Saturday, June 23, 2012
The wonder that one can not impart to other
After a week adrift in the barely-organized chaos of Hanoi, it felt strange to wake up to silence. The constant blare of motorbike horns and shouts from the street vendors had been replaced with the steady chug of the ship's engines, and with no plans for the morning, I allowed the gentle rocking of the top-heavy junk to lull me back to sleep. After a quick, awkward, and luke-warm shower, I walked up to the dining room, where my companions were just finishing breakfast. Last night's dinner, greasy and savory, still weighed heavily in my stomach, so I waved off the crew's offer of eggs and toast, and simply asked for a cup of strong, black coffee, and took the saucer to the top deck. Slouching into a wicker chair, drinking coffee, I watched the jutting green and grey peaks of Ha Long Bay float past, shrouded in mist, and looking for all the world like a silk tapestry come to life. It was only then that I could truly and physically comprehend the distance from home I was.
The previous week had certainly been a blur. After 14 hours on a jet to Hang Kong (next to a teenager who, given his constant, omni-directional sneezing, seemed to have some sort of Mega-SARS), two plane changes at the airport, and another 2 hours to Hanoi, I was hardly in a condition to start a full day; but yet, there I was, checking into a hotel at 11 am. I had enough time for a quick shower and a change of clothes before meeting the other students in the program in the hotel lobby, thankfully, but I was mostly running on autopilot at that point in time. We went to get some food, bun cha; char-grilled (on the sidewalk!) pork patties we placed in bowls of hot vermicelli, spiced with fish sauce, chili paste, and fresh basil. Delicious, but quite a bit of a shock to an American digestive track. Afterwards we walked down to picturesque Hoan Kiem lake, enjoying the old red bridge, bright paper lanterns, and an early evening lightning storm. Crossing a main square and rotary was my first realization that I would not be riding a motorbike in Hanoi.
After a week of classes and sight-seeing in Hanoi, plus an entire day spent in bed with Conrad-ian fever dreams and cramps (thanks, kid, for that), we all took our trip to Ha Long bay before the group split up between Hanoi and Saigon. After feeling like a salmon trying to swim upstream, some spelunking, squid fishing, and swimming was just what I needed to relax and prepare for Saigon, and my work at Baker & McKenzie.