Some Things I Might Have Done Differently….

Travel Memorabilia - Vietnamese

I think this blog, unless I’ve anything pertinent to add, has hit a dead-end. I’ll try to keep it going, but tell your friends, once you’ve read it, to keep the hits and views coming.
I thought, I’d mention a few things which might have made my trip through Vietnam and back more enjoyable, although no matter how and where you travel, it’s about taking chances; finding the freedom to observe, to see, to get a feel for things, without judgement or prejudice – just that. And about rediscovering in the Bard’s words, ‘that undiscovered country,’ about finding out. It’s also an opportunity to take a welcome break from worries, distractions and stresses which less of us are finding, but others are.
The more one tends to travel, the more one never fails to be amazed at the lies, b/s and distorted propaganda about the world spread abroad from the media and by the so-called famous and powerful. The rest of us who aren’t in the public eye continue to live the reality.

1. I would have done map and more research of Hanoi which might have lessened the dark jungle effect I experienced when first arriving.
2. I would have booked a quieter – and perhaps cheaper – Halong Bay Cruise from another agency, more suited to my tastes and the place.
3. I should have hired more motor bike tours to see more of the real Vietnam. After all, it’s only paper.
4. Using plenty of sunscreen in hot places like Mui Ne is only common sense.
5. I would have booked a day tour of the Mekong Delta from Saigon before catching the train To Hanoi.
6. I could have stayed in more single room accommodation.
7. I would have acknowledged the response from the young bus assistant and shook his hand when he noticed my amusement on the way between Nha Trang and Mui Ne towards the motor bike banana sellers instead of treating him as though he wasn’t there.

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As Returned…Wenzhou, Wet and Murky

College Campus - Main Part

The conditions in which these two pictures were taken, where I’ve been ‘teaching’ English for the past year, bares no resemblance to the conditions I returned to find Wenzhou in: cold, dreary and wet. Much like the outward journey.
One of the drivers frustrated and cursed at the heavy traffic, before he got the bus back safely into the bus station. As soon as I’d found a pair of laces to replace one that had become seriously frayed due to the pressure of taking my shoes off and putting them back on to get off during the bus journey, it was back to the college campus. Boring, lifeless and dull wouldn’t be an inappropriate description. So I was glad I went away after all, otherwise a segment of my life would have been wasted.
So long Vietnam, welcome back to Wenzhou.
‘Welcome….’ Are you sure?
I mean it. The college grounds were as silent as the grave.

Looking across to Wenzhou University

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LIfe Aboard A Sleeper

Two or three Russians were in residence. One, overtly using his laptop, promptly dragged himself away from the table, dragging his wired-up notebook with him which clattered onto the floor. Luckily for him, it wasn’t broken. I couldn’t help but stifle a few laughs. I wonder, given his careless attitude, if he’d dropped it likewise before?
The sleeper bus back to Wenzhou wasn’t due to leave until 11:00 am – plenty of time to get up to the Langdong Bus station. I don’t know why I was worried, probably that all my smooth planning would go haywire. The needles worry passed, although I went to the wrong bay waiting area. An assistant directed me to where the bay number, indicated on the ticket, was actually in the station.
As soon as a Chinese claps eyes on a foreigner, it usually means ‘chingbudung – I don’t understand.’ One of the associated drivers took my rucksack and asked: “Wenzhou?”
The air vents above the middle aisle blew hard. I saw an unoccupied bunk on the right one. Not long after, and for reasons known to himself, a guy directly below me asked the driver if I could move. I was not sure of the reason. Didn’t he like foreigners?
His problem solved, mine wasn’t. The sleeping pills I bought were less than useless. I’ll remember to pay more for a stronger variety next time.
One of the noisy chattering drivers brazenly announced that his colleague had nipped out to take a “san-yola” which, in English, means “piss.” The bus bog also reeked of it. I tried to avoid using it by paying 1 yuan to use the service station toilets when the bus stopped. The other Chinese inconvenience was no queuing for things. They’ve never been trained to do otherwise.
Delays on freeways through Fujian Province amounted to small crises – crashes involving cars. It doesn’t seem to enter the Chinese brain: you have to drive carefully. The drivers and passengers were sitting at the side of the central reservation alongside their wrecked vehicles.

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How Chinese Can Gamble And Travel

Baby Buddha's - Lotusland

In every Chinese major city, you’re bound to find one, that is if you’re not strolling around window shopping. They stick out, are gigantic and are multi-storied constructs. The basement and first floor house mainly electrical goods: DVD players, woofers, laptops, desktops. The stalls, corridors, lobbies and alcoves are stacked with the latest equipment conveniently reached: clothes, DVDs and CDs usually on the third floor. That Chinese New Year, in full swing, didn’t dampen the enthusiasm by proprietors to sell, even though a lot of them and others had gone away for the celebrations.
Also in downtown Nanning, the locals were busily playing cards, chess and other gambling amusement. I stopped at a crowd of several Chinese interested in an unusual contest. A guy sitting on his honkers throwing 6 inch orange plastic hoops with one hand at a large plastic gold-colored up-ended plastic piggy bank. He kept on missing the pig after at least a round of throwing. A man standing next to the kneeling contestant encouraged the crowd to part with its money – 100 yuan each. If the contestant succeeded in getting a hoop to land around the pig’s tail, little more than a large round nipple, he’d take all the money as winning. If he lost, the crowd would keep all of its money.
Chinese tend to be overtly noisy. A heated argument erupted between the standing man, who was goading the crowd to part with the cash, and the contestant over tactics. All the money was put into a brown wallet-like purse.
The man, after a few further attempts, threw two hoops together which, lo and behold, landed on the pig’s back-end. The guy immediately snatched his winnings and muttered something like a spoilt child and stormed down the street without so much as a by-your-leave, nod, a wink, or a thank you, except a ‘I should think so’ attitude accompanied his stride. Such are the joys of Chinese disputation, usually heated, and never more fully engaged than in a gambling contest.
On the way back to the hostel, I met a Chinese waif and stray, who’d been staying there, munching a greasy muffin from a paper bag. He was walking to the train station.
“Where are you headed?” I asked.
“To Nanchang.”
“Where is it?’
“Half way between here and Shanghai, I wanted to go to Vietnam but the f**king consulate was closed.”
“Sorry to hear it. You must have applied at the wrong time. It’s difficult to get a bed, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I know. I’ve slept on newspaper before because there were no seats.”
“Have a good trip!” I called after him as he went on munching the muffin, his eyes glaring into mine.

Flower Arrangement - Nanning

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Further Thoughts About Vietnam, Hanoi, and a Saunter Under Neo-Lights

Nanning at Night

I wasn’t looking forward to a repeat performance, a 24 hour bus journey back to Wenzhou, so I bought some sleeping tablets, hoping they’d stave off the effects of insomnia.
I had a chat with an English tourist who’d just ended a three and a half month travel around India. He found it a mixture of the euphoric and the depressing. He’d given up his job as an assistant editor for a magazine to travel. He thought some male western attitude to Vietnam and the Vietnamese, misses the point.
“There’s no point in moaning or complaining about being ripped off down there. Aggressive complaining’s not part of their culture.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “you may come off the worst.”
“Besides, how much are you really losing? A few dollars.”
“It is, though, easily done. It’s part of human nature.”
I related the incident about the unpleasant altercation me and Ronan had on the train about the price of the coffee. How to deal with it non-violently, is much more difficult.
“I like hanging around big cities,” he said. “Hanoi is interesting enough to have spent five days there, just seeing how life ticks over, although it’s difficult to orient yourself. It’s not like Phnom Phenh, for example, where the streets are on the grid system, so are easy to follow.”
“Yes, the streets are all over the place,” I agreed, “although this adds to its flavour.”
“I witnessed some brawling between a couple of guys near the Old Gate and between a couple of woman.”
“You’re kidding?” I didn’t see anything like that,” came my astonishment.
“Probably because they had too much to celebrate over Tet.”
“They can be aggressive, the Vietnamese, but I also found them very civil and polite. They’d have too much to lose if the foreigners stopped coming in; the way and magnitude that they do come.”
Later, we went out for a bowl of beef and rice with vegetables and beer at a an open-air restaurant a young German guy recommended who’d also arrived from India. He was also one of those alpha males: “Look dudes. Look how cool I am,” attitude.
He said, according the English tourist, how he’d like to “beat the sh*t out of a Vietnamese.”
I don’t think such an approach or attitude is a sensible idea. He could come off the worst. A bit earlier, he said he thought ‘Vietnam was sh*t.”
Certainly, the country is a bit overrated, but that derogatory comment takes things too far. Like anywhere you travel to, there is always unique characteristics, interesting happenings and a fascinating history.
We left him to stride back to the hostel wearing a gray trilby hiding most of his thick curly hair. I went back to retrieve my camera to go out again and take some night shots of the lit-up Nanning surrounds and of buildings.
I reminisced about the whole point of travel, seeing life as it is, and how different the English guy thought China is from India – maybe more sophisticated, more civilized….
Perhaps I’m joking.

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Throwing Money to the Wind – New Year Travel Problems

Lit-Up Tower - Nanning

The Hanoi world seemed dead. Most were not communicating, were not responding, although there wasn’t that many around to care, really. I wanted some free breakfast – it wasn’t forthcoming – so to make it so, I had to spell it out in black and white. A polite young English guy who directed me and was living in the dormitory, had been working behind the reception for two weeks.
“Do they pay you any money?” I asked
“I get a free bed and food. There has been talk about getting some pay but it hasn’t arrived yet.”
A Vietnamese co-worker produced my ticket for the bus back to Nanning. He also produced a map and indicated:
“You have to go to this hotel to get bus”
“Very far?” I asked
He said it was. It wasn’t.
I could have easily walked it but decided to be vicarious with most of the Vietnamese Dong. I waited for a taxi at the end of the street. The driver charged me 100,000. It should, given the distance, have been no more than about 30,000.
A couple of Chinese guys and a few other tourists were waiting for the bus in the hotel lobby. It did the same by stopping at the same restaurant where you could buy snacks. I threw the Dong away on chocolate pies and potato chips – disgusting and unhealthy.
I made fun with a friendly dog that rolled around on the dusty forecourt. It didn’t take to the potato chip I threw it.
It was a pleasant journey beside limestone outcrops cloaked in green afforestation. This area was a hive of activity during the Communist takeover of Vietnam and during the Vietnam War when supplies from China and the Soviet Union were transported in. Today, it just serves farmers, tourists and nominal traffic. The whole of this area, what with the limestone escarpments, is like Guilin and Yanghsuo in South China’s Guangxi Province.
The Chinese side of the border is much grander, roomier. What do you expect. The country’s got more capital. I was talking to a Chinese teacher yesterday who said he thought China’s lost so much of its past cultural heritage and moral traditions because of money and materialism. I couldn’t agree more.
A British guy working in Guangzhou I was sitting next to, gave me a nudge, as a military inspector got on board to carry out another passport check. “It’s jobs for the boys,” he said.
The bus sped to Nanning.
It had turned dark when the bus dropped me off, leaving me to ensuing Chinese New Year travel chaos.
I couldn’t get a train ticket to Wenzhou – sold out. There were no plane tickets for tomorrow and were a bit pricey for the day after.
I settled on the bus – 22 hours again. There was one ticket left for Wednesday the 9th.
I found the Lotusland Hostel surrounded by trees down on the left of an unlit street beside a canal. I got s dorm bed.
Too many notices were pasted here and there which usually means too many rules that usually get broken.

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“I Don’t Think We Can Say We Didn’t See Anything of Vietnam”

Another Mask Store - Hanoi

The train made a prolonged stop at a station. I toyed with the idea of getting something to eat from a vendor on the platform. I changed my mind. It wasn’t long before another couple with two youngsters raided the cabin and took the bottom bunks. The younger girl played with a fish-shaped balloon. It got a bit irritating as it floated up, invading the top ceiling and nearby space.
The train clicked, rattled on, venting out prolonged bugle-like sounds every so often on its way to Hanoi. There wasn’t much of note to see: a dreary opaque landscape consisting of banana plantations, rice and crop fields, people on motor bikes, and dirt roads. A few sizeable limestone clumps rising up tooth-like appeared. Sad that they are being quarried for raw materials, either sulphur or another kind of powder. Such are the perils of economic development, and that man can only see them for what he thinks they are for – utilization.
The train pulled into Hanoi station around 3:30 p.m. It isn’t that big: run-down, dirty and quite grotty with garbage on the track. I waved away demanding punters who wanted to take me in a taxi or on the back of a motorbike. It was near enough to the alleyway where the Old backpacker’s Hostel is located, so I used my map of the city and legs, and best-footed it forward.
Although not quite, most of the streets were like a ghost town situation: stores shut up, sparse traffic, not even half the usual activity. Well, it was slap bang in the middle of the Tet Festival after all.
Having legged it to the small street, I checked into the Hanoi World Hostel. It is rather shabby and run down. What do you expect for $5 a night, particularly if it’s dorm accommodation.
I booked a bus ticket back to Nanning for the next day. As it was nearing the end of my last full day in Vietnam, I went to capture any Hanoi atmosphere that I could: entered a DVD store that was stacked to bursting and bought a three set copy entitled, ‘Vietnam, The Ten Thousand Day War.’
A gondola woman vendor sold pineapple, 40,000 Dong for two lots. I was getting a vicarious attitude, throwing the money away like confetti. I wouldn’t be in the country to spend any more after tomorrow, so best to get rid of it.
Opposite the hostel, I went into a store to buy a bottle of Tiger beer. The owner said “thank you” in Vietnamese which means “gamba.”

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