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Living the Ninh Binh drug cliché.

VIETNAM | Thursday, 28 October 2010 | Views [4344]

Mr. Smithers doing a great impersonation of 'Uma'

Mr. Smithers doing a great impersonation of 'Uma'

In the past, when someone said to me, “Let's go to Nimbin?”, it usually meant our stocks were low. With Uma slowly becoming a travelling pharmacy, I didn't think it likely, or necessary, that we would be acquiring more drugs. With karst formations similar to Halong Bay, and no drug association other than its name being almost identical to Australia's cannabis capital, our intention to visit Ninh Binh was entirely non-consumptive.

The two hour bus ride from Hanoi was as entertaining as such trips always seem to be. The absence of suspension made the bus more effective as a catapult than a mode of transport, and choosing the back seat in an empty bus meant that we were either sadists or stupid. The conductor was of the touchy-feely type and his attentions soon earned him a rather generous serve of Uma's vitriol. It was all in Dutch no less, so I didn't understand what was said either, but tone is always a good indication of intent.

Upon arriving at our hotel, Uma let me choose the room while she finished a cigarette. That single act turned out to have dual consequences for her health. With a balcony facing onto the main road, I suspended disbelief and intelligence by letting the hotelier convince me the available room wasn't noisy. Unless his own ceiling fan is a turbine engine or he's just deaf, his comments turned out to be purely his own opinion, or a sales pitch for suckers.

He was more than friendly and very generous with the rice wine once Uma had requested a sample. It was a local brew he called 'happy water', and at 45%, it didn't take many to make you happy. He turned up the friendly banter as he pitched his guided tours in the area, plying us with charm as much as rice wine. Once we made it clear we weren't interested, repeatedly, he decided we weren't his new best friends and he virtually ignored us for the rest of our stay.

Being woken at 530am by blaring car horns, screeching brakes and loud music made me curse the very existence of cars, and 'happy water'. Again, Uma placated me by trail blazing a path of bad luck before me that made me realise my own position was blessed by comparison. It seemed the conjunctivitis fairy had stopped by during the night and Uma appeared to be stuck half way through an alluring wink, or still being half awake. It hardly seemed like grounds for concern so she cleaned it up to stop me from talking to her like she was a pirate.

The area surrounding Ninh Binh contained a wealth of photo worthy sites so we chose to hire a moped and do the rounds at our own pace. Taking the commuters on at their own game was nothing short of suicide. Luckily, everyone here is more conscious of erratic driving because that is just the way everyone drives. Cunningly enough, I did it at such a slow pace that I was easier to avoid than Sunday school.

Before making it half way out of town, Uma decided she needed more drugs as her eyeball was sore and swollen as well as seeping. The pharmacy we stopped at was staffed by a lady at the cutting edge of medical science. Lengthy internet research later revealed that the drugs she sold us were still at the animal testing stage. Perhaps they had progressed to human trials and merely needed someone of Uma's willingness to scoff them down and see what happened. I marvelled at the speed of her deliberation and administration completely at odds with the time spent choosing the right colour jacket in Sapa. Not to mention that after the listerine eyeball affair, Uma had burnt her scalp in Hanoi by washing it with some substance probably meant to clean oily driveways. Admirably, Uma downed two pills of unknown indication and effect and we headed off as soon as she had determined the next round of eye drops weren't battery acid.

Unfortunately the map we were given by our wannabe guide was of the hand drawn variety. After 3 hours on the road seeing nothing but locals gawking like they were the tourists, we concluded that the map was merely a cunning ploy. Let the morons spend the day driving around in circles, then they'll pay any price for a tour the next day as long as they see something other than rice paddies.

Our plight wasn't helped by the complete absence of signs in English. That the Vietnamese alphabet was Romanised in the 17th century made reading road side signs all the more frustrating when you initially think you can interpret what they say. After failing to replace stolen bifocals a year ago, Uma's half closed blurry eyes offered little assistance beyond “Why don't you just try going down that road?”. That we did on numerous occasions and came perilously close to crossing a few international borders.

Before long, we gave up looking for anything of interest as we needed to head back for food and more drugs. I must say that driving through the remote countryside was beautiful and worthy of a trip in itself, but the gloss was somewhat tarnished because we were actually looking for something in particular. Uma's thong had fallen off her bandaged foot at some unknown point, her eyeball was starting to feel like an over stretched piece of elastic, and the combination of drugs was making her feel like a bald rabbit under close supervision.

Hi-ho, oh-no, it's off to hospital we go. Thankfully that was easy enough to find, but harder to get into. Pulling up at a closed gate, I pointed to my passenger and her eye hoping that would be more than enough to get the point across. Gate man stared at the human wreckage I was transporting, looking like Mr. Smithers after being stung in the eye by a bee. Believing she was beyond the services his hospital offered, he instructed we go 1 kilometre down the road. That was the politest way I had ever been told to piss off because there was nothing down the road.

Perhaps gate man was on the mark with his diagnosis but out of whack with his judgement of distance as there was a mental hospital about 2 kilometres further down the road. Beginning to suspect a visit there wouldn't be such a bad idea, we decided to come back if we failed to sneak in the side entrance to the hospital.

Entrance was gained to the eye specialist section of the hospital, which turned out to be about 50 metres down the road. A few tests were performed by a doctor as he smoked, and more eye drops were put in by a nurse as she ate a bag of cookies. A highly contagious bacterial infection of the eye was diagnosed, a dirty hotel pillow case the most likely culprit. As the screen continues to blur before my own sore and swelling eyes, I can confirm that such a diagnosis was indeed correct. Luckily, Uma's misadventures in Sapa had convinced me to take out travel insurance and now we can just share drugs as well; just like we really were in Nimbin.

Tags: hospitals, on the road

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