Vacations are about the journey, escape, or friends, or family. If you’re really lucky, it can be all of these. This week, over a board game I think I made the drunken comment to my brothers and sisters that, “We could have done this vacation in a void and it’d be the same.”
This was, and is, an immensely positive statement that family time together is irrelevant to the location. Wherever you are with family it’s a good time. You don’t need to be somewhere special. Even the back porch on a Tuesday when everybody has to work tomorrow is what life is meant for.
But I suppose it was also a partial thought about the setting, which for this vacation happened to be generic American Atlantic coast beach #453.2b. I loved it; I love the beach; and the time with family is heaven in living form.
But then the Geico gecko flew by towed behind an advertising airplane. And I was like, “Oh, okay. We have this now.”
Once upon a time the beach we were on was considered either too long a drive; or too rustic to be worth traveling too. Now two decades later it’s all bathed in concrete. And the gecko’s wearing the hard hat, hammer in one hand, and a fistful of bills in the other.
It reminded me of Da Nang’s beaches. A long time ago it was crazy enough that my buddies and I were the only Americans in town; or so we could figure. We reduced the Canadian backpackers to laughter, “Americans in Vietnam?”
Atop the summit of Thuy Son
The highlight moment was late night dinner on a Da Nang beach in a family restaurant on plastic chairs. It’s probably one of the top five meals I’ll ever eat before bleached skeleton occurs. It likely cost three dollars. Their whole family ate with us.
The uncle showed up. He’d apparently been South Vietnamese special forces and had spent seven years in rehabilitation before being allowed to return to his family. His only comment on all of this to us, “I’m so very happy you all are here.”
Wow. Uh. What do you possibly say to that? Have a drink on us? I’m sorry? But he was having fun; and so we didn’t dwell on it. Because he wasn’t searching for any deeper meaning I think. He was just speaking his mind in the middle of a great time.
And so we ate, drank, laughed, and lived life. The gecko was not welcome.
One of my buddies went back there to relive it with his new wife a couple of years ago. It’s gone. The entire beach has been paved over with miles of swanky resorts.
China Beach, Da Nang, before the concrete arrived
I hope that family got compensated for the loss of their restaurant. But given what I know of how the Chinese and Vietnamese Reds do land seizure against the people; I doubt they got paid anything near fair market value.
And before any of you get on me about spouting the truly evil “dirt poor places have the best travel” argument, that’s not my lament / point. Those awesome people owned their own independent, profitable business that did a great craft perfectly. Now what are they supposed to do? Sling fourth-rate buffet dishes at the five-star faceless hotel? They were better off choosing their own fate. They didn’t need swanky concrete to improve their lives; they were doing it themselves.
The beach before the concrete; all locals then; but now occupied by palaces such as the Furama Resort, $232 a night minimum
This is what it’s all going to become I think, swanky concrete, for the most part. And all the uniqueness of any location will disappear and the culture crushed for profit. And the gecko will offer you a Coke, directions to the nearest Subway, and access to the finest local craft shop in town (which happens to be owned & run entirely by Unilever).
Anthony Bourdain alludes to something similar at the end of his Laos episode. Before a lot of you start shouting at your screen, “he’s a sell out” or “tool” or the words “Chase Sapphire credit card”, let me say that, yes, I somewhat agree; but sorry, the dude truly knows what he’s talking about:
“That’s the problem in making travel television, when we succeed, we inspire others to travel to the places we care about. And, in a sense, we help kill what we love.”
Thuy Son again; looking east
Well, it’s not just television, it’s all of us I suppose. When we all flood a place too many times, or tell others how much we loved a place maybe we’re killing it. Once we invite the gecko in; he’s there forever.
So when I think I’ll go back to Da Nang again; because I loved it and the people. Maybe instead I should just let it go. And remember the one perfect journey. Rather than going a second time and letting decent memories get trashed by concrete.
And there are always other adventures that await. Out of nowhere a month or so ago my brother was like, “Let’s all go to Iceland.” Why? Because there are apparently really cheap flight specials happening. And we’ve never been. So why not?
Or even better; in a few weekends all the brothers and sisters will be back home again. And we’ll just sit at home together as a family with the beloved parents. And the total distance traveled is zero. And that’s indeed heaven on Earth. So why not?
Hoi An, a short hair-raising motorbike ride from Da Nang, and perhaps, just perhaps immune to much of the concrete’s power; a must visit place
The interior of Marble Mountain
temple at Marble Mountain; with three climbers better than me
Shop after shop alongside Marble Mountain using the aforementioned stone to make just about anything you can imagine