Vietnam: Day 2; October 23rd
After a long flight from NYC to Anchorage to Taipei - I almost missed my connection at Taipei with 20 minutes to spare due to a strong headwind from the Anchorage connection. I ended up running in the wrong terminal (Arrivals) with a Taiwanese airport guard running after me yelling, all the while I couldnt hear her---my backpack shuffling too loudly) Sweating, I finally find the right terminal (Departures) and board the plane to Hanoi, calming down somewhat. I just pray that my bags made it.
As we flew into Hanoi, I was struck at how polluted the air was. It was like a brown film, so thick and impermeable that it wasn't until we dropped below 5,000 feet that I could start seeing the surface. At first I was puzzled, as it looked barren, brown and dry. But as we got lower, the land was clearly a tropical green---just a lot of gunk in the air.
Once we landed, I felt a strange feeling of _____ - can't quite word it, but its like a soft fear...as if all the residual bad energy associated with the war is stuck in the 'energy fields' of that little universe; the rusty, garish Communist architecture, the pointy hills, the terse nature of the citizens...after all, this area was still sizzling with napalm around the time I was born, and thats not too long ago.
I get off the plane, imagining a big sticky slab of heat about to engulf me, but it turns out to be very mild - like San Francisco - muggy, but not hot.
I walked into the airport to see a big television screen showing ghostlike images of people walking by - it was a fever indicator to detect passengers who may be carrying the bird flu. This is gonna be fun.
I prepare to go through passport controls until the officer looks at my passport, makes a weird face and stops me. The visa sticker that was issued to me by the Vietnamese Embassy here in NYC said - Date of Entry: 10/23/2006. Aaack! He chuckled, told me to go to the passport office and get this straigntened out. The officers in the office are all cracking up and putting my paspport aside while huge tour grops with stacks of pre- approved visas are coming in. This is not good. They asked me questions about ho long, hwat I was doing and why I was here - I told them everything - by this time, a good 1/2 hour had passed and I was so nervous that my transfer representative with my name card would be...well he HAS to be there, he has to have my tickets to Hanoi, he is PAID to wait fo rme, and would report to the travel agency, World Expeditions, if I didn't show up - so my reasoning at the said time - to offset the fear that my bags might be gone (it was a helluva transfer at Taipei) - and the passport officer told me to sit down and they'll 'fix' it - but I couldn't understand him clearly. So I just sat calmly, ate pretzels and tried not to panic.
Finally, they gave me a new, approved visa sticker, and I was on my way. Looked for my bags - MIA. Sigh. Ran to the greeting section, found my travel representative - and went back to the baggage section, found my bags (they were being held - I don't know how, when or why---maybe the crazy transfer at Taipei had something to do with it) and sat down with the travel rep (his name was Prak). He gave me instructions, plane tickets and the paperwork for the Saigon/Mekong portion of the trek and left. I went upstairs and had lunch.
I've had a nice bowl of Pho Bo (ox tail soup; a Vietnamese staple) and a lemon milkshake and am taking in the scene/environs...I'm really here. Wow. People laugh at me - but hey - it makes them have their moment, so I'm grateful to provide that. Ohh...I'm so tired and in need of a long, long hot massage and to be in HCMC without drama. This sucked enough out of me for a bit. But this is international travel after all, and this...being on my own, to see the world, the freedom to be in yet another world so quickly - it is such a gift...I wish people would pursue and savor it in the aims of growing...
After a 5 hour layover, I am finally off the air to Hanoi. It is a pleasant flight, and the travel representative greeted me and I was whisked to the hotel with no problems. It was a gorgeous room with wooden floors. The hotel had been made over 95 years ago, following the French-style architecture (Vietnam was a French colony) and it was quite grand. I finally plugged in my brand new camera batteries and was anxious to take pictures. But the beautiful bed called me before I could do anything else. Timberrrrrrrrr......