Day 109: Do I sell the motorcycle?
Selling the bike never seemed like an option until today. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
TRUDGING along in the light rain, hands thrust deep into the pockets of my red shorts, I'm distracted.
Do I really need to consider selling Rocinante, my Honda CB500X?
Up until this point the possibility was not a possibility to be considered. Months of beating my head against a wall to get the motorcycle ready for the trip had knocked free and discarded the plausibility of abandoning my faithful steed in Thailand. Even now, I day dream about the adventures the two of us will have in American, after Dice Travels comes to an end. A motorcycle isn't like a car, as it quickly becomes an intricate part of you – not just your image.
I'm not sure I'm okay with selling off my dear friend. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The email, the one that put the possibility back on the dice so to speak, came after I returned from my run.
I didn't have to go for a run today. The die let me off. In fact the die let me off too easily. In an effort to get back on the self-improvement wagon, I'd made my Quad Roll last night: running, yes or no; FIIT workout, yes or no; yoga, yes or no; meditation, yes or no. (The roll only tells me if I have to do something, it doesn't exclude the possibility of doing it out of my own free will.)
I faded all four options. I didn't have to do anything today, but I need to shake a funk that was starting to make itself cozy.
So, when I did get out of bed sometime shortly after noon, it was time for a run. My running socks, damp and rancid smelling, were packed with my other dirty clothes, but they're my only pair. So, I pull them on and then tie on my tired, muddy running shoes.
“Good morning,” I say to the owner of S.P. Guesthouse, where the die decided we were staying for the night.
“Good afternoon,” the Thai man says, correcting me with a smile.
As if feeling like punishing me for not chilling out today, the die landed on a five when it was cast. That's a 50 minute run on top of a 20min base run. Okay, 70min running isn't a huge deal, but I've not been running recently, slowly falling out of shape.
After weaving through the streets of Nan, I find an ancient brick wall with a small, shaded walking path along it. It's a handsome brick wall. What's left of the wall constructed in 1885 by Nan's ruler, Chao Anantavorarittidet, is well preserved.
However, the wall peters out much faster than the Nan Kingdom itself did, dumping me back out into the provincial capital of the little backwater province.
Here and there, I pass chic cafes and restaurants, but mostly I find myself in the town's residential area.
An older Thai man with aviator glasses, a cowboy hat and his sweatpants tucked into his galoshes eyes me as I run toward him. He looks Thai mafia; if he sat down next to me at a local bar without a smile on his face, I'd be worried.
I still keep forgetting that I have pink hair.
I smile at him as I pass. He holds up his hands in little fists and cheers me on. Not much farther down the road, an old woman, crumpled on a stool, leaning against a very old house, starts calling out to me in Thai. Even in her animated state she could be mistaken as a mummified witch.
I smile and pull on my hair. “Pink,” I say in Thai.
The road loops around until it hits the Nan River, where all the villages in the province will compete in a long-boat race next weekend.
Less than one third of the way through the run and sweat stings my eyes. The pace, which was originally a fat man's run – also known as a shuffle or jog – has at least turned into a run. I stop and wipe the sweat out of my eyes.
The Nan River is flowing fast. I try to pace a sheet of debris floating in the water, but give up as the rich, brown water rushes the pile of sticks ahead of me. Though the river is now a couple meters below the mostly empty boardwalk, a fine, sandy sediment covers the marble-paved walkway, a clear sign that there was serious flooding not that long ago.
The boardwalk eventually ends, pushing me back into a residential area.
Little tables with one or two types of homegrown fresh produce are out in front of unrelated business and homes. In front of a beauty salon, I find pumpkins for sale. A soup shop as a few bags of red, hairy rambutan for 35 baht a kilogram.
An unhappy man in a yellow polo sits on the front step of his business washing his cock. With a dish towel and tub of water, the man baths the bloody wounds on the bird's breast. They appear to be deep gashes, the tips of its wings are both bloody as well. In cock fighting, it's not uncommon for razor sharp blades to be fixed to the birds' legs.
Back in my room, shirt heavy with honest sweat, I sit down to stretch, opening an email from Khun Nattawut of ACL2000, who is in the process of helping me ship Rocinante to Tanzania.
“We will wrong and mistaken about the Simplified Customs Declaration Form. It is used for temporary import Bike to Thailand only. Your Bike is registered in Phuket,so you have to contact and apply with Department of Land Transport in Phuket for your intention whether you export your Bike for temporary or for last. Then,we need that document to support for Customs Formality process,” the email reads.
Somewhere in my naive mind, the moving of my stuff, things I own, with me from one place to another doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I didn't need to get permission to take my backpack with me when I went to Egypt or Jordan or anywhere else. That's always been the unappreciated pleasure of traveling without anything other than a backpack.
There is something perhaps innately American about the mentality. Prior to this trip, I felt like I belonged to the world; that there was nowhere I wasn't welcome. I'm not out there to cause harm, I'm just a nomad passing through. This, however, is not the way the world appears to work.
I reply to Khun Nattawut to see if he can help with the paperwork. I'm not keen to return to Phuket to get this taken care of. Additionally, there is the legitimate fear of whether or not I will be able to get the paperwork sorted out in a timely manner. Phuket's Land Transportation Office is not the swiftest of government facilities in Thailand – anyone remember what it was like for me to get a Thai driving licence? I'm imagining months of red tape cutting, while I am quickly running out of money and options.
I throw a “HELP ME” message onto Facebook and reach out to another shipping company, Allied Pickfords, which I've just dug up in a forum about exporting Thai motorcycles.
I call them.
Why I don't use the call function of my phone more often is baffling. Especially since it is heaps more efficient than sending an email.
I'm put in contact with Ms Chariya from Allied Pickfords. She speaks impeccable English and promises to call me back once she's looked into the situation. She calls back 30 minutes later and gets the ball rolling. Chariya is an angel.
“I checked with Phuket Provincial Transport Office (DMV) for de-register your motorbike,” she writes, attaching a document I can fill out that will allow a friend to go to the DMV and “de-register” the bike for me. “I will check with Tanzania further information of importing a motorbike and will return to you. Attached is for your information Tanzania Customs Regulation.”
The process of finding a company, such as Allied Pickfords, Ameritrans Freight International (AFI) or ACL2000 to ship the bike to Africa has not been easy. Out of the half a dozen companies I contacted a month ago only a few got back to me. Two of them both cced Khun Nattawut, who didn't reply until I called him weeks later. However, a representative of AFI, Anthony, replied to me directly.
After a little confusion about the fact that I was sending a motorcycle and not a car, Anthony was extraordinarily helpful. His replies were prompt and informative, sometimes he would instantly reply to let me know that he'd be looking into this or that and get back to me by the end of the week.
“Sounds great. Sorry if I'm being pedantic over here, first time doing this so I just want to ensure that everything goes smoothly,” I wrote Anthony in one of our final correspondences. I was eager to get it all booked, especially after he replied with bullet point answers that seemed to line up with what I needed to know.
The reason I was leaning toward AFI instead of ACL2000 was that Anthony had promised that his team would help on the import side as well. This meant that for basically the same price I would be free to drive off into an Africa sunset instead of cracking my skull open beating my head against a wall in the Customs Office in Dar es Salaam.
Prior to sending over the documents he asked for, just out of curiosity, I dumped the company name, Ameritrans Freight International, into Google.
Call me Neo, cause I dodged a bullet.
There were three hits on the Better Business Bureau website: three complaints of fraud.
“Ameritrans Freight International LLC has defrauded me $3,600 for freight pick up, loading, delivery and shipping to over sea,” reads one complaint filed in 2014.
“I chose Ameritrans Freight International because *******, the owner, was prompt in responding and his rate was reasonable. When I confirmed with him that I was going to do business with him, he emailed me his bank routing information and told me to wire the $1,500 to him. I heard from him a few more times after he received the money and then he was silent.
“It took me a while to settle in here in Sweden so I admit that I let it go for a few weeks thinking maybe he was on vacation or in the hospital. I called and emailed and never heard back from him. I went on his website and 'requested a quote' for a bogus car just to see if he was still working. He wrote me back (to my second email address) within a few hours. After that I emailed him and threatened to file a police report if he did not return my money. When he finally responded he apologized for the mix up and said it would take a week to get my money back. Naïvely I gave him 2 weeks but never heard from him again,” reads another one filed in 2013.
“The CEO of the company is called Anthony M*****, and the company is Ameritrans Freight International LLC,” explained the third.
Remember who I was talking to?
So, needless to say, I dropped the most helpful Anthony, though have yet to confront him.
This is what's rattling around my head, like dice in a cup, as a trudge, hands in pockets, through streets of Nan.
However, I'm not walking without purpose.
The die played to the odds on a 66/33 split to get a hair cut or not. So, that's where I'm headed, pondering if dumping the bike needs to be weighed as a real option. It does open the door to so many more options – and, as we know -- options are good for a Dice Man.
There are three barbershop poles spinning into infinity on the block I find myself on. However, in front of the first one is an unmarked barbershop, an old Thai-Chinese style place.
Two elderly men sit on a wooden bench inside the open-faced shop. The shop itself is cluttered with stuff. Near the back there is a wooden desk with a square TV sitting on top of it. The barber counter is littered with scissors, razors, bottles of blue rubbing alcohol. Leather strops, for sharpening the edge of an old fashioned cut-throat barber blade hang from the counter, opposite four dilapidated, but functional barber chairs.
I toss the die. Get a hair cut here?
“Hair cut?” the barber asks. Prior to the question, it was unclear which of the two men works at the shop.
The man wraps a pink towel around my neck and then spreads a sheet over me. The long mirror in front of me has gone in spots, but is still in relatively good condition. Small mirrors, angled down and fixed to a 2x4 board on the far wall of the narrow shop give me a view of the back of my head. Above the large mirror is an assortment of old, framed pictures of Thailand's kings. I don't recognize any of them until the far end, where a picture of King Bhumibol Adulyadej sits. On the back wall is a large pinup poster from 2003 of a naked woman. The faded, decade old image, shows a young woman with great tits wearing tall-heeled white boots. She's leaning on a car.
It's nice to see some boobs. There is another pinup on the wall behind me, visible in the mirror.
I was at a barber shop, not a beauty salon, I reminded myself. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
With a single sweeping motion, the older gentleman sheers away my sideburns and a chunk of hair on the side of my head.
He didn't ask what I wanted done or if I liked my first attempt at growing more than a bit of facial hair. He made an executive decision and got down to business.
This is a barbershop, not and hair salon, I remind myself, relaxing into the chair, curious what he plans on doing with my hair. Bottom line, the dice chose this place, and it's only a haircut. I'll live.
It was a relief to see him pullout the thinning shears after having gone after the back of my head and the sides with an electric clipper. I'd decided to bite my tongue until he appeared to be finished.
It's a shame that most men will go through their entire lives without feeling a blade to their throat. There is something about getting a proper shave that is miles ahead of shaving yourself.
But before we start salvaging what facial hair is left, I ask Um Phatachan, the barber, to take a little bit more off the top.
“Cut a little?” I ask pulling on my extra long bangs. At the moment, my hair is done up in a light pink Hitler-style comb over. At this angle, I see in myself a frightening resemblance to the vegetarian – not something I'd like to keep, especially as I don't need a comb over.
With the hair sorted and the shave done, there is just one last point to tidy up. On the left side of my face there is a spot that looks like it was hit with a glue stick before someone threw a handful of pubic hairs at it.
The hairs fall into in the same needs-to-be-fixed category as the Hitler comb over. Nimbly, the slack-faced man takes care of it, and then gives my goatee a little trim. The cold blade of the scissors press against my top lip as he snips, snips, snips.
Plenty of ideas and suggestions about what to do about the bike come flooding in from Facebook, while Chariya sends me several more emails following up with what can be done by her company.
Of course, now that selling the bike is being weighed as a possibility, there is always a chance the die will decided.