Thursday, March 02, 2006

Be wise and exercise (or not)

Never a man for gymnasiums, or working out much at all, Teddy de Burca Jnr. speculates on some alternative exercise routines to get healthy in the big smoke

Back in the old country, I used to stroll down to the park, but in Hanoi I just shoot past them on my motorbike, admiring the brief glimpse of greenery in the urban landscape.

Now I don’t climb mountains, I drive over them. I don’t walk around the corner to buy bread, because it cycles past my door. I never walk to work, or anywhere at all. In fact, I drive pretty much everywhere.

But all this time in the saddle, as wonderful as it is, makes me fear for the ticker that is my heart. I realise I should be trying to keep fit somehow. But being allergic to organised sport, I wonder what activities are out there for little old me and my knobbly knees.

One friend recommended when I went downtown to walk a bit more, do a bit of window-shopping and the like. But even if it were a good idea health wise, when I try it just seems too much trouble – the constant coos of the cyclo-drivers, the badgering postcard boys who won’t let up even when you tell them you’re not a tourist, the woman who sells green bananas stalking you down Hang Trong street. As much as you’d like to, it’s hard to switch off, put on the blinkers and aimlessly amble around.

In my mind, there’s only one thing worse than walking and that’s jogging. But hats off to the West Lake crowd. There seems to be a never-ending flow of determined joggers in that area – huffing and puffing up and down the road. So much so, if I were running for mayor of Tay-town, I’d promise treadmills on every street corner and stroll to a landslide victory.

Personally speaking, it would never work. Jogging makes me too thirsty and there’s too many cafés and bia hoi around, so I wouldn’t get very far.

Alternatively, I could join those that opt to cycle to work, and even to the pub, but there’s only two or three months a year I can manage that without melting. Then there’s the gymnasium with the AC in its favour, but the whole mentality of “if I pay $80 a month, it will make me exercise” seems like a self-imposed guilt trip, which is far too Catholic sounding for the heathen-likes of me.

Another suggestion was to try my hand at Kung Fu, but for a man who hasn’t touched his own toes in a decade or so, I might have to set my ambitions a little lower.

But as I’ve yet to find a Pétanque patch, or garden bowls outfit, I have to resign myself to sporadic bursts of exercise, which do happen from time to time, sometimes whenever I least expect it, meaning spontaneity is the key to my enthusiasm. Like the time I chased the shoeshine boy from Le Van Huu street all the way up Pho Hue to Hoan Kiem lake after he stole my shoe. The day I was crucified by a 65-year old man in a game of badminton (To make me feel better he let me play his granddaughter who beat me as well). The multiple occasions I’ve had to push my bike down the road when it ran out of petrol or got a puncture. The night I was drunk and swapped places with the Cyclo-driver. The impromptu game of football between myself and a bunch of foreigners against a town’s worth of barefoot 11-year olds in Mai Chau, (in a scene reminiscent of the film Zulu, they overran our midfield and annihilated us without mercy).

These little bursts of activity may save me, or they may not. For now, I’ll console myself with the words of my father Teddy senior, who never exercised a day in his life, and told anyone who asked him why he wasn’t out playing football, “Sure, I’m saving myself for the bedroom Olympics.”

No better man.

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