Day 200: Rescuing Tinder date in Cat Ba
Can you spot what's not like the rest? Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
UP EARLY, I roll the die to see if I should: 1) Offer to meet Marry-Ann for breakfast at the place with funny pancakes 2) Offer to meet her at the cheap egg sandwich place or 3) Bail on our breakfast plans and do some work.
The die votes for funny pancakes. Marry-Ann bails on our breakfast plans. The die orders pancakes. I order a coffee.
Two-thirds of the way through a banana pancake, I get a message from Kayla. Kayla is this straight-haired, red-headed pharmacist originally from Alabama who I met on Tinder in Chiang Mai to climb – because Tinder is for climbers, as well as sex fiends.
“Huge favor?!” she asks.
“Nope,” I reply.
Kayla, who possess these dark, blue lapis eyes, has been in town for a couple days and is supposed to meet me and the rest of the group at Asia Outdoors at 10am to climb. We'd talked about meeting up earlier in the week, but neither one of us put in the effort to make it happen.
Incoming Facebook phone call.
“Hey, how's it going?”
“I broke my finger running. It's just the tip, but it's pointing the wrong direction. Where should I go,” Kayla calmly asks.
“Okay, let me ask where the hospital is and I'll come pick you up. Where are you?”
“Hung Long Harbour Hotel. At the end of the road before you go up the hill towards the beach.”
“You sound okay. You already going into shock?”
“Probably, there's no pain right now.”
I jam a couple last bites of pancake into my mouth, down my black coffee and settle my bill with the owner of the restaurant.
Upstairs at Asia Outdoors, Conner's behind the desk. I'd already thought about what to say.
“Hey Conner, so imagine I have friends. I know, it's a stretch of the imagination. But if I did, and they broke their finger, where would I take them?”
“Wait, what? Who broke their finger?”
“I girl I know.”
“Marry-Ann broke her finger?”
“No, just a girl I know.”
Conner grabs Liz, another Asia Outdoors employee, for me so she can explain where the hospital is.
“Just point it out on a map on his phone,” he tells her.
It's pretty close, and though they don't recommend the hospital on Cat Ba, a broken finger doesn't seem like it justifies the ferry ride back to Hai Phong to a better staffed hospital.
I get my keys from Conner, then speed down the main strip to Hung Long Harbour Hotel, which is a fancy looking establishment with three golden stairs proudly placed over the wide entrance.
Kayla is sitting on the steps outside in black leggings and a lavender tank top.
“Hey there. How you holding up?”
“The pain is starting to kick in a little.”
On the Donkey, my faithful 110cc Honda Win, we cruise toward the Cat Ba Hospital.
“So how did this happen again?”
“I was running down hill and tripped on uneven pavement.”
“So bad at running. Why you got to run like that?” I ask.
The entire ride, I'm teasing Kayla, mostly making fun of her, anything to keep her laughing and not thinking about her finger. It's amazing how easy it is to make an injured person laugh.
“Want to hear I knock, knock joke?”
“Sorry, I actually don't know any. So it should be around here somewhere. I'm not exactly sure.”
We pass some official buildings, but not the hospital.
I stop at the shop of the woman who cleaned my ears a couple days ago.
At first, she thinks Kayla wants to get her nails done, which isn't a terrible idea, though maybe not the best time to do so. However, with a closer look at her finger, she gets it. The hospital is farther down the road.
Minutes later, we pass the hospital. Careful not to get sideswiped, we make a u-turn, then pull in through the narrow gate.
What ensues is a silent game of musical chairs.
We're pointed toward the cashier, where Kayla is given a blue patient's book on which she is to put her name and nationality on the cover.
“Thankfully, I'm left handed,” she says, though I end up filling it in for her at the request of one of the people wearing a lab coat. I hesitate to call the person a doctor. In fact, I'm not sure if we met a doctor the entire time, more likely a dozen or so kids in white coats.
The bill comes to 510,000 Dong. Not expecting to be paying hospital tabs when I went to breakfast, I don't have enough to cover it.
“I think there's 500,000 in the back of my Otter Box phone case,” Kayla says, not missing the chance to drop a brand name.
I have the other 10,000 Dong, so we pay the bill and get our receipt. Kayla is handling the bureaucracy like a champion.
“Is he wearing jeans?” Kayla asks as the man we presume to be a doctor simply because he's carrying her file, wearing a lab coat and points us toward another set of chairs. These chairs are blue buckets bolted to the tile floor.
We're still not sure if we ever met a doctor. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
“We need to cut the ring off. It's going to cut off circulation,” Kayla says, being a tad dramatic, though perhaps also having a very legitimate point – as a pharmacist she does have PhD and know a thing or two about medicine.
“Can you imagine if they cut the finger off? It will look like you're constantly trying to give people the shocker.” (The shocker is, crudely put, two in the pink and one in the stink... we'll leave it at that.)
“Or maybe they can just amputate from the elbow down. That might be a good look for you,” I suggest.
Kayla is having a hard time taking her eyes off her finger. The tip, above the top knuckle, is bent way back. Her fingers are swollen, the skin taut.
“Okay, come on. Stop that. Stop looking at it. Look into my eyes. This is when we lock eyes and start making out, making the entire hospital staff super uncomfortable,” I say, my hand already comfortingly on her back.
I find that there is no better audience for bad comedy than those attempting to avoid the realization that they are in a great amount of pain – maybe that's how all comedy works.
We are called into an office where there are about a half dozen or so people wearing white coats. Kayla takes a seat. There is some talking. It's established we are American.
“Merican,” one of the girls cutting gauze strips mimics.
“I think they're mocking us,” Kayla says.
“Yeah, but doesn't that always happen at hospitals, just not usually in front of patients?”
What was accomplished in this particular office is unclear. However, we're pointed down a white hallway.
At the end, on the left is the radiologist's office. Inside, two young men in white coats are watching YouTube videos on a computer.
The x-ray room is large and sparsely furnished. Kayla sits down at a table by the machine, the thick film is placed under her hand.
The man in charge starts arranging her hand, slightly moving fingers, as if she's a hand model and he's the director for a Kay Jewelers commercial.
I leave the room with him.
The other guy in a lab coat is watching a Vietnamese version of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. At least he's watching it until I snap a photo, and the guy in charge tells him to close the window, revealing a more official looking spread sheet.
There's a buzz. We return to the room with Kayla in it. He gets one more x-ray of her hand, this time from a different angle.
Back in the hallway, we find new chairs to sit in.
“They really need to cut it off,” Kayla says, touching the ring. She's eyeing the mostly empty shelves of the pharmacy across the hallway. Back in her room, she has some pain killers that are left over from when she had a molar removed before she took up her volunteer work at children's hospital in Luang Prabang, Laos.
The young man in the jeans leads us out of the building, over some very uneven steps, which I point out could be a serious hazard for Kayla and then into another building.
There is another office of a half dozen or so people in white coats. We wait outside. We go inside. They look at the x-rays, trying to talk to me, while completely ignoring Kayla.
We wait outside and then are brought into an examination room.
They want to pull the ring off, which seem impossible given how swollen Kayla's finger is. The x-rays are up on a light board on the wall. The young man is pointing the break out to me, as I take pictures. He tries his best to explain that the ring must come off.
“Can cut?” Kayla asks.
He shakes off the suggestion. Around the corner, there is a sink.
I hold onto Kayla and her other hand as they lube up her finger with soap and start spinning the ring.
“It's not coming off. It won't come off,” Kayla says.
“It's okay. They're making progress. So, knock knock...”
“MOOOOOO... It turns out I do know one knock-knock joke. Think about this as practice for giving birth.”
Slowly, steadily, the hospital staff wiggle the ring over her swollen knuckle and off her finger.
Kayla hands me the ring to hold onto.
Back in the operating room, Kayla sits in a chair. The man in the white coat looks at two options for a brace.
He chooses one and shapes it to fit the natural curve of her finger and palm.
“Maybe you can put the camera away and hold my hand,” Kayla says, her voice tight with the anticipation of pain as the doctor starts to line up the brace.
I hold her good hand with mine, pulling her face into my shoulder to stop her from watching.
Her hole body tenses up and shivers as the doctor starts to bend the tip of her finger forward, realigning it with the rest of the appendage. He pauses, then starts again. Several attempts later, Kayla's body pressed hard into mine, the finger appears to be set. The man tapes the finger to the brace and the brace to her hand before wrapping gauze around the whole thing.
“The gauze makes it all look worse. It looks like I'm a burn victim,” Kayal points out.
They want to do another x-ray to see if they set it correctly.
Though it's probably not necessary, it seems that the piece of mind might be worth the cost, which I point out to Kayla.
The x-ray comes back looking mostly correct, though perhaps her finger is a bit skewed to the left. It's hard to tell. I figure it's best not to mention.
While waiting for our next bill, I place the finger on her ring finger.
“Didn't think a guy would be putting a ring on that finger today, did you?”
The bill is for 640,000 Dong.
I try to leave my phone with them, so I can at least drop Kayla off at her hostel and then come back to pay. However, they kindly make it clear that they'll be holding her hostage.
Donkey and I pick up cash from the fifth floor of my hotel, come back and settle the debt.
“I'll take you back to your hostel, then go and get some snacks for us.”
I return with chocolate, crisps, egg sandwiches and more.
Though unable to find the pain killers, which Kayla suspects might have been nicked from her bag, Kayla is holding up.
“How about we meet up with the crew at Asia Outdoors?” I suggest.
“Do you want to climb?”
“No, I'm exhausted.”
Everyone, but Marry-Ann, who is taking the day off from climbing, is gone. The three of us have a coffee downstairs. Marry-Ann and Kayla hit it off instantly.
“Let's do something,” Marry-Ann says.
“Lets grab another coffee at Oasis, then we can put some option on the die.”
We load the die as follows: Drinking games, visit beach, visit Cannon Hill or explore the island by motorbike.
Kayla rolls; it's a four.
“Yeah! Exactly what I want,” Marry-Ann says, her lovely, soft French-Canadian accent coming through.
Piled three deep on the bike, Kayla is pressed hard into my back. Marry-Ann the most likely person to fall of, as she's on the back, gets to wear the fox ears and helmet.
It takes awhile for the girls to get their footing right as they share the back pegs of the bike. Nonetheless, when we hit certain bumps too hard Marry-Ann yelps as Kayla's feet come down hard on hers.
We stop at a cave, not far from Hospital Cave, which was used during the Vietnam War as, well, a hospital.
We follow the steps up toward the cave mouth, sheltered from prying eyes by thick forest. The gate at the entrance is locked.
All three of us stand there. All three of us are silently weighing up the pros and cons of jumping the fence.
“We can roll for it,” I suggest. “Evens we do it. Odds we don't.”
It's agreed. I drop the die. It's a two.
“Over we go.”
Kayla, who still has a broken finger – she's no Wolverine, doesn't hesitate to climb over, using for feet, good hand and elbows.
Breaking and entering with a broken finger. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Electrical wires for lighting run into the cave, the switches visible. Not wanting to draw too much attention, we stick to using our phones as torches.
Two more tourists arrived as we were in the middle of climbing the fence. The descent looking French men, also on Honda Wins, join us in the cave.
After about 15 minutes of poking around, spotting one enormous spider – the kind that I woke up with on my face – we decided to skedaddle.
After a few minutes of being back on the road, I pull over to check out the Frog Pond. A number of officers, wearing thick, olive green uniforms stand near the entrance.
“Two for you?” one officer asks, wondering if I couldn't spare one of the girls.
“Yes, I'm a very lucky guy.”
It's a six kilometer hike to the pond, so the idea gets shot down by Marry-Ann, though I'm pretty sure Kayla is happy that we're not doing it.
We take a left on the road to begin a loop back toward town, pumping along the coastal road that is all gravel and still under construction.
Down into one of the two wetland areas on the island I park the bike.
The tide is out, leaving the gnarly, tangled roots of squat mangrove trees bare as they dig into the mud along the roadside. On the other side of the road, there are fields, ponds and one person's home. Their are chickens, dogs and ducks around the house. Against one side of the building are pigeon houses, perhaps for homing pigeons.
Dozens of fine nets stretch across the width of the wetland area. The fine mesh nets are set out this time of year to indiscriminately entangle migratory birds.
The nets are put up to catch migratory birds. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
The nets threaten to destroy entire populations. The nets threaten to make some species extinct. The nets are illegal. But none of that stops the nets from going up in the evening, some even staying up all day.
A conservationists from the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project laid it all out for me the a couple night ago. It's not a surprise. National Park Officers aren't allowed to raid any area outside of the park without being accompanied by local law enforcement. Local law enforcement, is well, local. So when they are contacted, they tell their cousin, friend or brother when the raid is going to happen. At the end of the day, these guys have to all sit down at the same table for beer and shots of local vodka, so the less feathers ruffled the better – figuratively speaking (pictures of birds in net here).
Marry-Ann's bag is soaking wet. One of our beers has busted, leaking onto the empty stretch of road. The girls rearrange items while I watch the nets wafting in the wind.
Drinking a beer with Donkey on the side of the road. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonell
“Do you mind if we drive around and look at them from the other side,” I ask.
On the other side, a man in a light brown uniform is standing on a bridge over a narrow canal, flipping through papers and talking to a man dressed in a t-shirt.
The officer is not the slightest bit pleased to see me stop and watch, so we scoot along. Maybe they are doing something about the nets.
The die remains holstered as everyone agrees that catching the sunset on Cat Ba Beach Three with a snacks and a bottle of wine is without a doubt the best choice at the moment.
It's a gray overcast day, offering no fireworks for a sunset. Nonetheless, the three of us get comfortable on the sand near the rocks at the far end of the beach. A hotel staffer opens the bottle of cheap wine for us, but refuses to let us have glasses, which seems fair, given that we aren't paying customers.
A few foreigners arrive on the beach with a horseshoe crab in a plastic bag. The ancient arthropod, which was probably meant for someone's dinner plate, is now hesitantly crawling in the sand. The critter looks like it hasn't made an evolutionary change since its tiny, spiny legs sprouted out from under its hard, hoof-shaped shell. The French tourists lift the animal by its tail, about as confused as the crab about what is to happen next.
The guys lay down next to the crab for a photo shoot. After taking more than enough pictures for Facebook and Instagram, the crab is chucked into the ocean.
It's dark by the time we've finished our snacks and wine, nearly time for Eva's goodbye dinner. I've been going back and forth about whether or not I should join. It's nice of her to include me, but it seems like it should be more of a staff thing. I'm not part of this goodbye. She and I said our goodbye months and months ago after having our pedicures in Phuket.
Downstairs from Asia Outdoors, several tables are pushed together for the dinner. Eva's reserved me a seat, so it looks like I'm joining. I don't find out that I'm joining until I'm at the bar upstairs, bringing drinks to Marry-Ann and Kayla.
“So this is awkward, but I've got a seat for dinner downstairs. How about I chase you both down after we eat?” I ask Marry-Ann and Kayla on the balcony of the bar upstairs. We've already had the Jagger Bombs the die demanded, but energy levels are low.
After dinner, I grab a beer with Conner and the girls out on the sidewalk. It's getting late, and nobody is wanting to make a party. I say nobody, but I mean nobody else. I would love to cut loose and go on a bender. We ride four on the bike, dropping everyone off at their respective abodes.
Hours later, at 2:30am, I'm still awake editing videos. Maybe the Die's push for a Jagger Bomb wasn't the best idea.