MARK: Eighty six days in, exactly a third of our trip completed, it had to happen!
Yes, that awful feeling when you know you’ve just seconds to get to the loo before a mass “evacuation” takes place.
Sarah last night (Sunday) started to feel hot and shivery. So for the first time since we left the UK, we decided to stay in and not go out for dinner. Both of us were sound asleep by 7.00pm.
This morning it certainly wasn’t GOOD MORNING VIETNAM! Sarah no better and worse was to come….. CENSORED all to do with the loo – the Imodium packet was quickly opened.
A twenty four hour bug? Something she had eaten? Just simply knackered? Neither of us are sure, but the thought of a day trip down to the Mekong Delta by bus involving four hours travelling and then two boats and no guarantee of a loo was enough for us to bail out of what would have been another fascinating trip…
So a good time for me to think and to write, whilst Mrs B sleeps and hopefully gets better. I really do hope she feels OK tomorrow as we have a 7 hour PUBLIC bus journey over the border from Vietnam in to Cambodia. But tomorrow is another day.
I must admit, I thought we would have had to use the Imodium sooner, but am happy that we got this far.
Damn! There it is again, that word, “happy”.
It’s a word that just keeps coming up on our travels. I suppose I must blame Anne for making me think about happiness, after her interesting comment on the Cabbages and Condoms blog a few weeks ago.
Anne recommended a book she was reading at the time called 59 seconds – Think a little, Change a lot, by Richard Wiseman. I have downloaded it whilst here in Vietnam and I have thoroughly enjoyed the read, particularly the early pages where Wiseman talks about how research shows that people who are the happiest are those that enjoy experiences rather than material goods.
And I suppose that is one of the key drivers of this 9 month voyage of discovery. It has always been a long held belief of mine that quick fix purchases rarely brings long term inner happiness. Just ask a drug user snorting cocaine, a shopaholic buying another pair of shoes, when he/she already has 100 pairs or a quick sugar fix from a Mars Bar. So why do I keep eating chocolate?
Looking back over the past week, glancing through some 900 photos I’ve taken, I have analysed what has made me happy.
First up, I wanted to say a few words about our wonderful guide Cham – Chamnan Chey. Cham, 27, has lead us from Bangkok, through Laos, into Vietnam and will shortly take us overland to his homeland of Cambodia. He is literally loved by all the children he meets, in what-ever country he visits. His smiley cap and happy go-lucky personality, hides a lot of hardship in his early life. As a young boy, he used to dig up with his friends unexploded bombs to sell them on to scrap dealers to make a few dollars for his family. He saw first-hand the terrible effects when things went wrong. Before that, the three million countrymen who lost their lives in his country during the war. The day to day struggle just to stay alive. And yet he is happy. He is happy with his lot and in the knowledge that in just over five weeks time he will be married. A truly inspirational young man who has taught me much in the last 20 days. And when I see him interact with children the way that he does, this has made me very happy.
I never thought she would do it. But she did!
I’m talking about Sarah abseiling three times in one day, culminating in a terrifying drop 220ft down into a black, dank limestone cave. She had no idea what she was letting herself in for, but she had a go and conquered her fears. I went first and was really glad to get to the bottom. It was out of my comfort zone, but as it turned out, I was far more concerned about Sarah! My heart started to race as she clearly lost her footing as she went over the edge. But bit by bit she gained confidence and down she came. Happiness is seeing your wife in one piece, despite the rope burn.
Vietnam, as Barry Sutlieff rightly said is a “beautiful country, with beautiful people”. Just looking at the countryside as you pass by on a bus or train, you can’t fail to be happy. And observing the locals as they go about their daily business also makes you realise you can be happy without very much.
But the man that has made me begin to understand what happiness is all about is Mr Hai – or “Skinny Hi” as he is known – his name is Hai and he is tall and skinny and hence Skinny Hi.
Mr Hai was our guide on our visit to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels – a massive network of inter-connecting tunnels, near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War and were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters for North Vietnamese fighters.
An Officer and translator for the Americans, Mr Hai fought with the South Vietnamese Army. He graphically described the missions he went on and brought tears to my eyes as he recounted two terrible events.
The first was where he was having a smoke with a fellow Vietnamese soldier on the banks of the Mekon. One minute they were chatting, the next, his friend was dead, shot through the head by a sniper from the other side of the river. The second horrific incident was about an American who he befriended called Mac. They were on a combat mission deep in to enemy territory, chatting about Mac’s return home the following week to see his family, his Tour of Duty over. He never made it. Five minutes later, just 10 metres ahead of Mr Hai, he was shot and killed. Mr Hai described how he closed Mac’s eyes and prayed for the dead man.
The Cu Chi Tunnels were akin to my visit to Auschwitz/Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland. Death and destruction everywhere. Giant craters where B52 bombs had fallen. Gruesome man traps that killed and maimed. And yet there were still far too many tourists that were happy to pay their $10 and go and fire an AK47. The sound of gun-shots piercing the peace of the jungle. Short memories some people – this a war memorial, not a theme park.
But through it all Mr Hai, showed remarkable peace and serenity. He was not angry. He was just happy to be alive. Happy that he had children and grandchildren. Happy to see the sunrise each morning.
So what is happiness?
That quest to understand still continues for me. But if I learnt anything over the past 7 days, I guess it’s all about leaving the proverbial baggage behind in one’s life, recognising what you have, appreciating the simple things and helping others along the way. Oh and celebrating when Middlesbrough get promoted – I did say WHEN.
Thanks to Chris Denby for the two photographs*
Hi. I really hope Sarah is feeling better. Nothing worse than an upset tum. I really admire her abseiling skills. Amazing.
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Hi Mark and Sarah (loving the ‘Lucan’!). Sarah I am in awe of your adventurous spirit – do you ever get a chance to just chill out? Mark must be the archetypal introducer… As an introvert, I’d have to take your journey in instalments – too much stimulation!! Mark, glad you are enjoying Wiseman, try going to Youtube and searching for ‘colour changing card trick’. Still only partway through the book myself…
On happiness – many years ago I came across a book in which the author made the argument that maximising your happiness was the only sensible goal in life. She started a journal with the aim of finding out what made her happy, and creating more of this. This inspired me to do the same, and indeed my Happy Books supported me through the stresses and strains of raising 2 kids and building 3 businesses. Every evening for many years I recorded 5 moments that made me happy each day, sometimes with photos or event tickets or little drawings. I invested in colourful and glittery pens. This has become a fantastic record which I revisit often, mainly for the anecdotes of what my kids did and said as they were growing up! My daughter sometimes offered to draw pictures of what I was writing – gorgeous and sometimes hilarious – an 8 year-old drawing of me being massaged based on what she’d seen in a Tom and Jerry cartoon springs to mind! Clouds always featured strongly – I am amazed by the many different forms of water, and I’ve thought of this a lot looking at your photos (‘Beauty all around’ in this blog – reflected clouds, a double whammy). Eating home-made brown bread, butter and marmalade also featured prominently in making me happy!
I always recommend a Happy Book for beating depression, based on my experience. And it was a great night time ritual instead of prayers in our non-religious family. Thinking about the best bits, rather than your worries.
Looking forward to the next instalment!