At least those of you who would normally have got a postcard from me AND you read my blog (or just those of you who read my blog)… for those of you would normally have got a post card from me and you don’t use the INforMAtion SUper Highway (or INMASUH), I might try to get a message to you by some other means, but more likely, you might need to hear the story from someone with who has read all about it here. This of course begs the question, those of you to whom this story goes, which of my fine friends and relatives should have got this story? Fear not for there is no wrong answer. Feel free to tell anyone, as long as it’s preceded by the following disclaimer:
“You who are hearing this story should make no assumptions about your potential for having got a postcard from Toby Y. O’Hara currently of Sydney, Australia, and shall make no postal claim upon said person intending to send cards of a postal nature.”
This story is not for the weak of stomach. It involves corrupt commies, trains, and the eating of dog. There were some greasy cubes of tofu on a stick in there somewhere as well, but I won’t go into that. There was some very pleasant kyaking and scootering as well, but for the sake of brevity, the levity we will leave for later.
My story begins back when I was a boy. Back when there was no email, no internet, and the postal service ruled the world’s flow of information. Back then people travelled, without cell phone, without google maps, and with plenty of rolls of film for the camera. Travel agents were the oracles of all wisdom when it came to deciding on a destination, sights, and activities available. Pocket travel guides were gripped firmly in hand, each page describing the sights of the city and how to get around. And when the traveller got there, they inevitably “wished you were here”.
Back in those days, it was a big deal to get a piece of mail, a grubby postcard from a distant land, sent by someone you knew.
These days I’m guessing it doesn’t happen as much. Instead there’s the update to the facebook page, in real time, with a photo. Some of you might have seen updates from the buddies I was with (James especially). Knowing that my parents and relatives of that generation would still love a card, and being a bit nostalgic for the old days of real mail, I determined that I would send some postcards out.
We spent a little bit of time in Bangkok, where I picked up a tiny USB stick that I didn’t really need and a pair of pants (which I now refer to as my Picasso pants, for they are stripey). Following Thailand we were off to the border of Cambodia in a bus, which we then hopped out of, walked across the border.
We then jumped into a taxi, which took us to Siem Reap. This is near a bunch of ruined temples which were pretty cool, but badly made (obviously) and covered with little kids who were covered with lice trying to sell cheap junk. Thankfully one of them challenged me to a game of tic tac toe and said if I lost, I’d have to buy something. So I won, then I won again, then I lost. So I bought some postcards in Cambodia. We then rode a waterbus across Tonle Sap Lake (I only know this because I looked it up just now. If it happened to be another lake, we were none the wiser, since all the signs were in a strange curly whirly form of writing), and then took a slow boat down the Mekong river past Phnom Penh. On this boat, I wrote out most of the post cards so they were ready to mail when we got out. We ended up at at the border of Vietnam, and chartered a driver to get us to Ho Chi Minh. There in Ho Chi Minh I bought Vietnamese stamps ready to mail. Now I just had to find a post box. I asked at our hotel, but they were not helpful. We rode on scooters amidst the mayhem – definitely a high point of the trip. As we were leaving the city, I realised another option would have been to clean myself up a bit, and head to a fancy hotel, where there were lots of ritzy Westerners, and ask their front desk to mail the postcards for me. This would have gone much better, I think, but you know what they say about hindsight.
I should insert at some point, that I was taking advantage of the technology at my disposal, I had my iPhone with me and where there was a wireless connection I was sending emails like, “what’s so-and-so’s address again” so thank you Mom, Mum, and several others who helped me out.
From Ho Chi Minh, we got on a train headed for Hanoi. On that train, we had a cabin with 6 beds – meaning one bed was not used by us. For the first part of the journey we were joined by a nice Asian female, who didn’t talk to us much, and she had relo’s or family somewhere else on the train who checked on her, and whom she visited. About halfway there, she left and we were joined by a nice Asian male who spoke good English, on account of the fact he had studied architecture in the UK. He moved back to Vietnam when he was offered a job as an official responsible for approving buildings, plans, and so forth. He openly admitted that the best part about it was the bribes and money under the table. If he were to survive on his government wage only, he would be poor. He also owned several family restaurants. My mates, being the intellectual giants they are, immediately asked if Vietnamese eat dog, does he serve dog, is it tasty, what breeds come up best, and so forth. He said yes, sure, of course, why don’t you guys drop by when you get a chance.
When the train got to Hanoi, our new friend Deng also arranged for our transport to Ha Long Bay, which was nice, despite the fact that the driver was probably sound asleep 5 towns away when he got the call. We had to wait quite a while across from the train station stamping our feet and watching the endless stream of scooters and vehicles flying past. We saw an impromptu breakfast station open up on the corner, with about 30 people suddenly crouched down on plastic buckets and stools serving and slurping hot noodles. Jared decided to join the fun and hunched down for a noodly breakfast. After maybe 30 minutes, they were all gone.
I was still looking for a mailbox, or post office somewhere, we even went around the block while we were waiting. They just weren’t around or I didn’t know what to look for, so those postcards stayed in my bag safe and sound.
We got to Ha Long Bay and did our kayaking. It was very peaceful and pretty and I can see why people would go there.
We got back to Hanoi, and went to the restaurant and got served dog, in a few different dishes. It was pretty awful. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the taste, but it was -not- like chicken, or beef, or pork, or any other meat I can think of. It tasted bad. Those of you who know me know this is saying something. On the other hand, I thought the cooking left much to be desired as well. the sauces and rice didn’t taste that good either. Deng also charged us quite a lot for the meal. I thought we took a few photos but just now I can’t seem to find any. Will update if I do end up finding some. Rest assured, it looked like most Asian food. As we were leaving, it struck me that Deng who was such a good friend by now, would know exactly how to mail my post cards. I asked him and he very graciously accepted. Strangely enough, at the time, I felt a tiny impulse to grab them back, but reassured myself that there was a decent human being inside that corrupt Commie, and it couldn’t possibly be too much trouble for him.
Needless to say, I don’t think any of them went out. Just so you know you’re not missing much, most of them said stuff like “it’s just like National Geographic, and there’s lots of Asians here.