First Riding Day!

March 11th, 2008

Today was the first day on the unicycle. You could tell everyone was eager to stop milling around–as relaxing as that is–and get in some miles. But first, we had to get ourselves out of Hanoi.

Early to Rise

We woke at 3:15am. There are only two flights to Hue, split between morning and evening. The morning flight departs at six, which meant an awfully early morning for everyone on the tour. It wasn’t too bad, thanks to the remainder of the jet lag. I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep early.

Sight-Seeing

After a tasty breakfast, tour orientation, and unicycle assembly, we were off! The riding was very light, and spread out, with the goal of the day to visit the forbidden city and some tombs. While these tours were great, it was also a little bit too serene on a day where we all woke up hours before dawn. It was much nicer to be on the road mingling with traffic. At least that keeps you awake!

Unicycling in Vietnam

So riding around in Vietnam is completely amazing. We’re still in reasonably touristy areas, thanks to the tombs and such, but our route did take us away from that. It was awesome to be in the flow of traffic, pedaling through the city, and watching the reaction of the locals.

I was regularly struck with thoughts on how awesome/bizarre/amazing/exhilarating/mad the whole thing was. It’s a combination of everything: The sights, the people, how they live, the fact that I’m even here, and of course the fact that I’m seeing it all at 13mph on a unicycle.

Existence by Attention

One of the common themes in my thoughts, while riding, was that this stuff exists. It’s not just something I’m seeing while I’m riding by. Tomorrow, those same people will be working the same shops. The kids will again be walking home from school. That cow, or chicken, or dog, or whatever, will still be there, doing what it does.

I think in America we have this worldview that something only exists if people pay attention to it. If the news isn’t talking about an event or person, then it just doesn’t count. By implication, I–and you–need to be experiencing something for it to actually exist. It goes past that people not caring; it’s like they no longer allow a thing to be realized.

That seems different here. For instance, the newer houses in Hanoi have western kitchens. Nobody’s actually using them, though. They still go cook in the street, to talk to their neighbors and be a part of the world. It’s almost the exact opposite–you don’t exist unless you participate in or pay attention to the world, not the other way around.

Persistence and Reactive Reality

I think this points to one of the aspects of unicycling that’s so compelling. For instance, if you come here as a tourist on foot, you don’t make any indentation on the persistence of the city. Everyone’s routine is the same, whether you were there or not. Your day is no different from any other.

But when we unicycle through, we make a fairly wide ripple in reality–the people who live here–and cause quite a disturbance. It combines the two worldviews in this strange way. This stuff exists whether I’m here or not, but what I’m experiencing really is just for me, in a very severe way. When the next bus load of tourists comes after us, they’re back to the off-the-shelf, static experience of the city.

But when we roll through, we get our own experience, crafted specifically for us by our very bizarre circumstances. Kids run alongside just to watch, people come out of their shops, adults stop and stare, and curious motorists slow down for a longer look. The country itself is responding to us and actively contributing to us. It’s not the attention that makes it great; it’s that this experience is totally and uniquely ours and ours alone.

One response

  1. Mom comments:

    Exactly: most Americans do NOT get it unless they have experienced something else, in fact humans flat out don’t get it unless they are there in another scene.

    I wish we all could have been in the Indian scene for Mark as well.

    Where ARE you when you are writing these blogs? Is the group sharing a laptop, or?

    I can so see the kids running along you 🙂

    Love,
    Mom

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