“How can you be a beggar if you have extra money?”
I rode out of Nanning on a posh tourist bus that would ferry me across the border and right on to Hanoi. I had to scourge the town to find this ride for a decent prices. The cost of things are rarely fixed in the travel world and if a price sounds like it could be cheaper it probably can be. So not satisfied with paying 200 kuai (24 dollars) for a bus to Hanoi, I sniffed around and found the same bus for 130.
The ride down was full of the high rising mountains that adorn much of Guangxi Province and the walls of every Chinese restaurant outside of China. I thought about the border crossing and knew that I would have problems. I figured that immigration officials are just sitting in their little boxes all day long just waiting for someone to come along that they can find a reason to hassle. I have a long beard on my face; I am clean shaven in my passport photo- I am an immigration officials dream.
So I passed out of China with only a modest hassle. The exit formalities just got me laughed at. “You look different.” ” I know.”
Vietnam was a different story. I handed my passport to the officer inside of the plexiglass box and he looked at it looked at me and, as has become custom, repeated this action around ten times. “Take a seat,” he said. I did. What could they do to me? Well, probably about anything they wished. Riding a bus across a border does not even secure you the very mild security of a connection with an airline that has already approved your travel documents. I was in no-man’s land at the mercy of the immigration officials. So I tucked my tattoos away the best I could, drank a little water, dug out my addition identification cards that I keep on me just for these situations, and kept eye contact with the officials to attempt to seem as benign as possible.
So I sat there for a good half hour just watching the bus loads of Vietnamese and Chinese file past me. No problems for them as the border officials barely even looked at them. I was just thinking about what I would do if I missed my onward bus to Hanoi when I was called back up to the window by one of the officers. I promptly handed him my small stack of various other identification cards and he vigilantly compared their photos with that of my passport. He seemingly could not figure it all out himself so he called over the guy next to him to assist him in the photographic comparison. “I just got old and grew a beard,” I tell them, not really understanding what was so out of the ordinary.
Finally they seemed to grow board of looking at me and and the photographic representation of my ageing/ beard growing process and they let me pass into the Socialist republic of Vietnam. The feel that I would carry with me for the duration of my time in the country fell upon me as I walked from the border garrison to my bus. I was immediately standoffish towards the Vietnamese. I even yanked my arm back as a bus attendant grabbed for it to look at my tattoos. I felt an immediate resentment towards the Vietnamese that I could not then figure out, as I am generally pretty jovial towards most people that I meet on the road. They simply rubbed me the wrong way, and I felt this from my first step in the country to my last.
I arrived in Hanoi with and stepped off of the bus into a slew of motorcycles, mopeds, and taxis. A hotel runner attached herself to me and began talking her jazz. I wanted to look at a map and she promised me one so I humored her and pretended to be interested in what she was trying to sell. But, as I walked around to the bus’ luggage compartment I saw my university chum, Dave, walking my way with a smile spread all the way across his face. He met me where I told him to and was on time. We both seemed a little surprised that we met up with each other again. I came down from Mongolia and he is a lunatic. I got the thought that travelling with him may not be so bad after all. So I quickly dispatched myself from the hotel runner and gave my ol‘ buddy a big hug. We then set off into the city.
After sitting at a little roadside beer stall and watched Dave drink down both his and my drinks we battled through the Hanoi traffic and made it to a cheap hotel.
I stayed in Hanoi for a couple of days realizing that my punk rock days provided me with a sound appreciation for madness- and the Hanoi streets are madness. Few traffic rules and streets packed with motorcycles made the city very unsuitable for the walker…but their was something about it that I liked. Or perhaps I was just glad to have left China.
Dave wanted to plan and prepare and set dates and do all of that stuff that the traveller is unaccustomed to doing and I was already beginning to wonder how much of this I could take. He wanted to go on a tour to some bay, I realized that I was going to have to compromise my travel style to acquiesce with my friend’s. He was on vacation and wanted to live it up; I did not want to damper his time with my peculiar way of happenstancially stumbling about the globe. I do not like tours, schedules make me uneasy, I live moments not days, I walk, I travel to be free. But I had to swallow myself a little bit and compromise. I am not very good at this.