or watch South Park at Adam's until the kids show up and want to play. To read a book until Ken's kid is dumped on my lap - here, your turn to take care of him - and finding failproof ways of making him laugh. To never worry about money, to never see a car, to go to sleep when I'm tired not because I have to...

I know it's not the real life, it's the traveler's life, but it's so easy to get used to it.

If Don Det was a woman, she would be the country girl, dressed in a Lao traditional dress, with long black hair and her skin mildly tanned, walking slowly here and there in flip-flops and a reserved air, slightly frowning but easy to laughter. We would go for a short walk through the rice fields at night to star-gaze, then find someone to take a shot of Lao-Lao with, never talking about kids, or money. When it was time to say good-bye, there would be a long heart-felt embrace, followed by a quick "When will I see you again", a short squeeze of the hand and a pat on the butt, and a wave good-bye.

Simple, contempt.

Last time I left her, it was to take a 28-hour bus straight to Bangkok.

This time, it was for Vientiane, and then to Hanoi.

And if Hanoi was also a woman, she would welcome me back with a short but strong hug, kiss on the cheeks, grabbing my hand and urging me to drop my bags off before we go for a drink and street food, dodging kids in rollerblades and ladies selling donuts. Last time I saw her she was wearing heels and very short shorts showing off her amazing legs and butt, with a huge beautiful smile and teasing eyes. This time around she traded the shorts for tight jeans and a light winter jacket, but she still grabbed me by the hand and dragged me out for beers. I was reluctant though, still thinking about Don Det, about the quietness, how slow everything is, how hot it is, how we don't need to be talking about anything, drinking in the silence, slowly swinging in a hammock.

And so I set my 3rd beer down and tell her, hey, sorry, I'm kind of tired, I need to sleep a little bit more, but we can get back in a day or two if you'd like.

We have much to talk about however, and the quiet walks to nowhere in particular are replaced with discussions over tea, about history,  culture, food, traveling, girls, money. She has much to share and the days go by quick.

Don Det and Hanoi would sometimes ask about Canada, that elusive woman from home, the one that raised me and reluctantly let me go, that couldn't be there to say goodbye because she was too busy. That woman who rarely keeps in contact, only to ask "Where are you now? When are you coming back?" but rarely asks "How are you doing?". That woman so diverse, so stressful and yet so happy, who wishes I was back so that all the pieces of her jigsaw would be in their proper place, never really realizing that I never fitted completely in the first place, that I longed to break free.

I am the monopoly die you lost somewhere, that you never think about until you open the box, about to play, and notice that I am gone.

You complain a little bit, but quickly make do without, and I go on, rolling but never quite coming to a stop.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Sabaidee! Pai Sai?

Today I'm splurging.

And by splurging I mean using an actual computer to do actual planning for the next 2 months while eating a giant bacon burrito. I ordered the ham one first because in Laos ham is slang for penis and sometimes they can't help themselves but smile when they hear it.

I've been meaning to try and describe Don Det to friends through text but it is quite impossible. You just have to get here.

The meaning of the term "Time slows down" was probably born here. I should say... Here, it's swinging in a hammock, listening to someone's ukulele.

Imagine a place, so hot you don't want to move and neither do the locals. You find a quiet little restaurant overlooking the Mekong river (named Namkhong here, Nam means water) where you sit on a small mattress and eat on tables just inches off the floor. You get up only to turn the fan on. When the meal is done, you push your plate back and lay down on the floor and promptly fall asleep for 2 hours.

On Don Det, it is considered extremely rude to wake someone up from a nap. I fucking love it.

My first day back, as soon as I step on this holy soil I see Manni, 4-year resident and party animal. It is his tradition to greet the newcomers freshly off the boats. Next to him is Alex, a guy who was on Don Det at the same time as me last time I was here, 2 years ago. He was back to say hello too, turns out he came back exactly at the same time as me.

Amazeballs.

Another Manni tradition is to get the returning Don Det family members absolutely plastered. So after I set my bags down at One More Bar, give Ken a giant hug, say hi to my Lao family and distribute my meager gifts I head to Happy Bar where a giant joint is waiting.

It's about noon. By 4pm I am sleeping off the excess booze and herb on said small mattress in One More Bar. I wake up to eat something and have a good, hearty talk with Ken about everything. I missed this place so much.

At one point, Noua passed by on a bicycle. Noua is the neighbor's kid. She's witty, always laughing and always running everywhere - quite extraordinary for a Lao person - and last time it was our little game that I'd try to catch her every time she'd walk by. So, I'm sitting by the "road" talking and she passes by. I see her and my mouth lets out a "Oh!" sound. She turns her head. Recognizes me right away, even after a 2 year absence and a giant beard missing. I start running after her. She's laughing so hard she can't pedal anymore. Such a good moment.

The next 2 days were spent getting acclimated - meaning napping all day - and just going around saying hi to all the residents of this amazing island. They don't remember who I am usually, but after I explain that I shaved or show them a picture of last time, their face lightens up and we share an immense smile.

Papao, another of the neighbor's kids, the one who isn't afraid of anything and has a kind of crazy strut and look in his eye, can't remember me. "Pei, tell him I'm the one that used to throw him so hard into the river". She translates. His eyes and smile become enormous, he throws himself in my arms.

There was Sun's 1st birthday party. Adam's boy. Adam is married to Pei. They live behind Ken's house. We're sitting in One More Bar chatting when the father of the family quietly struts by. Tells Ken, without ever slowing down or even looking at him, "We're having beer". Ken laughs. It's inevitable, everyone's getting hammered tonight.

Driving at night to a Lao party in a rice field on Ken's battered scooter. Suddenly, in the middle of the road, a snake about 5 feet long. Black with yellow stripes. Good girth too. I call him Lucic. "Woooooiiiii!" Ken goes and avoids the snake (his brakes are out). "Fuck, Etienne, I lose my mind I so scared. This snake, number 1 danger in Lao. He bite, you die in minute". Quite the adrenaline rush.

A few days later, we're all sharing beers. Rachid tells me, he had the scare of his life, he was walking in the dark, quite high, and almost stepped on this black and yellow snake. But it was dead. Ken is laughing so hard. His new friend and ultimate badass, Sit, had crossed the snake one night and killed it. He doesn't even remember how, he says, it was just instincts. As a joke, he lay the snake in the middle of the road to scare people.

There's a few differences on the island since the last time. I'm here during low season, it's much more quiet. We still get rain almost every day. I guess as a direct result, I see more wildlife. I've seen about 6 snakes in 2 weeks, last time in 3 months I saw only one. More locals and ex-pats talk to me, I guess because I've returned, shown my interest in the place. I've even let the word out that I'm looking to settle down here one day to see what happens. Result: "Eh-Tee-Enn! I speak with my friend. He has daughter. If you have money, you can marry her no problem!" "Is she pretty?" "I didn't see".

In a place with not much to do and small population, gossip is an important activity. You have to be careful. Anything you say will travel. You can lose face that way. Or make new friends.

I've picked up a few more words and am starting to be able to create sentences. I've realized that every single time you go walking, people ask you where you're going. Pai Sai? Go where? You don't even have to reply, it's just a way to start the conversation. Most people just point ahead with their chin and smile. When you walk back, they ask you where you were. Every. Single. Time.

I don't know how to describe Don Det. How about, a place where you go to rent a bungalow for one day, help the family write a sign down for their restaurant. All of a sudden, you're part of the crew. You get to eat Pho for free. You get to sit down with them on the floor and watch Thai tv, drinking beer with Papa or cuddle with the daughter, depending on your sex. Next thing you know, your visa is running out. It's been a month.

A place where hammocks are only outnumbered by smiles, where locals and foreigners mingle naturally, where time is quietly napping in the shade and no one will wake it up.

I love you, Don Det.