Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Where am I?

Today I am in Hanoi, Vietnam.

After a two week summer project teaching middle and primary school English teachers in Gansu, I started my trek down South towards Nanning. The 34 hour train trip was luxurious with its air condition and beds. I only had two nights and one day on the train. Often foreigners love train rides since it gives them a chance to talk to local people and get to experience the local flavor of public transportation. For me the 6 people sharing my train space were completely silent. They didn't talk to each other. They didn't talk to me.

In a few words, the train ride was an enjoyable solitary, silent, meditative retreat.

I arrived in Nanning at 5 am and sat at the outdoor benches in the quiet dark train station until the sun rose watching the police walk around waking up anyone who was using the benches as a bed. Even though I had very specific directions for the only hostel in Nanning, I didn't want to wander a new city in the dark.

Lotusland is in a good location and the hostel staff was able to get my Vietnam visa in 3 days. The place is expensive. Ten dollars for a bed compared to $3 beds in Xian; however, they took care of my visa which was one stress I didn't have to worry about. Living abroad for 3 years, I have learned not to trust deadlines and was greatly surprised that a 3 day visa meant 3 days.

I spent the three days in Nanning walking the streets in the morning and sitting in air conditioned shopping malls during the hot humid hours. I declined to see the new Harry Potter movie just because it was so expensive. Nanning is a city that has been flattened, almost all of its old buildings gone, replaced with a modern China. Even the green parts on the map that I took a bus too were modern, no longer old ancient parks but modern golf courses instead.

I took a luxurious air conditioned 8 hour bus ride from Nanning to Hanoi where the border crossing was easy even with the lack of lines and order on the Vietnam side. Arriving in Hanoi, I got ripped off by the taxi driver. I was charged twice the fare to go to the hotel where my friend from Peace Corps Guinea was staying. I hate being fresh bait, a newcomer to a city, but have learned how to find peace in being taken advantage of. It happens. There is no point in getting all angry and upset about it.

Vietnam is so different from China. The French influence is seen in the architecture and actually Vietnam reminds me of West Africa. France left a legacy of baguettes and coffee houses in both places.

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