Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Les Miserables (2013)

With the burden of expectation higher than any other screen adaptation of a stage musical, Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) has attempted to marry what until now have been two very different faces of Les Miserables. One, the gritty drama that unfurls from the pages of Victor Hugo’s epic 19th novel and the other, the soaring score of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubli’s musical adaptation. There have been screened versions of Les Miserables, the story, before.  Most notably in the context of this film is the 1998 film starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush as Jean Valjean and Javet respectively. Filmed fifteen years earlier, it is in my opinion a beautifully shot film that captures that epic sprawl across the years of Valjean’s journey to redemption. The wintery landscapes and the poverty stricken Paris of the 19th Century are beautifully rendered and the woefully outnumbered students are decimated with visceral musket and canon fire. The performances are rock solid and not a single note is sung.

Hooper, with Cameron Macintosh along as producer has made a film that visually looks little different but make no mistake, this is the musical version. Where Hooper and Macintosh has strayed off the path and become cinematic pioneers is the unprecedented step of recording the actors singing their parts live with an ear piece linked to nothing more than a rehearsal pianist just off camera. The orchestration is put in afterwards to the rhythm set by the performer. This radical move was to allow the performers the space to give their lines the full emotional weight without worrying about being always on the beat. A bold move.

So, let’s get the ‘who’ out of the way before we return to the ‘what’.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valean: emotionally convincing at every turn if a little out of his depth vocally.

Russell Crowe as Javet: Nothing can prepare you for how bad he is. Every time he opens his mouth it’s like a decrepit tug boat fog horn. His steely introspective interpretation falls flat and there is nothing good you can say about him in this whatsoever.

Anne Hathaway as Fonteine: Nothing short of devastating. Finally I Dreamed A Dream has been snatched back and reclaimed from Susan Boyle in the most heartbreaking and dramatic of fashion.

Sasha Baron- Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenadiers: I’m going to paraphrase a friend of mine performing on Broadway (not in Les Mis) here: “Sacha Baron Cohen needs to go away. Period. Helena Bonham Carter needs to do something other than big hair and goggly eyes”. On paper they should have been great in these roles. They really weren’t.

Samantha Barks as Eponine: proves to perfection why she had the role on the West End, in the 25th Anniversary concert and why she deserved to reprise the role here in the film.

Eddie Redmayne as Marius: In sharp contrast to my screening companion, I really liked him. I thought he sung well and was a very competent student idealist with both anger and love in his heart.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette: Let’s face it, it’s a wimpy nothing role but she hit the notes and looked pretty.

Aaron Tveit as Enjolras: Decent performance as the enigmatic leader of the students if a little on the wimpy side. Only Slightly though.

So, with the celebs and their characters out of the way, it’s time to say did this brave feat actually work? On balance, I’m going to have to go with no.

Cinematically it looks great. The opening sequence with the hundreds of convicts hauling a war ravaged tall ship into a dry dock as they sing and get pounded with waves is spectacular in its vision but a good example of why the film ultimately fails. It’s the music. Or to be more precise, the lack of music. Les Miserables is widely touted as the ‘the musical for people who don’t like musicals’. For those of us who love this show while disliking most other forms of the genre is because the music is big, muscular and just downright epic. Look Down has huge bass notes, robust horns and bass voices chanting in a testosterone fuelled chorus of sweaty convicts. It’s an impressive opening. But here, and sadly in much of the rest of the film, where the music should be loud and bold, it’s toned right down and what should have been a deafening chorus of hundreds of miserable convicts metaphorically and almost literally “standing in their graves” ends up being quite underwhelming musically and vocally.

The same can be said of Master of the House. The jovial syncopation of the beat in this ale house drinking song is where the humour and even warmth of the ghastly Thenadiers comes from. On screen it’s barely there as the actors “act” their lines vaguely to something approximating the song. Which brings me nicely to the unique singy-acty technique pioneered in this film. Hathaway’s use of it in I Dreamed a Dream is the perfect example of it as a brilliant device. She shudders, she pauses, she sobs and sings her guts out. It is nothing short of heart wrenching and shows just how clever a technique the live recording can be. That being said, it doesn’t always work. The aforementioned Master of the House is one of many examples of it. It feels clunky when Jackman does it when he decides to cast off Valjean and open a new chapter in his life, though it does get there by the end of the number. Barks uses the technique sparingly and to good effect in On My Own.

The other thing to mention when talking about the singy-acty thing is that I’m sure most orchestra conductors would take umbrage with the notion that by singing the song, the actors somehow aren’t allowed to ‘act’ and paint a complete emotional picture. There’s a reason the conductor stands on their box so that the orchestra can see them and they can see the actors. They’re not human metronomes.  They conduct around the actor’s performance and let them hold a word longer and speed some up for urgency. Also, it’s not a play, it’s a musical and each song has been carefully designed and crafted to tell a story within a story that has in built rhythms and cadences that unfurl an emotional ebb and flow.

So, does it look good? It mostly looks great but some of the grand sweeping vistas of Paris look like CGI. Are the performances good? For the most part yes but it’s a real mixed bag. If you love the musical should you see it? Probably, but you’ll most likely come way thinking that simply seeing it on stage is better. Will it reinvigorate the franchise? Again, probably. It’s been playing for a long time now and this may pick up sales slightly. The Australia tour this year will no doubt benefit from interest generated by the movie, if for no other reason than seeing it on stage can’t be topped.

For a show that mostly relies on one major set piece and an atmospheric  lighting design, Les Miserables really is all about the music. So it’s baffling then that the might of the orchestra is so sorely missing from most of the mix in this film. Yes, 19th century France is authentically realised in the set and costume design but it was in the 1998 version too. It seems that the two faces of Les Miserables may in fact be mutually exclusive and that if you want Vajean scaling the walls of Paris, grimy cobblestones, scary woods, impressive battle scenes and actors giving well rounded performances to complex characters then go for the Neeson/ Rush Film. If you want the driving percussion, boisterous chord progressions and lets face it, I Dreamed A Dream, then go see the show.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The next Blockbusters...

This is not a wish list, but rather a satirical look at what we might expect to be given the green light in Hollywood over the next 12 months.

Mario Bros: The 90’s one and its Roxette song is pretty much forgotten anyway. Expect mushrooms and coins in full 3D glory.

John Lennon- Zombie Killer: You really bought all that “give peace a chance” stuff? In a zombie apocalypse, happiness truly is a warm gun.

Back To The Future IV: Marty and Jennifer’s kids perfect the Flux Capacitator. Michael J Fox to make a brief cameo as his current aged self. His younger self will be computer generated.

 The Life & Death of Kurt Cobain: Hollywood loves its musician biopics at the moment so this one was inevitable. Watch for Michelle Williams as Courtney Love.

Hallelujah: Yup, another muso biopic of the dreamy Jeff Buckley starring James Franco.

Labyrinth: A classic needlessly remade by Tim Burton with (can you guess?) Johnny Depp replacing Bowie as Jareth. Helena Bonham Carter to play the old lady with the impossible amount of junk of her back.

The Legend of Zelda: Disney. 3D......What? .....That’s it.

A Tale of Two Cities: Frock dramas are still in vogue and Mr Nolan showed how topical this classic piece of literature is in today’s socio-economic climate. Expect names like Fassbender, Knightley, Jackman and Hathaway.

The Big ‘W’: The Coens do a suitably offbeat remake of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World complete with modern soundtrack, blood and manic car chases.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Bourne Legacy reviewed

When I first heard about this film I let out a dejected sigh of despair at the endlessly frustrating trend in Hollywood to green light films that for the most part are remakes/ reboots/ sequels/ prequels of existing franchises. The major studios are only prepared to spend money on something that already has what the industry calls a ready-made market. And so, we get another Bourne film. Didn’t the Jason Bourne storyline finish? He found out the answer to his burning question didn’t he? He became who he was because he willingly joined the top secret CIA program.

Then we find out that this film is not about Bourne, Matt Damon isn’t even in it. It takes place at the same time as many of the events in the last couple of Bourne films but this story focuses another rogue operative in a similar program to the one Bourne was on the run from/ trying to find out about. The premise here then, is that Bourne was just the “tip of the iceberg”. Sure. That makes sense. But can this premise translate into a convincing film that fits into the existing and highly successful franchise?

The answer is, yes it can. This could have been a desperate rehash of old material, an attempt to squeeze the last drops out of a concluded story arch, not to mention box office cash. Instead what we get is a smart thriller that cleverly weaves a new story arch into the old one of the CIA in full damage control mode as they try to shut down all their top secret programs involving highly trained and biologically altered intelligence operatives before the whole thing blows up in their faces.

Director Tony Gilroy wrote the first three films and became the logical man to replace Paul Greengrass at the helm. Taking over leading man duties is Jeremy Renner. I have to state that even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first film, liked the second and was bored by the third, I just don’t like Matt Damon. There’s just something about his whole presence on screen that really grates me. So even though, I was initially sceptical about yet another Bourne film, I was simultaneously intrigued to see whether or not Renner had the requisite charisma to carry the film. I think he does. He’s not a conventionally ‘pretty’ young man doing his best to look tough on screen like the woeful Channing Tatum or the ‘wooden’ -is-an-insult-to-trees, Chris Hemmsworth. Rather Renner is a man with lines on his face, acne scars and a twinkle in his green eyes that sells a man of both mental and physical agility, capable of leaping across roofs and racing motorbikes through the chaos of sweaty Bangkok.  

Also helping to ground the film with an emotional believability is biochemist on the run Rachel Weis who is my opinion, can rarely put a foot wrong. Nor for that matter can Edward Norton so you know the backing cast are going to pull their weight. Cameos and existing footage from the previous films sell the fact that we’re still very much in the Bourne universe as do the global locations and a shooting style almost a perfect replication of the work done by Oliver Wood in the other three films.

The Bourne Legacy contains all the elements loved by fans of the previous films including great action sequences, beautifully shot locations around the world, trip wire taught dialogue and a great score. Renner and Weis have a chemistry on screen which sustains the required amount of empathy from the audience. Renner also has a confidence more akin to Daniel Craig’s macho bravado as Bond that steers him clear of the whinny introspection that Damon’s Bourne at times descended into.

If you liked the last films, you will not be disappointed with this instalment and if like me, will eagerly anticipate another Renner instalment as you watch the trademark long camera pan away of the last shot to the familiar strings that begin the Bourne credits theme.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Luang Prabang

Its day 5 in Luang Prabang so I guess we must like it here. As mentioned in the last post, we arrived at the airport having researched what we thought would be a fair price to the city, determined not to get ripped off again and braced for a fight with the hundreds of seedy taxi drivers we had become used to haggling with. With bags collected what greeted us instead was a sunny afternoon in a picturesque valley, hardly anyone around, a counter with smiling staff where you paid a set price for a taxi ticket (approx $5.60AUD) and a bunch of friendly mini-van drivers casually helping luggage into the boot and inquiring as to your exact address. We look at each other in tired astonishment and said “well, this is civilised!
While this town is undoubtedly set up for the tourist trade, somehow the tourists have not spoilt it yet and I hope they never do. The people here are friendly, have enormous smiles and are rather fond of singing when they think you’re not looking. Several times now I have heard snatches of song from women cooking, massage therapists and children playing. Oh yes, the children actually play here and are not walking the streets day and night trying to sell crap and begging with the heartbreaking hard looks in their eyes that we observed all over Vietnam, or Vietscam as a friend has taken to calling it.
LP is a town of many temples, several of them adorned in beautifully ornate golden paint with easily a hundred statues of the Buddha in the central worshipping area. There is also a fabulous night market here with clothing, textiles, jewellery, hand crafts and the like of far superior quality than anything we saw in Vietnam and amazingly, no one insisting that you buy. Yes, they call out to you to have a look at their wares as you pass but it it’s in such a quiet way, you instantly feel more  compelled to look through and we have both had to be quiet self disciplined as our bohemian selves want at least one of everything from most stalls. We were lucky enough to be here on the last 2 nights of an annual international film festival so we happily drank Lao Beer and snacked on street food as we sat outdoors and watched quite an enjoyable Thai pre-pubescent rom-com. It was kind of like ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ in a rural Thai village.
I’d been feeling slightly off colour without being able to put my finger on the problem except for a general lack of energy since the evening of day 2 which resulted in a fair bit of indecisiveness regarding our next move. We eventually settled on a 2 day trek/overnight home stay in a village/ elephant riding/ kayaking combination and set off on day 4. The trek with just Felicity and our guide was a fair struggle for me as I increasingly felt worse and tried to vomit several times up the mountain but with no success. My appetite had deserted me at lunch in a small village where Felicity showed photos of her dog and family to the extraordinarily shy villagers as their puppies rolled around in the dust and chased chickens. Again, this was such a contrast to the village trekking we did in Vietnam where the locals dress in contrived ‘traditional’ clothing (beautiful as it is) and walk many, many miles with you and then demand that you buy their “hand made” goods and get quite aggro when you don’t. The villagers here in Laos had some cushion covers and bracelets set up at the lunch stop but the oldest lady only asked once gently if we wanted to buy anything and Felicity immediately felt much more inclined to make a purchase.
By the time we got to the village we would be sleeping at in the late afternoon, I was not coping and my body went into shock. I sat on the steps of our timber hut but promptly moved over to the dirt as every muscle stared to spasm, my lips tingled and my words started to sound odd as my tongue started to swell. Lying in the dirt, not being able to talk properly with my hands and calf muscles cramping uncontrollably is not a pleasant experience. This eventually settled down and I was able to sleep, something I’d been desperately craving all day, as Flic and the guide discussed my possible evacuation via a tractor, boat and then car back to Luang Prabang. I was woken 45 mins later as if we had to leave, then we need to do it now while there was enough daylight. I stood up walked to the doorway, steadied myself and then out of nowhere I was sent to my knees as the most forceful vomit I have ever had erupted from my mouth and all over the timber floor of our shack. It was the most embarrassed and wretched I had ever felt as I made such a mess of the floor and myself, unable to move or offer the sincerest apology I desperately wanted mumble. I wanted them to know it was not from excess of alcohol!
After Felicity dutifully and without fuss cleaned me and the shack up, I was bunddled into a wooden cart being towed by a tractor. I say a tractor but it was more like a lawn mower with big arms, an axle and two medium sized wheels. I tried to get Flic to stay but was in no state to argue and as I would never leave her, I knew it was an argument I wasn’t going to win. The villagers were so gracious at cleaning me up and transporting us one hour over bumpy dirt tracks to the river where we then boarded a motor propelled canoe to the elephant camp we had been to earlier and then a mini bus back to town.
Suffice to say I am better now and day 5 has been spent sleeping and recovering my strength. We’ll see if we go back to do the second half of our adventure tomorrow. Well I hope you didn’t read that over lunch and that you’re now not put off reading this blog again. I promise that will be the last vomit story! Then again, the next blog will most likely be from town of Gomora that is Van Vien. Everything we have heard about it paints it as a Buddhist sin city with beautiful mountains hemming it in, graceful monks passing on the street and hundreds of drunk British twats vomiting everywhere. I should fit right in.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Commies, Cat Fights and Catharsis.

Once again I’ve been shocking at keeping this up to date. Since the last post we have travelled the rest of the way up Vietnam taking in the monument to the atrocities committed at Son My (commonly referred to by the nearby hamlet of My Lai), the beautiful French colonial town of Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay and finally the hill tribes around far northern Sapa.
The monument at Son My to the massacres perpetrated by the American GI’s in the rural hamlets was sobering as expected. What was a surprise was the prominence given to the American helicopter pilot Thomson who clashed with Lt. Calley and landed his chopper in between fleeing villages and the advancing GI’s, ordering his gunner to open fire on his countrymen if they started firing on the villages. It was a story of such bravery that if I had known, I had forgotten about. He suffered persecution and ridicule for most of the remainder of his life and died an alcoholic. Thankfully his compassion and true heroism was recognised before his death.
Further up the coast, Hoi An by night has a magical quality that only French architects and expert lantern makers can produce. It’s truly enchanting and the 4000 D beer makes you think you’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s true, the tailors are out of control and so many people leave having spent a lot more than they ever intended. As we’re relocating to London we had budgeted two heavy winter coats and we weren’t disappointed. Unfortunately, we got sucked into the idea that we also needed winter boots and they turned out not so good. In fact they were dreadful, we got ripped off, shouted at, spat at and the last night ended on a very aggressive and sour note indeed. As I don’t wish to dwell on it, I shall move right along to....
Sleeper trains! I love them! There is simply no better way to avoid paying for a hotel overnight than to be gently rocked to sleep by a train as you travel 16 hours up the country.
I won’t go on about Hanoi too much except to say that there is some fascinating architecture, millions of beeping horns, people trying to sell you stuff at every step and the embalmed communist hero, Ho Cho Minh himself. Having been to the impressive yet grammatically confusing Museum of Revolution and slowly put together the pieces of Vietnams long struggle with a multitude of aggressors, it was quite moving to see this most revered man in the flesh. Mind you, he would have been horrified at the enormous mausoleum that he now resides in. He wanted to be cremated but I guess a fragile state needed it’s hero that the people could come and pay tribute to. The idea of a single man as a symbol and what he stands for becomes more important than his own wishes for a humble cremation.
From Hanoi we made for Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island where we had a brilliant day kayaking and rock climbing around the stunning little islands and coves of Halong Bay. The weather was overcast and rainy but it was still a lot of fun. Back in Hanoi, we met up with Evan and Michael from The Lion King and had an ace time with them. Koto (in brief, a Vietnamese Jamie’s Oliver’s FIFTEEN) provided our most glutinous meal with three courses, coffee and wine costing only $15USD each. The duck on a bed of potato and mushroom cake with mango chutney was mind numbingly good! By this stage hawker fatigue and the latent aggression of most of the people we encountered had taken its toll and we went to Vietnam airlines to bring our flight to Laos forward with the intention of skipping  Sapa and doing a similar trekking experience in Laos. Fortunately for us, this wasn’t possible and we went to Sapa as planned with Evan and Michael and had what was probably the highlight of our trip.
Yes, we couldn’t escape the constant demand that we part with our money for worthless trinkets and yes, the costumes the hill tribe people wear are just for show but still, the mountains were stunning and we had the best time. Our 17 yr old guide was an absolute sweetie and incredibly fit! Our legs got a real work out as we traversed impossibly steep rice terraces and meandered among the clouds, marvelling at the misty green mountains surrounding us. On the second day, we joined with 3 others as our guide joined forces with her cousin, another trekking guide. That night we had a beautiful home cooked meal and played a local card game akin to Snap where the looser had to have a shot of rice wine. It was a night of great hilarity as we got steadily more and more drunk with our old friends (you are pretty old Ev), new Canadian and Australian friends and our two brilliant guides. My hangover the next day was of a force 10 magnitude and involved the great Aussie tradition of a good technicolour yawn among the chickens.
Time to farewell Michael and Evan who have both been magnificent friends over the year and whose friendship we will make sure survives international borders and distances. Time also to farewell Vietnam. It truly was the good, the bad and the ugly and everything in between. Vietnam really is a fascinating place and there is nothing relaxed about it. It’s heady, full throttle (literally...just try crossing the road!) and is still recovering from years and years at war. Hardship is etched on the faces of those that live there from the old ladies carrying impossible loads on their shoulders, scratching a living off the city streets to the men ploughing fields with water buffalo. We met some beautiful souls who were kind and open to meeting total strangers but in all honesty, they were the exception to the masses.
We caught an overnight train from near Sapa back to Hanoi, chatted with a terrific French couple in their middle years with broken English and a little broken French (thank you CZ!) and then headed straight to the airport for a one hour flight to Luanag Prabang in Laos. Having not slept on the train, arrived at the airport at 6am, plane delayed by 2hours, we were crying tired and could have greeted Laos with grumpiness and suspicion had we arrived to the accustomed greediness and haggling of taxis at the airport. The difference one hour into another country can make! Laos is an absolute dream and the perfect antidote to the beep-beep, you buy! You buy! of Vietnam.
More on the beautiful, languid lifestyle of Luang Prabang shortly.....

Friday, November 18, 2011

Part II

After recovering from the shock of Felicity’s accident, we got back on the bikes and headed to the beach road where we would only have to make a couple of turns before being on the road out of town towards the waterfalls. It still hadn’t dawned on us that this place was bigger than we thought, had WAY more traffic than we thought and that the trip out there wasn’t going to be along some pleasant country road. We slowly and carefully made our way through the city and out onto the highway where the shoulders are wide enough to ride a bike on without directly being in the right hand lane. This however doesn’t account for people riding both push bikes and motorbikes the wrong towards you down this shoulder!
The scenery was beautiful. Lush hills rising gently to the left and rural dwellings, rice fields and a beautiful temple to the right. We were in a groove and feeling relatively comfortable now. The sun was warm on our arms and it’s just a thoroughly visceral way of travelling and experiencing a landscape at the same time. My speedometer and odometer weren’t working so having not seen a sign to the waterfalls so far, I was hoping Flic would have an idea of how far we had travelled. After about an hour Flic signalled that we were pulling over at small stop offering refreshments. This was little more than a tin shed with plastic tables and chairs, drinks and a TV playing on the back shelf. Through broken bits of English and Vietnamese were we able to ascertain that we needed to go a kilometre or so back in the direction we had come.
We found the turn off and then found ourselves blessedly free of the highway and onto a tiny country lane with rural shacks on either side, giggling children, cows and chickens by the roadside and the odd bike or two moving from house to house. Part of the dirt road was quite flooded and I tried to think back to how Ewan and Charlie dealt with these conditions in the Long Way Round. Flic was moving quite slowly through them and I pointed out that the water and mud wasn’t deep and that it was better to give the bike a few more revs. This seemed to do the trick once I had already come off gently because I’d come up too quickly behind her.
This quieter, country road was such a relief from the highway and a lovely way to take in the clean air and the faces that greeted us as we meandered past. We parked our bikes at a shelter where the trek on foot to the waterfalls begun.  It was so quiet and tranquil walking through the jungle with the noise of the water beckoning us from down the path. They weren’t so much waterfalls as a river cascading and bubbling over a series of giant boulders crating little rapids, pools and streams. In attempting to cross, Flic fell in up to her knees to which helpfully, I couldn’t resist laughing. She changed into some spare shorts she had and I offered to take her jeans and socks back to the last remaining patching of sunlight further back. On the return trip I discovered what I was convinced was an easier crossing point but judging the leap across incorrectly I endeed up in the rapids up to me waist. With both of us now wet, there was nothing to do but laugh, take photos and just chill out for a bit in the surrounds of lush and tranquil jungle with nothing but the noises of the river and the birds.
I was anxious to get moving back home in order to arrive back in daylight and to avoid any peak hour traffic. We achieved neither. The trip back home along the highway was nerve wracking as buses overtook buses who were overtaking buses and if you weren’t looking far enough ahead, you could quickly end up with two or three trucks or buses all moving towards you across the road with other motorbikes trying to overtake you as well. It was on a climb up a hill that the second accident of the day happened.
A guy on a motorbike with a girl on the back overtook myself and then Felicity but then swerved in and out erratically in front of before for some reason slamming his brakes on. Flic broke hard, lost control and came skidding off. Again, I quickly pulled off as far out of the path on the traffic as I could and looked to make sure she was ok. She was on her bum, throwing her helmet to the ground and screaming “What the fuck?!?!?” I saw that her jeans were torn at the knee and that she now had a decent graze on the other elbow to match her earlier one. I looked up to see the offending motorcyclist who had stopped and was looking back at us. “What the fuck is with people driving in this fucking country?!” Fic exclaimed. Her knee didn’t look to bad, just more grazes. Sore, no doubt but no serious injury. I looked up again and more motorcyclists had stopped to see if we were ok but the dickhead who had caused the accident had sped off. Seeing that she wasn’t badly injured, the anger in her eyes and the tall guy with sunglasses on and a bandanna over his face probably prompted him to get the fuck out of there. Just as well for him for having made sure Flic was ok, I was ready to put my fist through his face.
Having moved the bikes further out of harms way and retrieved her side mirror from the middle of the road, I then unpacked the antiseptic wipes and band aids from my backpack. I hadn’t looked closely but the ones I bought in Singapore are 70% pure alcohol and mostly used for cleaning an area before an injection. On open wounds, they burn like hellfire and poor Felicity was in tears and screaming as we tried to clean her up. With the sun setting and the traffic heavy, I was even more anxious to get back home. When we were ready, we got back on and rode into town as slowly as we could without causing further accidents by being too slow. The truck and bus drivers coming towards need to be seen to be believed and if we weren’t so intent on keeping our already tired and now aching bodies on the road, would have hurled abuse at them for sure.
Riding back through town as it became dark was so nerve wracking. I took the lead this time as even though I preferred to have Flic in front of me where I could see her than loosing her in my mirror behind me, it hadn’t worked out well so far so I went first. The traffic was thick and fast with riders weaving in and out constantly and even guys walking out into the traffic to spruik cheap drinks at their bars. I don’t know if one of them actually caught my “Get off the fucking road!” but I dout it would have made a  difference. Miraculously we made it back to the quieter side street where we rented the bikes from and handed them the side mirror which I couldn’t get back on and retreated home. Later the bike hire operators turned up at our backpackers with a list of damages to Flic’s bike. Tired and exhausted, we promptly gave them the cash they needed for repairs (bugger all in $AUD) and then headed into town for some dinner. Incredible clay pot ginger chicken and seafood dishes and several Saigon lagers later, we were laughing and giving silent thanks that we were alive and well. Poor Felicity has some horrible grazes but every time she got up and knew that she had to get back on the bike. Today, she was my hero. She is one tough little bugger and though she hurts and understandably broke down once we got home she remains one of the toughest women I have had the pleasure to meet and one with whom I want to continue to have many many great adventures with. And she wants to keep riding!
We have however, decided that we are not doing any more biking in populated areas, just quiet country roads! Seriously, it’s just insane here. This morning we encountered some young Dutch kids about to set off on bikes who clearly had no idea what they were doing and were in shorts and singlets. We implored them to be careful and to go home to at least put some jeans on. One look at Flic’s arms and legs seemed to convince them of this as we saw them conferencing and pointing at us as we walked away. Biking is great fun but fuck, not in this traffic!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blood, sweat and tears....no seriously! Part 1.

A beautiful sunny Vietnam morning greeted us as we left our room clad in jeans, boots and with our own motorbike helmets under our arms as we heading into town to have breakfast and hire bikes. With the desire to do a fair bit of biking on this trip, we decided to buy our own decent helmets that fit as most people around here drive like crazy and with little more than bicycle helmets on their heads. About 20kms out of town are some waterfalls and a temple that we wanted to see so we had our mission.
Having only spent one night here, my impression of this town was that it was something akin to Anglesea with some light traffic. Mistake #1. Little more than 15mins on our bikes and disaster struck. Motorbikes are not hard to ride but when you’re driving on the opposite side of the road to what you’re used to and there are really no road rules that anyone obeys, things can very easily go wrong. Flic was heading towards in intersection with her indicator on and I called out to keep going as we had a green light and I thought she was heading the wrong way. She paused in the intersection, changed direction and an old lady carrying a basket of noodles ran the red light. I watched with horror as in slow motion (it actually does appear this way) they collided in the intersection and Flic was thrown off. “SHIT!!!!!! SHIT! SHIT!”
I quickly made my way around and got my bike up onto the curb. I turned to see that Flic and the lady were both thankfully on their feet. Right. Make the scene safe. Flic was in tears, bleeding from her arm and wanting to know if the other lady was ok. Myself and another bystander got the bikes off the road and onto the footpath. Having ascertained that Flic’s injuries were only superficial it was then time to treat the wound while trying to make sense of the scene and convey to this woman that we would fix her bike, which had ruptured the fuel tank and that we would compensate her for the noodles which seemed her primary concern.  By this point many kind folk had either walked over or got off their own bikes to help. Imagine the scene. One shell shocked Aussie with a severely grazed elbow, the other with adrenaline pumping flat chat, and a dozen Vietnamese talking loudly and quickly in their own language. The wonderfully helpful and friendly locals helped us to more than adequately compensate her for the noodles (around $ 2.50 AUS!!!) and negotiate with the mechanic across the road to fix her bike for around $70AUS. The locals were wonderful in A) treating Felicity (some guy just appeared with antiseptic) and B) making sure that we paid a fair price but weren’t ripped off ourselves. The old ladies were lovely in comforting Flic as she was quite upset at having disrupted this lady’s form of income.
I took both the bikes the 2 blocks back to our residence and we then walked home for further cleaning, a can of coke to sooth the nerves and to calm down a bit. I had thought that this would be the end of Felicity’s turn on a  motorcycle, at least for today but after a while heroically she wanted to continue on with our day.
This post is too long now but this was not the end of our misadventures today, and nor was it the last motorbike accident.
To be continued.....
* For parents reading this, we are both fine. Really.