Friday, February 9, 2007

Hanoi-Nanning (Feb 6)

The night before I left for Nanning I went with Naomi’s roommate Greet and a friend of hers to a meeting of artists from Hanoi and elsewhere around the world, who meet every week to hear about a local artist’s work. The translator had studied at the Art Institute in Chicago!

Getting from Hanoi to Nanning probably could not have been any easier. I’ll outline it in brief so the future tourist can have some inkling of the pleasures of traveling out of Vietnam.

First, you buy your bus ticket for $22 a few days in advance from a nice looking travel agency in the touristy part of Hanoi. The arrangement is for the travel agency to drive you to the station on a motorbike at 7:00 in the morning on the day you leave to catch the 7:30 bus. The employee tells you to come back the following day to pick up the ticket, which seems like an extra and unnecessary trip, but you shrug and do it anyway, confident that the locals know what’s up. Upon arriving the next day, the employee tells you that the ticket isn’t available yet, so you should just come at 7:00 on the day you leave. Assuming that this is just a small mix-up and not at all indicative of any larger twist of fate, you do so. But upon arrival on the day of departure the store is closed tightly, so you wait for somebody to arrive. 7:15 comes. Then 7:30. While turning away numerous ladies selling food, you begin to get anxious, because you think you’ve missed the bus. At 7:45 someone comes and you tell her so. She runs off to get an important looking man in a suit, who tells you to come back at 8:30 to catch the 9:00 bus. You then wander around for 45 minutes, and return at 8:30 to learn that there is no 9:00 bus. Listen to another employee tell you how bad management at this company is, which would have been fascinating information a few days earlier. You’re then offered two options: 1) Get $10 back and get a ride to the border on a smaller minibus, where you can hopefully find a bus to Nanning. 2) Get a free hotel room (how generous of them!) and get the bus tomorrow. Since your visa for Vietnam expires that day, you choose the former option. You hop on a motorbike and get a ride to a minibus, where thankfully there is someone there from Pingxiang, a Chinese town at the border, who speaks Chinese. Cram in with him and hear his opinions about the war in Iraq (all about oil), women in America (are they really “easy”?), and how America’s economy got to be so strong (lots of reasons). Get to the Vietnamese border town, drive around dropping people off at various places, then hop in a new car with your Chinese companion and another Chinese man, which drives to Friendship Pass, the border. Crowd by the exit window, because in Asia lines are luxuries. Passport vanishes, then reappears with an exit stamp. Proceed to the Chinese entry point, where an astute border guard examines your passport very carefully, looking at every single previous visa and entry or exit stamp. Rewrite entry card in ink instead of pencil. Then the guard spots a problem with your passport: why is your passport number 086747655, but on the Chinese visa is written U86747655!?!?!?!?! Which is it, 0 or U?? He calls his superior and they initiate a deep and engaging conference on the subject. You try your best to explain that it’s just a silly mistake that the Chinese consulate in Chicago made because your passport is old and the number 0 is a bit smudged so it could be a U. After much discussion, they waive you through.

The other side is like a cool swim on a hot day, a nice stretch after a cramped bus ride, ease after difficulty. There’s a bus waiting… to Nanning! Not only does it have seatbelts, but the stewardesses make you wear them! It has air conditioning! It drives you directly to a station! (Instead of random hotels that have deals with the bus company.) In Nanning the air is fresh, the traffic is light, and sidewalks are sidewalks instead of motorbike parking lots. Best of all, when people speak they are not totally unintelligible. It’s nice to be back in China.


cillax said...

hello lao wai sam
I am in some tourist trap company place in hanoi desperately trying to find a way back to my beloved nanjing during the worst time of year to travel. thank you so much for the good laughs!
mei ji hua qiao
cilla aka xiao hua

Anonymous said...

I will go to Nanning thru hanoi on 10th. I hope I won't meet this kind situation!