I believe in fate. Fate has planned my next big adventure.
It all started one weekend in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Hanoi’s Old Quarter is a Labyrinth. Yes, Labyrinth with a capital L, because it’s exactly like that trippy sci-fi George Lucas movie from the 80’s.
In the film, a girl named Sarah (!) played by Jennifer Connelly (?) finds herself in a labyrinth looking for her brother. Sarah encounters a bunch of obstacles, bad animation, puppets and things like that. Gets lost. She runs into David Bowie a lot, who’s hanging out and wearing a mullet and makeup, as usual. And well, who knows what the hell that movie is about.
But yeah, Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Labyrinth. Point is, you get lost.
Women in conical hats walk hunched over, carrying baskets of pineapples on their shoulders. Shophouses sell everything from custom-made rubber stamps to tombstones. Locals sip coffee streetside, sitting on tiny stools that make you question if the circumference multiplied by the weight of your ass is divisible by the density of the plastic in these seats.
I do not have an answer to that equation. I was on a reconnaissance mission, you see. I had work to do.
I ended up getting lost, as usual.
I found myself wandering into a dusty old second-hand clothing shop. The selection was mostly used military uniforms, Harley Davidson vests, tattered American athletics hats, and some Zippo lighters — an interesting collection of items for sale, and just the kind of place where a 20-something American female wants to get lost.
Because for some time now, I had been searching for just this kind of paraphernalia. I had a friend from Chicago who I met in college at USC. He volunteered in Mongolia, visited the Southeast, and as far as I knew, took off his Chicago Bulls jersey only when necessary during his adventures.
It was inspiring. I needed something of the same. After trying to blend in as best as I could in Southeast Asia, I needed something that would very blatantly, very stereotypically, declare me as not just an American, but one that followed sports teams of the highest regard, or sometimes, saddest.
In that dusty old Vietnamese mom-and-pop second hand shop, I found it.
I don’t mean to sound all New Age-y here, but this was obviously a sign from the universe/fate. On any given Saturday, this sign from the universe would make me think I would need to immediately return to The Ohio State University for a gameday weekend with friends I’ve had for a decade and ice unsuspecting, and sometimes suspecting, strangers, and potentially, local authority.
Nope. The Ohio State Buckeyes hat, found in some back-alley Vietnamese shop, was simply a sign.
A sign that this life is not one of coincidence and happenstance. A sign that what happens to us is part of some larger plan. Connor Shaw (Gamecocks!) and Johnny Manziel now play for the Browns. Coincidence?
So, I thought, fate, the universe, etc. is speaking to me. I should listen. I bought the Ohio State Buckeyes hat for 140,00 dong (roughly $7USD), and left the shop. But I would need to stay on my toes.
I had the weekend off from leading tours. I was staying in some hostel in the aforementioned part of Hanoi’s Old Quarter/Labyrinth, spending the majority of my time accidentally circling the same block, eternally wondering where the hell I was.
“This one, heh,” you’re thinking. “Real smart. Already read about that tattoo.”
But the hostel I was staying at had breakfast included, and this breakfast consisted of many eggs, and I’m a sucker for any place that offers many free eggs.
Each morning, I’d head down to the cubbyhole of a breakfast room they had, and wait around for my many free eggs. I’d scroll through my inbox of spam from United Airlines telling me to use my airline miles to buy more airline miles or some kind of weird scheme like that, maybe check my Facebook newsfeed to see who had gotten married or a mortgage or both, etc. You know, things to pass the time.
One day, I decided to rummage through the library of books in the room. It was mostly a collection of German titles, with two English copies of Fifty Shades of Grey and a Good Housekeeping magazine. An interesting lot of people must stay here, I thought.
That’s when I found the book.
The spine of the paperback was green. In bold black font, the word Ireland stood out.
I scanned the book. “Round Ireland with a Fridge,” a travel quest by British comedian Tony Hawks. The guy took a bet that he couldn’t hitchhike around the circumference of Ireland with a mini fridge within one calendar month.
Now, those who know me, know how I feel about that country across the pond. How I’m drawn to its culture, its people, its beer. As far back as I can remember, the country has had this strange pull on me. Not just a fascination. An obsession. I’m not even Irish.
As Jas, a British mate I had on tour would say, it was “sorted.” Jas used this term to describe anything that was, perhaps, organized or decided or had reached some kind of coherent point where everyone feels like it’s ok to proceed. (More on my adopted British vocabulary words to come.)
I long had dreams of renting a car and traveling the perimeter of this chosen land, but never took it seriously. Because I’ve also dreamed of working at Chipotle, getting a master’s in cartography, learning how to sail, and milking goats for a living in France, but none of those dreams have yet come to fruition (yet).
But fate had already spoken to me.
“Sarah, I’m speaking to you,” Fate said. “I got your attention with the Ohio State hat. Now, let’s get down to business.”
“Let me finish this New York cheesecake first,” I responded. “I spent a lot of dong on it, and it’s DELICIOUS. I think they actually used real Philadelphia Cream Cheese in this one. Real light. Kind of melts in your mouth, too. ”
“Sarah, you’re in Vietnam,” said Fate. “Stop screwing around. We’ve got Ireland to plan.”
“Shit,” I said. “Ok. Sorted.”
And so fate set the stage for my next adventure. There was one problem though. No real adventurer mimics another. I couldn’t go around Ireland with a refrigerator. Especially if it’s been written about and published. So I spent some time thinking about how I’d differentiate myself.
I was traveling at a moderately slow speed for two whole days on a boat along the Mekong River in Laos. What’s a significant enough reason to travel the perimeter of Ireland, I wondered. I voiced this concern to my British “sorted” mate on tour.
“I don’t have any real purpose or premise. I can’t copy Tony Hawks,” I told her. “I’ll hitchhike. Oh that’s not safe? I’ll take public transport. But still…”
“Take Shit!” Jas said.
“Shit, What? O’Connor” is a six-string acoustic I picked up in Ho Chi Minh City in April, 2014. I’d wanted to learn how to play guitar almost as much as I wanted Irish in my blood.
I met Shit when I wandered into a music shop. Eyeing the guitars, I knew it would be a reckless purchase. Even the mini guitars might be a pain in the ass to backpack with. I usually tell my tour groups in our Pre-Departure Meetings, “Listen guys, we’ll be hoisting our luggage over songthaws, stuffing it into tuk-tuk’s, walking through chaotic Chinatowns with it. You need to be able to carry it with you in a dead run. Occasionally, you’ll be spooning it on overnight buses. It needs to be manageable.”
I left the guitar shop with my own ominous words in my head. The guilt of not buying a guitar then stayed with me.
Four weeks later, I returned. This time, I was with Eddy, an older British rocker on my tour. Eddy knew guitars.
“Are you buying a mini guitar because of the convenience or because of the price?” Eddy asked.
“Both,” I said.
“The neck on those mini guitars is way too small. You’ll have a hard time fitting your fingers between frets and on those strings,” he said. Eddy frowned as he reviewed the mini-guitar I had been admiring. The Vietnamese shopowner stared.
Twenty minutes later, I was walking out of the shop with my full-sized acoustic Shit, a pick and a smile.’
My tour group named him “Shit, What?” (and occasionally, “Shit! WHAT?”) after one of my pretty common remarks. His surname, “O’Connor,” came later, during a conversation on an overnight train fueled by Gecko Liquor.
“He’s ‘Shit,'” Jas profoundly declared later. “‘Shit’ for short.”
Shit’s been my sidekick since we’ve met. I can’t play shit on Shit, but I’m trying. I think at the moment, I can very poorly play Take It Easy, a folk anthem, and the intro riff to La Bamba and Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.
But in a pub in Galway, Ireland, who is really going to care whether or not I nailed that chord? Exactly.
And so, Shit will accompany me as we try to entertain our way through “Ireland Perimeter Tour 2014,” as it’s temporarily named.
But the start date? TBD. Just waiting on notification for potential holiday leave from my job. Which is kind of like holiday leave already.
Until then, I welcome suggestions for Ireland Perimeter Tour 2014.