HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

H2H Day 26: How to Piss Off the Locals

the penultimate morning
My legs felt pretty good when I woke up this morning, but by the time I walked down the stairs from the third floor to the street I was in serious pain. Clearly, I wouldn't be riding for a fourth day in a row. Once again, I was dispirited, for several reasons: We've been functioning as a team for nearly four weeks now, and not being a part of that is hard. I love riding. Finally Rhona, who has been traveling for several months and hence has 40...yes 40 pairs of underwear, agreed to let a few of us guys wear one for the day. I had tried on a pair that fit fairly well, while showing far too much body hair, and was game to go along with it. Not being able to ride precluded me from being involved though.
Phong's outfit caused problems later in the day
About 10km into the day everyone stopped at the top of a huge downhill that would essentially drop us out of the Central Highlands and into the flat, alluvial plain that is deep southern Vietnam. I did not want to have to hear about the Greatest Descent of the Ride all afternoon from the other riders and I reckoned I could make it down without having to pedal, so I pulled my bike out of the rear support van and mounted up. I had thought of this idea after I had packed though, so the only shoes available were flip-flops. I headed down the mountain with useless brakes and completely unsafe shoes.
It was an epic downhill on a great road snaking down the side of a mountain, with rugged, green peaks all around us. I felt alive, and as I thought I hardly had to pedal, so my legs felt fine. I did nearly wipe out on a patch of gravel when I took a wide turn thanks to my shit brakes though. Once the blast to the bottom ended I was only able to go about 50m before my legs erupted in pain again, so I went back into the van, expecting another dreadfully boring day.
Instead, things became very interesting towards the end of our lunch stop about 25km from Dinh Quan, our last stop on the ride before reaching Saigon. Around 10 of us gathered at a road-side restaurant. As several of us got our food Hanneke and Phong, one of three guys who was wearing a pair of Rhona's panties, walked a little ways down the street to get some inner tubes patched. Across the street several men were gathered in a cafe, already drunk at mid-day. They didn't seem to appreciate Phong's skimpy attire, and they were shouting something at him, but it didn't seem to be a big deal. A few truck drivers had made remarks earlier in the day, but it appeared to be harmless.

After we finished eating, Phong pumped up a tire, a motion that looked pretty humorous in his sartorial state, and when he finished he put the pump in his crotch and pretended to jerk it off, all in view of the guys drinking at the cafe. The next thing we knew they were storming towards us, beer bottles in hand, livid rage written on their faces. We all knew it might not have been the best idea, but we were having fun as a group and not even thinking about the men.  Things had suddenly taken a much darker turn.

The guys among us stood up to try to calm them down, and there was a lot of shouting going on, when two bottles came hurtling in, smashing on the ground around us. Fortunately, no one was hurt. At this point the staff of the restaurant rushed into the street to our defense: the male waiters relieved the enraged attackers of their remaining bottles, and the middle-aged female proprietor began screaming at them. Apparently she was saying "I don't care if people are naked, this is my business, and they can do what they want!!!" Other people came out of the houses around us and tried to restrain the drunks, while a calmer guy approached us and started telling us to put more clothes on. The men from the cafe were still visibly enraged, and we decided it was time to get the hell out of dodge.

I hobbled over to Hanneke, who was still waiting to get her tubes back, to tell her what was going on. Phong and a few of the riders were mounting up, but the drunk men were still trying to come at them. One had a brick in his hand, and another had some sort of metal pipe. Luckily, enough of the bystanders were on our side that they were restrained. As some riders cycled off, I saw a motorbike with two punky guys on it pull up to the cafe, where someone pointed them in the direction of our group members. They took off in pursuit. I had a bad feeling about that.

Hanneke and I walked back to the restaurant, where a huge crowd was now gathered. The people from where we ate and the people at the cafe were yelling across the street to each other, and cops were starting to arrive. There were four of us left, and we needed to leave. A man approached us and in drunken, broken English explained that he didn't drink beer, that he had only been eating, while mumbling a bunch of other random phrases. Tom S. then got a call saying Phong had been assaulted with a stick by two men on a motorbike, and we needed to go get him. Tom, Sandra, and Kirsty rode off, and I hopped back into the van, just as a police truck pulled up and more cops spilled out.

A few kilometers down we met the guys who had left when things were getting really heated. Phong had an impressive welt on his lower back from the attack. The moto had pulled up next to him, the guy on the back whacked him, and then they had turned around and took off. After that he had put his normal cycling shorts back on. Mr. Cuong, who drives the rear support van, told him to get in and lay down. We were in the middle of nowhere, and this was their territory. He said the cafe men were part of a gang, but we assumed they were just backwards hillbillies. Everyone else had been OK with the men in girl's lingerie, but this group went absolutely berserk. Even though many of us on this ride have lived in Vietnam for over a year and know that the country is more conservative than our Western homelands, we still don't realize sometimes the vastly different outlooks certain people have towards acceptable public behavior.(Again, the way some of us were dressed might not have been the smartest idea, but throwing beer bottles at people is just absurd.)

Mr. Cuong decided to forgo his normal job of following the rear riders and simply get those of us in the van to the hotel as fast as possible. He was clearly worried about more motorbikes coming after us, and he didn't want to put his vehicle in danger either. We called the driver of the lead support van, who was already in town, and told him to get back on the road and find the remaining riders so he could escort them to safety. We then got a call saying Sandra's bike had been stolen while she was stopped on the side of the road. This day was turning into a complete fiasco.

We got to the hotel decompressed, waiting for the remaining riders to arrive. It turned out that Sandra's bike was fine: she had let a local take it for a spin, and the person took it out of eyesight, but returned a few minutes later. We talked about the events of the day and realized how lucky we were that things hadn't ended worse. When you look completely different from everyone else in a group that is very angry, you never know which side the people around you will take. Had the staff of the restaurant not come to our defense we would have probably had to fight off furious men armed with glass bottles and who knows what else. Perhaps it wasn't the best idea for guys to wear only women's panties on their bottoms, but the heated, violent reaction of this group of men shocked us. At least we have another story to tell from this ride.

This was the last day before our ride into Saigon, a 107km leg heralding the end of our month-long journey. Sadly, my leg muscles are still very painful, and I will definitely not be able to ride. I'm pretty sure I have a second-grade tear in both quadriceps, so if any of you have advice on how to help them heal please let me know. I'm absolutely gutted that I've missed every day since Saturday, and the decision to do the ride again next year has already been made. This has been an amazing experience, and I'll have a thoughtful recap up sometime this weekend, hopefully. Tomorrow I plan on drinking and eating myself silly on the bounties of Saigon.
sunset on the last day before reaching Saigon
If you've been reading this all along and would like to donate to H2H now that we're finally about to finish, please visit: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/michaeltatarski/bikeride. I'm this close to reaching my goal of raising $2,500 for charity.


  1. Maybe I mis-read something but maybe they were mad that you pretended to jerk off on them? I'm pretty sure most men and women from around the world would be pretty offended if that happened to them, especially when drunk. On, and way to go, not being an annoying tourist and all.

  2. Yea we all realized that set them off, but throwing beer bottles and attacking someone with a stick? Really?

  3. How long have you been in Vietnam? Have you not realize how the smaller cities are very conservative and pissing drunkards off isnt a great idea? Hell, this rule is universal, Im positive this would end the same way it did here if you tried that in the states. Sticks and bottles suck, but be glad that they werent knives and bullets. Besides, isnt this whole bike trip done to raise awareness for your charity, good way to show professionalism and class, as well as representing your charity, by fake jerking on drunk locals, and making a post trying to figure out why they were mad.

  4. Yes, that action clearly negated the $40,000 we raised for the charities H2H supports. Such a shame.

  5. Way to take my post out of context, and turn a situation around to make me seem like the bad guy...oh wait, you seem to be good at that. No one said the money raised was negated, what I said was that you behavior reflected poorly on yourself, and by extension, the charity, since this ride is for the charity?

  6. Oh come on, are they not allowed to have a little fun while raising money for a cause? Sounds to me like no one was trying to piss them off, they just chose to be pissed off. Don't choose to be pissed off, be happy you jerk offs!

  7. Jerking off on people to raise money for a cause?

    You must be American..

    1. Geez another person with no sense of humor...thanks for not commenting on any other of the posts about the ride. Also, if you read the post you may notice it wasn't me that did it.