The Machinist's Melody - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

November 28, 2023

The Machinist's Melody

When the rod broke I was worried the rack would move into the disc brake rotor so I wedged a rigid piece of foam behind it and taped it to the frame and it did not move after that. Andrea carried the pannier that would have been on that side of my bike.
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The Machinist's Melody

I laid on the bed this morning for an entire hour thinking about it.  That's how much I dislike and fret about going out into a completely foreign world without much possibility of communication to find someone to fix something for me.  Eventually I had to get up and get my rear rack fixed.  What I mostly feared was trying to explain all the various aspects of the part that needed fixing and how awkward it was going to be to try to get that across even with Google Translate.  There were various possible ways of fixing it and various possible ways of failing to fix it.  It was a break in a bad place in the attachment piece of the rack.  It was complicated.

We took the rack off the bike and started walking.  Normally we see motorcycle repair shops or other similar shops all the time.  The floor and area outside the shop is saturated with years and years of oil and worse toxic liquids.  The guys working in those shops are always grease monkeys wearing blackened t-shirts, friendly for sure but speaking a different language than I do even if I spoke Vietnamese fluently.  I was mostly relying on knowing how nice they all are and I know how much they want to help a foreigner.  Usually they take it as a challenge to fix something.  

We zeroed in on a motorcycle repair shop we found on Google Maps that had a good review.  I showed the guy my broken stem and he just laughed and shook his head NO, NO, NO.  He pointed down the street and to the left.  So much for my theory that they would do anything to help a foreigner.  Well, I can't come down on him.  He probably knew someone who could fix it but it wasn't him. I appreciate that he knew his limitations in repairmanship.  

We walked down to a place we had walked past earlier, not really knowing what place that guy had in mind for us.  The place had racks filled with long steel rods, and pipes, etc.  The guy there pointed to a closed shop across the street and said, "Afternoon."  That gave us more time to not deal with it, which was a refreshing respite.   What to do with a couple of hours in Vietnam with the temperature approaching 90 but the "Feels Like" temperature well past 90? - retreat to the coffee house we saw back down the street.  It was under lots of trees and one can never go wrong with an iced coffee in Vietnam.  

It was approaching noon when we figured we had worn out our welcome at Cafe Win Win.  With a name like that one would think we were in Burma where everything is Win this or Win that.  I was just hoping for a win with the rack and the guy who only works in the afternoon.  I had decided that if he wasn't there yet I was going to go back to the hotel and get the bicycle so he could see the entire picture exactly.   But he was there.

He too sold steel by the ten foot lengths but from the looks of his place he did lots of other things too.  He was running a little machine shop and had welding capability.  We approached him without words but instead showed him two ends of a broken rod and the rack into which it fit.  Right away he understood what needed to be done and got to work.  We tried through Google Translate to tell him certain things but he already had in his mind how he was going to fix it.  And looking at a guy with a shop like his I had full confidence in him fixing it whatever way he wanted.  

Step one - go through the scrap pile looking for a steel rod that might work.
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He clanged and clattered his way through a pile of scrap metal and came up with a solid steel rod that was too large in circumference but no matter,  he set to work grinding it down to the right circumference to fit inside the rack tube.  Sparks were a-flyin'.  He also had to drill a  threaded hole at one precise point in the rod and the end that didn't insert into the existing rod on the rack, needed to be flattened and a hole drilled in it.  It was going to entail a lot of work on a lot of different machines.  But he was on it.  

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His radio was tuned to a station that played rather old Vietnamese music.  Perfect.  Sparks flew off his grinder and his drill press flung metal filings all to the tunes of a Vietnamese opera.  There was a repetitive squeak that I didn't at first know if it was coming from his machine or the music. It was the perfect soundtrack for what was happening in that cluttered little metal shop.  The music, kind of shrill and chaotic, was also strangely reassuring.  

After coming back to our hotel and trying to figure out what kind of traditional Vietnamese music it was, I learned that a complete Cai Luong group has the actors and an integral accompanying orchestra.  Without the orchestra it cannot be a performance.  The orchestra highlights the psychological depth of the character, creating more drama and contributing to the success of the performance.  Perfect for The Machinist's performance, I thought.

That's what I had been feeling about his performance; he was being spurred on by the music.  At one point he typed into his translation program on his phone, "I don't know."  I was worried, then, because I took that to mean he really didn't know if he could fix it.  It might be beyond his capability.  But the music played on and he got back to work.  

He dug out two adorable little iron stools that he had manufactured who knows when.  They were so cute I wanted to buy them from him.  Andrea reminded me we were on bikes at the start of our three-month trip but I still considered asking if he'd sell me one of them.  Then we discussed which one was cuter as the music played on and The Machinist flew some more sparks.  

Someone delivered an iced coffee in a large glass mug but he didn't have time to stop.  He lit his acetylene torch and heated one end of the rod to red hot, then pounded it flat.  He was blacksmithing on the side!  It was quite a performance we were witnessing as we sat on our little stools amid the filth and dirt but having full confidence in The Machinist even while marveling at the poor quality of all his tools.  He took a moment in his performance to sip his coffee and through his translation app asked me if I was Danish, Dutch or what?  Since it was a bike part we had brought him I thought it was an astute question about Dutch or Danish.  He smiled broadly when he read,  "Americans."  This always bewilders me.  

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The Machinist lit a cigarette and eye-balled the length of the rod.  He cut the rod down to size.  More sparks.  He was wearing sandals of course and there were no safety controls anywhere.  The fan which was very near his head at times had no protective grill around the metal blades.  Never did he pull out a tape measure until he was completely finished and found that the part he had manufactured from a raw steel rod was a bit too long.  He looked unsatisfied but I told him it was fine.  

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John SolemSuch a great little tale here. And that fan!
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2 months ago

I pulled out the wad of Vietnamese Dong from my pocket and offered him a 500,000 Dong note (almost $21).  He absolutely refused that so I put my entire wad of money in his hands and let him pick whatever he wanted.  He picked out only 70,000 Dong (a bit less than $3)! That was unacceptable to me so I made him take another 100,000 Dong which he did very reluctantly, for a total of $7.  He had worked hard for an hour on that little part and he did what looked like a great job.  He even spray painted it black, something I would have never thought about.  The whole performance was amazing.  The performance/experience itself was worth more than $7!

We skipped off down the dusty road relieved that the job was done.  And I think that nice man enjoyed the experience too.  But I still wonder about buying that little stool from him.  I bet it weighs less than two pounds.   I'd have to strap it on top of a pannier for the next few weeks but I'd always have a stool to sit on whenever we stop.

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Steve Miller/GrampiesAwww, you could always strap it upside down on your newly repaired rack. It looks like a lovely addition to any bicycle tourists kit.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Steve Miller/GrampiesI was super tempted but it was just too early in the trip and we were too far away from Thailand where I've mailed many packages home via seamail and have never lost one yet. I don't trust mail from other countries in Asia but Thailand is great. Their post offices are all very cute in addition.
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2 months ago

lovebruce

Rate this entry's writing Heart 25
Comment on this entry Comment 17
Lyle McLeodEvery post is a wonderful walk down memory lane! Everything gets fixed, reused or repurposed in Vietnam. The people are so friendly, industrious and resourceful. I’m sitting inside while it’s dark and-12°C, drinking coffee, dreaming of being where you are - sitting on a small stool, drinking an iced coffee, in the 33°C shade. Keep posting and I’ll keep vicariously travelling along.
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2 months ago
Kristen ArnimSuch a good story!
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2 months ago
David MathersGreat story Bruce. I love the ‘use’ of his safety equipment…glasses on top of his head, mask under chin and bare feet in sandals 😱 You can’t make this stuff up!
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2 months ago
Jen RahnThis might be my favorite of your repair stories .. along with the Keen sandal fix.

And the photos!!

This is such a great story that it will go into the Grumby Gratitudes box.
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2 months ago
Carolyn van HoeveLoved the last two entries from the each of you. Honestly, this writing should be made into a published book!!
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2 months ago
rich rosenbergBruce
Love both of your descriptions of life on the road. The photography is incredible. One small request: would you please double-back to the machinist shop and buy both of those stools..... one for you and one for me. I'm sure Andrea would not mind schlepping one of them? Travel safe.
Richie Rosenberg
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Lyle McLeodEverything in my life has always gotten fixed, reused or repurposed by myself as well. Maybe this is why I feel akin to the Vietnamese.

This is only a short trip to a tiny portion of Vietnam but you might want to read our journal from 2016, https://www.cycleblaze.com/journals/tomorrow1616/
when we rode much of the country from north to south for two months. It was a great trip.
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2 months ago
Ron SuchanekWhat a great story. I'm disappointed you didn't get the stool. I birthday is coming up (October) and it would be perfect.
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2 months ago
Andrea BrownTo Ron SuchanekGuess we’d better turn around then.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Ron SuchanekI can give you detailed directions right to that guy's shop so you can give yourself a birthday present. When you are there could you buy the second one for me? I want the one in the photo I posted. Thank you.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo rich rosenbergRichie,
Well, you are sort of in luck. Andrea said she wouldn't mind carrying it for you but she won't ride back the 111 miles to get it.
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2 months ago
Ron SuchanekTo Andrea BrownIt's really best for everyone.
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2 months ago
Ron SuchanekTo Bruce LellmanThat IS one idea, and not without merit. But Andrea proposed a plan that seems a little better suited to the situation.
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2 months ago
Janice BranhamThis is the kind of story that bolsters my faith in bike travel. Whatever breaks, you can figure out a way to fix it. No need to fret.
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2 months ago
Bruce LellmanTo Janice BranhamYes, it seems there are always people who want to help a traveler. By helping a traveler they factor into the whole adventure.
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2 months ago