This is what happens when you don't have room in your luggage for a motorcycle helmet. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
THERE'S total silence in the taxi to Hanoi International Airport. It's the kind of silence that reminds you that there's normally something humming or creaking or chirping or playing in the background. The young taxi driver, with band-aid on his forearm, is clean cut. He doesn't have his phone out to chat. He doesn't make an attempt at conversation with me. He doesn't turn the radio on.
The silence is loud.
I'm leaving Asia.
In the last five years, I've left Asia once. That was for two weeks to by the best man in my best friend's wedding. That was more than three years ago. Now, I'm leaving with no intentions of returning. It's not a holiday back home or even a move to another part of the continent.
It's the Die's Will: I'm headed to Nairobi, Kenya.
Leaving Asia is harder than leaving Thailand, because it's leaving with no knowledge of a return date.
There is a small fake plant glued to the dashboard of the taxi, three red clay flowers. A pen is stuffed into the coil of wires attaching the driver's silent short-range radio, which links to the rest of the cabby network.
The silence continues.
Is there anything I left back at Leh's that might prevent me from leaving? Slowly, my mind goes through the possibility, hopeful, though aware that there isn't anything. I have my passport. I have my drone. I have everything. And whatever I might not have, I'll have to leave behind.
I try to stop checking my phone. I try to stop distracting myself from the uncomfortable feeling of leaving. I've never consider Asia home, but I'm not so sure now.
Adele's Rolling in the Deep starts playing as the alarm goes off in the morning. An hour later, I sit up.
Leh's refusing to get up, which is fine. I start canceling mostof the Couch Surfing requests I've sent out.
A dear friend of mine, Mrs Meat, has put me in contact with a good friend of hers who is apparently open to letting me crash at her place for a bit. However, I've decided to start with the Couch Surfing invitation from Sister Clare, who runs an orphanage in Nairobi.
I'm not entirely sure how this is going to work out. I nearly let the die decided, but Sister Clare originally offered to even pick me up from the airport, which seemed like a silly thing to turn down.
“How do you feel?” Leh asks after I return from running a couple errands in the Old Quarter.
I want a coffee, but Leh's bullying me into packing before we go for lunch and a coffee. She's right, it makes more sense to get everything packed first. Patiently, she rolls up my clothes in the bedroom downstairs as I stare at the random assortment of items strewn out on the bed: playing cards, electronic cords, charges, lenses, camera, measuring tape, knife, pieces of paper, passport copies, a 100 dollar bill, flask of tequila the list goes on forever.
“Have some of this,” Leh hands me the bottle of Jose Cuervo that I'd picked up in Cat Ba because it's Faith's favorite drink. However, the moment for the bottle never came. Nonetheless, I've been whittling away at it. Even so, there's plenty left.
I take a swig. It's sharp, hot and unpleasant. Leh was probably joking.
I take another swig before placing the bottle on the bedside table and returning to packing.
After a bowl of Bun Cha, a noodle dish with grilled pork, Leh and I go the third floor of a cafe overlooking West Lake. We have about ten minutes before we need to cross the street and prepare for the taxi.
While I was out running errands, Leh arranged for the taxi to pick me up at 3pm. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the airport. My Qatar Airways flight departs to Bangkok at 5:25pm before setting its sights on Africa.
The silent taxi bumps into a car ahead of us. It's a light tap. A traffic cop wearing a brimmed hat and a tan uniform, looks at the taxi driver as the man driving the car ahead of us gets out.
If I miss my flight because of this...
The police officer waves the man back into the car. There's been no damage. Not much farther ahead, the traffic clears and we're making good time.
The meter on the taxi passes 170,000 Dong. It' climbing quickly as we head for the international airport. It's sitting at 260,000 Dong when we arrive.
I Facebook call Leh to ask if the price she told me was an estimate or if it was a fixed price.
It's a fixed price. Don't pay more, she tells me.
I give the young man 200,000 Dong. He decides to keep the change. I don't protest.
A chatty attendant, tall for a Vietnamese man, but still shorter than me, is directing traffic at the check-in counter for Qatar Airways.
“I like your hair,” he says, before asking how I feel about President Elect Donald Trump.
“He scares me,” I admit.
It's the attendant's first job after graduating from school. He's been working here for seven months, yet has the same enthusiasm you'd expect to witness in the first month on the job.
My backpack drops onto the check-in conveyor belt. It's 26kg, I've cut weight.
“Yes, I do have a visa,” I say, producing the Kenyan E-visa, I'd printed off this morning.
The woman checking me in needs to see it again.
Less nervous about the drone and batteries as I make may way through security, I unstrap my motorcycle boots, pull out my laptop, pull out my camera, take off my necklace, take off my motorcycle jacket – I've failed to become a smooth business traveler despite the practice.
On the other side of security, it's possible to exchange an assortment of Southeast Asian currencies (Baht, Dong and Ringgit) into 25 dollars.
Cian, a good mate of mine from Phuket, calls.
“Do you remember what it felt like when you first came here?” he wants to know.
“Memory and feelings are not really my strong points. Plus, it was a very different situation: I was coming out here with Jackie,” I say. Jackie was basically my fiance at the time.
The internet connection cuts out. It's time to board.
“Sir, you're only allowed to carry on one bag that weighs up to 7kg,” a middle-aged woman says in a stern voice. A black man in the flat brimmed baseball hat looks down at his bag.
He's been pulled aside.
“Do you want to have a friend come get the bag for you?”
“I don't have any friends here,” he says.
“What do you want to do?”
I can barely hear the conversation as I keep my head down and move to the front of the line to board.
I'm carry a drone backpack, a laptop case that's about the size of most people's carry-on luggage and a motorcycle helmet with fluffy fox ears.
Moving quickly, but not hastily, I make it past the woman grilling the black guy. I have no idea what would have happened if she had pulled me aside.
“These are cute,” a Vietnamese hosts on the flight says, touching the ears on my helmet as I make my way to the back of the plane: seat 46D. “Are they fox ears?”
“Yes! Finally, someone says they're fox ears.”
After putting a piece of luggage up for an elderly Asian woman, I pack all my stuff into the overhead bin and take a seat.
The flight takes off. We'll be transiting in Bangkok, but I won't leave the plane.
Asia, this is goodbye.