The categorical imperative is to create meaning in a world that doesn’t necessarily have any. If that requires a god or two, then so be it, the more the merrier. So I create new gods to offer myself up to in order that they might save my mortal soul. At least I did that night in Hanoi. The old quarter of Hanoi is pretty intense, or it least it was. It’s a classic shop-house district traditionally divided into streets devoted to a particular craft. The bottom level is the showroom, upper level are workrooms, then living quarters, going four or five stories up. This is the pattern now all over northern Vietnam, even in villages. It allows more efficient use of land in a country of some eighty-ninety million, a third more than Thailand, in a land area a third less then Thailand. It’s no wonder that people see under-populated and loyal disciple Laos as an escape valve. Anyway, the old quarter of Hanoi is dense, and of course, the old systems break down as backpackers move in to prepare the fields for the real tourists to come later. Many buildings are now ‘mini-hotels’.
I get claustrophobic sometimes. Out of the window in my room I could probably have shook the hand of somebody across the street if there had been somebody there. Earlier that day I’d eaten local food in a local market, always a risky venture anywhere, but probably especially in 1996 Hanoi. Later I’d drunk some local hooch with some of the homies out on the street taking tobacco bong hits. Bad idea. To top it all off, my bed had bugs. I think. This is not the thing for a sensitive guy. I’ve got insomnia even on a good day, but that was easily the longest night of my life. I really did not expect to see the morning. My skin was crawling, my insides were crawling; my brain was crawling; the streets were crawling. Or at least that’s what it felt like. I just knew I’d die right there alone in some God-forsaken room in some God-forsaken hotel in some God-forsaken corner of the universe, unable to even get out of my bed and call for help. In reality I just had a minor case of Ho Chi Minh’s revenge and probably some bed bugs, though I never saw any. I moved to a different hotel the next day and everything was fine. But I made some promises to some gods that I’ve struggled to keep. I even created some new ones that I’d never worked with before. They’ll be around for awhile. That’s what guilt trips are for.