Well, the crazy adventures have begun once again! Let’s recap on the past few days…
So after a relatively stressful final few days in Beijing packing, selling off my old stuff, saying goodbye to friends, sending stuff home, buying onward tickets and stuff like that, I ended up taking off (by plane) to a southern Chinese city called Nanning. I opted for the plane instead of the train because it was only $60 bucks instead of $100 for the train and it was a lot quicker. On top of that I would be taking the train back through China, so I’m happy with my decision. I woke up early in the morning (after a fun filled night out with Brad and Maurizio) and Brad escorted me to the bus stop where I caught the airport shuttle. There, I hopped on the plane, and arrived at Nan Ning. I was the only white guy on the plane and I met a Chinese guy from Mission Viejo who was named KZ (which sounds a lot like Casey) and we chatted for a while. When we landed, he was greeted by the news station because he is some Olympic coach and so I got introduced. Then when I got on the bus to town, I met a girl name Hai Yin who ended up inviting me to stay with her and her family in town. It was cool. We went out that night and she showed me all around the town. We went to the elementary school she used to teach at and I met all the teachers and sat in on an English class. I got to be famous for a day and had all the kids run up to me and talk with me and ask me to sign my name. It was pretty crazy. After that, I went to Hai Yin’s friend’s family’s house for some traditional Chinese holiday and I basically sat around and entertained everyone with my horrible Chinese for the night. We all had dinner together, I practiced English with thier 9 year old daughter (with whom I got into an ugly calling contest..”ni chou! niiiii chou! bu niiii chou!!!” which means, “you’rrre ugggle. No you’rrrre ugly!!!”) and drank with the guys while speaking Chinese. It actually surprises me how much I can speak now. I can only say basic things but it’s actually pretty cool to be able to do all that I can do with almost no effort.
So then we headed back to Hai Yin’s house and I hung out with her and her family and then crashed (innn my verrry owwwwn Chinese room!) and then in the morning headed off via train for the Border town of Ping Xiang.
It was a several hour train ride and I was really happy when we finally arrived. It was one of those trains where you have to sit in a chair directly facing another guy and it is really difficult to not stare straight at him the whole time. Even though everyone was staring straight at me!
So then we arrived and I met the only 5 other westerners on the train. We grouped together and negotiated a good price (70 cents) via motortaxi (basically a motorcycle with a metal box welded on the back big enough for 3 people) and were off on a wild and crazy motortaxi for a 20KM trip via a dirt road through the back roads on China/Vietnam to the border crossing. Once there, we got stamped out of China and walked over to Vietnam where we bargained with one of the 20 ladies for a good rate of exchange for yuan to dollars and then got stamped in after 45 minutes of waiting at the visa stamping building (and paying a 50 cent “medical” checkup – which entailed absolutely nothing). We haggled with the taxi guys to take us to the nearest Vietnamese town and there forced the driver to take us to the real bus station (instead of his buddy charging outrageous prices to take us to Hanoi via his bus). There we negotiated a good price for a bus to Hanoi (3 dollars each, instead of the 7 he wanted) and then were off on a two hour bus ride to Hanoi. If this seems like a convoluted way of getting to Hanoi, try actually doing it. It’s much more complex than this story! So anyways, on the bus, no one seemed to speak English until I noticed that a girl said some Chinese words and I was able to talk with her about how long the trip would take and where she lived and good hotels and make some jokes and stuff. She is someone who lives right on the border and so she knows both languages.
We finally arrived in Hanoi and checked into our hotel ($3 a night each). Mike (one of the guys on my train) and I ended up finding an incredible place to eat ($3 bucks for a huge meal at a nice place and a big bottle of beer) then heading back to the hotel, chatting with some people and heading to bed.
What a day…
So tomorrow we head off to Ha Long Bay for a two day tour of some islands there. I took some malaria medication today so I should start being okay in a week for going to malaria infected places and all that stuff. Today, Mike and I rented a moped ($6 a day) and drove all around Hanoi visiting temples, museums, parks and stuff. Man, it’s bloody crazy here on a moped! There are millions on the streets everywhere and I swear, it’s a miracle that we didn’t run into anyone the whole day. People are driving in every direction without helmets and sometimes without even looking and somehow, no one gets hurt. It is mind boggling.
It is quite interesting to see the Chinese influence here. Lots of people know a little bit of Chinese, old men play Chinese chess in the streets and all the museum signs have Chinese. They also have French. Everything is in French here and quite a few people can speak it. Mike and I met a street kid today selling gum and he could speak English and French in addition to Vietnamese. Crazy, eh?
So it’s back to the fast paced life again. Traveling with very little time to relax. Every day is something new and exciting and the pace of it makes your brain tired.
Which is why my brain is so tired right now. This malaria medication is supposed to give you wickedly vivid dreams (or nightmares), but it’s also supposed to give you stomach problems which I haven’t had. So maybe I wont have any bad reactions to this tonight.
Stay tuned for how my trip to Ha Long Bay was in a few days. I’ll write all about it then.