I arrived in Hanoi at 4:30am and I must say it wasn’t a good start. First – the hostel was supposed to pick me up at the station. At 5:05am, there was only myself and half a million taxi drivers, so… feeling somewhat unsafe (probably due to fatigue), I got a cab and went to the hostel. The gates were locked, because buddy had just left to go get me. Ace. He was back very shortly though – I figure he must have realized quickly that I wasn’t waiting around. he let me in and his English wasn’t very good. He asked me to pay for the room upfront, but they didn’t take Visa. I told him I needed sleep and would find an ATM the next day. He was cool with that. So he took me upstairs to "The Nunnery" – the girls’ dorm at the hostel. At this point it is about 5:20am. Everyone in there is sleeping (of course). So in the dark room he points to an upper bunk, then to a locker and says, "Number 12, you. Okay?" And left. I didn’t even know where a toilet was. Cranky, and still fully dressed in clothes I’d been wearing for two days on the train, I crawled up my ladder and into bed. At least it was clean and the pillow was very soft.
I woke up at about 8:45am. Most of the Nunnery was already empty. These girls move fast! I finally showered (burning my right hand on the hot water pipe in the process), put on clean clothes, and headed downstairs. I quickly went online to update my Facebook and check email. Then a quick, simple (but free!) breakfast of bread and tea. Then, with a small map from the hostel, I hit the streets of Hanoi.
I made it to the ATM no problem, but I’ve been lost 100 times since then. Being lost is generally fun – you see more that way. First, I went to "Fruit Shake Street" which was just shops, like everywhere else. If there is something more special about it, I missed it. Then I went to Dong Xuan Market. Yikes! It was mostly full of cap. The shops on the street are definitely more interesting. Then I bought a ticket to see Thang Long Water Puppets, but that doesn’t start for two more hours. I need a working watch. Then I went to Ngoc Son Temple, which is in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake. It was small, but nice. Unfortunately, none of the signs were in English so I don’t really know what that’s about.
Now I’m sitting in an outdoor cafe, having a small internal panic attack. To counteract how I’m feeling, I ate a club sandwich and drank a Diet Coke. Because I’m feeling, oh, I don’t know. Homesick? But not for Canada, just for my own space. For something familiar. Thus the comfort food while I wait for the water puppet show (whatever that may be). I’m feeling very unanchored, floating about. I’m tired of not knowing anyone already. In Langkawi, I got to know lots of people. Not just the other travelers at Zack’s, but some of the locals, too. In Saigon, I had a private room and hardly even saw other people. The only people I even chatted with in Saigon was the engineer from Belfast who sat next to me on the bus, and the Czech couple living in Singapore that I sat with at lunch during the tour. Side note – they were also on the train, but in a different car. I wonder if they are also in Hanoi now? This hostel seems friendly and I’ll join their happy hour tonight to see if I can meet some others. At least I’m getting used to sharing a toilet. Maybe I won’t be the world’s worst roommate once I get to London. I mean, at least there I will have my own room.
Back to the train.
I really did sleep most of that first night, and a chunk of the next day, for that matter. Mostly because it was more comfortable to lay down than to sit on the bunk, and then the steady (mostly) motion of the train made me sleepy. Partway through that day the brother/sister duo in the top bunks moved out and a new lady moved in. Gramps and the boy were still there. I finally got fed that night. There was one porter that spoke limited English. Good thing, the bananas had gotten over-ripe and I refused to eat them any more. I’m a picky banana person as it is. I ate two of them in their over-ripe state and now it will be a long fuck time before I willingly eat another one. Dinner was only 15,000 dong* (so just shy of $1US) and I had good chicken, plain rice, the most tasteless soup in history, and the grossest pickled "vegetables" (I’m assuming that’s what they were) in the world. Worth a dollar though!
The new woman in the top bunk managed to put me off in the first 30 seconds I saw her. Her high heeled shoes were off, but she was standing on both bottom bunks like she owned the place. A while later, at the next stop, she indicated that she wanted to wear my flipflops. I hate other people’s feet, and I’m not keen on lending other people my shoes. But because my Vietnamese is too limited** to explain this particular neurosis of mine (HA!) and I couldn’t see her shoes either, I relented and let her wear mine***. She went out on the platform, came back, left again (all in my shoes) when it dawns on me… I can’t even use the effing toilet until she returns. "That’s it!" I thought, "No more Jodi-shoes for you!" When she came back, she left my shoes in the middle of the berth (not where she found them!) and didn’t even thank me. Definitely no more shoes for her. I tucked them away. Well, next time she wanted to leave the room, she looked around for my shoes and pointed at her feet. I looked around the floor, spotted her shoes, gave her a big smile, and pointed at her shoes. Went back to my book. She gave me a dirty look and put her heels on. We weren’t friends anymore. Not my fault! Get your own comfy shoes, bitch****. Partway through the evening she took her stuff and left our room, not to return. I felt much safer about my shoes after that.
I forgot to write down something funny that our tour guide ("Hi") said accidentally. We went to a factory where victims of Agent Orange were making handicrafts. But because of his accent, what Hi kept saying was, "We go to handicrap factory. You can buy handicraps made by handicrap people." Very nice.
*If there is EVER a contest about which country has the goofiest sounding currency, I’m for sure voting for Vietnam. Dong. Heh heh.
***For me, this was such an act of good will that I should get some sort of medal for trying to bring together our cultures or something.
****Maybe no medal for me.