The great escape (or whatever you call it)December 27, 2016

My tutor rolled her eyes (or so I thought). She would have heard my lines one too many. I wanted an escape from my inner turmoil, and the parties (with my flatmates) won't be enough. Hoi An may not be on the top of the list of perennially-compelling escapes, as an intrinsic architectural design belie the large sign on the entrance gate. This was the home for the aged, and the famed strip of souvenir shots was several hundred meters away. Besides, this metropolis was on the must-see list of most tourists wanting to go to Vietnam. I was surprised to see a number of shops selling paperback copies of the novels I studied many moons ago. Could it be a sign that I made a right decision in coming to this part of Indochina? It was another day in the old Japanese bridge, which was the most splendid landmark in the Vietnamese coastline several centuries ago.

I went back to the shops and looked closely at the titles. There was no doubt that Western culture caught up in these parts, and some locals might have known Henri Charrière's autobiography. What would be the most memorable escapes in literature? Let me cite five:

The Count of Monte Cristo. Edmond Dantès deserved the hoard of the treasure he retrieved after his escape from prison. He was an honest, loving man, who turned cunning and vengeful after being accused of a crime he didn't commit. Revenge was part of his fate, but I wouldn't think of such a thing (after dealing with a suspicious traveler along the road).

The Kite Runner. Amir's past would haunt him, and my coursemates and I have mixed reactions about it. His privileged background gave him a good excuse to be a coward, fleeing Kabul before the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Then again, he was a young lad back then. He would have played it safe, opting to live in a bubble in America. Sensibility wouldn't be a sin, but my coursemates suspected that Khaled Hosseini emphasized the importance of family ties. It could be a fabric of Afghan society, and escape reminded Amir about it.

The Lord of the Rings. My coursemates clearly recalled the escape of Sam and Frodo from Mount Doom, but they forgot Gandalf''s jailbreak from Isengard. The gray wizard was as important as the hobbits (and Sauron). It happened that they have seen "The Return of the King" several times, so there. Either way, this would be an escape of epic proportions. I almost forgot Moria, where the fellowship has a brush with Balrog.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Any form of escape would have been made after the Berlin Wall was set up. It happened on the daily basis, which turned Alec Leamas into a jaded chap. But he couldn't let Liz Gold, a naive supporter of the Communist Party in England, end up like him. It was hard to tell if love could be another form of escape, which surprised my mates. It wasn't a case of becoming sentimental during warmer days.

A Tale of Two Cities. It was the worst of times, also an exciting one as well. Sidney Carton's prison switcheroo put me to the edge of my seat.

"The Great Escape" could be a good addition to the list, but English major students were rather snotty in their preference. The owner of the shop was pointing me to the other items, but I excused myself.

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