Monday, 7 November 2016

Rattle and snore II (Da Nang by day train)

I've taken this train before.  Last time I was trembling with excitement to see some nice people again in Da Nang. Yes, I'm looking forward to seeing them again, but this time this train departure will include some sadness because I'm leaving my swooning hotel hostess and the nice hotel staff.  But in some strange way I'm taking one of them with me on this journey, namely the one who asked for link to this blog ;-)

At the time of my levee and first cigarette at 5 a.m., the roads are still dry, despite the weather forecast having called for rain.

30 minutes later though, I notice a strange sight right across from my hotel room. Are buses this popular in Vietnam? And can the buses take on 5 people with bicycles in addition to the other passengers or are these Vietnamese just a bit rain-shy?

After I have packed my things and am waiting in the lobby for my departure time to arrive, I notice that even rain has a completely different character at 24 Celsius.  It's not the ugly thing you have to shield yourself again using Gortex and friends, but almost something to let oneself be embraced by.

The breakfast included in the hotel rate is not overwhelming but that is probably my own fault for having chosen toast with jam instead of Pho Ga.

When the taxi arrives, I have the receptionist on one side and the lobby boy on the other.  If I had a big enough suitcase, I would have been tempted to pack him and take him with me. LOL Now is that Neo-Colonialism or Dirty-Old-Manism ?

 On the train platform an about 9 to 11 year old kid positions himself in front of me with his right hand raised as if he is about to swear allegiance and exclaims "He ood !"  Only after he then gets a disturbed look on his face and goes back to his smiling father, do I recognize the slightly distorted "Hey Dude" and his desire to execute a High Five.   Why do I feel like Spock all of a sudden? 
Buy some instant noodle soup and water for the ride

The train is quite late (almost an hour), so I have plenty of time to look around. After a bit I figure out that the guys in the green hats work for the railroad.

And as is the case in railway work; a lot of the time there is just nothing to do ;-)

Today's train journey is only half as long as yesterday's and it takes place during daylight, but on this leg I managed to get a lower bed in a 4 berth compartment.  No berth-climbing involved this time!  

When I get to my compartment, the two upper berths are already occupied by young Western women. I sit on my berth (FINALLY, the train was more than half an hour late) and then a WHOLE FAMILY of Vietnamese with 2 kids, 2 parents, and the grandmother enters the compartment to occupy the berth across from me. You GOT to be KIDDING!  But no, this is family country, and it's only the woman with the two small children travelling. The about 5-6 year old boy is wearing hearing aids on both his ears.  He is screaming, probably because one of his hearing aids is emitting a high-pitched sound, but he stops screaming as soon as Grandma removes the devices. Maybe they're off to see a doctor in SaiGon?  One rarely sees life unfolding at home, just because most people move in hermetically sealed metal cages across the city and the country.

I lay down in my berth with legs angled at the knees and my head to the compartment wall and despite a strange feeling of someone tugging at my blanket fall asleep within seconds.

About 2 hours a nature call wakes me up. And I get an explanation to that strange blanket tugging.As I open my eyes, I realize that Grandma had been sitting in the nook of my knees the entire time.  Ah well, no problem and this doesn't prevent me from falling back asleep the moment I come back to the compartment.  But I need sleep to get over the little shock of having seen yet another rural Vietnamese person squatting on those abominable loo-holes who had not figured out to lock the door to make that little red bar appear under the door handle.

I keep sleeping all the way to just before Hue, the old imperial city that I visited on the second of my trips here.  One of these days I will stop here again. Another nature call and when I return to the compartment, it is empty. Nice ;-)

Hue. That means a bit of level terrain and then the Heaven & Cloud pass are the only things separating me from Da Nang. Is Anh My going to be fishing at the train station for Easy Rider customers?   I hope so; I'd like to see him again, in particular since there was an odd TripAdvisor things about another name now being the proprietor of Anh My Easy Riders.  And he did have a nasty cough last time saw him. What will I do in Da Nang?  Maybe finally ride that HUGE observation wheel? I'm not even sure it is in operation.   How many days will I stay?  I have no clue yet; for all I know I might be back in a south-bound train tomorrow.  But that is part of the excitement of this trip.  It's too bad I had pre-booked the Da Nang hotel and the train ticket; otherwise I would have stayed another night at Geminai Hotel in Dong Hoi.

OMG, I look like that dog with the two different-coloured eyes !
The train slows down, first for more track maintenance, then to navigate the tighter and tighter turns as we get closer to heaven&cloud pass.
The scenery would be breathtaking if I din't have to concentrate on not being thrown of my feet by the constant jigging and jagging of the train floor. This way I have to hyperventilate every time I almost lose my cell phone out of the open loo window (The windows are not exactly sparkling clean and transparent, so the best shot at getting a good shot (?) is to pull down the window in the loo).
Here is a 20 sec video of the trains progress along the coast (Warning, might induce vertigo ;-)

  I check Google Calendar and notice that Summer Time has come to an end last night. Actually, Vancouver time is 10 hours ahead of Viet time but I am living in the tomorrow, so Vancouver is really 14 hours behind, so if Vietnam had Summer Time (no idea), it would have ended last night, but Vancouver is still on Summer time for a few hours (i.e. It's Sunday here, but still Saturday over in Canada).

A looong tunnel. We're passing under the pass (?). Finally, I can't wait to step out of Ga Da Nang!

Da Nang on the horizon

 The last flat piece through the industrial area and the suburbs ...

... and I arrive at Ga Da Nang.

Anh My is not there. I'm disappointed and a little worried. But the Django (this name just fits him best) Easy Rider is there and approaches me.  After I say "You are Easy Rider. I let you fish for other customers first", I get a big sly grin in return.  He ends up securing two young women (on ONE motorcycle?; probably together with a colleague) as customers for a ride to Hoi An (I am shocked; Hoi An is nice but I can't understand skipping fabulous Da Nang on the way there) for a very cheap price of 240,000 Vietnamese Dong for both of them.  That's about US $10 and it's at least half an hour ride there for two bikes and the Easy Riders have to return to Da Nang !

So I end up hopping in a taxi to take the 6 km ride to my hotel at Da Nang Bay. that already costs me 100,000 VND, so the Easy Rider Price was dirt cheap, but then I already know that they offer VERY cheap train station transfers to reel in customers for the day or multi day trips ;-)

At the Jazz Hotel I am informed at reception that they upgraded me from a room with ocean view and balcony to a room with ocean view and balcony.  LOL, at least they don't want extra money for that like the Lucky 3 Hotel in Ha Noi.   But then I know how regular tourists behave. They'd tell all of their friends that they got a FREE UPGRADE at Jazz Hotel and what a fabulous place that is .....    The Vietnamese know this as well ;-)

talking about buying goods and services from the little people .....
My first excursion is into the alleys behind the beach promenade (NO, regularWestern tourists just do NOT go there) to re-visit that store from 9 months ago to do some 'grocery shopping'. As soon as I am off the beach promenade, I'm in HELLO territory again ;-) The store is run either by different owners of by the Sunday substitutes, because I don't recognize them and vice versa. I buy Ruou Vang Do (Dalat) and some incense.  Incense? Why? In my opinion the people of these parts have a pretty good idea how to live life and what is important in life(As opposed to people in that Canadian Gomorrah I live in).  So what if their ideas about death also offer a much better approach ?    No, I'm not going to go Buddhist, Is it just a coincidence that George's Cree Grandmother lights an extra cigarette for her grandson every morning when she has her first?  I don't know but that is at least half of the reason for travelling: To appreciate ways of doing things differently.

Phenol or no Phenol, the sight and sound is as fabulous as the first time I was here !

I walk by Danang Bay Hotel, the hotel of choice during previous stays in Da Nang. 'Mute' Bell Boy is not there. I didn't expect him to be; his shift ends at 2 p.m. Back to my hotel to light some incense, do some blog work, and drink some ruou vang do ;-)

I had dipped my feet into the ocean and found it very tempting to just put on my bathing trunks and go for a swim, but I'll leave that for tomorrow.   On a second beach walk, I get the usual Hellos and find some more fabulous shells and even corral. 

Some things resist change, and fortunately this beach and its fishers is one of those !

No, they don't wash up naturally here, the trick is to go to the places where the fisher-people empty and clean their nets; there are fab shells aplenty in those spots (I can give away the secret now; Grandma's mantelpiece is already packed ;-)

The light is fading and the seafood place where I once at the chicken that took so long because it needed to be plucked has some new evening decoration. This whole stretch of beach road is full of local seafood restaurants and competition must be fierce.

Back in the room, I consider what to do next. I haven't really eaten anything solid all day, so that should be remedied.  It's dark outside and the seafood places along the promenade aren't cheap and what's worse, they don't even have pictures I can point at, never mind an English menu.  I learned how to get around that last December, but I'm not in the mood for lobster after the Formosa chemical spill.  I'll try the hotel restaurant instead; they even have a menu conveniently located in my room.  But I'm refusing to chose from their Italian or even Pizza menu; I'm eating fish tonight (famous last words? LOL)

And I've made up my mind. I'm leaving Da Nang tomorrow.  The people I knew are not here and the hotel I'm staying in might be nice but is too anonymous and I actually feel lonely. Blame that on yesterday's experience in Dong Hoi, which has set new standards, which from now will apply to hotel living.  

I've booked a hotel in Quy Nhon for tomorrow night and I'll just wing taking either the 11:40 or the 13:10 train. If all else fails, I'm sure they'll have a seat in the hard seat section left.l

Is it age or phenol in the fish? I don't know, but at 8 pm there is nothing that can keep me awake, not even strong coffee (I tried). I pass out even though the TV, the surf from the beach, and the band playing in the restaurant of the Jazz Hotel are combining to create quite a noise background.

11 pm.  Ah well, I might as well get up for a while; I'm on holiday.  I had fallen asleep with the air-conditioning on and when I open the balcony doors to have a smoke, it feels like entering a tropical habitat for plants.  It's unbelievably moist and hot out there! But sitting outside for a while with 27 Celsius at 11 pm and the wind trying to blow me off the balcony it starts feeling just perfect. The chilled red wine (The Dalat wine is similar to Lambrusco & Beaujolais and just asks for a chill) only accentuates the whole thing.

I also find another possible explanation for feeling that exhausted earlier and waking up groggy. In a way I'm almost glad that I can't see much anymore if things get a bit dark. Because I step on something in my room.  The blurry shape resembles a giant moth with its wings folded neatly. And maybe that's what it is.  But the speed with which I grab a piece of cardboard and convey the presumably already dead being through the balcony rods into the great abyss should indicate that at that particular moment I did NOT believe in the moth hypothesis.  The fact that it seemed dead (whatever it was) and the fact that I'm in a subtropical area would indicate that they don't use pesticides sparingly in the hotels around here.  And if it is strong enough to kill such a big (NO, I'm not going to say the name of what it could have been), the pesticides are sure strong enough to give a human a slight headache.  Ah well, nothing a good dose of ruou vang do antidote can't fix !

4 am.  That's enough sleeping now. It's also almost sunrise time ! I start some water in the kettle and head to the balcony for a cigarette.  Sunrise?  NOT today!  The balcony's temporary uselessness is a wet reminder that officially it is still monsoon season here. I get wet almost the very split second that I open the balcony door. The balcony roof overhang is about 1.5 meters and the wind still manages to drive the pouring rain that far inward.  Hang ON!  This reminds me of something ..... take away 16 degrees Celsius and this is like Vancouver !

5 am. I wake up again. LOL. And it's a good thing I do.   The fringe of the thundershower still brings rain, but there is light at the eastern horizon.  Maybe I'll be treated to one of those fabulous Da Nang sunrises after all?

Being afraid for the well-being of the new camera, I at first go down to the street with only the cell phone.  Not a drop of precipitation!  Back to the room to get the camera and down again to roam the beach.

And the Da Nang sunrise does it again. Last night I definitely had mixed feelings about staying here again, but the combination of this bay, this beach, this surf, and this sunrise is so very special that I'm glad I stayed at least that one night to be able to experience it again.

NO, there is not just one picture of the sunrise. It's much more complicated like that. The light and the water changes every second.  Those who managed to get through the many Many MANY pictures of a sunrise in Saint Malo now know what expects you ;-)

My abode on previous trips

Oh, I hate eye-brow-plucking !

YES, the water is more than warm enough for this

There IS light at the horizon !

Now I get distracted by some fishermen launching one of those circular tubs into the ocean.   Seeing them sit at the beach one can't really see the complexity that is involved in the operation, so here is a short how-to
Three guys push the tub into the water and over the first few little waves.
Then one gets in (to spot and warn of big waves, maybe a bit of navigating), while two keep pushing

As the person inside manages to actually stay inside (these things rock and roll already for small waves), the pushers keep pushing.

Gradually, the pushers become floaters ....
A glimmer of sun
Right, I was watching a sunrise before I got distracted.
It's almost like Star Wars....
... a never-ending battle between the dark side and the light .....
.... one moment you think the light is about to win ....

when the clouds mount an offensive and only weak rays of light remain ....
The battle rages back and forth ....
Orgasmic !
... but this wouldn't be a good story if the light didn't win in the end, LOL !

Mute bus boy is washing his boss' car when I walk by.

At 7 am I head down for breakfast. Walking around the room I notice that someone has a 'western' breakfast with bread, eggs, and some kind of meat, but I already loaded my bowl with what assume is pho ga.

At 7:40 am I;m back on the balcony writing this and all of a sudden the clouds give way. I'm instantly squinting to see my screen and that burning sensation on my skin feels GOOD.  If the sun has this power before 8 am, what is it going to be like further south at noon?   Now I can understand why a weather forecast for Sihanoukville that I looked at a few weeks ago specified the UV index not between 0 and 10, but as EXTREME.

After breakfast I consider whether I should go for a quick swim, but decide against it since I have to leave the hotel at about 11 and don't really want to carry dripping wet clothes with me. Instead I head back to the local store. This time the man looks at me with a questioning grin, to which I nod and say Tet while pointing at the ground. When I entered this store on that trip for the 3rd time, the dad insisted on taking a group selfie with me and his family. My request for ruou vang do AGAIN yields nothing, so he calls his daughter down, who right away says "Long time no see".  Aha, I'm not such a forgettable entity after all ;-)

She asks me where I am staying, how long I'm staying and where I will go. I get three packs of cigarettes (just so I can say 'ba' (three), and two packs of yummy cookies, the latter for today's train ride.  As a good-bye I state the obvious that I will shop here every time I'm in Da Nang. Cam On from all sides and I'm wondering when the next time will be.
You might think:No he's buying already TWO bottles of wine early in the morning!  AND THREE packs of cigarettes!   

8:45 am.  27 Celsius with 89% humidity.  The A/C inside the room feels good when I return. MUST get rooms with A/C. It's already 28 degrees in Quy Nhon and 29 Celsius in Sihanoukville !  

I still remember February of this year. A cold front had slid down from China and I was walking the beach at noon in a jacket to brace against the frigid windy 18 Celsius (O.K,anyone living in Canada, please forgive me for calling 18 degrees frigid ;-).

9:30 am.  I head down to the lobby for some food and wine. One waitress stares blankly after my ruou vang do, but there is another waitress there who jumps in and demonstrates the proper way to distort one's face when saying the do at the end. The moment SHE says it, the first waitress pretty much slaps her hand against her forehead and smiles.  This is COMPLICATED! But what do you expect when a Westerner fumbles through pronouncing words of a language in which train station, chicken, and accelerator are the same word (Ga).
When the food arrives I have to grin again.  I ordered garlic bread.  NO, this is not your usual garlic break a la Safeway, where horrible soft bread is coated along the inside with margarine/industrial garlic concoction.  

These are thin slices of perfectly roasted bread covered in small chunks of garlic so that they resemble a Streuselkuchen!  I don't have my camera with me for this meal, so this picture of a Streusel has to be good enough to give an idea ;-)
O.K, so I'm exaggerating a little bit.  My garlic bread is not quite as packed as this Streusel, the bread is still visible between the garlic chunks. BUT, it is delicious ;-)

An English speaking woman becomes audible behind me. Since the Vietnamese person she is talking to doesn't speak English very well, she changes to SHOUTING. Now he can hear better, LOL.  All I hear is a screeching voice bellowing "Can you CHANGE? NO, NO, CHANGE for this! Can you CHANGE ??"  Oh, come on, you just get a money bill out and make the motion of scissor-cutting it with two fingers; it's not that complicated and DEFINITELY NO reason to shout !  This might not be proper sign language but gets the meaning across every single time. I'm still waiting for the occasion when someone will get scissors from the back and proceed to cut my money into pieces ;-)

The bill for the garlic bread and the wine is also a surprise, and not a good one either.  The glass of wine costs 90,000 VND, exactly US $4.   I only paid 80,000 VND for a WHOLE BOTTLE of the stuff in my local store 

Enough of that. I need to leave. I need to go somewhere with fewer or smarter tourists!

Tạm biệt

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