Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Road Rage or Going Postal

Today we left for Hanoi. Our hotel arranged a driver for $8.00 to bring us to the airport. They told us it would only take thirty minutes, but we figured we would need an hour to get there; it was the right thing to do. Traffic was horrendous.

Being second in line to check in with the airline, low budget Pacific Air, it was our turn next. I handed the agent our passports, all it took for her to find our reservations. With baited breath, we put our suitcases on the scale with as much horrendous anticipation I always have when having to climb the scale at the doctor’s office. No sirens went off, no alarms or red flags contaminated the air, we passed with flying colors on the weight issue. Guess this means we can shop more. So, the agent is typing away getting our boarding passes, Ron is standing behind me and there was another non-Asian soon-to-be passenger behind us. To my right, a young Vietnamese man is holding a paper and I.D. card under the nose of the agent shoving it at her. Applaudingly, she totally ignored him and continued working away. I could not stand it and said loudly “Doesn’t he see me standing here? Doesn’t he see the man waiting behind us?” There is no telling if he understood English or even if he cared if he did, but it was something to get off of my chest or it would have simmered coming to a boil at some inappropriate time. After all, at 5:30 am, I was awake and could not sleep yet again, so being tired and cranky were as good excuses as any to speak my mind. Needless to say, it had no effect, when we were done the clerk took care of this annoying person who learned these behaviors were appropriate. My bad or his!

This was really preparation for the rest of the trip. Our flight was delayed for forty minutes due to the plane arriving late from the last pit stop. When we started boarding, they asked for all those whose seat rows were 1-50 enter the plane from the front. For those 51 and higher enter through the rear of the plane. Having been announced in Vietnamese and English, had no bearing on the pushing and shoving of the little people. I had visions of Gulliver’s Travels when he found himself in the land of the giants. We were the giants and these little people were scurrying through the line like mice escaping a ferocious cat. From tenth in line, we were suddenly fiftieth and all to climb on a bus.

Revenge is sweet. When we disembarked from the buses, all of the locals were like deer in the headlights, not knowing where to go. I was first to get on the stairs up to the plane, not that it mattered, but it made me feel avenged. Ron showed up ten minutes later. Many of these people must never have flown before. They sat in a seat, and then some non-Asian tourist would approach them and say they are sitting in their seat. The errant passenger would pop up and grab another empty seat like they were responding to a game of musical chairs hearing music stop that no one else heard. No one was playing their game either, a few of them were displaced multiple times.

It was not luxury, but it was fine, even if the seats were tight enough to scratch my kneecaps with my teeth. Regardless, I fell asleep. In the middle of a dream with some mythical animal, I was bending over to pet it when the animal made this unnatural screeching sound, not only waking me, but sending me skyrocketing out of my seat. After being fully awake, that sound came yet again. It emanated from a woman two seats behind me who was playing with a baby. Those sounds should be restricted from planes.

The man next to me, I think a Vietnamese, had his seat belt undone and was ready to get his luggage out of the overhead bin once they announced our descent. You can imagine what deplaning was like, again all to get on a bus. When we were waiting for our luggage, I was pushed, shoved, and bumped away from the luggage conveyor belt so many times, I thought I was going to have to use my Traveler’s Insurance before I left the airport.

Our hotel had a driver waiting for us. He explained it was only 32 km to the hotel, but it took us close to an hour to get there. Hanoi at first looks same, same, but different from Ho Chi Minh City. The hotel is lovely, but the room sits on the third floor without an elevator. Thankfully, they have a porter bring up the luggage or we would have needed an oxygen tank and massage therapist on each floor. The room is really cramped, with the most space going from the bed to the bathroom and useless. You have to scale the wall to get out of bed on one side. To get in the door, you have to walk sideways to get from the door to the end of the bed getting through the obstacles of the two chairs and refrigerator.

Ron is his enthusiastic mode ran downstairs, going down is easy, to check on a trip to Halong Bay and then reserved it to the tune of $125.00 each for a one overnight trip. Seriously, I thought I had taught him never to book through the hotel before checking the plethora of travel agencies, but this is the second time he has made this mistake this trip. It seems that the disaster with the trip in Cambodia would have reverberated in his mind, but nope.

Hanoi is as overloaded with traffic as all of the other cities. Being tired and beyond irritable, road rage was setting in even if I lacked a vehicle. The thoughts of jutting out my arm continually until I hit some motorcyclist kept running through my mind. Air pollution is only beat out by the noise pollution straining my nerves. Sidewalks are either occupied as intermittent restaurants with nursery school chairs or as a parking garage for motorcycles, forcing pedestrians to walk in the streets where they are human traffic cones.

Our friend Myrtis is considering a Fulbright here, but I cannot last three weeks between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, let alone four to nine months. They would have to create words in Vietnamese for “going postal”.

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