Gulik was waiting for me when I returned to my hotel, his hand draped over a wheeled monstrosity. My bicycle. It was the color of scuffed tar, big-boned and battered. I circled it warily. The seat was torn and lumpy, its springs ready to burst through the paper-thin plastic. I climbed on board. The back end swayed gently from side to side. One pedal performed a decidedly eccentric orbit and the brakes pulled smoothly but didn't make the slightest impression on my forward momentum. I wheeled it back to Gulik.
Was there, I asked, a cart to accompany this glorious machine?
He pointed silently at a six-inch piece of plywood that, reincarnated from its previous life as a part of his bedroom wall, was now anchored to the frame with bits of rusty wire.
I admired it and once again inquired after the agreed-upon cart. His face crumpled in horror. A cart, he pointed out, would simply be an added set of wheels to go flat at an inconvenient moment. He muttered darkly about wasted axle grease. He wiggled his fingers and plucked at the air to illustrate its susceptibility to theft. And, his features contorted in a rare moment of sincerity, he admitted that certain unsavory countrymen might yield to the temptation to use it as a public spittoon.
I fetched my pack. Even the determined Gulik fell short in his efforts to balance the sizable duffel on such a tiny foundation. After several resounding failures I suggested that he weld a support brace behind the platform, rather like the backrest of a child's seat. He was noticeably unenthusiastic. It would, he insisted, look odd to a Vietnamese.
Not nearly as odd as I would look riding the bike, I pointed out.
But, he countered, the added bar would decrease its resale value.
True, I agreed, but then I wasn't planning on selling it. I wanted to buy it.
He nodded reluctantly. Perhaps for an additional five dollar bill he could convince a welder to adulterate its graceful shape for me.
Perhaps, I told him, with the addition of a brace, I could be convinced to take it. And it wouldn't hurt to have working brakes.
He slouched off like a water buffalo, trailing the unwanted bike behind him.