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On to Vietnam

Guangxi Province, P.R. China June, 4, 2007 “And so I stand among you as one that offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a kind of free-floating [...]

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Guangxi Province, P.R. China

June, 4, 2007

“And so I stand among you as one that offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a kind of free-floating existence.” -Thomas Merton

I am getting ready to leave China once more. This time I hope to be away for at least a few years. I need a new horizon. I think that I have gotten too comfortable with Asia and, especially, the Middle Kingdom. This is kind of the way that I felt the last time that I left South America after travelling there off and on for two years. I just need a change: a drastically different culture, a language that I cannot at all understand, new foods, people who do not look like the ones that I have been among for so long, a fresh place.

I am thinking that Africa could provide me with this new start. Northern Africa that is- the Sahara: Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali. I would like to travel through Vietnam and Cambodia relatively quickly and get to Bangkok to find a flight out to France. I may also go over to Myanmar in the interim period between buying my plane ticket and waiting to leave. I have always wanted to go to Burma. But, all for all, I am done with Asia for a while; and after this go through the South East I think that I will be really ready to get to someplace that I have really never been to before. First I would like to go to France to visit some dear old friends from Chile and use that as my staging point. I have been promising them that I will come to visit for years and I have not yet done so. From their home in the South of France I imagine that I would not be too difficult to hitch over to Gibraltar and then over to Morocco.

I also hope to pick up some work while in Europe. My bean money is running a little low and I do not think that I can depend on finding work in the Sahara. So it is looking like a month and a half in SE Asia, and then a month of work in Europe, and then Africa. My lady, Mira, is also planning on meeting me in France to give our relationship the ol’ Paris test- all love is either accentuated or lost in Paris.

As of now, I am just relaxing around Nanning waiting for the Vietnamese consulate to open on Monday. Hopefully this visa will not cost me too much money and I can get it in time to be in Hanoi by mid-week. I am meeting up with the Lunatic in Hanoi. He is already there in some posh hotel or something. I do not know how travelling with him is going to be. He is from NYC and is a total New Yorker. I am from New York State but I am from redneck stock and grew up out in the sticks- on the furthest cultural fringe from “the city.” The also comes from a little money. Not too much, but enough to live in an alright neighborhood. I think that he thinks that $10 a person/ a night for a bed is cheap. I think that $10 a person for a night of sleep is an absolute outrage anywhere in the world, and I would rather sleep in the dirt with the crickets than pay anywhere near that much. But it should be fun, none the less. My travelling companion is highly neurotic and really aggressive, especially while drinking. He is also terrified of mice and rats, and he screams like a girl and jumps upon the nearest chair whenever he sees one. He is an interesting character for sure, and I kind of look forward to travelling a stretch with him. He is also an American, so he will be a good companion for going to the battle sites of the Vietnam War with- which is my main focus of going to the country at all. But I have developed little travelling rules over the years which may be a little incondusive with his idea of travel- as he travels but is not a traveller. I also do not really drink much alcohol, so he may find me to be a touch boring in countries where foreigners tend to drink copious amounts of booze.

I travel to travail, observe, introspect, and learn; not for kicks. But I do like kicks when they come….of course. Why else would we travel, if it was not at root…fun. I believe that Stevenson said something to the effect of, “If you enjoy your travels, you are doing something wrong.” This is a paraphrase, I will have to search through my notebooks for the real quote, but the point still stands. Travel is often hard. Like the Li Bai poem, The Hard Road:

Pure wine cost, for the golden cup, ten thousand coppers a flagon.
And a jade plate of dainty food calls for a million coins.
I fling aside my food-sticks and cup, I cannot eat nor drink. . .
I pull out my dagger, I peer four ways in vain.
I would cross the Yellow River, but ice chokes the ferry;
I would climb the Hong Mountains, but the sky is blind with snow. . .
I would sit and poise a fishing pole, lazy by a brook. . .
But I suddenly dream of riding a boat, sailing for the sun!
Journeying is hard, Journeying is hard!
There are many turnings- which am I to follow?
I will mount a long wind someday and break the heavy waves,
And set my cloudy sail straight and bridge the deep, deep sea.

This is probably one of the best poems that I know of that expounds upon the Wanderlust. Is this not how we all feel when couped up with work or other silly commitments? Just dreaming of sailing for the sun!

But I do like China. I especially like how interesting people seem to think I am here. Everywhere a foreigner goes in China they are met with a constant chorus of “laowai, laowai” from the Chinese they pass. Laowai just means “foreigner” but Mira cleverly substituted “movie star” for the meaning- and it seems to be an adequate substitution. So wherever we would go we would just imagine people saying “movie star, movie star” and the attention that we are given seems consistent to that if we really were movie stars. The Chinese all point and hit their friends to get them to look at us. They get really excited, and I do not know quite why. Little kids of many countries shout “hello, hello” whenever a foreigner passes, but in China it is everyone form adults on down. I think that I have come to like this attention. I like people looking at me. I am not just a traveller dirtbag here as I am in the West, but I am an “outsider”; I am exotic. Sometimes when I walk down the street here all activity comes to a halt. If I eat in a restaurant they talk about me to anyone they can. If I am picked up while hitchhiking then it seems as if the driver has the conversation material to last him a month. When I ride in trains everybody in the compartment seems to watch me for the entire time. If I dig into my rucksack I can feel every one’s excitement building about what I could possible be pulling out.

I think that I will disappoint them by just pulling out something as seemingly inane as a book but they do not seem to put off by it at all, and they often crane their necks to try to read what is written in it. I do not know why the Chinese seem to be so interested in me. I don’t think I am that interesting.

But it is time to be moving on.


Filed under: China, Vietnam

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

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