I bet some of you forget I was midway through my trip to Vietnam in August when North Korea opted to act all aggressive and then I got freshly pressed and then all sorts of fallout from that until… hey… it’s a few weeks later and I’m still on Cat Ba Island! With the temperature dropping to -12 Celsius, I’m really wishing I was back in Vietnam, complaining about the heat and the humidity and dreaming of air conditioned hotel rooms, instead of shivering for warmth and debating if I should even bother to go have lunch or just rub my hands over a boiling kettle instead. So back to warmer times in warmer climes.
Day 6 (12/08/2010)
I won’t miss this hotel with the concrete mattresses, erratic toilets, cracked walls and bedframes stacked in the halls as decorations.
Breakfast is like lunch at this place. Buffet style. It’s loud and it’s bland and it fills a hole, barely. At least the fruit is fresh.
It’s a French tender back to the Phoenix Cruiser. French because it’s me and then six to eight French people. One of the group is French-Vietnamese, or vice versa. I’m not sure which. The rain is erratic and it’s today my camera battery dies. D’oh!
Bringing an adapter – good.
Forgetting the charger – so very not good.
I only missed one exquisite photo so it’s okay.
En route to the Phoenix Cruiser we basically backtrack from the trip to Cat Ba two days ago. The boat passed one of the karsts where the ocean has done some impressive erosion. The karts juts 15-20 metres out of the sea but that base of it, there is a low, wide hollowing that makes for a shortcut for smaller boats. In fact, a boat slips through there as we pass. Stupid battery charger in Dongducheon. Stupider packing by Byron.
What saves his situation for me is that I’m going to remember that visual, of a Vietnamese rowboat slipping under a karst and that the French guy who so far today spend the entire trip staring down at his viewfinder, and who won’t see Halong Bay until he’s back in Lyons just happens to be…
Okay. I’m a huge fan and proponent of digital cameras and lightweight video recorders. Used in moderation. I go places to see and experience those places. Which is why I don’t glue my camera to my hand.
I take a picture – sometimes as many as four – and then my camera goes back into its carrying case. It helps that I have a small, but good quality camera (thanks mom!) and I can take a good picture.
…the reason I find it funny is that at this point the French guy has holstered his video camera and is starting photos from earlier in the trip on a laptop screen. Oi!
Back on the Phoenix Cruiser for lunch. No one from my earlier sojourn is here, but I meet a Mexican who trains pilots for Vietnam Airlines. Sounds like a good gig to me. As we chat, he’s with a Vietnamese girl from Saigon who grew up in Chau Doc (I was there on my first visit to Vietnam, which you’ll read about eventually)! I realize a big language difference between the ‘West’ and Asia. Westerners (English/Spanish/French…) adapt to situations with relative ease, whereas Asians struggle greatly with these same situations. It partially has to do with the importance of tone – Vietnam has six tones, which can vastly change a word’s meaning – but it also has to do with dispersion. English, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese traveled, explored and colonized (or conquered) the globe and due to that diaspora during a time when communications moved at a stately pace, those languages evolved in differing ways by the cultures surrounding them. But each speaker of one of these scattered languages can communicate with another native speaker. That’s English’s greatest strength. English, American, Kiwi, Irish, Aussie, Canadian, South African, Ghanaian, Kenyan, Indian – even though the intonation can change the information is transmittable. (Well… usually, I’ve been to Glasgow after all and I needed an interpreter.)
Asian languages and ears struggle mightily with that leap.
For example in Spain it is pronounced Mex-i-co
but in Mexico they say it Meh-hee-co.
It was one of that ‘a-ha’ moments that really illuminated things for me. It’s actually made me a more patient teacher and communicator when I’m fumbling with my Korean because a wrongly enunciated word leads to confusion at best and vacant stares at worse. (Well, worst is when an ajumma berates you for some unintended and inexplicable slight.)
The trip back to Hanoi is forgettable. Indeed, all I recall is stopping at the same shoddy souvenir stand as we did on the way to Halong Bay.
Back in Hanoi and the hostel is full. Huh? On a Thursday? Odd. There is one bed left, a foldout for $5 US.
Forget it. I’m too old to sleep on a foldout, in a dorm, with no locker, right by the door. I just can’t do it.
I won’t do it.
So I leave and wander down the hostel row looking for a more expensive, but more affordable room. (If you catch my drift.)
$24? $19? $16?
I take a deep breath. If I swallow my dislike of the fold out, that $11 saved will permit me to splurge on a better room for my last two nights in Vietnam.
Very begrudgingly I hand over $5 US to get a crappy foldout bed in the crappiest position possible in the hostel.
(Come tomorrow I’ll be delighted I opted for that crappy foldout bed.)
My brilliant plan to pack light was based on December temperatures and humidity. A shirt a day. However, August’s hot, wet season has meant two shirts a day.
I brought three.
I select the least ripe and ship everything else for laundering.
I crave Vietnamese food, but first I want a beer. My grande plan; beer, banter, food. How can I be this dumb at this age? I get a beer, or two – it may have been happy hour – and sit down off by myself.
I’m not one to crash groups, even though in a hostel it’s not crashing as much as mingling and is one of the reasons travelers stay at hostels.
I’m not alone in being alone. Beside me and chomping down on a good sized burger is a Dutchman named Koen. He’s ridiculously young but turns out to be a top notch guy. We strike up an easy conversation about travel (which is where virtually all hostel conversations start – about travelling) and are soon joined by two South African girls Estelle and Cristene due to the simple reasoning of ‘there be space!’ They too much happily away on their hostel burgers. The burgers are good and after long stretches on the road, eating everything from spiders to tofu, oddly shaped fruits to insects, some easily identifiable comfort food can be as healing as a 40 minute massage.
No! Ack – back to Cat Ba with you madame!
The other three enjoy the added bonus of speaking Dutch… or Afrikaans. They apologize a time or two but I’m happy hanging out and soaking up the atmosphere. They are not excluding me, but pampering themselves. It’s like the burgers. Koen can converse in his native tongue and so can the girls. I let their tongues run. I don’t ahve a burger as I had one earlier in the week and I was afraid it was undercooked.
I intend to break off and grab some pho but the break never comes. Drinking on an empty stomach never leads to good things. I stand up to get another beer and realize… oh lovely… I’ve been sitting on a wet bench and now the back of my shorts are soaked! Good thing the rest of my clothes are in the laundry. In Vietnam, during the rainy, humid summer season it just doesn’t matter.
Estelle runs the night, she knows a few places. We start at 1/2 Man, 1/2 Noodle. “Drink here or we shoot the puppy.” That’s their slogan. We have a drink. No puppies were shot during our tenure there.
From there it is to ‘Top Bar’ or ‘Roof Club.’ Climb up four flights of stairs, past the naked man on his back in a pink lit room with open curtains (“Boomboom?” That’d be my guess) and you’re there!
We stand on one foot for three minutes to win some sort of vodka drink. There is a pool table on the L-shaped patio. It also must have the two worst pool cues in Hanoi. One appears made for a five year old and the other, while longer, has been snapped in half – with a still jagged end! Both roll as true as crooked branches.
Slowly the club fills, we literally kick our shoes off and dance and drink the night away.
For some reason, we leave at some early, early hour, go to the hostel, have some post-midnight snack (or, in my case, dinner.) Then have to return to the ‘Roof Club’ to fetch flip flops. We take two motos but for some reason don’t pay them. Estelle and the driver had a disagreement on price. Likely the motos agreed to a low-ball price thinking we’d forget it and jack it up later. No dice.
Sleep, finally. In my crappy foldout bed. Only after managing to puncture my foot on the bedframe. I was overcharged at $5US I say!