Friday, 1 February 2013

Vietnam adventure- Day 9- And what have we learnt, children?

Vietnam adventure- Day 9- And what have we learnt, children?

I have had a fabulous time here, full of massive highs and some plunging lows. But I'm ready to leave now. My foot is really giving me issues, I've done too much. But I don't regret it- I didn't come here to sit on the sidelines, I came here to experience something totally different to my day to day life- and to get more involved with Hoang and his community. And I feel that I have done that- if it sets me back a week in recovery, then so be it. Walking is overrated. And besides which, as my lovely Stepmother pointed out, having just one foot means you can take more shoes on holiday. 

I spent this morning in bed, I needed to rest and the painkillers weren't touching the sides. At about 2pm I went in search of food. I have really enjoyed the culinary experiences that Vietnam had had too offer (excluding the pigs intestines and chicken feet), but as with any type of food- 9 days of it (bar last nights very nice lasagna), 3 meals a day is too much. 

So I went for a curry. And very nice it was too.

I then popped into the Hanoi Backpackers hotel again and met a lovely, handsome, intelligent chap called Ben, from Melbourne (Ben, will that do?). after explaining my foot issue, I asked what I should see in my last two hours in Hanoi. He recommended that I head to the Hanoi Prison, known during the American War as the Hanoi Hilton. He very kindly ordered me a cab and after a brief chat about my time so far in Vietnam, I left him with my blog address and went off to my last sightseeing excursion of the trip.

It was only as I hauled myself out of the taxi at the prison that I remembered my last couple of blogs about the Backpackers Hotel. My blood ran cold and I started to sweat. Shit shit shit. OK, nothing I could do about it at that point, but I made a mental note to go back and apologise for my portrayal of his customers and the environment that he obviously works so hard in.

The prison was a good choice- mainly for the photographs displayed- it was fascinating to see the pictures from the American war, to see the American prisoners' life behind bars. However, the propaganda on show was mind-blowing. Every picture of the American soldiers showed them playing pool, table tennis, eating full dinners, playing cards, smoking looked like a bloody holiday camp, not a prison- and after the 10th mention of how "well" the Yanks were looked after whilst behind bars, I was starting to feel a bit nauseous. I don't agree with the war- not it's motives nor the way that it was carried out- and I KNOW that the Americans did unspeakable things to the country and it's people. HOWEVER, there are two sides to every story- and this exhibition was not showing them both. I moved on to a section on women- women who were instrumental in the resistance against the French- strong, proud women who paved the way for the respect that is now afforded to women throughout the country. 

The piece de la resistance was the flight suit belonging to one John McCain, shot down from his US Air force plane by the Vietnamese army, yanked out of the lake and incarcerated in Hanoi prison.

Having left the Hanoi Hilton, and after a ugly altercation with a taxi driver who ripped me off for 60,000 dong, for which I pronounced him to be a fucking criminal, and threatened to raise merry hell... until I realised it was about £1.20, I spent some more time resting my foot, before strapping the Wally Boot back on and hobbling back to the Hanoi Backpacker Hotel to proffer my apologies to the lovely Ben. He thankfully, graciously accepted them and reassured me that he, nor the other staff would take offence. He then READ the offending article and came over with a big grin on his face to compliment me on my writing style. I don't think he read the second blog entry yet, but it's out there now- a good lesson to me I believe- stand by what you write, or don't write it at all.

Three vodka and oranges, and still not hungry, I decided to head back to the hotel, via a shop and grab some snacks, to pack for my flight to Thailand the following day.

So. How the hell do I sum up this eye-opening trip?

Lists. Everyone loves a list, right?

What has been good?

1- Meeting Hoang and his family. I don't think I need to explain to you the profound effect that THIS part if the trip has had on me. It has made me grateful for what I have, and it has made me understand what true poverty is- not being unable to put petrol in a car, but being so destitute that you do not have the basic amenities that are necessary to reach an acceptable standard of living.

2- Meeting the Actionaid girls, and seeing and understanding where my sponsorship money is spent each month- and why. I am also forever grateful for their generosity, their time and the effort that spent in introducing me to all of the work they are doing in the Da Bac area. It was great to see why they are doing it and what results it is having- and that's the thing, seeing the results of charity- it's not just a direct debit to me anymore, giving to reputable agencies like Actionaid changes lives. No hyperbole needed.

3- Although controlling at times, Vung and Kin gave me the gift of seeing the REAL Vietnam- without them I may have played it too safe, not stepped (or hopped!) out of my boundaries. Whether it was eating pigs intestine, getting pissed with his family, being introduced to tribes people- or simply having the luxury of having the Vietnamese way of life explained to me as we went along-without him, my experience would not have had the stamp of authenticity that he bought to it.

4- Travelling alone has given me the time to think. An incredibly valuable commodity in my current world. It had meant that I have had to be brave, determined and self-sufficient. And I am proud of that.

5- The Vietnamese people are an admirable race, tenacious and proud, they have seen off one after the other country who has wanted to control them, own them and change their way of life. They are kind, generous and always wanting to help. 

6- My Blog. My Lord- I can't thank you all enough for following me on my travels- I didn't feel so alone when i knew that you were all out there rooting for me. I have had over 1,100 readers "click-through" to my posts, I am overwhelmed by the interest shown in my little excursion- a few of you have suggested that I try to publish it, and maybe that is something I will look into when I get back. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

What has been bad?

1- Well, alongside it being a positive, it was also a negative travelling alone. No one to laugh with, to point things out to- just to generally share the experience. And when I DID feel alone and down, I really did... I missed Stevie, and my friends and family. But thank the lord for Skype.

2- The Hellhole hotel. I am not someone who demands 5* wherever I go. After all, I slept in a frozen tent on the side of a mountain for 7 nights when I did Kili- but that hotel was a different class- I don't like dirt. Basic is fine. Dirty sheets is not.

3- The Foot. The thing with doing all of this trip in a Wally Boot is that it is EXHAUSTING. My schedule was hectic and packed full of sightseeing and activities- and having a fractured foot as a companion for the last 9 days has made everything that little bit more difficult, a little bit more challenging and a LOT more painful.

In summary, the parts that I saw of North Vietnam are wonderful. They, despite the tourism influx in other parts of Asia, have remained immune to any westernisation. The communist government and historical links with China lend the area a slightly austere atmosphere, which is, thankfully, balanced by the genuine and generous nature of it's people. The food is great- but they could work on their wine list!

And so, here I am, enveloped in the crisp white sheets of my bed in a beach-side hut, on my 2nd night in Koh Samui, where I have arrived for Briony's wedding tomorrow. The last 10 days seem a little surreal at the moment, but I know that I will soon settle back in to normal life, and look back on my trip as an amazing and unique experience- and one that I will never forget.

Over and out