Dice Travels Empties Stable, Sells Donkey
After one last long day on the road, it was time to find a new home for my beloved 110cc Honda, Donkey.
FACEBOOK Messenger bings as I gaze up at the Central Hanoi Post Office, an enormous colonial-style monolith next to Ho Hoan Kem Lake.
The message is from JL.
After sending a load of postcards to friends and family, as well as a cheap Vietnamese drip coffeemaker to Kayla, I'm hoping to show JL Donkey, my 110cc Honda Win.
The sun has set, painting Hanoi a dusty blue. My flight to Kenya is in two days. I don't have a lot of options for selling the poor beast.
She'd went up for sale a several days ago via the Hanoi Motorcycles for Sale and Hanoi Motorbike Market Facebook groups. There were a couple of nibbles, but each potential buyer had turned up his noses when he found out that she didn't have a Blue Book.
The first real bite was this morning. It was a few minutes before 9am when JL sent me a message request: Hey, I'm also interested in your motorcycle if it's available.
“Hey, it is. Glad to let you take it on test drive today if you want. Running a couple errands, but I'm flexible,” I write back.
Then, there was silence. Hours of silence.
There's not much time left. If JL doesn't buy her, I'm forced to head deep into the Old Quarter tomorrow morning in hopes of finding a bike shop that's willing to take Donkey, despite her not having a Blue Book – the registration.
Up until this morning, the plan was to sell her to such a shop for whatever I could get from a shop, if anything at all. I'd hoped to put her up for sale in the 250 dollar range in order to turn a profit – I got the 110cc Honda Win for a steal at 120 dollars. However, despite blowing out the engine and sinking another hundred dollars into her, she isn't running well enough to justify the inflated price.
Instead, I put her back up for 120 dollars.
“Hi. Are you around tomorrow? Plans to go out tonight, but I can see it if it's urgent,” JL writes.
At this point, urgent seems like an adequate word. It's not let's-take-a-stroll-out-of-this-burning-building urgent, but it's also not Thai-style “sabai sabai”, an attitude so many chill tourists and expats carry around Southeast Asia with them.
“I'm actually not around tomorrow. Was going to sell it to a shop tonight, though I don't have blue book. If your around now, glad to show it to you, though I should have washed it first
“I'll have a look.”
Having a look and buying are two very different things, but if you can't click-bait someone into your online store, then there's no chance of them buying your gun holster wallet or baby mop.
However, if he doesn't buy it, I've taken a tight spot and sewn up the edges so it's even more snug.
Donkey and I had are rough moments as well. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
It's not until I'm standing outside of the post office, thinking I'll have to give up on JL, as he's been silent since my last message, that I hear back.
He can see the bike now, but, he doesn't know where the post office is. I'll to come to him on 125 Vĩnh Phúc.
The street isn't too far away, but my phone is nearly drained and without Google Maps, there's no way I'll find his apartment building.
Is going to meet him at his place really a good idea? Does a person feel more inclined to buy something if the seller has gone out of their way to deliver a product? Or does the lack of commitment on the buyers side – not even willing to come look at the product – mean he or she is less likely to buy it?
It must come down to the type of person. At what point does the endowment effect come into play? I know with me, it can happen almost immediately. If I've picked up an object that I'm interested in buying and thought about it as mine, even for a brief moment truly imagined it as mine, I'm much more inclined to shell out cash for it. Getting JL rolling on Donkey has its advantages.
My phone dies while I'm in traffic.
I stop at a small, swanky cafe and order the cheapest thing on the menu so I can suck up some power and load the map again.
Fifteen minutes later, I'm back in the swerving mess of honking vehicles that Hanoi drivers calmly refer to as “normal” traffic.
“Where the fuck is this place!” I want to scream at nobody in particular. I'm starting to seriously dislike JL. He pin dropped the location, but it's not helping.
The narrow side-road I've found myself on wiggles through tall buildings basking in yellow street lights. The shadows are deep and run long, widening as they race from the street lamps. Two 90-degree turns later, and I'm outside his place. Well, I'm outside the place pinned on the map, but I don't think it's his place.
I message him. He comes outside his place. I'm not there.
We're both confused about where I am. I backtrack a few hundred meters, though that fails to help.
The street names aren't lining up.
“Look for 125 vVnh Phuc sign,” JL writes.
There isn't a 125 Vinh Phuc sign at the drop pin. There's not a Vinh Phuc sign of any number on any of these streets. Where the hell am I?
Frustration is rising, like bile, from somewhere deep inside me to the back of my throat; the dude isn't even going to buy the bike. Why couldn't we have met somewhere less obscure, somewhere more convenient? Of course we couldn't, because the dude isn't serious about buying Donkey at all. I'm just wasting my time with this shit.
We had our good times as well. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Instead of using the pinned location, I dump the street name into Google Maps. The destination changes to somewhere only a few minutes away: a few minutes of crawling through a maze of narrow alleyways.
JL lives in a tall, nondescript building that blends in with every other narrow apartment building on this side of West Lake. Out front, on the sidewalk, are a couple metal rocking horses that looks like they were salvaged from a public park.
“Here,” I write.
For fuck sake, finally here, I think.
Leh, who lives only a few minutes away arrives before JL makes it downstairs; we've got dinner plans with a few friends once we're done trying to sell the bike.
JL is a portly young guy, about my age, well perhaps younger. (I'm still in the habit of meeting people in their mid-twenties, and thinking we're the same age.) He's got a scruffy dark beard and a solid American handshake.
“Well, this is the bike,” I say. “So, like I said, there's no Blue Book. She does leak oil pretty fast, so you just need to keep an eye on it. It's not a huge issue, but something you need to be aware of for sure.”
We take a few steps closer to Donkey as I talk.
“She also slips gears from fourth to third sometimes. It's not a big deal, but the engine will rev a bit and then you just need to step down and put her back into fourth. I think it happened maybe three or four times on my drive from the north to Hanoi, which was a massive-long drive.”
This isn't a sales pitch so much as a conscious scrub. I don't want to be dumping Donkey on someone without them understanding her mood swings and underlying problems.
“So the Blue Book is really no issue. I've been thinking about getting something to learn how to drive manual on. Something I can kind of beat the shit out of,” JL says.
Donkey's suspension flexes under his weight. He clicks down to first gear then up to second and then down to first and then up to second, struggling to find neutral.
“Yeah, it takes a little bit to get the touch for finding neutral,” I say, noting that electric starter is dead and that it might be worth giving her a new battery if he plans on driving at night, as she's a pretty dim little beast.
It takes another long minute for him to find neutral. He attempts to kick start Donkey, but nothing happens.
He tries again.
He tries again.
Nothing at all.
This is not going well.
Donkey, baby, come on, don't get stubborn like this right now. It's time to move on.
“Here, let me,” I say.
Donkey fires up under my familiar touch, like an old flame that never stopped smoldering.
JL quickly double-checks his understanding on how to drive a manual bike and then putters off.
He kills Donkey turning her around about a block away. The bike and JL sit there in the darkness. Leh an I watch him try to start the bike.
I jog down to him. Together, we're able to get the bike running again.
There's no way he's buying Donkey, I think as I'm walking back.
We turn her off so he can practice starting her.
“What do you think?” I venture.
“So I'd been considering getting something for a bit, but this is kind of a spontaneous decision,” says JL, who's recently started teaching English in the city. “I woke up this morning, saw the post and figure why the hell not?”
“Awesome. I like you're style man.”
“So you said 120 dollars, right? Is it okay if I pay you in Dong?”
“That's fine man.”
JL pulls a thick wad of Dong from his pocket. Without a doubt he bought the bike in his head before she arrived at his doorstep.
I hand him his change and the extra keys. We shake hands to seal the deal.
“Awesome man. Have fun with her and let me know how it goes,” I say.
Back on the scooter, Leh and head off to little local restaurant, where they'll serve us endless piles of cold rice noodles and a heart-stoppingly delecious seafood hot pot at squat table on the dirty sidewalk of one of the most charming cities in the world.
“I can't believe he bought the bike,” I tell Leh. “This is insanely lucky. So lucky.”
“Me neither, you just kept saying everything wrong with the bike. I thought there was no way he'd buy it.”
And yet, JL did buy her. As Donkey, the beautiful little beast, was exactly what he was searching for.