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Blog 108 Buon Ma Thuot to Gia Nghia

12th January

Because English is not widely spoken in Vietnam - in fact, English is not spoken at all on the 'Highway' and except to buy food and drink and to check into a small hotel each evening, for days I have not spoken to anyone. Understandably this is isolating as I am on the road riding my bicycle very slowly and I have a lot of time to think.

One of my favourite books as a younger person was The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Czech author Milan Kundera. In it, the author tells the story of two couples, a young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanising, and one of his mistresses and her humbly faithful lover. Set throughout Europe during the late 1960s and early 1970's, the primary focus of the narrative is the Prague Spring of 1968 in Czechoslovakia. The internal life of characters and their relationships are strained and morphed by the Soviet invasion and the surveillance state installed in its wake.

Kundera explores the philosophical concept of lightness and heaviness. "Lightness" refers to the idea that life is devoid of inherent meaning or significance, and individuals are free to make choices without being burdened by moral or existential weight. The less you do something the less heavy it is, the more you do something the heavier it becomes, morally and also phsically.

If, as Nietzsche believed, everything in life happens an infinite number of times, causing the “heaviest of burdens,” then a personal life in which everything happens only once loses its “weight” and significance—hence the “the unbearable lightness of being.”

In the context of the book, you can have an affair once and it has no or light consequences, do it many times and is much more difficult for the protagonists to deal with. In the context of this journey or my presence in it, the more I do, the greater the expectations to produce a realisation, or something meaningful to explain its purpose. You go on holiday once and it is just that, no more.

My daily riding has a parallel to this. Every day I get up, prepare myself to ride and every day my own expectations of what I expect from each day grows more intense, otherwise why do it? Yet during the day I do nothing of any weight; I ride and I see - I explore ideas and then it's all gone. It is a paradox of creating burdensome expectations from doing very little but it's that it happens over and over that manifests a need an answer; or as I am in a Buddhist part of the world, a 'non-answer'.

The Unbearable Likeness of Being on the Road

When I was young I read voraciously. I read to escape, I read to find a way I could go which I didn't think was possible. 90% of my reading took place in this exploratory period in my life and what I read formed my reasons for leaving.

In his novel 'Slowness' he writes of a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting and he illustrates it by describing a man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically, he slows down.

Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.

"In existential mathematics that experience takes the form of two basic equations: The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.”

Milan Kundera, Slowness

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Steve Turner
Steve Turner

That's a HUGE toothbrush Nick!

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