Day 192: Can't get enough Yellow Fever vaccines


Who wants to double up on a Yellow Fever shots? Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli

DONKEY, my motorcycle, comes to a screeching stop as I lock up the back tire at the start of the overpass. There's a sign saying that bikes' aren't allowed on the flyover. It's amazing how much easier it is to control a baby bike like Donkey when the tire locks up; it's so light.

I roll back down the ramp a little and get on the correct road, not realizing until about five minutes later that I've passed the turn off to a clinic where I can get my Yellow Fever shot.

I have a Yellow Fever shot. I got it years ago when I studied abroad in Ghana and then traveled a number of countries in West Africa, including Mali – when Mali was safe. However, the booklet that proves that I've had the shot has been lost and it's nearly impossible to get access to my medical records at Indiana University Health Center while abroad.

So, I'm getting another one.

The plan was to get an early start today, so I could make the drive to Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay. However, Donkey wasn't between my legs until 11am and I've managed to get lost a couple of times in the process of finding the clinic. Down a side street, the horn of the car behind blares as I kill poor Donkey in the middle of the street, again. With the sound of a dying giraffe the electric start gets the bike going and I push into the traffic jam, slowly but steadily, killing the bike several seconds later. The car's horn keeps blaring, as if I don't already know that this is an inconvenience. I try to relax, reminding myself that it isn't personal, it's culture of horn blowing. But it's hard: horns are designed to have such aggressive, nasty sounds.

The young woman at the clinic waves her hand “no” when I ask about the Yellow Fever shot. She's pulling down the shutters on the corner clinic for lunch.

No isn't an acceptable answer, because I don't know to what she's saying no.

No she doesn't speak English?

No she doesn't have the shot?

No I can't get it right now?

I scan a list of medical procedures offered by the clinic. I don't see the Yellow Fever shot, but then again, only a few of the items listed are in English.

I call Leh on Facebook – thank god the die gave me a SIM card – and hand the phone to the woman.

“This is the wrong clinic,” Leh explains. While talking with Leh the woman was pointing back up the street.

There are only a few places in Hanoi where it's possible to get the shot, one such place is Trung Tam Kiem Dich Y Te Quoc Te Ha Noi, at least that's what the sign out front says. Garth, the South African who sold me Donkey, sent me the location and directions to the clinic. One of his friends recentlygot the shot for her trip to Ghana.

The directions read: So the clinic should be right there between the big 198 Hospital and the school on the opposite side of the road. If you're driving on that small road, if you pass the school you've gone too far, likewise with the big 198 hospital. I think it's a blue building, there's some sort of kids jungle gym outside.

I pull in. Sure enough, there is a kids jungle gym in the parking lot outside the tall clinic building. A security guard begins waving me off. He holds up his thumb and one finger, signaling that I need to come back.

I call Leh on Facebook. She talks to the guard and confirms that I need to come back at 1:30pm – everyone is at lunch. The hours of the clinic are marked on the glass doors of the entrance. They're off to lunch from 11:30 to 1:30.

“Should I come back to the house?” I ask Leh.

“Better to stay in the area.”

She's right, but waiting isn't something I do well. To make things a bit less appealing, I failed to bring a book or laptop and my phone is about to die. There goes the idea of popping out to get my shot “really quickly”.

Straight down a road that turns into a narrow alley where hardly two motorbikes can pass, I land on a bigger street again and stop at a little cafe called G8.

A young Vietnamese man who speaks as much English as a I speak Vietnamese – so none at all – brings me a hot coffee with sweet, condensed milk at the bottom. I order a kebab, pointing to the word on the window of the shop. There is a bit of confusion. He returns to make sure that I want something to eat, which I do.

A large bowl of Ramen noodles appears piled with pork, squid, shiitake mushrooms, veggies and shrimp – lots of the pale, beautifully bodied bites, to which I happened to be allergic. After picking out the shrimp, I switch chairs closer to a electrical socket, as the server was able to find a phone charger for me.

Browsing through Africa motorcycle forums and Kenya travel tips, time flies.

The guard gives me a smile and waves me toward the kids playground to park Donkey when I return at 1:30pm.

Several people are already there, but the nurse has yet to turn on the ticket box where we can get our queue numbers.

It's a sparse, no-frills building. One nurse is behind a counter and a glass window in the lobby, where we pay, while another is sitting at a desk awkwardly placed next to the ticket box. She turns the box on and people start grabbing tickets. I feel the man behind me gently, but firmly pushing against my side with one arm in hopes of dislodging me from my position so he can move up one position in the queue. I give a small laugh and hold my place. I take ticket 115. The counter on the wall reads 110.

A woman in a clean nurse uniform takes my passport so they can prepare my yellow book in which they'll register the vaccine.

“Is it okay if I take your ticket?” the nurse asks, after letting me know that the woman behind the glass will call me by name to pay.

I pay the 180,000 Dong at the counter, before someone points me around the corner.

Two nurses sit at a small metal table on wheels that has medical supplies on it. Beneath it is a large bin of discarded bandages and other medical waste. An uncomfortable-looking bed and a blue tank of oxygen are in one corner, between a window and two lines of blue chairs bolted into the tile floor. Opposite the window is a single sink.

And here we go for round two. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli

The young nurse, in a slightly worn lab coat, shows me the brand of Yellow Fever vaccine on the box and then the expiration date on the bottle. Once I give her a nod, not really comprehending what I'm looking at – what's today's date? – she jabs me in the shoulder, refusing to let me take a picture of the needle while it's inside me.

The needle comes out and I'm given the yellow book with the vaccine information in it.

Back in the lobby, I do a search on Google to see if it's bad to get the vaccine twice, as it's a live virus vaccine. There are a number of links, but I lose interest before getting a conclusive answer. Either way, it's a bit late.

After getting lost a couple times on the way back, and stopping to get the oil changed and some bungee cords to tie my pack down on Donkey's rack, I arrive at Leh's. She's still at work.

It's nearly 3pm. I've not packed. I send Eva, a Phuket friend who know lives on Cat Ba, a message to let her know that I'll be one day late.

I park Donkey out front. She's been a good girl so far. She isn't the prettiest of creatures, but nothing spray paint can't fix, which is probably one the most meaningless ideas I've ever had, as I'm pretty sure that me and a can of spray paint can't fix anything.

Steadily, trying not to get the paint on the engine or in the air-filter I give Donkey a fresh coat of black paint, note even bothering to sand down the several layers of paint that are cracking across her tank or eve removing the stickers on the tank.

Headphones in, I'm jamming along. I give the can a few more shakes and continue painting.

She's looking beautiful. Once the paint is dry, I slap Dice Travel stickers on either side of the tank, one on the engine and one on the front fender.

Me and a can of spray paint got Donkey back into good shape. Photo: Leh

Donkey is ready for an adventure – let's see how she holds up.

Upstairs in my room, stuff strewn in all directions. (According to Leh, I'm the messiest person she knows, which is never a compliment when you're crashing at someone's place.) However, the room I'm crashing in isn't technically even hers, it's just another rental room that I'm staying in because the landlady is out of town until December. So, I don't sweat it.

“For fuck sake!” it's my fifth or sixth time trying to by the airline ticket to Kenya. Again, my card is denied. The spending limit is still too low, despite the K-Bank rep promising it would be taken care of by today.

Leh's head pops around the corner.

“You still here?”

“Yup.”

Leh brings Bu – her cat – down, plopping on the bed while I work. She's hungry, but we're going to wait another hour before going so I can get some work done.

“Do you want to eat snails?” she asks.

“Sure, why not? Instead of live grubs?”

Leh's not in the mood for live grubs, which I'm thankful for; even escargot seems to be pushing my luck: I've recently had a stomach bug and I'm still suffering from diarrhea after a bought of constipation brought on from dehydration.

Like so many of the restaurants Leh has brought me to in the last few days, this one is beyond unpretentious. There are two tiny squat tables outside of Oi Nong. They are occupied by four people in front of the kitchen, which opens out onto the sidewalk. The kitchen itself is a converted room. There is a large metal pipe and hood directing smoke straight up through the tall building, while charcoal fires keep big pots hot. Baskets of snails and mussels sit on the tile floor, not far from the pots and pans, also on the floor.

We make our way through the chaos of the kitchen to a little back room, which houses more tiny tables and the smallest stools I've seen to-date. These stools barely rise above my ankles. Leh secures us a pair of proper stools, shin-high, and we plop down at one of the tables. There is a calendar and a handwritten menu taped to a wall, near a number of dusty, unplugged fans. However, a working ceiling fan beats cool air down on us, keeping the room cool. If the lights were dimmed, I'd presume the place was an opium den rather than one of the best places to get escargot in Hanoi.

A bowl full of black-shelled snails, steamed with lemon grass, arrives at our table with a zesty, lemon grass dipping sauce. Leh sends back a bowl of boiled quail eggs, which is replaced by a bowl of quail balut (or balot) in a pile of greens and sauce. In the balut – partially developed eggs – there are soft, wispy parts of feathers, black against white. Separate from the yoke, some of developing bird embryo's organs have taken shape. My body involuntarily contracts at the thought of eating the eggs, which have incubated for 14 to 21 days before they were boiled.

Would you eat it? Video: Leh

I don't have any ethical issues with it. What's the difference between eating it now or after it hatches and grows up? However, my body rejects the idea.

My mouth contorts and my throat tightens as I lift one tiny egg in a tiny spoon up. I stall before popping it into my mouth and chewing. The flavor is nice, quiet nice, but I don't want another one.

“I don't know. It's pretty good, but my body doesn't like it,” I sheepishly admit to Leh, as I tend to pride myself on being willing to eat about anything that any culture is down to gobble up.

I sigh and put another one on my spoon.

“Maybe it's something I need to get use to.”

A couple eggs later, I'm still not enjoying the experience. I return to the snails and a lovely plate of breaded and fried fermented pork.

Leh orders another round of snails, as we take our tiny metal picks, pop off the part of the shell attached to the foot and then stab the little slime balls, yanking them free. Leh also orders a bowel of muscles slathered in chili sauce and hidden in a forest of lemon grass, pineapple slices and tamarind.

Not ready to call it a night, we head out for an egg coffee Cafe Giang, which was established in 1946.

Sitting out front, we watch a short, young foreigner with a beard and a limp, a perfect character for Dungeons and Dragons, pull up on his scooter to pick up this lovely Vietnamese girl who is wearing a modest white dress, a 1940s style hat and carrying a little suitcase.

He's late.

They have a quiet quibble with her trying to give him a hard time, but probably too in love at this point in the relationship for it to carry any weight.

“I don't like foreigners after they've been here too long,” Leh says. “Everyone spoils them, they become entitled.”

It's true. Foreign men, especially, lose perspective after living in Asia. We fail to appreciate how incredibly good we have it when it comes to dating. It's sad, because the most average of men can become arrogant and fail to appreciate and take care of a local woman who is taking such good care of them. This is one of my fears: that I am too accustomed to being in an unreasonably privileged position in the dating world and will struggle to reintegrate when I return to the United States. It's one of the many reasons I thought it was time to uproot myself from the paradise I was living in on Phuket.

Leh and I talk about foreign men dating, and I go off on my usual rant about the aforementioned attitudes, even pointing out how expectations can be so different. We talk around our own previous relationship. Though, as the words are coming out my mouth, I can't help but feel like a royal douche highlighting far too many parallels that can be drawn between this typical white male-antaogonist and myself with regards to the situation Leh and I were once in.

However, Leh doesn't seem phased and the conversation rolls on.

“Does this coffee taste different than the other place to you?” Leh asks.

It does. I take a deep sip, pulling at the coffee beneath the thick, sweet egg foam on top.

“Oh, the coffee is seriously burnt.”

“And the egg tastes sweeter,” Leh says.

The cafe is the second of two branches. We visited the other one on my first night in Hanoi.

Back on the Leh's scooter, we decided to head home for a bit so I can get some more work done, and then we'll go out for a night cap.

“Honk, honk,” I say, which has become some sort of bizarre coping mechanism for the obnoxious amount of honking pervading Vietnam's roads. Leh gives me a good-natured bop on the helmet, as she promised to do so if I kept up my verbal honking. During the last several days, I've developed this habit of verbally honking, quaking and making other such noises in response to cacophony of motor vehicles that assault us every time we are on the road.

Earlier tonight, a black car blasted its horn at us, so I moved over so he could pass. He didn't pass. Instead, he stayed where he was, blasting his horn at us from time to time for one odd reason or another, most of which were outside of our control.

“So as a Vietnamese person, when someone honks their horn at you, do you think: What a dick? Or do you not even really notice,” I asked Leh.

“I think they are a dick. The worst are government officers [such as the man in the black car] who think they are more important than everyone else. Taxis and buses are also pretty bad,” she says. “But people who honk think that it is normal.”

“So dicks are basically dicks and don't notice,” I confirm.

Leh laughed agreed.

So, here I am with my own childish honking, getting little bops on the head each time id so, which was what Leh promised would happen after she declared me the noisiest person she knew, as well as pointed out that she was the only person who could hear me. That said, she occasionally would get in the spirit and make a few honking noises with me.

“Do you want to drink in the Old Quarter?” Leh asks, coming down to my room as I start to pack.

We roll the die: Old Quarter or somewhere else. It chooses somewhere else.

“Where's somewhere else?” I ask.

Leh doesn't know. Given that it's 11pm and most places outside of the tourist-dense Old Quarter of Hanoi are shutting down, we don't have a lot of options.

I laugh.

“I thought there was another side to that option,” I say.

“No, you have to decided.”

I continue packing and thinking.

“We could just stay here?” Leh offers. Of course, now that the die has spoken, that's not an option.

“Okay, we'll get on the bike and drive around until we find something. Anything that's not in the Old Quarter,” I concede. Leh enjoys watching me squirming a bit and isn't going to offer up any alternative options.

It's a pleasant night as we cruise around West Lake. The first couple places we stop for a drink are closing.

“Take a left here,” Leh says, thinking of place to go.

We end up at Rastaman which is open from 6pm until late, according to the white letters on the window. A laptop playing music, Uptown Funk, from YouTube bumps some large speakers as a woman out front serves us a plate of french fries and overcooked chicken wings. A half dozen tables are set up on the far side of the street, next to the lake. Leh and I kick our feet up on the rail and nibble on the food.

I'm drinking a Tequila Sunrise ordered by the die, Leh's having a Gin and Tonic after I made it clear a simple tonic was not an option.

The conversation is nice, occasionally drifting off into silence. I successfully throw a few pieces of caramel popcorn leftover from last night's movie down her shirt.

“Check this out.” I hand Leh my phone with the StarTracker app running.

She disappears into the wonderful world of stars with a child's enjoyment. Orion and Torus are nearly straight above us. Leo is resting somewhere to be seen on the far side of the world.

A small truck pulls up. The loudspeaker on top screams at us in Vietnamese.

The person in charge of Rastaman tonight informs everyone that we have to move inside.

Instead, Leh and I polish off our drinks and finish our lake loop, pausing to watch the rising moon being gobbled up in the mouth of dragon statue sitting on the edge of the lake.

Back in at the house, Leh puts some music on upstairs, while I begin packing. The room is a complete mess, but slowly and surely items are finding their way into the right bags. After about thirty minutes, Leh joins me. She helps by rolling up my clothes and stuffing them into a large ziplock bag for me.

It's getting late. We're both tired. Finally, I'm packed; I'll be off tomorrow to Cat Ba Island for a week or so of outdoor adventures: climbing, deep-water soloing, standup paddleboarding, kayaking and who knows what else.

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THE premise is simple: Allow die roles to determine the majority of decisions faced while motorbiking throughout the world with a limited budget for an entire year.      It’s 365 days of tempting fate, enticing serendipity and letting go of free will – if such things exist at all.

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