Flashbacks of Nam: Day 71

Nam 013

Tears dropped with the rain this morning as the words "Port of Kobe" came into clear focus. A brass band resonated off our approaching ship from the dock, and the faculty found some early morning giggles by marching to the beat. I, on the other hand, felt static and confused with the impending implications of a last foreign port. I have yet to discuss so many things, complete multitudes of homework, meet 600 more people, and understand what this trip is all about. Twenty days remain, and in order to accept the future, I need to reflect on the past. After watching too many Vietnam War films at sea, I became overly excited for this new country of wonder and history. Wading up the Saigon River lacked the usual color and vigor of a port sunrise, but today, little fishing boats approached us from all sides, curious as to who was on board and what the ship was like. I tried to let this moment sink into my memory; however, I was preoccupied by the inevitable conversation with Garrett…that he wasn't going to join me for Ha Long Bay.

After the predicted blow, I spent my morning shower in tears, trying to comprehend how I could still enjoy this port for which I was so enthused. Hours of contemplating later, I decided to make my own dreams come true, so I went. Ho Chi Minh City buzzed with motorbikes, but I paid no mind to the rickshaws that were following me down the street. Instead, I enjoyed the little shops and the conical hats that littered the heads of many.

Nam 014

Alexis, a few other girls, and I took a service trip to nearby schools for the deaf and an orphanage that housed children who suffered physical and mental handicaps. I exercised my artistic skills and drew pictures of Mickey Mouse and caricatures of Alexis for the little girls who loved the humor and signed their appreciation to each other and to us. A short night of market shopping, incredible bargains, and leisurely walking concluded with intense packing for a trip that would mark my memory forever.

I awoke at 4:30am, hitched a ride with four other random kids, waited in six different lines for airline tickets, and flew off to Hanoi by my lonesome. I couldn't help but hear the sounds of my parents' voices echoing in my ear, "Please promise me you will NEVER travel alone." I felt incredibly torn between keeping my family at ease and following my own path that I would surely regret forever not taking. The answer was obvious.

Upon arrival in Hanoi, aimless wandering got me to the city bus station, where about ten motorbike drivers helped me get onto the right route. I gave the astounded bus fare collector a dollar bill, hoping he wouldn't kick me off from lack of Dong. Instead, he charged me more, kept the dollar for himself, and I remained on the bus next to a woman squatting and hurling on the floor. Pleasant.

The next bus ride made history in my own timeline, a roller coaster literally and mentally. A man approached me off the city bus and shouted "HA LONG BAY?" about three inches from my face. It seemed he knew what he was doing, so I followed him to a ticket office, paid three dollars, and climbed onto a mini bus where I was forced to sit in the back. The song "Rosa Parks" stuck in my head for the remainder of the trip.

Once I was an official passenger, the driver pulled out of the station, as though all he needed was one real ticket holder to validate his transportation services. About three minutes later, ten of the driver's "boys" piled onto the bus in a frenzy, and I thought I was surely done for. I masked my all-consuming worry by listening to my iPod, but that only spurred on the interest of multiple guys to come check out my electronics.

Just before I let myself get comfortable in my seat, a man rolled next to the bus with the oldest rickshaw known to Vietnam, and on this rickshaw sat a large metal apparatus that I can only imagine was a land mine (or rather, an engine). And as was expected, on this magical mystery tour to Ha Long Bay, the men grabbed the explosive/mechanical device and hauled it onto the bus. I laughed, thinking this trip couldn't get any more eventful…keep in mind we had yet to even leave the sidewalk outside the station.

I flew from one side of the bus to the other as the driver weaved through cars and traffic, laying on his horn to notify the city he was passing. One man always kept his head out the door and yelled at people on the side of the road, some of whom waved us down and hopped on for a few miles. At one point, I had four old men watching Family Guy on my video iPod and wanting to exchange their cell phones for my hi-tech contraption.

What do you think of my first solo journey thus far? Continue reading The Terror of the Tung, and/or comment below!