Monday, November 2, 2015

Overnight Train from Hanoi to Hue


The author of this post, feeling freaked out at Hanoi station


I rode the overnight train from Hanoi to Hue on New Year’s Eve. The train departed at 7:00 pm and reached Hue roughly twelve hours later. I reserved a 1st class sleeper berth, which is shared with 4 people.

I wrote the below entry from the train after boarding at Hanoi Station, where I was feeling claustrophobic from being in crowds of people:

I find sharing public spaces very difficult. When did I get like this? Can I change myself? So at this very moment I am sitting on the train from Hanoi to Hue. I’m getting a little jerked around from side to side, but there is a table in our cabin and I am writing on my laptop comfortably. I have nothing to complain about. Yes, I have nothing to complain about. When I opened my laptop to start writing, I imagined writing a list of complaints. I got overcharged buying street food outside the station. The station was nasty and people were invading my space. I had my arms wrapped around my luggage like a mother hugging ten children. It felt like everyone was trying to scam me. Everyone was trying to rip me off. Everyone wanted to steal my shit. I did not want to be in public. I wanted to be back in my quiet private space. But even our hotel room was invaded by the noise of the streets. The alarm going off at 6:30 am, with woman making routine announcements. I can’t escape Vietnam in Vietnam. But did I really come her to not be woken up by the war siren? Did I come here not to have my space invaded by Vietnamese people and their symphonic traffic? Two women, one old and one young, came into our train car to sit in the berth above us, and I could not have been more disappointed. I didn’t want them to be Vietnamese. I wanted them to be foreigners, like us. I wished they were foreigners so that we could talk to them, so that it would not be awkward when we sat next to each other, or when we wanted to sleep. I wanted to forget, briefly that I was in a place where I couldn’t communicate with anyone. I wanted a temporary release from that level of discomfort. They sat next to us on our beds. It’s awkward, really, sharing a bed with a stranger, even if we are sitting. I wanted to escape that situation. But I couldn’t. A woman’s baby was crying from a berth down the hall. Who brings a baby on an overnight train? But I couldn’t escape it. Then I remembered something.

I thought of things. Not things that I had but things that I didn’t have.

I thought of the studio apartment I never had in LA. I sacrificed it to share a two bedroom with a roommate.  I thought of the new car that I put off buying until my Saturn broke down. I thought of the material comforts I forfeited so that I could save $500-$1,000 per month so that I could take my dream trip around the world. This is what I saved all that money for. This is what I get in exchange for giving up those material comforts.
I wondered, is it worth it?

Is it worth it to pay more for a sandwich, to share a berth next to two women you can’t talk to? To be awkward, uncomfortable, disappointed, and even depressed? Yes, yes, yes. This experience is worth a car to me, worth a studio apartment, worth the comfort of knowing that I have a safety net of cash to reply on, and worth the pride in knowing that it was I who paid for this. I and no other. Do I have to be happy all the time to make it worth the money I spent to be here? No, I don’t have to be. And I shouldn’t be. Because I am not just paying for a memory, for beautiful photographs, or for impressive stories. I am paying to be changed. And change is painful. It is guaranteed to be awkward and uncomfortable. It is meant to be challenging.


Later that evening, after I finished typing, the two Vietnamese women, who were very quiet and friendly, disembarked the train, and were replaced by a sweet Indian family. I ended up joining a huge New Years Party of Germans, French, Swiss, and Australians. I got smashed. I moonwalked down the train aisles, I counted down in German.  And I told myself again:

This is what I saved all that money for. This is what I get in exchange for giving up those material comforts.

Is it worth it?

Absolutely. 






The room, prior to partying.  


I moonwalked (poorly) down these aisles.



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