Yours truly in a Red Dao herbal bath. Photo: Affandi Hamid
I’d sent this piece in for a writing competition, but I didn’t make the shortlist, so here it is for you guys.
I had begun my trip to the highlands of Vietnam expecting to learn more about the cultures of the Red Dao minority. What I hadn’t planned for was having the trip turn into a culinary experience, which in turn had me reminiscing my own identity and childhood.
It was a three hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi, followed by a nine-hour train journey to Lao Cai. Then came the hour’s drive up the winding hills to Sapa, punctuated by the 13km hike to a Red Dao village, where I was to spend two nights.
Photo: Sunyu Kim
Some ten years ago I wrote this: “I woke up to a world greyer than usual. It’s as if Crayola came and took away the colours from my life.”
No, it wasn’t a Myspace post.
Sometimes I like reading my old work just to see what I was thinking at the time, and as much as I like to poke fun at my younger self, he does give me some hints as to why I am the way I am today.
If feelings were a scale of one to ten, I would have been hovering at a three for as long as I can recall. This was why I took to reading my old posts just to see how far back I’d stopped caring.
Hugh had always had an odd bond with his tipple
for it brought as much misery as it cured
And as his dinner crusted on his lips
How is it that
the mind can be so fragile
yet the body so resilient?
Photo: Alex Knight
Calen often rode the mag-lev from the first station to the last. Today, he sat beside a patchwork of steel that resembled a humanoid. It stood motionless in its designated docking bay. A Justicar, it was called. Calen—as well as everyone else—knew them better as tinheads.
The thing finally jolted to life, something Calen was waiting for for hours now. That was his cue to earn some chits. He followed the robot as it thumped down the train. Mag-lev, he corrected himself. Trains were only a fragment of his dad’s old stories. Stories of when policing was still done by humans, with much more compassion.
I remember harbouring a dream of writing for a magazine. In fact, I remember the exact article that prompted me to sign up for a Writer’s Bureau course. It was an FHM Magazine article, and it introduced me to the world of creative non-fiction, much like the stuff I publish on my blog.
It was then that I’d realise how words could be manipulated to evoke emotion. I starkly remember the sentence ‘One hour later and the airport lights were a thing of the past.’ The turn of phrase blew my mind, and since that day, I begun to aspire to the ways of wordsmithery.
A wrestler getting some reps in with a sixty kilo bag before clocking in as a bus driver
“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
It’s easy to procrastinate your life away. I mean, look at my last post date. It’s been months since my last update.
Or you could take a look at how I spent the past weekend: I slept in, had a late lunch, decided I wanted to spend the day writing, did some chores, played some games, watched TV, realised I’ve pissed away hours of said writing time, drank some vodka, blitzed a few online chess games, had dinner, drank more vodka, and before I knew it, the sun has set, and I’ve wasted another day.
Embarking on the hike to Ta Phin
I should’ve packed an extra set of clothes. We were headed to the remote village of Ta Phin, Vietnam, so I saw it fit to cram my day pack with water and bread. Oh, they had tons of that over at my homestay. They even had enough beer and rice wine to kill a couple of cows. What they didn’t have were spare clothes, a fact I had to learn while drenched from the rain in fifteen-degrees Celsius weather. I sought refuge next to the fire pit under the pretense of helping out in the kitchen, all the while thinking, I definitely should’ve packed that extra set of clothes.