Chapter 1 - From Dirt to Shirt
(Somewhen in April 2013) So there we were, Claudette has died, she ceased to be. The incredibly heavy rain, accompanied by thunder and winds, as an early sign of the awaited monsoon season has just stopped, as also Claudette, my beloved motorbike came to a halt and uttered her last breath. All the rain provided a thorough wash for the 110cc Honda, but was certainly no treat for its rust sponged frame or the many half naked electric wires. The sort of desperate situation in the depths of Vietnamese backcountry was significantly less severe due to my study mate and faithful travel companion Flo – who’s bike (Du Hung) was still up and running. Up and alive was also our motivation to make it to the coastal city of Nha Trang that day or night. Although for us, that goal was quite a stretch at that point. Neither of us had any experience as a mechanic or in related activities. Basically we were two Swiss pen-pushers, wannabe explorers, on fake Hondas made in China, stranded in the outback of Vietnam. None of us was in legal possession of a motorbike license – we each bought one some days earlier, as you do, in Vietnam. Urged by necessity, we soon figured out a manageable method of one bike pulling the other. And so we rattled onwards, into the setting dawn, towards the coast – which was not even in sight.
Night was pitch black as we reached a first village. Dogs and kids playing on the empty streets were startled by our arrival. With hand and feet we tried to explain our situation and issue to locals that came running towards us in order to scrutinize the visitors. In due course the majority of the village was gathered around us and so it was not a problem to find a mechanic among them. Not knowing what the exact issue with Claudette was ourselves, we tried to explain our mechanic that she is dead. He soon figured that and started to take the whole bike apart, piece by piece. The feeling that he knew what he was doing left us more and more, with every part he disassembled. Perplexity soon dominated his facial expression. After a thorough inspection he nonetheless had his eureka moment and tried with wild gestures to signal us that Claudette was suffering from a permanent short circuit. With a universal “a-ha” we nodded and pretended to know what he was talking about. He went on reassembling the bike, mounted all the parts back together. In the end he had two lose wires sticking out near the handle bar. With Vietnamese pragmatism he explained that from now on the only way to start or stop the bike would be by making these wires touch – and so it was.
Claudette was back to life – hence price negotiations could begin. Our hero mechanic opened a well-deserved beer, sat down and seemed insatiable with our offers. We tried to offer him one of our spare helmets in exchange, but please, helmets – so overrated. The negotiations ended ideally, with both parties seemingly unsatisfied. We mounted our bikes and left into the dark, we moved on. Our Honda Wins were on full speed, whatever the night and street tolerated. After another two hours of driving we reached Nha Trang.
After having had some snake for dinner we sat down in a bar with two Mekong-buckets, which is a bottom half of a large PET bottle, filled with a wild mix of spirits. We reflected on our past days on motorbikes in a foreign country and culture. Many times we were confronted with a language barrier that was only to be overcome by drawing signs, symbols or icons on a piece of paper, map, or into the dirt. We thought it would be great to have an essential set of icons with you, permanently, so that you could just point on whatever you need - and people would understand. Soon the notepad was pulled out again and we started listing more or less essential icons that would have been of great help during not just ours, but basically anyone's trip. With the second round of Mekong-buckets arriving, the ideas started flowing vividly. All the essential symbols and icons on a shirt, that would be fun and could be really useful at the same time - that would be great, cheers!