So, I just checked my FaceBook inbox, where I had received a message from a friend regarding my blatant lack of discipline when it comes to writing regularly—recording accounts of my many misadventures in Asia, tales of Lucy’s love for beach romping and train riding, stories of Sara’s work with Habitat for Humanity Vietnam and the Carter Work Project. The thing is——Jean is right. I am failing miserably in this regard and simply must bully (if need be) my writer self into writerly action. So here goes—————-
Regarding the journey by train between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, let me assure you, if you have done it once, you don’t need to do it again. Although the trip takes 30 hours, it is probably worth undertaking on one occasion, so you can see the changing landscape along the length of the country. And frankly some of the scenery between Da Nang and Hue is stunning. The tracks run along cliffs which tower over the sea on one side and are dwarfed by mountains on the other. I don’t think you can see the coast from this perspective by any other means.
However, now that I’ve traveled both directions between Saigon and Hanoi, I’m not inclined to do it a third time, if I can avoid it. Several reasons——— First, rail travel in Vietnam allows for little privacy and literally no security for your luggage, unless you purchase all four berths in a compartment and bring along a friend who can stay in your space and guard your belongings if you need to use the restroom or take a trip to the dining car. The compartments do not lock from the outside, and the Vietnamese will welcome the opportunity to move into your space, if you leave it vacant for even a moment or two.
When friends warned us about this, we, as westerners, found it hard to imagine. Sara, at least, disregarded this information completely when we stopped briefly in Hue. I exited the train to take Lucy “potty,” reminding Sara to stay in the compartment. However, while walking the platform a moment later, I saw Sara behind me. Panicked, I handed Lucy’s leash off to Sara, RAN for the train, and literally fought my way through the throng to our compartment, where, in a matter of two or three minutes of our being away, two people had moved in with their three suitcases and one over-sized box, the box encased completely in tape, like a skin. The box wielding pair did not want to leave! They were most unhappy. We clearly had extra room, and that surplus might as well be theirs—no notion of privacy, no notion of personal space! Gesturing intently toward the empty bunks, arms flailing (they spoke no English; I spoke just as little Vietnamese) one of the would-be squatters communicated his squatterly intention. There was nothing for me to do but raise my voice, gesture with equal intent toward the door, stand my ground, quite literally, and indicate my land-lordly ruling on the matter. Feud ended.
Why else might you not want to travel by train more than once along this route? The compartments are far from clean, the food is frighteningly impossible to identify, and your space will be shared with roaches and other six-legged creatures scurrying across the floor and along the wall—no matter your belief in the virtue of personal space—space that is spotless and insect free.
Gosh, Jean, I hope you are happy. Any and all Skype scolding of this writer in training not necessary!