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Tears, taxi thieves, transport truants, then tattoos on Tramadol in Thailand.

VIETNAM | Thursday, 16 December 2010 | Views [2003]

Taking the Tramadol train to tackle the twitching.

Taking the Tramadol train to tackle the twitching.

Leaving a country should never make for interesting reading, unless you have a fetish for missed flights. My obsession with such an activity is bordering on perverse, but I still adhere to the same casual approach to punctuality. Leaving anywhere is always an emotional experience and the inclinations of the heart often outweigh logic and reason, as I was feeling more about missing Uma, than thinking about missing another flight.

We had ended the Saigon shopping frenzy by buying paintings that morning, executed by undoubtedly skilled hands but bearing images repeated 20 times over in the shops nearby. Uma posted hers home and that took up the last of our time together. The unknown element about the future is rarely a source of comfort in times of duress, and it added further poignancy to our goodbye. Tears were inevitable as my eyeballs are like a leaky tap at the best of times. We had had such a great time in Vietnam and my memory of the country will always be intertwined with my memory of her. The trip to the airport ensured another aspect of Vietnam will remain embedded in my memory; the blatant rip off.

I had saved 100k dong as the maximum price I had often been quoted for a trip to the airport, and a bit extra for a snack and some water. Starting the taxi trip with some ingratiating relationship marketing, my taxi driver had sympathised with mine and Uma's obviously sad farewell. Relating his own story of separation had bored me numb before he hit me with an inflated fare beyond what I possessed. With time on my side, I could have argued and bailed out if he didn't stop looking at me like his ticket to a big night on the piss. I wasn't up for offering much resistance, somewhat disturbed my taxi driver was the sort of guy who would try to pick up at funerals.

He wanted to drop me at the airport gates, as I didn't have enough to pay for him leaving the airport. I'm pretty sure the next sucker would get slugged with a similar demand, so I made a show of looking for more money. I found a 100 baht note which got me as far as the door. It was enough to cover the shortfall, and then some, and the appearance of more money meant old mate could lay plans to shout his friends a night on the piss as well. I just wanted out and after a final grab for my money, I let rip with all the repressed anger I had felt from being constantly hassled for the last 5 weeks. I wasn't a raging maniac as the touting had been more a 'fly on my food' sort of annoying than the 'painful boil on my butt' sort. Calling him a 'fucking rogue' and storming off failed to have the desired affect though, as he probably had no idea what it meant.

Barging into the airport like I had just shot up a massive load of gorilla steroids should have seen a path cleared right up to a lady waiting to check me in. A large queue of fellow travellers were somewhat disturbed by my snorting and salivating as I stomped around waiting for anyone at all to try and take more money off me. I may just look like an ATM on legs to the locals, but fellow travellers could tell I was a mobile minefield. Eventually my forehead vein stopped throbbing enough to attempt something constructive, and after an hour and a half of queuing, my unbridled aggression had been bored passive.

Once through passport control, I scoured the airport for an ATM because a sign telling me where one is was less likely than it being Kate Beckinsale giving me personal directions. Figuring out there wasn't any at all barely registered as surprise and turned my attention to water having drunk none for the day. A few dispensers were positioned around in cleverly concealed places, all the handier for being empty. Before I knew it, I was being summoned to my flight like hearing my name over the loudspeaker was all quite routine.

Other than near dehydration on the plane, and beef stroganoff and white rice for dinner, leaving the country was relatively straight forward once I had defied the odds and boarded a plane. I was looking forward to a long flight to reflect on the entire Vietnam experience, but it was all too fresh at that point. My brain was slowly desiccating so I left the surmising till more conducive times.

I had a week in Bangkok to spend the last of whatever cash I could lay my hands on. I knew it wouldn't be much, but not much can get you a lot in Asia. I had another partner in consumer crimes who was waiting to put me to shame in the spending stakes. Sarah was a friend from Matsos in Broome who was turning her savings into shopping, including another tattoo. Her first tattoo had brought her digestion of food to crisis point and she needed someone to help distract her from the pain.

Sarah had more friends to travel with after me and I was caught between nursing a Vietnam hangover and the thought of returning to work. Our brief catch up was about tattoos, beers and shopping; in that order, although Sarah was keen to reverse it. I was unable to move money around as much as I hoped and had to make the dreaded phone call home for another slice of the inheritance pie. I am pretty sure I wouldn't have gotten it if the credit fairy knew that a small part of it was going on a tattoo.

I had finished my design and chosen an artist so Sarah could watch me demonstrate how easy it is to stay distracted while upgrading coolness. My fears for how painful a knee tattoo would be turned out to be ungrounded but I fell somewhat short of appearing rock solid under the needle. The reflex action one involuntarily does to a doctors hammer, is magnified four-fold under a tattooists needle. Every twitch was subconsciously aimed at the back of the tattooists head as the cause of something that hovered between uncomfortable pain and nervous laughter.

I had dropped a pre-emptive nuclear paracetamol knowing that pain tolerance was going to be tested. I had taken 'Tramadol', now banned in Australia but still effective at obliterating pain; and intelligence and liver function. It had kicked in exactly when required, helping ease the pain, but also sedating me enough to lose the swallow reflex.

When Sarah's time came, she opted for a more herbal assistant and never one to leave a friend flying solo, I decided the time was as good as any to end my 39 days of abstinence. Right up until the last second, Sarah was unsure of where exactly she wanted her tattooed leaves to go. I was too stoned to even be sure of where I was, and the original purpose of my presence was completely forgotten about when the movie 'Predators' came on the TV. Other than the occasional leg twitch as well, Sarah passed with flying colours and ensured my mental non-attendance was rendered null and void.

But I couldn't possibly leave the country until sheer stupidity has rendered any claim to intelligence on my behalf as null and void as well. I may have made the flight from Saigon to Bangkok, but will I make the flight home?

Tags: flights, friends, shopping, tattoo

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