Ha Noi…I don’t like it. I can see why people do, but…It is much more noisy than Da Nang. It’s much more polluted than Da Nang. It has a lot more tourists, and is less personable than my central coast town. There isn’t much to do in Da Nang and that is what I like the most. I met an American woman from Colorado before coming up here and she let me know what her daily schedule was…sleep in, hang out by the pool, two days a week tutor at noon and then teach in the evenings. Um, yeah. My current fantasy is to have a morning run on the beach (or surf), write and drink coffee, tutor in the midday, teach at Gia Minh in the evenings with the cutest kids ever, have a few beers with Tien, dinner with K and start over again the next day. Is that too much to ask for the next few years? I don’t think so.
SLEEPING BUS TO HA NOI…You can move through Vietnam a number of ways. I would really like to take the train the length of the country at some point. I also would hire Easy Rider to take me around. Bus is an option, but I highly recommend taking the sleeping bus at some point. I advise though that if you are my size or any larger DO NOT let them put you in a berth where the arm rest isn’t at least an arms distance from where you stick you legs.
It was very tight fitting for me. Also, DO NOT allow them to put you near the toilet, good heavens. I eventually was able to turn on my side, wedge my knees against the side, stick my head under my backpack and get some good sleep. The bus ride began in Da Nang with a little confusion on my part. They said “sleeping bus” and the first leg of the trip to Hue was actually on a regular bus. The seats reclined further than on an airplane. I didn’t know I would change buses. It was a beautiful ride considering that the driver wasn’t so kamikaze about his moves. The most worrying part was going through the mountain. Why oh why did I watch Megadisasters involving some crazy tunnel going from Italy to Switzerland or something? We pulled in from the coast a bit and went up and down the mountain road. Motorbikes wove in and around slower trucks as the bus sped past everyone on the curves. I’ve been praying a lot since coming to Vietnam. There was a little more coast line to be seen as we came into Hue. I look forward to making that trip. It’s very beautiful there. There was no A/C on the bus, but once the window was opened the cool moist air washed over my face. I’ve never seen so much green in my life.There was a lot of green on the island of Kauai, but one side of that island is dry like desert. No deserts in Vietnam. It was amazing to pull through Hue. The city center is really busy with motorbikes and cars racing through each roadway in any direction. Once the bus pulled up to Ngoc Hotel the down pour began. I huddled in he doorway as tourists checked in and I waited for my scooter transport to the bus.
Once we reached the bus, there was pandemonium. It was raining hard now. We threw our bags to the porter and scrambled to get on. We put our shoes in plastic bags and were shown to our berths. I picked an upper berth, climbed in and wedged myself in for the ride. Damn, it was a small space.
They put all the foreigners in the back. A french couple, some Japanese, a few other white English speakers climbed into their berths. The sun had gone down completely before we were all packed in. Moving through some tolls they turned on a Vietnamese variety show. Each berth had a speaker above it and they played it extremely loud. I placed ear plugs in still heard every word. I had to laugh though, similar to our culture a man dressed in drag is comedy…Flip Wilson, Martin Lawrence, Dame Edna, okay, she’s British…Anyway, I found that I could follow a bit of what was going on, especially when they pulled out a picture of Jennifer Aniston. The screens went dark at some point and it got quiet. Wedged in with pillows in appropriate places I slept hard. The bus rocked like a boat. I did almost get pitched over the side and I think we got stuck in the mud in the middle of the night. That’s when I felt the most rocking. At times the bus would stop, the lights would come on and people would wake those departing at certain stops. I had to laugh at one point as the Vietnamese tried to wake the Japanese and get them to their stop in a hurry. Talk about confusion.
The next morning was extremely rainy.
Lush and green everywhere we woke with three more hours before we got to Ha Noi. The French couple was up arguing, as I found out later they missed their bus to Ha Long Bay. If there was anything I learned since being abroad is that you need to make sure you connecting transportation is at least a day apart. Nothing, I mean nothing is ever on time.
We disembarked the bus in the old part of Ha Noi. We were immediately harassed by travel agents trying to book up certain hotels. I was given info on a hotel back in Hue, 12 bucks a night including breakfast. It was not the Dai A that’s for sure. I was just glad to have cheap accommodations. It’s a loud place, paper thin walls. I decided to skip writing about the negatives of being in Ha Noi. Considering the reason I needed to be up here, it is understandable that I would be stressed out.
I had made an online appointment with the U.S. Embassy to get a new passport. It was easy enough to get a new one, except that immigration in Da Nang failed to give me paperwork that said I reported the passport missing. After giving much sad face, the nice lady behind window number 2 spoke to her co-workers an they were able to get a letter explaining the situation. I walked out of the embassy within an hour, you can’t do that at any DMV, even with an appointment. I was in a much better mood. It got even better when Mr. Simon called me and asked if I was coming back to Da Nang. I told him I needed to be up here another full week, but would return to Da Nang.
He encouraged me and said they wanted to give me classes and he would begin the necessary steps to get my work permit. Sweet! So I was able to pull a little bit out of my funk. I could look at Ha Noi with different eyes. I went down the street and got a cheap massage, 12 bucks for sixty minutes. I made plans to go to Ha Long Bay on a three day cruise over the weekend.
It’s very lonely here though. I came to Vietnam with advice ringing in my head. They don’t see many black people here. I might see pointing and staring. Some might laugh or even come up to me and touch my skin. The months proceeding my journey I thought long and hard about that. I figured I would just smile back and say hello or laugh with them. I thought that my skin was thick enough to deal with it, however they reacted. What I wasn’t prepared for was the racism from other white travelers, Australians exempt. I’ve gotten the most ugly stares from white backpackers. If they even look my way they avoid looking me in the eye. I will get a good morning from the Malays, Vietnamese, Singaporeans, and others at the communal breakfast table, but the white English speakers will sit right next to you without any kind of acknowledgement.
It was also lonely because I didn’t have facebook or facebook scrabble. I had depended on technology to speak to K on a nightly basis and we didn’t have that, until recently when I was finally able to get internet in my room. It’s a slow connection too. Since ordering the passport and making arrangements for a cruise I thought I would make some touristy moves. I rented a cyclo and went around some parts of Ha Noi. We drove past some temples, through special markets selling live fish and frogs. It was a cool ride, but kind of scary. I think they make it scary on purpose. I wish I had my camera so I could take a picture of this woman and her husband in another cyclo stuck in the middle of an intersection we were approaching. She looked really scared. I just smiled as we passed each other. I did get concerned as we made a left turn directly into the line of cars and motorbikes. Soon after we pulled over and my ride was done. Whew!
I also bought tickets earlier that day to watch the water puppet show. That was really fun. My brother would have to sit in the front row. A person of 5’7″ was fitting quite tightly in the seats. A person of 6’5″ would never have a chance of even bending their knees to get into the seat. As a matter of fact two tall Aussies needed to move toward the end of the row so they could swing their legs out into the aisle. I stayed where I was until some stinky man sat next to me. I know it is hot in Vietnam, but that means don’t scrimp on the hygiene. There was no way I could sit there for 45 minutes and enjoy the show. As the lights went down I jumped forward over the chairs, which were empty, and made myself comfortable. I had a nice cool breeze blowing my way that didn’t include body odor. There were dragons dancing, a procession and day glow. It was a nice break to be inside and get a little culture. Don’t get me wrong, there is culture everywhere you look.
Published in good spirits and a full belly.