194: Eardrum drum deep in Vietnam shave
#Office Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
THE woman grabs her headlamp and a fist full of long, wire tools that are most likely used in an elegant torture chamber. This is supposed to be a work day.
Eva, my a Phuket-friend and my host in Cat Ba, had an afternoon standup paddleboard (SUP) shift, so we slept in until about 9:30.
“Ugh, I'm on my period,” she tells me shortly after I wake up. “They don't have tampons anywhere on this island. I brought a stock pile, but I've run out. Pads are fine, but for the activities I do, like deep water soling...”
This is the type of relationship I have with a lot of my women friends. I have no idea why. Nonetheless, I am going to have no issues raising a daughter on my own if I need to.
“Just use a pad and duct tape. Think of it as a free Brazilian waxing as well,” I suggest.
We had breakfast in town at My Way, where the pancakes are served with odd tasting honey and the fried eggs are cooked over hard.
“I'm not going to allow for you to pay for all my meals,” Eva says after I cover the bill.
“Don't worry, I won't. I mean I'm supposed to be on a travel budget,” I say.
That said, I'm getting a free place to stay and she's trying to work out some discounts on tours at Asia Adventures. Cover a few meals and drinks is the least I can do.
After seeing Eva off to work and wrapping up my own work session at the hotel, I head out to Cat Ba Beah Resort to see if I can't find a suitable cafe to set myself up at for the rest of the day.
I pop a seat on a bar stool overlooking a white sand beach and the bay. It's one of those views that you take a picture of and hashtag “office”. A strong wind, which was making me hesitant to get the drone out earlier whips sand from the beach below and into the bar.
Unfortunately, I forgot the dice at the hotel, so I'm forced to decided by myself where to have lunch – a cheap fried rice place in the center of town – and where to have a shave, which brings us to the lady in the headlamp.
The middle aged woman with a young face scrapes the razor blade across my throat. When necessary, her fingers knowingly pull my skin taught as she removes a week of stubble from my face. The blade then works its way across my cheeks and my forehead. The outer edge of the blade caresses my eyelashes as she gives my entire face, besides a sprouting uni-brow, a good shave.
She doesn't speak English, but is pretty determined that I should have my hair washed as well, which I agree to. Laying back with my head in the saloon-style sink, I close my eyes.
The woman's hands kneed my scalp, her fingers running through my hair. She washes my face and fills my ears with water, her soapy fingers cleaning them. She towel dries my face and then returns to washing my head.
There's the sound of her hands clapping as she taps her gently clasped fists against my head, finishing a light massage.
Back in the barber chair, she points at her ears.
I give her a nod.
She grabs that fist full of frightening tools and straps on a headlamp.
What have I signed myself up for?
My breath catches as she digs deep into my ear with one of the tools. I can feel it pressing in close to my eardrum. I try to relax, but my body wants to flinch away and escape. She scrapes and scrapes, then wipes something on the back of my hand before digging back in.
I start to relax, but then tense up again as the tool presses into my ear. She switches tools to a fluffy swap, buffing the inside of my ear.
The woman sits back.
On my hand are chunks of crumbly earwax, as well as some gooey bits. She wipes the wax away and moves to my other ear.
I'm no more relaxed on round two than I was on round one.
At the end of it all, she dries my hair.
“How much?” I ask, holding out a fist full of bills, which still feel like monopoly money.
The hairdresser dainty plucks a 100,000 Dong note from my hands. That's it? 100,000 Dong for more than an hour of shaving, washing and whatever the hell you call what she did to my ears?
Rob teases Eva steadily during dinner as the two continue their playful, flirtatious friendship. Eva and I were late to dinner again. Neither one of us is particularly good at leaving the room, both asking if the other person is ready before being ready ourselves.
Leah, Eva's roommate, uncovers a box of tampons and condoms that a previous guide had left behind. The woman are ecstatic with the find. SO much so that Lea ends up blowing up one of the ribbed condoms. The bulging phyallic ballon is then pushed on the two guides doing their evening yoga practices out front before it's finally tied to someones door handle.
Upstairs on the roof, Rob, Eva, Arjan and I launch into a bouldering session on a tiny, steep climbing wall The whole roof area is littered with places for climbing workouts. There's a decaying bamboo jungle gym on the other side, next to a finger board.
Heavy metal music blasts from a speaker as we play a game of add on, which is where each climber adds one move at a time, taking turns as we build a boudlering problem.
I've not been climbing in ages, and I've not seriously climbed in even longer.
Though weak, I'm able to play along, looking strong enough. That said, my endurance is nonexistent and I'm pumped in no time. However, Eva, who I first met at a little homemade bouldering wall in Rawai, Phuket, is so strong.
We were on completely different levels a year or two ago. Now, she's making every move I am, plus doing it with more control and recovering more quickly. In fact, by the end of it, she's making moves my body is too tired to even try.
Rob, seriously fit, is beasting through moves, back flexing under our headlamps. Everyone on the roof is encouraging. My heart warms a little as I hear Eva talk her roomate through a couple of moves, getting her to keep her hips in. They words sound like those of a dear friend of ours who owned the bouldering wall in Rawai. But it's not the words that do it. It's the tone. Her tone carries this calm confidence that is so chill and so sure of her advice.
I'm beyond exhausted at this point.
Downstairs, Rob and Conner join us for tea.
Rob heads back to his room. Eva steps outside shortly after he leaves.
“Rob's locked out of his room,” she says, returning a couple minutes later.
Nearly the entire crew is prying on the door handle trying to figure out how to disassemble it. It's like the entire floor of a college dorm gathering together when someone is locked out.
I dig into the bottom of my pack and pullout my bike tools, which are then distributed among several people.
Eva is able to climb out one tiny, tiny bathroom window and into Rob's room through his bathroom window. With a bit of work she frees the latch. We here it click, but the door doesn't open.
“Someone needs to push when as the lever is pulled out,” says one of the Asia Outdoor managers who's helping with the door.
I lean into the door, and it opens – we'd forgotten about that part of opening a door.