So, one of the first things I needed to do when I got to Saigon, August 2015, was buy a motorcycle. I read all the forums, got involved in the Facebook groups about where and how and who and the types that were best and which had problems and yadda yadda. What I understood was that I shouldn’t do 2 things:
- Buy from a tourist
- Buy a Honda Wyn
So, like any advice taking person, I promptly found a couple on a Facebook page who had just traveled for 5 months on a Honda Wyn and were selling for the amount of money I wanted to spend. The bike was sleek, ninja-style. Freshly painted and looking a bit supped up, it felt like a really good bad decision. I didn’t really have anyone to check out the bike for me when I went to check it out so, I just went for it. Fuck it. All I could think about as I stared at the bike was “Ninja, like Jackie Chan”.
And it was the perfect POS (piece of shit). It was spray-painted matte black to hide all rust and broken parts. The shitty suspension was left a sparkly white which gave the bike this added sex appeal. It had grippy netting that went over the seat which hurt my butt and made a funny pattern on it when I wore short dresses but looked cool. The whole thing looked like a LA Housewife. From appearances, it was slick AF, but inside it was just held together with string and tape.
So, I moved Jackie Chan into my home. Well, kind of.
See, there are these ramps in Vietnamese homes whereby they bring in their motorbikes every night. Now, the one at my particular home was the bane of my existence living in that awesome household. I literally hated it. It was four steps too high and upon reaching the upper level, there was jammed door that was there to smash your hand on as you drove up into the house.
I drove off the ramp a few times with both scooter and motorcycle, but after busting my taillights (not to mention, myself) several times by doing that, I almost always needed help getting my bike into the house (which sadly had become the side-job of almost any male neighbor in my alley, except for one grandfather who preferred to watch me struggle, over a cup of tea).
Now, at least with a scooter you can manage with the accelerator and brake going up a ramp like that but Jackie? No, Jackie you had to get a running start and push it up the ramp and that was not happening. Thankfully, my landlord would allow me to leave it outside the house for him to bring in at the end of the night.
Unbeknwonst to me, I would also gather a set of calf tattoos or “kisses” as they call them in Asia. I certainly have never had anyone “kiss” me like that before…except for the time I accidentally used Tiger Balm as chapstick…hmm… but I digress.
Now, I’ve had a lot of bad ideas and Jackie ended up being a total and complete piece of shit-bike but I loved every ride, every everything about that bike at the same time. Everything was broken! Which really was a great way to learn about how to change a carburetor, or clean the engine, install a new starter, or change brake cables, and the inner bearings on a tire, and valves, and change brake lights and install a horn and mirrors, haha, I mean, literally everything that could have been broken on Jackie was broken. Jealous, now?!
But main the reason I bought Jackie, was for the sheer reason to learn all about the bike from the inside out. To learn how to change parts and cables, and to know what problems that could happen, universally, to any bike. So, in a way, he was a learning experience in mechanics and well worth the money to me at that point. And personally, I love being covered in bike grease and gas and car shit. Laying out in the alleyway alongside Jackie, trying to figure out the next broken thing, the men of the alley would come and hangout and we would all work on it a bit together. It reminded me of my dad and the good times I had hanging with him, as a kid, while he fixed our household car. Strange smells, dirty hands, grease marks, oil rags, Quality Time and the sweet stench of gasoline.
I bought Jackie Chan for $200 and I spent another $150 on him. And after spending all that money….haha… one of the three bolts to the actual seat was broken! I finally found out the “sparkling white suspension”, I thought I had was actually the one bolt bouncing free with the second ready to blow! So, yes, though I fixed other major things, the fact that I could have flown off that bike at any of those given moments, driving to and fro from the mechanic, added to my love for that shit bike. But what also kills me, is that I must have ridden ol’ JC over to the mechanics a half a dozen times and no one ever bothered to check the seat. I had them rip apart the wheels to check the inner bearing, BOTH of which were no only missing almost all the little ball-thingies in them but were also horribly warped! Jackie was literally death on wheels.
And I did almost fly off that fucking thing a few times. I broke down all over town and multiple times in the middle of those insane scooter traffic jams you see in pictures and I never got hit. Not once. What I did get though were willing and helpful Vietnamese locals who would help restart Jackie. Even after the new starter, the thing still died all the time. The back tire was so skinny I risked wiping out. Driving in the rain? Forget it. Fuel tank had a hole in it covered with a piece of electrical tape!
The one relationship I wasn’t ready for or rather, didn’t know I would enter into was a co-dependent relationship with my helmet. I had to bring this fucker EVERYWHERE! Usually you can buy cheapy helmets that you can hang or attach to your bike but Big Red and I were in it for the long haul.
Anywhere I went, this thing was in my hand; bars, restos, shows, dance venues. It quickly became my insignia; you knew I was around if Big Red was there. It was a nice calling card though it got on my nerves a few times.
All that said, the ways I loved having JC in my life. I never regretted taking him out on a long drive. Not once. I hated getting burnt by the exhaust pipe but every time I looked at my leg I felt nothing but elation that I actually owned my first motorcycle! Fuck everything! Haha. Jackie Chan was the shit and I felt like a fucking gangster riding around on him. The freedom, the speed, the sound of wind whipping through my helmet, the brain on auto-pilot, not thinking, just completely present in the moment. The joy of seeing the faces of my students when I would ride up to the school- Biker teacher.
I got rid of Jackie Chan before I moved to Chiang Mai. I don’t have a motorbike now and I miss it every single day. I bought a bicycle which is a great way to stay in shape and I still get the fresh air buzzing through my system. It’s a nice change to have a bicycle here in Chiang Mai- rather than a motorbike, considering nature is a huge reason I moved here. I’m feeling a bit more connected these days.
I could “could and should” myself under the table with all the things I was supposed to do better or different or whatever, but in the end, I don’t really give a shit. The amount of happiness that bike gave me….. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Stumble gracefully. Love infinitely. Messa up. It’s ok. And remain gangster AF”