Wednesday, March 8, 2017

To Hue On The Train

I packed my stuff up from my hostel in Ho Chi Minh City, and asked Jessie at the hostel to call a cab for me.  She said she would call a Grab car, and that it would arrive at 11:30 in the morning.  I sat around and waited for a while, and before I knew it, it was 11:40 in the morning, and no car had arrived.  So I asked Jessie again when the cab was coming, and she got a flustered look on her face; she told me that she got busy and forgot to call.  So she tried Uber, and a car showed up within a couple of minutes.  It was no big deal; I had plenty of time.  I always try to get to a transportation hub earlier than necessary just in case some glitch happens.  I got in the car and headed for the train station.

I arrived at the train station, found out what track my train was on, and it was already there, and it opened to board about ten minutes before I got there.  I went to the compartment, and found that I had an upper bunk.  Bummer.  But definitely survivable.  There was still at least a half hour before the train took off, so I went and got some snacks and beverages.  Shortly after I returned to the compartment, the other upper berth passenger showed up, and he was from Italy.  I figured that the people assigned to the bottom would let us sit there until it was time to sleep or until they wanted to take a nap, and told the Italian guy that usually the bottom bunk passengers let you hang out on the bottom for a while.  But when the two passengers who had the bottom bunks showed up, they were an elderly Vietnamese couple, and seemed quite disconcerted that we were sitting on their bunks.  Oh, well, obviously they were not going to share their bunks with us, as others had on other trains I had been on.  So we moved to the top bunks, and I resigned myself to laying in that cramped space for the whole voyage.

Then the Italian guy had a great idea.  He said he was going to find one of the cars that just had seats, and sit in an empty seat by the window, and if somebody came along and asked him to move, he'd move.  Or he could go to the restaurant car.  So he took off for parts unknown.  Shortly after that, I decided to attempt the same move.  I went to the car right behind the one I was in, and it had a bunck of wooden seats, and was almost empty.  So I just sat by the window for a while, and I was able to snap some pictures too.

After a while, I decided to try to find the restaurant car.  So I went traipsing towards the front of the train, and in the process, got questioned by several of the car attendants as to what I was doing in their car.  I told each of them I was looking for the restaurant car, and then they let me pass without further questioning.  When I got to the restaurant car, I found my Italian suitemate sitting there talking to a Vietnamese kid who spoke English very well, but it was obvious it was just “school English” rather than English learned from conversations with people, which he confirmed.  I sat down to hang out with them, and he told me he was in the eighth grade, and that he hardly ever had a chance to talk to English speakers.  He was obviously a very smart kid; he picked up on a lot of things and liked to talk about subjects like the kinetic energy of the train.  One peculiarity was that he spoke EXTREMELY loudly.  But he was a good companion to talk to, and could converse fluidly on a variety of subject, even though his English was a little bit unusually stilted.  The kid was only going a short distance, so he got off the train about a half hour after I met up with the two of them; we wished him well.

I went back to the compartment shortly after that to lie down for a bit; I didn't really want to sleep, but just to rest my mind.  The Vietnamese couple was fast asleep on their bunks.  Maybe they were too tired to share, and just wanted to sleep without disturbances.  But it turned out they were going a shorter distance than the Italian guy and I were (we were both going to Hue), because in the morning, when I woke up, there were two kids who had taken their place somewhere along the line.  I went to sleep around one in the morning on the train; the Italian guy went to slep much earlier in the evening and woke up before me.  I went to the restaurant car to eat breakfast, and he was there again, so I joined him for breakfast.  When I woke up, we had just passed Hoi An, so there was only about two hundred kilometers to go to Hue.

Danang was the next major stop before Hue, and in Danang, the kids got off, and were replaced by a backpacking couple.  The guy was from Denmark, and his girlfriend was from Australia.  They had both been living in Australia for a while, and then took off to travel.  They were very social, and we had some good conversation in the short time that they were on the train from Danang to Hue.  It was a little bit drawn out, because we had two stops where we stopped for a very long time, so even though it was not that long a distance, it was a little longer than we thought it would be.  The whole trip from Saigon to Hue ended up being about twenty-three hours in total, but it probably saved me a week of travel from Saigon, and also may have saved me from backtracking (though I could have taken a different route the other way, it was still fun to have the experience of taking the train).

When I got to Hue, I had to bid the three of them good-bye, because I had to figure out where to pick up my motorbike, which I had shipped from Saigon a couple of days before I left.  So the three of them took off into the city together, while I wandered around the train station trying to figure out where the shipped motorbikes were.  I wasn't having much luck, so I asked a station officer, “Xe may di Saigon” (which is a poorly constructed sentence in Vietnamese that means “Motorbike goes Saigon”) and she pointed me to a dock at the very end of the station.  But she seemed impressed that I was speaking (or attempting to speak) Vietnamese, and smiled broadly.

I went to the dock, and immediately saw my bike surrounded by a makeshift crate there, and packed in cardboard.  Unfortunately, the helmet was on the rack, and had been wrapped to the rack with sticky tape (I was hoping they would use cord, but if they used tape, that they would wrap it in paper first, but no such luck), so there are now sticky, broad tape marks all over my helmet.  Oh well, I'll live.  There were a bunch of Vietnamese guys sitting on the dock drinking liquor and they tried to get me to drink with them, but I kept begging off.  I've been staying away from the booze lately, and trying to keep that going.  They were very persistent, but I kept saying, “Khong, cam on” (“No, thanks”), until they finally quit trying to get me to drink with them.  They started taking the crate and the packing apart, and screwing the mirrors back on.  While they were doing that, a couple of South African guys came along and were curious about the process because they wanted to ship their motorbikes, and so they asked me a bunch of questions about the procedure.  One of the Vietnamese guys asked where they were from, and they told them they were from South Africa, but the guy looked puzzled, so I told him, “Nam Phi”, which means “South Africa”.

As an aside, my Vietnamese is getting much better.  Its still not to the point where I can have a detailed conversation, but I've been finding that I can have entire simple interactions with people completely in Vietnamese, with multiple back-and-forths, and then understanding what they say back to me, which is really cool to me.

The South Africans stuck around to drink a bit with the Vietnamese guys, who had their hooch in a plastic water bottle.  I had to take off to find gasoline, because they had drained my tank in Saigon.  So I went outside the station to see if I could spot any gas stations, but none seemed to be in sight.  I was getting ready to check Google Maps to find a gas station nearby, when I heard a woman in a conical hat say, “Gas?” to me, and hold up a plastic water bottle filled with liquid.  Apparently there are a bunch of people who hang out outside the train station with water bottles filled with gas for those who shipped their motorbikes.  But they charge a lot more than the gas stations.  It was about 30,000 dong for a small size water bottle, so I bought two.  Strangely enough, the gas was a green liquid, and didn't look like any gas I had ever seen before.  But I poured it into my bike's tank, and it started up.  Yippee!

Then I had to drive my bike down this really steep ramp off the dock, and there was a concrete and iron fence just a few feet past where the ramp ended.  My bike was totally packed with my gear, which made it heavier and more unmanageable, and I didn't want to unpack my bike and pack it again at the bottom of the ramp, so I just gung-ho'd it, even though I thought I might crash into the fence, but it turned out OK.  So I set off to find a hotel in Hue.

I rode around for a while, and didn't see many places, and I thought the hotels I saw might be a little expensive-looking (you can really never tell here...some places that look high-class are amazingly cheap), so I thought I'd try, even though I'd had some problems finding places that I had booked with them in the past.  Sure enough, I had a hard time finding the place I booked.  It was not where the map said it was, and I drove up and down the street where it was supposed to be over and over again without success.  I was groaning in frustration, and stopped several times to ask local businesses if they knew where my hotel was.  It turned out it was in this barely visible alley off the street shown on the map, but about a block away from where the map said it was.  I was relieved to find the place, and parked my bike where they told me to put it, a little ways down the alley, and unloaded my stuff.  I was a little concerned because this is the most open and unguarded my bike has been, but it is still there, hopefully it will stay there for my entire stay here.  The hotel is pretty nice, and only about ten bucks a night for a private room, though the wi-fi is spotty and mostly not working.

So I did some sightseeing around the city of Hue on foot, and then came back to the hotel to crash; I went to bed pretty early.  The next morning, I went out to walk around some more (still haven't used my bike since I parked it, but I noticed somebody had moved it a few feet away from where it was, which must have been quite a feat since my front wheel was locked).

I ran across a phone store, and decided to stop in.  I had gotten my phone stolen in Saigon a few days before, and bought one in Saigon that was the same model as the one that got stolen.  But my new phone had been overheating a lot, and the battery was depleting a LOT quicker than the battery in my stolen phone had.  The overheating was also making my camera shut down frequently.  I had decided that I was going to take it back to the store in Saigon to see if I could get it repaired or replaced (they had told me there was a one year warranty on it), but here was the same brand of phone store in Hue, so I decided to see if they would do something about it.  They were really helpful, they changed it out immediately even though I had thrown away the box and had left the earphones back at my hotel (of course, I hadn't planned on trying to trade in my phone when I went out walking, but since I ran across this store, I decided to give it a shot).  They told me they would give me the new phone without the box and earphones, and started helping me set it up.  But I couldn't sign into Google because it was telling me that it thought I was suspicious, and they needed to call my US number that I had given for verification.  Shit.  I'm not really surprised that they were suspicious, though, because I now have three different phones of the same model that have tried to log in to my account from Vietnam.  I couldn't do the verification to my US phone number from there, but I could probably do it from my hotel.  So I could not set up any Google stuff, and here I was all the way across town after just wandering aimlessly, with no access to Google Maps to help me get back to my hotel.  But I just went in the direction that I thought I should go in, and that worked out OK; I got back to my hotel fine.  Then when I got there, Google suddenly let me log in without the extra verification step that it had persistently asked me for at the store (I tried several times there).  So I was able to set up my phone, download needed apps, etc., for the SECOND time in just a few days.  And it seems so far like this new phone is not a lemon.

No comments:

Post a Comment