• Bob Taylor

Musings - Day 25

Day 25 – 20th January 2020

Keep up the messages guys they’re great. Special thanks today go my cousin Jackie and her family in Spain, your words were inspiring. Thank you, all for following the journey.

When I boarded my train last night, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of two lovely young Chinese ladies, sharing the same sleeping compartment on the overnight train to Hanoi. They were students on a rare exchange to Vietnam to further their studies, starting just after the Vietnamese New year on Saturday. They noticed me struggling with my knee and offered to swap one of their bottom bunks for my top. I never got to try but it would have been a real problem for me to attempt to clamber up the side foothold arrangement, in order to launch myself onto the top bunk. So for their kindness I was very grateful. They noticed the mascot and immediately fell for little Ernie the journey bear. Their names were Wang Jing on the left and Yang Fan on the right. They are students in Environmental Studies and Food Science respectively. Genuinely nice young girls who helped an old codger like me.

The Chinese border came along at around 11pm, when everyone on the train had to get off with all their belongings. We were all then shunted into a customs hall were the usual scanning took place. In front of me Wang Jing had really quite a grilling about her visa to travel, only afterwards explaining how difficult it is for the Chinese to go abroad. I seemed to whizz through, but because we all had to pass through the second bank of questionnaires as a unit, the speedier progress turned out to be inconsequential. Yang Fan, like me had no problems but shared obvious concern that her little mate was having some issues. All turned out well though, with us all receiving our exit stamps. Back on the train for half an hour when we had to repeat the process in a far less salubrious building on the Vietnamese side. Two hours in, it had become a tiresome queuing exercise at 01:30am. Thankfully though, once we re-boarded we were able to put our clocks back an hour. We were due into Hanoi around 05:30am but I was awake at four. The stewardess came around the train to give us all an alarm shout fifteen minutes before our destination, but like all students the girls felt that sleep was an integral part of their studies. We said our goodbyes to which both girls individually wrapped both hands around my proffered shaking hand gesture, making it quite a touching departure. Nice kids – I wish them well.

So here in Hanoi. I can tell you that I was Hanoiyed when the taxi driver ripped me off for two quid. I had to get across town to the central station, so taxi was my only option at 05:30am. I procured my electronic ticket purchased yesterday only to find that my train had been delayed by an hour with no explanation as to why? I mused that the train drivers breakfast was cold and that he’d thrown an almighty tantrum, throwing his toy engine to the ground. It was only a little bit of wandering self-indulgence to make the waiting time pass more quickly. As it happened, I didn’t need the distraction because along came my first English voices of the whole trip. Tracey and Mark from Cornwall. On their six week holidays, ending up visiting his uncle in Perth, Western Australia. They hadn’t booked a sleeper like me, because they were getting off after nine hours, so they were in the soft seats at the front of the train. The buffet car was at the front, so I passed them later and was able to share a beer and a story or two.

Trains between Hanoi & Saigon are sometimes referred to as the Reunification Express by guide books and tourist agencies, although there are now a whole range of trains on this route, nonetheless no single train officially carries this name. The line was completed by the French in 1936, when trains linked Hanoi to Saigon until 1954. It was when Vietnam was divided into north and south and the railway was cut. The trains resumed on 31 December 1976, after the brutal unedifying war, unifying the country once more. Today it is easy to travel the length of Vietnam using the reunification railway, a travel experience in its own right. Over the last decade the Hanoi-Saigon (still often referred to that way locally, rather than Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh) train service has steadily improved with more trains and newer rolling stock. Amazingly, the trains passed by people working alongside the railway not two feet from their shoulders without them even turning a blind eye. Businesses flourished no more than ten feet from the track in some places. The temperature has moved up with the train indicating twenty degrees earlier, although it is still very cloudy out there. Today, a first! It rained!

Plenty of time to muse on my own this evening, coming up with an intriguing question that troubled me for a while, and I never satisfactorily answered.

‘Can the blind hear me looking at them?’

I was a little strung out around an hour ago, so I gave the train the unexpurgated rendition of “Lucy in the sky with diamonds.” As I crooned at a fair rate of decibels… “Picture yourself on a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies…” the elderly Vietnamese couple in the bunks below mine did their level best to join in but clapped way out of time. “When somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly, the girl with kaleidoscope eyes…” Boy-did I ever cane the drums at this point! I looked down – they were still smiling.

Simon Cowell did not appear in the doorway, at any time, by the way.

More tomorrow.

Position: 17°53'21” N 106°01'17”E – Miles completed: 09492

Location: Somewhere due north of Da Nang, Vietnam 21:44 - 20th January 2020 - Journey 25 days 20 hours


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