Monday, 24 December 2012

fairytale in Saigon

It’s Christmas eve babe, and I’m yet to hear a single slurred syllable of the Pogues. Although I have seen father Christmas in flip flops and an adorable Vietnamese toddler with reindeer horns on her head passed by our bus on  a moped earlier. Any way you care to spin it, this has been a far from orthodox yuletide. It’s a rare occurrence for a Brit to spend the winter solstice suffering from extreme heat stroke, and I haven’t raced in December aside from on specially gritted and cleared circuits, or the occasional boxing day ‘cross race. Vietnam has been quite the experience, and coming here has been the best Christmas gift I could have hoped for.

The racing itself was odd, the heat puts such a limiter on the efforts that you can make that it almost entirely dictates the state of play. Guys who I have seen go out of the back of kermesses are driving breaks here. It’s all about water, getting water on you and in you is the only way to beat the temperature. Perhaps it’s something about the air quality, every day I peel off my socks after a ride I realize the fumes have turned my skin grey. The closest analogy I can make is that it feels like racing under a blanket, everything is muted, hot and fuzzy. sometimes you get disorientated and everything feels heavy. you can't ever do an all out effort as recovery is impossible. but the heat was the same for everyone, i just made the mistake of arriving pasty and white. 

Combined with the heat, the fact that I seem to be the tallest living human in Vietnam hasn’t helped my wheel sucking quest, and a case of food poisoning/ heat stroke had me writhing in bed all of Wednesday night as my kind teammates poured ice on my chest and eventually got me to sleep in the shower with the cold water running over me, our hotel’s air con had broke and our room was like an oven. I never really felt right after riding and tried to eat dinner. Later than night dinner and everything I had eaten for days resurfaced until I was totally empty.

After my spectacular vomiting/ sweating performance in Can Tho, the travelling circus transferred to Ho Chi Minh city for a downtown criterium, this was a separate UCI 1.2 ranked event and I decided to take the start line fuelled exclusively by coffee, coke and congee. It turns out that my decision to eat only rice the night before had been a wise one, something on the buffet had not made friends with Martin and Jean Michel’s fragile constitutions and it became pretty clear early on that both weren't feeling good. I tried my best to help Jordan up to the front but then he too started to feel the effects of food kept on paraffin burners for 2 hours while they presented awards. Without anything in my legs or my stomach, I did what I could, followed moves and covered. Team mate Etienne rode aggressively up front and we acquitted ourselves well with Jordan contesting a few of the sprints (the criterium was run as a points race) until his bowels got the better of him. I put in an unspectacular bunch finish and returned to the hotel in order to throw up my piece of toast, and to use the elevator before one of my teammates did likewise in the only confined space that everyone in the race HAD to use in the next hour. We likely didn't make any friends there.

it's been great meeting the other riders in the race as well. a shared water bottle sometimes bridges gaps that international diplomacy has found insurmountable. On the first stage i recieved bananas from the mongolians, water from the iranians and ice from team Hanoi. We've had dinner with the phillipinos and learned how to say hello and thank you in a plethora of Asian languages. Stage racing here seems more friendly, we share the same hotel and the same buffet, we pass bottles back and forth, albeit the local teams do so with a wry smile as my (now departed) beard drips with sweat and my paper-white skins turns lobster red in the heat. Bike racing doesn't allow the same isolation other sports do, especially when you race with the same guys day after day. Our fellow racers have been as much guides as competitors and become friends first and adversaries a distant second, Those members of our team who chose to embrace this racing community have enjoyed their time here much more, and gained more as people than the few who decided that true life experiences are fond, not in the streets of Saigon but on th einternet in hotel rooms. Speaking of new firends and outgoing travellers, we're at the Beach with Dan, a Kiwi who lives in China and is racing for the Mongolian national team, you can check out his adventures @bikedan on twitter, his blog makes for interesting reading.

What has really been the highlight of this trip has been the incredible people here, it is impossible to describe how friendly and happy they are. Everyone runs out of their houses to shout hello as we ride by, laughs as we are repulsed by Durian and smiles as we enjoy their food. They drink delicious iced coffee with sweet condensed milk and watch as we do the same, on one ride the café owner even yielded his hammock (not sure what that says about my appearance) when we stopped mid ride for a much needed cool down. Income per capita here might not be equal to the USA but I dare say smiles per day outstrip most places in the world. people here live well, they eat well and,a s we discovered yesterday, with gentle provocation they can throw a few hoops when the old gangam style comes on. From the schoolchildren cheering our progress to the staff in the hotels to the race marshals (who excel at the aforementioned gangam stylin') nobody we met here has been anything but a shining example of how happy and welcoming their nation can be. 

merry Christmas everybody, I've bought myself a duval as my present to me. good things are brewing for next year and great things have happened this year. i hope you are amongst friends, family or at least surrounded by mince pies. i hope your stocking is fully stuffed tomorrow and that you enjoy giving as much as receiving. I also hope that one day you get to see a 5 foot Vietnamese man wearing sandals masquerading as father Christmas, and a lady nearby butchering the word the lyrics of "feliz navidad/merry christmas" in a way that only someone who speaks not one word of the language they are singing can. 


  1. Sounds like fun. Tell me more about vomiting.

    1. the vomiting was spectacular in both duration, intensity and its visual and auditory range