Short Story – No WiFi

No WiFi
 
A Short Story by Cameron Brtnik
 
Inspired by a stay at a hotel in Vietnam
 
 
    There was no WiFi password written anywhere… only a sign that read “Free WiFi” on a faded piece of paper on the wall. “Shit,” I said to myself. I was too lazy to walk the four flights back downstairs to ask. “Well, looks like I’ll be drinking this bottle of vodka on my own and without any entertainment,” this time only thinking it (as saying it would mean I am crazy, which I don’t believe I am..yet). I was living in Vietnam, on a trip up north to explore and reputable hills and valleys of Sapa. That first night I checked into the “Hoang Nam Hotel” which I believe translates to “no name hotel.” It was around the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival and I could hear the sounds of kids’ drums beating outside. It seemed to imbue a rhythm into this normally stagnant and soulless town. Some kids had taught me earlier how to play a traditional beat, and I got pretty good at it, but the kids were better at it, they didn’t have to think, their hands just moved, the sticks an extension of them, the drum just an obstacle reflecting their own heartbeat: youthful, voracious, animalistic. I bought a bottle of vodka and slowly walked back to my shabby hotel room. The aircon barely blew – I had the aircon setting on 19° but all it did was gust around musty, stale month-old air, like the air kept memories of its past tenants, like a fly on the wall, did not like what it saw, and the beast was bitter, no one ever thanking it for cranking out 50,000 kilowatts of power a day, pushing itself to the limit, like a fighting cancer patient, never giving up, yet nobody ever noticing its pathetic existence… With unrealistic hopes I turned the setting to 18°.
 
 
    After checking in, the lady at the front desk – I guess she was an employee, although if she wasn’t working there I could have just as easily checked in – led me upstairs to my room. Upon hesitantly entering the room, the lady pushed ahead first, armed with a bottle of air freshener that she used, without restraint, to spray the entire room like she was covering the stench of a rotting corpse (although it smelled fine, if not a bit musty). After it seemed like ages, she scuttered out so I could bask in the emptiness of the room…
 
 
    I made a routine inspection: There were chips in the fake marble (probably asbestos) floor tiles, cigarette burns in the chair, stains on the white sheets (why white? These types of hotels should probably just go with a dark grey or off black), a missing dresser drawer, an unidentifiable crusted-on condiment in the fridge (unplugged), a woman’s hairs on the bathroom floor, burnt out bathroom light bulb, NO toilet paper, limestone stains on the bathroom door, in the window sill two q-tips and a used bandaid, a dusty 20’ TV (albeit a flat screen, now we’re talking luxury!), trash bin minus the bag with some gluey substance on the bottom, dirt smeared on the pink walls (that’s right; pink), lipstick smudges above the bed’s headboard, dust-coated fan with half the cage missing… I could go not, but you get the point. All this included for a paltry 200.000 dong! ($8 US)
 
 
    I couldn’t count how many times I’d stayed at hotels like these..they all blurred into one. You get used to it when you’re traveling in Asia. There’s a difference in (or lack of) standards compared to, let’s say, your standard roadside motel, like a Comfort Inn without the comfort. But “when in Asia,” I guess. Halfway through the bottle of vodka I was feeling tired and getting blurry-eyed (alcohol is an excellent creative fuel..until it isn’t). My brain wanted to write more, but I could feel my body inch toward the bed without me trying. I loaded up some streaming site to watch the last remake of Friday the 13th, which actually got decent reviews..but didn’t make it past the opening credits…
 
 
    …I awoke to a sound that I was sure came from the adjoining room but, half-awake, it just as well could’ve come from my dream. It was a loud THUD! that sounded like someone dropped a heavy hammer in the room above me..or the satanic sounds of old piping. Maybe someone rolled out of bed? My mind starting racing, making up excuses for such a sound late at night.. Someone dropping their bowling ball on the floor; a dead prostitute being pushed off the bed; an old chandelier, dangling by its last stringy wire, finally falling from the ceiling..but I didn’t hear it again and peacefully dozed off… for what must’ve been less than a minute before the sound woke me up again -THUD! I thought about getting a broom and banging the ceiling to communicate whatever weirdness was happening up there to stop..but thought better of it; if it was a psycho he might come down and hack me up to bits. I wouldn’t be surprised in this hotel… I decided if it happened again I would go downstairs to complain to the lady at the front desk – not that she’d be any help; she was probably the one making the noise. As I got ready to pass back out – THUD! I heard it again —-but this time right outside my door.
 
 
    “What the fuck?” I said out loud (when you’re scared you don’t care if you sound crazy). I slowly moved to the door and flipped on the light switch and said, “Hello?” to probably no one. I opened the door and… nothing. But the sound sounded so close… THUD!There it was again, but..it sounded like it came from inside the room. “Impossible…” (inside thought) My heart was beating so loudly it was nearly as loud as the THUD. I turned around and… nothing. THUD! Again, this time from..the bathroom? My whole body was hot and sweating from, what, fear? “It’s gotta be the pipes,” I thought. The hotel was old as shit after all. “Maybe the old hotel owner’s ghost is haunting the place,” and at that thought I snickered out loud. THUD!!! again in the bathroom. I was hesitating..but finally walked forward toward the bathroom door. I looked at the reflection in the mirror but…nothing. THUD!!!! This time my bed rocked, and I automatically jumped back. I bolted for the front door and it slammed shut. Suddenly the lights when out… THUD! THUD! THUD!!! THUD!!!
 
 
    Suddenly I felt something touch me: slimy, wet, yet ethereal, ghostly… “This is a waking nightmare,” I tried to convince myself while in a state of full-on panic…. Suddenly a voice spoke from the darkness.… ”WHAT IS THE WIFI PASSWORD?” “Umm..88888888!!!!” I yelled into the darkness (most passwords in Vietnam were eight 8s because 8 is a lucky number that means wealth and fortune. Why I didn’t try that earlier, I’m not sure..). After a brief moment, the voice simply said, “THANK YOOOU,” and disappeared, along with the THUD. The next morning I checked out, never to return to the hotel with no WiFi again.
 
END
 
 

Read the review of “No Wifi” by literary critic Virginia Kyriakopoulos here: https://cambrtnik.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/no-wifi-a-critique-by-virginia-kyriakopoulos/

Cameron is a fiction writer currently backpacking through the beautiful and magical country of Vietnam

Reel Vietnam – “A Little Goes A Long Way”

Reel Vietnam – “A Little Goes A Long Way”

By Cameron Brtnik


      On May 27, 2017 I jumped in a van – joined by my fellow teachers Peter from America and Marty from Australia, both living and teaching in Vietnam, and Toby, a winemaker from California and one of the sponsors, – and rode the hour long trip to Tien Hiep Secondary School in Ha Nam. This was my second excursion to a rural school in the countryside with BLV – Better Life Vietnam – a non-profit organization that promotes learning and reading to students who attend schools that don’t receive enough funding for school materials or resources or even programs like a library. BLV does this by visiting these schools, often located in rural areas of Vietnam, and providing English classes and activities taught by foreigners, an opportunity that students in these villages would not normally get. BLV also does this by donating books to those children who don’t normally have access to an abundance of learning resources.

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{BLV’s wonderful team of supporters and volunteers from USA, Canada, NewZealand, Australia and Vietnam}

      On my first trip to Hà Nam, I had such a great experience bringing joy to these underprivileged children I had to do it again! When you arrive at the school, the students’ eager looks, the excitement in their voices, their enthusiasm to speak and learn English – If you’re an English teacher in Vietnam, you understand that these are all the reasons we teach in the first place. This is an experience you may not find teaching at schools in the larger cities. It was no different this time around. When we arrived at Tien Hiep Secondary School, we were greeted by bright, smiling faces excited at our arrival. The students were very shy to speak to us at first; keep in mind their speaking level is at the “Hello, what’s your name?” level. We split up into various classrooms and each volunteer teacher taught the students a 30 minute class. They were so well behaved, they made us forget all about the naughty kids we had back in Hanoi!

See here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qUsEgl0qHg&feature=youtu.be

      We then hit up our second school for the day, Trinh Xa, where we played activities and handed out books to nearly 300 students! The organizers, Thinh Nguyen and Nhung Nguyen, hosted the school’s event and introduced each of the volunteers. One at time, we took to the stage to talk with the students, play games, perform magic tricks, teach English and give them advice – namely sharing with them the importance of reading – all this to 300 students!

Watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPnYx9Ws2ew&feature=youtu.be

     Then the best part: Handing out the books. It was like a hundred Christmas gift-openings at once! The children tore open boxes, reached inside and hurled out books, choosing a book that perhaps caught their eye or had a familiar title. Lots of photographs and video were taken throughout the day to document the day’s events. After all the fun and games, the organizers again took time to talk about the importance of reading, and encouraged students to keep learning no matter what their education or family’s situation is.

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After a full morning, we joined the school principal and teachers for a lovely locally-prepared  lunch, enjoyed with a toast with their local rice wine. What a splendid way to end an already awesome day!

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     Started by Thinh Nguyen in 2017, Better Life Vietnam was established as a way to reach underprivileged areas of Vietnam, and to help less fortunate children and families in Vietnam: “Better Life Vietnam was founded with the belief that access to education, food, healthcare, clean water and a decent quality of life are basic human rights.” BLV is an outstanding organization that develops programs to sponsor schools, provide educational material, donate books, and organize events – all geared toward underprivileged schools in rural areas of Vietnam. They also initiated a superb program that interviews students’ families about their family and financial situation, choosing one of those families (based on various factors) to sponsor by providing livestock so that they, typically farmers, can earn money. Visit their website www.betterlifevietnam.org for more information.

VOLUNTEERS WANTED!

BLV is currently looking for volunteers to help with teaching classes, hosting activities, taking photographs/video of the event and video editing, as well as other jobs. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to donate your talents and time to a worthy and fun cause: providing better living for students in Vietnam! Note: Some organizations in Vietnam make the volunteer pay for their time. This opportunity is free for all volunteers!

If you would like to get involved please contact Better Life Vietnam at
Email: betterlifevietnam@gmail.com

Cameron is a freelance writer, English teacher, and volunteer living in Hanoi, Vietnam

Poetry Corner – Like a Rock

Like a Rock

stacked-boulders-sandra-selle-rodriguez

Like a Rock


I want to be strong like a rock


My life has fallen accidentally into place
Like the rocks that make up this mountain
Satisfied with the cards they were dealt
Each working together to hold up an entire mountain
No one imposing on the others
Rather keeping each other in check


I want to be sturdy like a rock


Each completing the other; no grandstanding
Sturdy yet fallible
Ancient yet new each day
Always set with their faces toward the sun
Together balancing out the whole


I want to be intelligent like a rock


We can learn a lot from these rocks
We who compete for space
For a chance to leave our mark on this earth
To find meaning for ourselves
Rather than the whole


I want to be humble like a rock


We who step over each other to succeed
Rather than link together to form an alliance
Rocks do not feel jealousy, envy, or pain
They accept their place
And fend together, as one