Concerning the journey to
northern Vietnam to track down
the map hidden at an old
Hanoi, Vietnam, February 2002
was agreed that D'Aqs should accompany Hellmantle on his tour of northern
Vietnam, officially as a safeguard so that Hellmantle didn't hurt himself more
than anything, but D'Aqs' father saw how the motorcycling had improved his
health so he was happy to underwrite his trip to Hanoi. D'Aqs was both keen to
hang out with his cousin so he would learn more about is own history and also
so he could taste that unbounded freedom again on his motorcycle.
Hellmantle, who arrived a day earlier than D'Aqs, it wasn't the two-hour wait
to get through customs that caught his attention or the ridiculous number of
airport employees who stood around in their Heineken-bottle green uniforms
smoking, it was the awesome stretch of rice paddies in the countryside that
spread out to the horizon with no other discernable roads running perpendicular
to the highway. He was immediately aware that something was missing in the
outskirts of Hanoi: the utter lack of everything except peasants working in the
fields wearing the classic Vietnamese sun-blocking headgear. There was only one
main paved road for miles around. To deviate from the road was to walk or
motorcycle along a narrow paths elevated between rice fields. With no stores or
gas stations or anything else beside the road except for the odd vertically
built house or one-story brick shack, there were only fields. Very few cars,
the main roads were dominated by motorcycles four-to-one.
Morning mist rose in wafts
above rice fields kissing the horizon right to the outskirts Hanoi. An old
French Legionnaire citadel symbolized the entry into the old French quarter, a
mixture of French colonial architecture and sprawling squatter huts on the
sidewalks. The old quarter was overgrown by vegetation, yellow walls of les
Francaise colon barely visible, people speaking French, residue of a past
era. Cyclists and motorcyclists wearing brown and blue communist garb, some
sporting pithe helmets and kepis. Some walked with daily wares balanced over their
shoulders on a wooden stick.
Three items Hellmantle
needed were acquired in the French Quarter: a motorcycle, a UN map and a rock
hammer. He planned to meet D'Aqs at the Continental Hotel, the place in the old
quarter where the bomb scare caused havoc back in 1954. He spent the extra five
bucks to stay in a room with some history: the big room at the front with
overhanging balcony and high ceilings. It felt like Graham Greene himself had
stayed in this room. It epitomized the les Francaise colon motif
of Hanoi, which was basically the epicenter of French colonialism in Indochina.
He was to meet D'Aqs in the lounge in the hotel at 8:00pm.
He first tracked down Café
des Artistes, the place where the Great Dane had met Leo Vande
Winkle almost fifty years ago, but the prices were Hong Kong prices so he found
a cozy place called Kaiser Kaffee. There were many Germans all speaking
loudly to each other from table to table, laughing, so he chose to have lunch
here because of an improvable notion Germans won't eat poor quality food so his
Hepatitis concern was kept at bay.
After some eggs, Hellmantle
spent hours walking all over the city in awe of the colossal colonial effort by
the French built during an epoch now known only through the distinct French
panache for ornate structures embodying style and pride. As per his custom to
explore at all costs, Hellmantle found himself stopping at many cafés to Halida
Export to cool down, with an elephant on the label. The beer gave way to
urgency to find a motorcycle, which he found through the hotel manager named Dung
Kok by his fellow employees.
Despite his unfortunate
name, and the nickname that Hellmantle gave him, Small Kok, he proved
worthy phoning a friend who came by on a Vietnamese motorbike. Hellmantle was
furnished with maps, a full tank of gas and more beer. Without a sleep the
previous night, gravity weighed down as he mounted his motorbike for a trip
around town. He cruised crowded city streets to test the bike and adapt to
The streets embodied
lawlessness and speed, and Hellmantle quickly learned the greatest danger,
other than a head-on collision, was to put his feet down when stopped at
intersections. There sheer number of motorcycles so close together exposed him
to a wheel clipping his heel to send his Achilles tendon twanging up his leg to
his kneecap. Even an experienced motorcyclist like him it took muster to adapt
to the rules riding the streets of Hanoi, especially during the annual Tet
a doubt motorcycles were the most effective transportation utensil in
Vietnam. At roundabouts they weaved by each other requiring quick skill in
rapid succession. Swept by the Hanoi flow when he saw two guys on bright
white 150cc scooters wearing black suits, black hats and sunglasses, he
followed them to kill a few hours before D'Aqs arrived. Not knowing where he
was going, the two black-clad riders took riding seriously so he tagged behind
them to get his riding legs. They rode side-by-side in the slow part of the
fast lane at exactly the speed of the flow. After five minutes he realized they
were the flow. Their constant speed without stopping defined the
flow. All others were either going too slow or too fast.
For miles Hellmantle kept
the Vietnamese Blues Brothers in his sights, adjusting so he rode with
the flow. Balanced with constant speed they didn't swerve or yield because
other motorcyclists revolved around them. Riding the Hanoi Flow enabled
the adventurer from Normandy to explore the terrain. Surrounded by motorcycles
of similar models riders carried momentum around corners and roundabouts with
grace by reading movements of others. He followed the scooters until they
parked at a store so he stopped. When they sat at a table for tea, Hellmantle
mild panic realizing he left his compass in Hong Kong. In touch with the flow
he was also lost, though he termed it momentarily displaced. Rice
paddies behind the stores, he slipped it into neutral and let the flow go by
without his bearings. An awful feeling being displaced in a strange city with
no common language and no idea where you were, but also a thrill and challenge.
Even his map didn't help because he had no reference point. He tried to find a
store that sold compasses.
Leaving the two flow-masters
to their tea, he searched in vain for a store selling compasses, not an item
sold out in the sticks. The sky darkening with no discernable sun for
reference, he needed to be careful not to go south when he should go north.
Finding the word for compass in his book he stopped a woman walking on
said. "Lo ban?" She shrugged her shoulders. "Hanoi?" She pointed towards
a big river he had just passed. Thanking her, he rode through the non-French
part of Hanoi, not prepared for the high number of elderly who had been wounded
during the Vietnam War. Some with a dead leg or missing limb or had facial
scars, he feel hostility from them. Instead he saw a quiet dignity with proud
posture, wearing their wounds with noble bearing, feeling compassion and
respect for these white-haired soldiers. The French, Americans and even
Canadians fought on this soil after World War Two. Hellmantle thought of the
irony that Americans had funded the communists during the Japanese occupation
during World War Two, the same insurgents who defeated the French and the Great
Dane at Dien Bien Phu, and then Americans during their effort to
snuff out communism in Vietnam. So much in world history was cloaked with
the sidewalk looking for a compass he approached and old man and smiled: the
international language of the good-hearted. Sporting a classic long goatee in
the Ho Chi Ming-Uncle Ho tradition, he grabbed his white beard and
pointed at Hellmantle's Viking mantel. Both stroking their beards, smiling and
nodding at each other, the old man held out his hand and drew "83" on his palm
with his finger.
"You are 83?" he said,
forgetting for a moment that there was little-to-no English spoken in northern
Vietnam. The old man wrote ‘83' on his hand again and then said something in
Vietnamese. Hellmantle then wrote ‘83' on his hand and pointed at the old man.
His face creased up in a smile and reached out to shake Hellmantle's hand.
ban?" Hellmantle asked him, pointing to a store.
ban? Oui." He gestured to a store that sold compasses. Hellmantle
nodded and then found one that was plastic but appeared to work. Outside, he
thanked the old man and rode due east on his motorcycle on his way towards Hoan
Kiem Lake - the heart of old Hanoi where he found St Joseph's Cathedral.
There was a full service in progress packed to the limit with Christians
sitting on the wooden pews. The plain square towers and eroded white paint
revealed its 116 years of life. It appeared as if not a thing in the church had
been changed except for the fact that it had been stripped of its riches, as
per the custom of communist states overtaking lavish churches in the Far East.
In front of the overhanging hardwood balcony and paintings depicting the
crucifixion, the altar was massive and the stained-glass windows were striking.
Standing on the front steps
of the church looking out to Hanoi, Hellmantle could see that this was the
old church of French Indochina in the pearl of French colonialism. For
Hellmantle it was the Old Quarter - the Cite Indigene - that captured
his attention. It was full of classic architectural masterpieces from the
French colonial era. Streets were lined with embassies and government buildings
and parks and well-planted trees - everything you would expect from a proud and
rich French colonial government. It was testament to an awesome display of
power. But more, for his purposes, it had the makings of a motorcyclist
paradise. There were no potholes and the Vietnamese were very savvy on two
While back in the lounge in
the Continental Hotel waiting for D'Aqs, he thought about his cousin.
Hellmantleknew he was resistant to the labyrinth of facts and conflicting
theories of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, so he will need to field more
questions by his missionary cousin. He felt guilty at his outburst accusing
D'Aqs of not being savvy when it came to his family history and the Blonde
Acquitaine, so he decided that he needed to do penance It wasn't D'Aqs'
fault for being ignorant of these subtleties of Christian history since he
chose to endorse the dogma of Christianity. It was his duty not to argue with
D'Aqs or to attack his character, but rather to enlighten him as to this hidden
Then he spotted his cousin
D'Aqs enter. His eye caught the odd rhythm of his loping gait. It was the
family's loping gait gene manifest in his cousin.
"D'Aqs! How are you mon
ami?" D'Aqs looked like a new man. Well-rested and stronger rather than the
wisp he had been when they first met at his uncles.
"Good to see you Mantlepiece!"
He loved to hear his old nickname from school, the first time D'Aqs had called
him that. He was genuinely happy to see his cousin, but something about that
scared him. It was always easier to be alone.
"I could tell it was you
from your loping gait. It's unmistakable."
"I don't have a loping
"There is a certain slow
motion and consequential grace that is both accidental and effortless
indigenous to the Hellmantle clan. It's so nonchalant that it's as if all
Hellmantles walk on our toes, leaning back yet drawn forward by some secret
force. You can't tell me that you've never been told that you have a unique
"I have been told
that, yes, but never a loping gait. No doubt you walk like that too."
do, and am very proud. You look different, maybe less like a frail missionery
and more like a motorcyclist."
that a good thing?"
step in the right direction. One could say there are different forms of being a
they? Such as?"
what we're doing, except instead of going out and preaching with words,
we're going out and getting that which we can then preach to the peoples
of the earth."
a doubt, you have a unusual take on things," he said, showing some spark.
is the best thing you have ever said to me." Deep penetrating eyes,
possessed by something Holy driving him.
I try my best."
"The motorcycling looks good
here. Make sure you get a decent bike for what we have to do. Chain, clutch,
gears, alignment; you know, the usual."
already been out riding?"
Big Ball, you know me well enough to know it is against my nature to
wait around and waste time. This is my bike here." D'Aqs followed him outside
and watched him start it, a clunky motorcycle that had a Harley Davidson
cadence to the engine. Hellmantle had a mini-routine the way he always started
his motorcycle. He sat on the bike first, then pulled the clutch and ensured it
was in neutral, release the clutch, turn the switch on, balance the bike under
him with both hands on the handbars and then press the button. His life, which
was anything but routine, was full of mini-routines.
does that say?" The name of the motorcycle was half hidden by his leg.
puppy is a Moc Chau. Sounds Chinese but it's Russian made."
powerful is it?"
"You mean how many
horses? It has a hundred and fifty horses, but these babies should do the
trick." He turned off the engine. "Here," he said, "I've just bought some UN
maps. Let's go in and check'em out." He spread them on the table as D'Aqs
looked at the drink menu, but Hellmantle ignored the map.
wanted to ask you, how did you know about Barnes being shot down?"
"I get the Alumni News every
few months. It's full of updates on people's lives and obituaries. The school
has changed a lot since we were there."
"It's co-ed now, isn't it?"
are now half the student populace."
could subscribe if you want. It's free but they do ask for donations."
I left without graduating."
know, but I don't think it matters." He thought about it.
think of those years a lot. We all knew those years would end but we never
talked about the end. And you know what the most important thing was to survive
the dorms?" D'Aqs took the question seriously.
mattered most was that you never narked on someone."
That was the golden rule. But when I think about thosse days I keep thinking of
what happened to Lunny."
mean at the end of the year?"
when he spazzed." Lunny had been the leader of the dorm but when Hellmantle and
Rhein gained power through their daring pranks and mischief, a power struggle
ensued, only reaching a breaking point when Chris Lunny reached his tipping
poiunt and lost his cool.
certainly did spazz. Wow, I haven't thought of him for a long time."
to me, was the most important thing: not to spazz. Because we all hazed each
other to reach that point. It was if it was a test of character. You could
stand up and fight but you could lose your temper. That was the code."
and Rhein never spazzed, but it was your confidence in never getting caught
that earned respect. Do you remember when Rhein crawled in the dumbwaiter and
went down a few floors to the kitchen and then came back up? You were going to
go next but Marc Hogan insisted so he went and was caught. Tottenham really
made an example of Hogan for that. You know he ended up failing that year?"
was a natural. It was him who had the gift, not me. Funny, the last thing he
said to me on the ski slope was that I was the one who had the gift, that I was
the one selected to bring destiny to its rightful place. Even when he was dying
he had the guts to say that." D'Aqs, careful and softly.
looked up to him?"
always did. He had this capacity to do things that boggled my mind."
was a great hockey player."
what people said. He was an exceptional athlete but that was only a smidgen of
his greatness. Some times I really get sad thinking of the thousands of miles
I've ridden alone knowing he would've been right beside me laughing and trying
to push me off the road. It tears me apart." He pulled out a cigarette. "His
face was so pale when he was lying there. And his eyes were so scared. I wanted
to hug him. I wanted to take away all that fear. I wonder how he felt when he
died the next day. Damn it! I wish I was there! I had some stupid test that day
I couldn't miss. Fricken Grandfield! Damn it! I should have been there
with him. Just there, you know? I've never forgiven myself for that. He needed
me there." He drank.
you ever thought that the death of a twin is harder on the surviving twin? It
must have difficult for him to know he was dying and that it would have such a
profound effect on you."
know something, no one has ever said that to me before but you're right. I used
to have these thoughts of dying when I was young and every time I ended up
thinking how hard it would be on Rhein. I wish I was there to tell him that."
the thought I have of him lying there alone in the hospital thinking I didn't
care. That's what burns my ass."
he said, enunciating clearly. "Get that thought out of your mind! The
Wineman was your twin brother so of course he knew you cared the most of
anyone in the world. You're just...just hurting yourself." Hellmantle looked out
the window for a while.
you're right. I should." He kept staring out the window and thought about all
the great times that could have had in life if he hadn't dared him to take the