Tag Archives: Biking

Biking. Beauty. Kabul? Cape Town, South Africa.

8 Jan

“OMG. You live in Kabul? Tell me, why are we in Afghanistan? I’m American. We talk in sound bites.. Help me here…”

So, that was the first thing that spewed from my mouth after meeting Suzanne and Gustav. Poor people. Suzanne is German and is married to Gustav, a South African who owns Bike & Saddle, a leading eco-active travel company based in Cape Town. They married ten years ago, and she works for the World Bank. They’ve lived in DC and Madagascar. She now lives in Cape Town and commutes to Kabul – eight weeks on and two weeks off.

Earlier that day, I did ANOTHER bike tour with Gustav’s company. This one was around the Cape. More strenuous stretches up mountains, down hills, through canyons to explore the beauty of South Africa.

The challenge was the gale force winds. Can’t ride a bike up a mountain when you see birds flapping their wings, going backwards. They call the winds the “South-Easterlies.” I call it bad for biking.

I can not put into words the beauty of Cape Town. It’s California and France’s

Stadium built for World Cup

coasts on crack. Plus, it has a cosmopolitan flare with its robots, organic supermarkets, and Woolworths.

That’s right. Woolworths still exits! I was shocked. I thought it went bankrupt. I have fond memories of going to the Winter Park Mall and eating grill cheeses with my grandmother at Woolworth’s cafe. It’s not the same in South Africa. No selling of plastic flowers and toy guns. Woolies, as the local’s refer to it, is equivalent to our Whole Foods and any upscale department store.

Back to biking. Gustav’s travel company had a bus follow us as we attempted to peddle. Short story, longer. We opted to put the bikes in the van and see the sights from the confines of a sheet metal to better protect us from sand, wind or fire.

That’s right. Fire. The mountain next to my hotel was burning. The firefighters managed to get it under control with the help of four helicopters and a reservoir.

That evening, Gustav asked if he and his wife could join me for dinner. I have no friends here…. So, guess what was the answer? They picked me up from the Lady Hamilton Hotel and off we went to the waterfront to dine. It was there, when I asked Suzanne what she did for a living. She said, “I work for the World Bank in Afghanistan. I’m based in Kabul…” That was when, I hurled a zillion questions at her. Poor lady. She thought she was going to have a very nice evening. Nope. Not with the inquisitive Tallgirl…

All I wanted was a soundbite. I mean, I’m American. And, we Americans, don’t have patience for details.

You have our attention for 45 seconds on a good day. So, what is the value proposition here? Below is an edited recap of our conversation – for the wine flowed and consumption was the name of the game.

Suzanne: “There are 26 or 27 countries in Afghanistan, some with only a few thousand troops.”

Me: “Whose running the show? Americans?”

Suzanne: “No one, really. That is part of the problem. The countries who are there have their own territories they are monitoring. So, their focus is just on that area. For example, Italians are in one providence and when they invest $$ or more troops, it can only go to that area so they can get credit for it back home. It makes it difficult to make decisions from a global sense.

The Afghans are tired. Back in 2001, they welcomed Americans and the international communities’ help. They wanted to kick out Al-Queda. They were tired of being under their control. Kabul used to be a cultured, polished, worldly city. The Afghans wanted it back. The international community promised a lot.

Afghans waited and waited and waited. Then, Iraq happened and all attention, resources and promises went to Iraq. Once again, Afghans were left holding the bag, with nothing. History repeats itself. Their trust evaporated, and they went back to trusting Al-Queda.

Now, we’re at 2010 and, promising a lot, yet at the same time, telling them we’re leaving in a year or two. Why trust and work with the international community when they are going to leave again – leave them with nothing. It will take more than a year, two or even ten to bring any sense of stability to the region. This is a long term investment….

In the meantime, you have complications with Pakistan. Then, there is India. And, you have a country – Afghanistan – that is mineral rich and, possibly, oil/gas rich. The Chinese are buying up mineral rights now. They see Afghanistan as a long term investment. Chinese have a different sense of time. They can wait 50 to 70 years, without a problem. China is in Afghanistan. So, is the US Geological Service too. All trying to understand what lays underneath the country’s surface.

What is hard to understand is there are sooo many brilliant American minds? So, many who have studied at the War Colleges. Tremendous experience. Yes, they forget Afghan history. Or, neglect to examine past mistakes.

And, then there is this void. No one wants to make decisions. And, it seems, some are more concerned about their careers with the Obama administration than the long term health of the country. This makes it hard to move anything forward. There is no clear direction, from nobody.

Afghan people are beautiful. The country is breathtaking. One day, it will be a tourists paradise with its mountains and vastness. The people find it hard to trust….


Suzanne continued to share much more details about how complicated it is. But, our conversation left me sad. Sad there is a void in leadership. And, it’s unfair. Unfair to the people of Afghanistan and to those countries investing in a better Afghan future. Unfair because innocent people are dying for no one knows who is on First, Second or Third.

And, what are they risking their lives for? Can you imagine being in the US military. On the front lines, and every week or day you hear a different reason why you are sacrificing your life? Irritated, to say the least. Can you imagine being an Afghan and every week or day, you hear a different reason why you’re being occupied. Irritated, to say the least.

Boils down to communications. Can’t trust, if you don’t understand. Can’t understand, if you don’t communicate.  And, can’t communicate, what you don’t know… Why do we make things so hard…. Why?

Kicking off Adventure Travel. Northern Vietnam.

11 Dec

I found the place. You know the place I’m talking about. It’s the place you go to when you are down, depressed, or despondent. When you’re trying to remember “the good times.” These places are few and far between. You treasure them. I have a few of them. Like New Smyrna Beach and today – biking through the rice fields in Vietnam. Now, I just need to figure out how to bottle the thing.

Arriving in North Vietnam, Lao Cai

Train pulled into the Lao Cai station at 5:00 AM. Train lady banged on our door and screamed words I don’t understand. I’ve been awake for what seems like hours. I looked at my watch. The Chinese “Adidas” watch read 11:30 pm. Can’t be right.   It wasn’t.  Chinese battery died. Bought in China for $3. Lasted 5 weeks. Now, need to add battery to list of random purchases in Vietnam.

I kicked the top bunk. “Ang, is this our stop?” NO answer. Tour-Burn turns over. People were getting off the train. Wait, people who like look me were getting off the train.

I screamed, “Ang, is this our stop?” No answer. He was still asleep. I kicked the bunk hard with both feet. I felt like I was back at summer camp. I heard him grunt. Something moved.

Yes, this was our stop.  Time to cram and slam.

The boys were up and out in 3 mins while I was still shoving. Why is it boys are faster than girls? I mean, I could be tossing into a bag some lip gloss, sunscreen and a camera, and I’m still last. By this time, the train lady was peering in the window and screaming some Vietnamese mambo-jumbo. I waved back, raised my eyebrows and smiled.

The train corridors were even smaller than the Chinese trains. A six-foot gal caring a backpack and over-sized  bag could not fit.  It was not even 5:15 am, and I was sporting a sweat mustache.  Made it to the door. Tossed my bags. Jumped out. And, yes, I was proud to say, the last one to disembark.

The sun was making its entrance.  The town of Lao Cai welcomed us with honking horns and diesel fumes. We were not even out of the train parking lot and my short term memory kicked in. I thought, “OMG! I forgot my Kindle on the train. I don’t remember touching it.”

I panicked. Told Ang to stop. And, yelled, “Ang, hold it. I need to check my bag for something. Left something….left something…”

I mumbled and ripped open my bag. And, there it was. Laughing at me. My Kindle. “SUCKKKERRR!” Yea, ever since I left 1/6th of my stuff in Chiang Mai, the brain goes into “gotcha” mode when I cram and slam. Not fun.

I wheeled my half-opened bag across the parking lot and into a welcoming restaurant across the street. I spied ambiance.

Freshly squeezed OJ was waiting. Back to happy again. I headed straight to the washroom. Sitting toilets. With toilet paper. That flushed. Happy again.

For breakfast, they served Vietnamese/French banquette, fried eggs, cheese and butter. Happy again. You just got to love the positives from French occupation. Oh, almost forgot, the Vietnamese coffee was to die for. No need for chemicals or cream to dilute the taste. Yep, was happy again.

After breakfast, we waddled to the bikes. I changed into my biking outfit – H&M black leggings and the stretched out, Perfect Fit JCrew long sleeve T-shirt.

Ang raised my bike seat to its limit and said, “You big…” I tell him wrong word. We use the word “tall.” He just smiled.

Me: “Ang, how long is the ride today?”

Ang: “Morning ride is twenty-five kilometers.”

Me: “WHAT!  It sounds like a lot… I think it is 18 miles or so, right?  No hills, right?”

Ang ignored me. I continued to think this through. Have I ever biked 18 or 20 miles before? Can’t recall. Certainly NOT at a pub crawl at CSU (Colorado State University.) And, I believe that was the last time I was on a bike for any extended period of time.

We took off. It’s after 7 am and the little/big town of Lao Cai was waking up with a bang. Families gathered on mini-stools made for midgets. Kids lined up for breakfast from the street vendors.

Old women carried baskets of fruits and flip flops to sell at market. Random men readied themselves for a day of sitting, staring and spitting.

We peddled on.

Within minutes we were out of the diesel aroma and into rice-land. The scenery changed in seconds. Teen age girls were hand washing their clothes at the river. Or, hanging laundry by the road. Their mothers or older sisters were walking to the field with plows in one hand, basket in the other and a baby strapped on their back. Banana fields, green tea fields, rice fields, mango fields littered the landscape. Green screamed at us. The air was dry. It’s hoovered between 68 and 72 degrees. No humidity. No bugs. No motor-bikes. Just Silence. Pure silence. Expect me gasping for air. Happy again.

We hit our first hill. Wait, how do you shift gears? Which side is which? First hill was a disaster. Used all the wrong gears. Walked it. Tour-Burn was cycling patiently behind me. Poor thing. He stopped. Waited. Helped. So kind. It’s nice. I could not recall the last time a cute boy waited on me. Wait, let me rephrase that one. I don’t recall the last time I ALLOWED a cute boy to wait on me. Very different preposition. And, I liked it. Instead of bucking it, I just smiled. It was nice.

The whole morning was filled with Vietnamese adults and children running into the street and enthusiastically greeting us in their high pitched screams, “HI! HI! HELLO!” Their energy kept me moving. And, the mini-hills got better.

We stopped at one point to help a farmer. It’s sunny these next few days and perfect time to dry out corn along the road teaming with mack-trucks, motor-bikes and water buffalo. We helped him sort his corn and he just smiled and smiled and smiled.

The next thing I know, a heard of water buffalo trotted towards us being led by 10-year girls. School does not start until 11:00 am for the older kids, so they can help with farm chores before school.

I really couldn’t imagine walking the dog, let alone a heard of water buffalo, before school in fifth or sixth grade. No doubt, I would have pitched a fit and been grounded for weeks…

After 25 km, we finally stopped. The bike bus was waiting for us. Ang asked if we wanted to keep riding for another 20 km or take the bus to the restaurant. Honey, I was on a high. There was NO stopping me. I say – LETS’ do IT. Both boys nodded in agreement. Off we went. For another 20 km.

OK. About 10 mins into it, my butt froze. Muscle spasm. The pelvis was not used to this much moving, over such an extended period of time.

What was I thinking? I tried to channel this joy and happiness I was feeling earlier. It was difficult. How does Lawrence Armstrong do it?

My attitude changed when school was being let out and all the boys and girls filled the street – again waving at us and screaming “Hello! Hi!” They were SO happy to see us. They could not stop grinning and giggling and waving. Innocent little Vietnamese girls in oversized floppy pink hats, hello kitty back-packs and school uniforms rode along side of us. Their enthusiasm and laughter were intoxicating. I forgot about my paralyzed pelvis and focused on their smiles and hats. I wanted their HATS. I had to find their HATS. I’m buying those HATS…

By the last 3 km, my lower body was on fire. Ang was very far ahead of us. Sweet, patient Tour-Burn was riding next to me. I finally screamed out for Ang, and he just pointed. I could hear myself, “Pelvis is paralyzed…Need to stop…” Tour-Burn said Ang turned into the restaurant. We’re at the final destination. OK, back to happy again.

We cycled up. Stopped. My legs buckled and I fell off my bike. I tried to stretch. Tried to walk. Tried the outdoor toilet. Couldn’t feel a thing… Finally after 10 mins or so, synapses kicked in. I had feeling. And, lunch was waiting. I inhaled and even splurged on a REAL coke. Needed the sugar to help fight the numbness…

After inhaling, we loaded into a wooden boat and cruised down the river for 2 hours. In a matter of minutes, I zonked out. I was full, just biked 45+ km and the sound of the engine just put me out for the count.

When my eyes popped opened, beauty danced around me in the form of limestone mountains, green rice fields, dense jungles and tranquil water.

Of course, this scenery caused me to think not about beauty but about the US believing they could beat the Viet Cong? And, why does stuff like this pop in my mind, when I’m supposed to be relaxed in a beautiful setting? This has GOT to stop.

The boat motored on and we passed men on bamboo rafts dredging up sand from the river. The sand was needed for cement to build buildings, roads….

I wonder if they have a permit or anyone with an engine and some bamboo can extract sand from a river bed? No one could answer my question.

We motored onward.

I knew we arrived for I spied her first. It was a tree. She talked to me. How do I know this? She is one TALL tree. And, I’m TALL. Tall beings bond with each other. I’m sure short beings do the same. Katie, Daph and Chop please chime in here. Do cats and shrubs talk to you?

Tall tree stood out. Her branches reached to the heavens and roots dug deep into the ground. This tall mama has seen it all – French forces, US paratroopers and Viet Cong as well as the occasional water buffalo, pig and China man. She has stories to tell.

I forgot about my partially paralyzed pelvis and lept from my metal chair to take photos. I could not stop taking pictures. Every angle – every light. Boat man, slowed down. I thought he was being nice so I could take at least 100 more pics before my battery died. Nope. We were disembarking at the TALL TREE. Travel angels unite. I just smiled and said “hi” to the tree. I felt protected here – protected from yellow fever, rabbis, mosquitoes and food poison. I belonged.

Tonight, we were to stay with an ethnic tribe. I believe only 10% of the Vietnam population is considered ethnic. This tribe is called Thai, but pronounced as DAY. Yep, I knew it. These are my peeps.

After photographing the tree, my battery died. SHIT. SHIT. SHIT. The Day tribe is one big fat Kodak moment. Man, I hope this village has electricity. I spotted a wire in the distance. I walked towards the wire.

Ang shouted, “Amanda – this way…” I had to figure out where wire goes. I felt like a heroin addict needing a fix…

Need a few electrons. Just one electron will do – Give it to me now.

I pulled out my American hat – “Ang, do these people – the Day tribe – have power? Battery died. Needs recharging – We’re talking crisis here…” He smiled. “Yes, have power…Goes out at night.” All I heard was “yes and electrons.” Confident my people would have access to electrons.

The Day tribe daughter welcomes us to her bamboo home on stilts wearing her red PJ’s, accented with the Burberry design pattern. Red is my favorite color. Plus, she is wearing an oversized light blue, silk pock-a-dot floppy hat. Want the hat. Of course, she’s a DAY.

Found out later, she is a little over 40 and just had her second child. Her little girl is now one. Day village daughter looks all of 30. I wanted to take a picture, but was too embarrassed. Ang told me that her older son is 19. He’s off – carousing in the town and won’t return back to the village. Day girl wanted a girl, for girls take care of their mommies and daddies. So, her kids are almost 20 years apart. Wow…

Ang took us on a sightseeing mission of the Day Village. The village seemed sooo remote. We put-putted for over 2 hours to get here. Ang told us that the town where we ate lunch is only 7 km away and remember our little boat never went over 3 mph. So, bug spray and Coke Zero are right around the corner. Nice to know.

We came across a little girl cleaning rice with a Whirlpool fan. She looked like a mini-rice terrorists with her black scarf around her head. She’s about 14 and it’s her job to get rid of the unwanted rice kernels. Seriously, I will never look at rice the same. It’s HARD work. A lot of labor. And, I will assert Mr. Uncle Ben should be charging triple.

Next, we walked over to the loud noises. Hammering and music. This is where the men were. Shock city. They’re not sitting and sipping, they building a pagoda for the monks. The village has collected money to build a formal praying area for the local monks. The village does not have a hospital, but will have an oversized monk place to pray. Good to know. After our walk about, we headed back to the bamboo house on stilts for dinner. Another amazing V-nam meal. We inhaled. Then, curled up in our mosquito nets. The boys slept. I typed. Want to remember every moment of this day, even the pelvis pain.

Rise & Shine

My eyes flew open around 5 am. Roosters crowing. Pigs grunting. Birds twirping. Geese landing on our bamboo roof. Two snoring men next to me wrapped in mosquito nets.

My body was still. Mind just absorbing the sounds. I’m waking up with the Day tribe. I feel so blessed to be here. How am I here? Seriously. How in the world am I curled up in a mosquito net, sleeping on a bamboo mat in Northern Vietnam. How? It truly is a wonder. I wake amazed and grateful everyday. And, I’m not just saying that – I hate it when people say stuff like that because it sounds so annoying. You just want to smack them. I mean, waking up happy, joyful and excited to be alive? How is this possible? Well, I can’t tell you how, just can tell you I am.

The mosquito net stirred next to me. The noise of birds landing on the roof must have stirred Tour-burn. My brain goes to “I need to get up…need to go to the bathroom…need to…” But, my spirit said. “Be still. Stay still. And, talk to me.” I did the later.

The boys stirred around 7 am. Breakfast was around 7:30 am. Green tea. Crepes. Bananas. Sugar. We inhaled and then hiked through the Day village, observing their morning rituals. Some women were up early, washing clothes… veggies… babies. Other women were heading out to the fields. Sweeping their floors.

Tots with no underwear were running around. I finally figured out why village kids don’t wear pants. Diapers are too expensive or non-existent. Cloth diapers are too expensive or a pain to wash. They teach the kids how and where to pee and poop as soon as soon as they can crawl. It’s potty training at is finest people…

We hiked for an hour or so then our bus drove us to Day 2 of our bike trek through Northern Vietnam. This was the strenuous stretch day, whatever that means. I’m just happy to be here. Just happy.

Good Morning Vietnam. Hanoi.

10 Dec

It’s 10:04 pm. Everyone is asleep. Train just pulled out of the station. In route to some random village near the Chinese/Laos border.

That’s right. You heard me. I’m on another train. Just when you thought I kicked my train days to the curb, I come crawling back for one more round of bunk beds, dirty pillows and stand-up toilets. It’s addicting.

As much as I make fun of trains, there is something about train travel that gives you sense of place. Sense of purpose. I mean, you are going somewhere… You ride through fields, villages, towns, and cities and peek into people’s lives – what they eat, shows they watch, cigs they smoke, booze they drink, motor-bikes they ride… You witness  inequality and injustice at its best.

Flying  is just a quick up and down in a sheet of metal, glued to a micro-mini chair, reclined at an 85.9% angle.  Plane travel is where you plaster your most proper “eat shit and die look” to beat back those close-talking extroverts, crying babies and drunk men.

Where am I?

Let me back up here. I flew from Bangkok to Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines yesterday evening. I’ve been here for one full day…

Hanoi is the capital cit of Vietnam and the land of French-A-Fied style and 3 million motor-bikes. The French colonized – “occupied” as the Vietnamese like to say – the country off and on from 1873 until the 1950s.

Going to sound bad, but if you were to be “occupied” by anyone during that time, I would choose the French.  I mean, the French have French kisses, French Bread, French Braids……. Need I say more?

Walk the streets of Hanoi today and you’ll come across real, live French bakeries with real, live bread…  French bread sandwiches with pork or fish paste is a common food on the street as are crepes with sugar, honey or whatever you want.  V-nam absorbed the French influence on food, architecture, deign but missed the boat on wine. There is nothing French about fermented rice wine. Nothing.

Adventure what?

On the plane from Thailand to Vietnam, I decided it was time to read more about this thing called “Adventure Touring Through North Vietnam.”  I’m with this group for 12 days and can’t even fathom what we will be doing…

Reread the first paragraph.  Stopped.  I mean, what was I thinking???

Biking between 20 to 30 miles a day, trekking through rice fields, climbing mountains, kayaking for days and staying with villagers in bamboo huts. The huts don’t bother me, it’s the biking… I haven’t ridden a bike since college.   And, I have nothing to wear.  I packed for a 7 month journey around the world, not 12 days of sweating, groaning and moaning…

Ang, from the adventure travel agency, greeted me at the airport. Young. Great smile. Athletic. I’m already sore.

We loaded my luggage into the car and set off for the hotel in Hanoi. He said the two other people in the group canceled because they have VISA problems. Hate that word.

I asked, “Where are they from?” And, replied, “US…” Really? Hmmmm… Anyway, Ang followed up, “Only two foreigners now in group. Me, you and man from Norway.” Yep, Scandinavia is traveling. They are everywhere. I guess they’re getting in one last dose of Vitamin D before day turns to night and green turns to white. I just hope he is not socially slow. Or, the super outdoorsy.

Ang told me about Hanoi in route. A city of six to seven million – mere village to China’s standards. A lot of French influence since they were occupied by them for many years. I added, “what about China influence since they occupied you for a 1,000 years?” Ang, laughed. “Yea, we have A LOT of China influence – too much influence. China will eat us one day…” I laughed too. I think I’m going to like Ang.

Ang is around 25 or 26. The youngest of five. From Halong Bay area in Northern V-nam. He is the only one in his family that went to University. By the way, only 5% of the population goes to University in Vietnam. Go communism!

His brother recently died of lung cancer from working in the coal mines. He was 35. His Dad died too of lung cancer – coal miner. His sister transports V-nam goods to the Chinese border. We call it “import/export” business in US. She has a “retail” store at the market, but Ang said she doesn’t work hard. She only opens the store when she’s happy. I asked, “well how often is she happy…” He said, “Not often.”

We pulled up the hotel.Hidden among vendors selling counterfeit clothes and shoes. Very nice. I’ve return to my roots – a 2.8 star hotel. Liking it. I bet they have real mattresses in Vietnam.

The porter takes my bags up to my room. I told him – “No, no worries. It rolls. I do it…” He did not listen. We go to the room. He drops off my bags and stands there. I have no money. Did not go to ATM. Plus, I do not know tipping customs in this country.

I said, “No money yet. Need to go to ATM. Later?” His mood changed. He swings his body around. Hurls a few words at me. And slams the door. Nice welcome buddy. I think to myself, “great he will tell the cook and they will poison my breakfast. Have an upset stomach for the first 3 days of cycling. I better go to the ATM and fast.” Wait… If I were from Norway or Sweden – or other non tipping countries – what would he do. Not all countries tip. When he asked where I was from – he inferred $$. I hate that. So, I debated to tip or not on principal.

I walked around Hanoi that night. Got lost as usual. Instead of getting lost on the counterfeit  purse row, I scored the barbie and stuff animal street. Two streets that hold zero interests. I had to get out of here. But, how. I have no map. And, neglected to get the hotel card. An older woman carrying about 30 pounds of bananas, pineapples and assorted fruits was trotting down the street wearing her bamboo hat. Stopped to take a picture. She smiled. Trotted over. “I take picture of you?”

The next thing I know, she throws the bamboo rod over my shoulder and grabs my camera and takes a picture. Ahhhh… She’s a pro. I know now it’s my cue to give her a dollar or something. She says, “$200,000 Dong (VND).” First of all, this whole currency thing has thrown me for a loop. I went to the ATM earlier and pulled out $2,000,000 VND. It’s equivalent to $100 US. But, does my bank back home REALLY know that?

I got in a pseudo-fight with the post office lady when buying stamps earlier. She said stamps were $150,000 VND.  At that point, I thought the currency was 20:1. Not, 20,000:1. I was like “No way. Stamps can NOT cost that much in Vietnam.”

We went back and forth about it – neither one of us speaking our language. She got so annoyed with me, she closed the stamp book and told me to leave. Yes, got kicked out of the Vietnamese post office. If only I could do math – The stamps came to $8 US, not $80 US.

Back to old lady with the bananas. I said, “Wait… wait… Let me do calculations. This is like $10 US. NO. NO. Way to much… her happy smiles goes to anger in a second. I don’t care. Not ripping off this tallgirl tonight. I handed her $50,000 VND. We’re talking about a little over $2 and that was too much. She gave me a once over. Forced a grin. Her no teeth flashing at me. Rattled something incoherent. And, trotted off searching for her next tourists victim. I bet she makes more $$ than the street vendors.

I made my way down Barbie street and ended up at the lake. The lake is in the center of Hanoi. Mopeds flying by. Ang told me there was a grocery store near the lake. I was in need of a Gillette razor.

Lost the razor back in China. Seem to be leaving something in each country. So, I’ve been using a swiped razor for the last few weeks. Found out the hard way why a razor is a good investment.

I walked around the lake and found the grocery store. My word, it’s legit. I see named brands. And, they have refrigeration so their milk and yogurt is lukewarm too.  V-nam is beating China in the grocery department… Of course, the grocery gals followed me through each aisle ensuring I don’t steal noodles or packaged meat paste. Headed upstairs to the toiletry/ cosmetics floor. And, guess what, I found a Gillette razor for $15 US dollars.

Sat there for a good 20 mins in silence debating whether or not I was going to buy the stupid thing. I did “pro con pro….” I thought, “$15 US? It goes far and I can use the money for 10 taxis or 5 t-shirts…Do I really need this razor?” Then, went to the other side of $15. I rationalized, “It’s is a good martini at a fancy restaurants or six draft beers at a bad one…” Got mad at myself for wasting time debating the cost of razor. I finally bought the damn thing and my legs have NOT been happier.

The next day, our mini-group met for the first time. Meaning, I met the Norwegian and he met the American he would be spending WAY too much time with. Poor guy. Did not know what was about to hit him. His name is LONG and unpronounceable for the linguistically challenged.

I smiled, shook his hand and thought, I have to figure out how to say his name. I mean, we are going to be spending some quality time together, and I need the name. It took me the entire day until I asked him to spell his name. He did. Torbjørn. And, his name has funky Norwegian letters in it too.

I asked if we could comprise and I could call him, Tour-Burn. He did not mind. You have to feel sorry for him. I did.   And, we just met…