The day after I’d been out to that one-day job (and got home at midnight), I had a commitment to take a bus to Thai Binh, which is where my new job is. I’d learned the buses leave about every half hour and decided to take the noon bus, so at 11:30 I grabbed a taxi. I’d got the bus station address off the internet. By the way, information you get from the internet is not always correct….just an FYI…. I showed the cab driver the address, he nodded (feigned?) his understanding and took off. He stopped 2 or 3 times and looked about in a bewildered manner….at which points I’d show him the address again and, after realizing the address was probably wrong anyway, I drew a picture of a bus and bus station……and he took me to an obscure little alley at the dead end of a street and more or less said, “We’re here.”….have I mentioned there’s a language barrier? By this time I’m thinking, “Okay, we’re talking bus station, here. Great big bus station in Hanoi. Somebody’s got to know where it is.” So I pay him, get out of the cab and ask the next person I see where it is. No, let me re-phrase that – I show somebody the picture I drew and point around and say “o dau?” (where) and shrug my shoulders.
The woman I’m talking to appears to ‘get it’. She nods her head and points up the street and waves her arm off to the right. Hooray! So, I repeat the gesture (up the street and to the right….right?) and she nods her head in the affirmative. I make a walking movement in order to ask her “is it within walking distance?” She understands again and nods yes. Fantastic! I give her my thanks and I’m on my way. I walk up the street, turn right and walk…..and walk….and…..you saw this one coming, didn’t you…. I’m asking the same question of people along the way and everyone nods yes, just keep going in the same direction….until I ask someone else who shakes his head, no, go back the other way, whereupon I meet someone else who says, no, turn around and go back….. I’m not gonna catch the noon bus, ya know? I’d had plenty of opportunities to take a xe om, but wanted to save money. At this point I just wanted to save my feet…..and my sanity. So, I show my rain-spattered picture to the next available xe om (oh yeah, did I mention it was raining?). He knows exactly what I’m talking about and takes me straight to the bus station. Just like that. Oh, and by the way, the bus station was up the street and to the left.
Arriving at the bus station, I was still keeping in mind what I’d read on the incorrect internet. It said to go directly into the bus station and buy your ticket and to not just get on a bus even though the bus may be sitting right out front, ready to go and has your destination emblazoned on its header…..yes, the correct bus was sitting right there in front of the station…… Well, at the time it made sense to me – I thought it would be best to have ticket in hand….better safe than sorry….don’t want to get to the destination and find out I should’ve bought my ticket back in Hanoi….besides, there’d be another bus within a half hour, right? As I entered the station I was approached by one guy after another asking me where I was going…..being really in my face about it, you know? I felt no need to tell anybody but the ticket seller where I was going, however, so I went straight to the counter behind which she sat. This young woman had absolutely no interest whatsoever as to where I was going….honestly I felt I’d woke her from a nap. I said to her, “Thai Binh.” She languidly looked at me and with resentful effort, waved her arm toward the hallway to my left and went back to sleep.
Through the hallway was the bus parking lot. Once again, all these guys rush up to me and try to find out where I’m going. I figure there’s got to be some sort of angle in it for them, though I have no idea what it might be. But they’re really, really in my face about it. Honestly, it was a bit unnerving. I didn’t feel threatened…it was just overwhelming. I wanted to get outta there, so I kept looking around for a bus with ‘Thai Binh’ on it and finally found one (turns out you do pay your fare on the bus, not at the station. I’m not even sure what the station is good for at this point…..damned incorrect internet…). Okay, so I didn’t catch the bus out front, but I got this one……..the slow one…..the one that makes all the stops…..the one that takes twice as long to get there…… yeah, that one. Oh, well what’re you gonna do….who knew? At least I’m finally on the bus and it starts inching toward the street …..literally …inching…. It took 20 minutes to get out of the parking lot….and then we were blessedly on our way. Once out of the city and into the countryside there was plenty to look at and enjoy. Again I didn’t take pictures because the windows were mud and rain splattered. But I also figure that once I’m living in Thai Binh I’ll have opportunities to go out and about and take pictures at a more relaxed pace anyway. Just amazingly beautiful countryside.
Three and a half hours later I arrive in Thai Binh. Stepping off the bus I grab a cab and get dropped off at the school where I’ll be working. It’s really nice. It’s in a quiet neighborhood. Hardly any traffic whatsoever. I went into the front office. They’d of course been expecting me and gave me a key to the house and told me my room is on the third floor. Here are a few pictures of the school and house:
…house on the left, school on the right….
…inside looking out, outside looking in…..
Remember that post about the crazy traffic in Hanoi? Not so, Thai Binh. Very quiet. In fact I went out and stood dead center of the intersection in front of the school and took these four shots:
Yeah, it’s kinda quiet…..
This is the ‘sofa’ in the common living area. Not too comfy, but nice to look at.
I met up with William, one of the other teachers there (and one of my two house-mates). He asked if I would sit in on his 7:45 p.m. class just to observe. Of course, I was happy to. But it was still only around 5-ish, so I wanted to have a look around….and a cuppa. On the bus ride over I’d discovered my phone was out of minutes…..drag……what timing. I’d got a text from Mike – he’d forgot what day I was heading to Thai Binh and was back in Hanoi wondering where the heck I was and getting worried. Seems I could receive texts but not send them. So since I’d been unable to call or text him, while I had this free time I wanted to email him and I went in search of a café with wifi. Again, I was not in Hanoi and cafés (let alone ones with wifi) aren’t at every turn. I’d wandered around for a while looking for a café but couldn’t find one…..at all….so I went back to the house. At last, I learned there was a computer at the school from which I could email Mike and alleviate his concerns, which I did. Then I went to the class and had a wonderful time. The students were great. I enjoyed a group session with four young women who were motivated and interested and actively trying to learn. It was very energetic and fun.
After class, William said one of his Vietnamese friends wanted to go out for a cuppa and conversation and asked if I’d like to go, too…..well, of course I would. We went to a local café (turns out there are plenty of them if you know which streets to traverse) and had a delightful time. It’s so incredibly wonderful, invigorating and interesting trying to cross the language barrier with people……at least when it works! And it can be so very frustrating sometimes when it doesn’t. Finally, it had got late and since I hadn’t had much sleep the night before, I was wiped out, honestly. The café was closing anyway and I was given a motorbike ride home. Back at my room I lay down and enjoyed the most amazing rain, lightning and thunder storm ever!
I woke up early and spent a leisurely morning answering emails, munching on a pear-ish sort of thing I’d bought the day before and enjoying some ‘down time.’ I hadn’t got much sleep, partly because of the lightning and thunder storm and partly because when I’d gone out with William and his friends, I’d had a ca phé…..with all the caffeine that implies. Not a brilliant move. But, I woke up early anyway. I’m just an early riser…..nothing to be done about that….. Having the intention of leaving at around 10:30, I thought I’d do a little exploring of the town. I kept my eyes open for a place to buy minutes for my phone as well. Not much luck there. I thought it may be because it’s a smaller city and they didn’t have such amenities, but I’ve since come to believe it’s because I was asking the wrong questions (I’m new to ‘buying minutes’). At any rate, I didn’t get my phone situation taken care of at that time. But I did take pictures of some cool things….
There’s a sort of pond or reservoir looking body of water not far from the school which I’ve decided to call the “Fishin’ Hole.” (By the way, you can double-click on any picture in this blog for a better view).
And, last but certainly not least, this gem….
After my stroll I went back to the house and no one was there – William had told me he had a morning class – so I went up to my room and rested a bit. I needed to talk with him because I had no idea where to go to catch the bus (remember I’d taken a cab from where the bus had stopped the day before – I didn’t know how to get back there) and with no phone, couldn’t call anyone to find out…..and even if I did have a phone, who could I call but William…?.. and he was teaching a class…. I’ve mentioned the language barrier thing, right? 10 o’clock comes and goes…..10:30…….11:00…… No William. I’d tried communicating with the receptionist at the school to see if she knew where ‘Mr. William’ was or when he’d be back or anything at all about a bus or bus station, but we just couldn’t seem to understand each other at all. Also, this is a sleepy little neighborhood – there really are hardly any people around at all, let alone a taxi. Then it dawns on me – I’ll contact Duyen (the administrator of the school) via email – she’s in Hanoi, but she’s truly my only English speaking contact. She emailed back and suggested she could ask the receptionist if she would take me to the bus station at 11:30. I wrote back Yes! Please! Yes! Thank you!
I pack up my things to go over to the school and at least try to convey my thanks to the receptionist……. and find that I’m locked in. The front door/gate is padlocked. I’d had a key earlier, but a couple of women who worked at the school asked to borrow it and I obliged (they’d done the same thing the day before….but that time they’d given me the key back). I never, ever imagined they’d leave, take the key with them and padlock me in! Okay, no sweat – don’t worry – it’s almost 11:30 and the receptionist will come looking for me to take me to the bus station soon, right? She’ll see what happened and we’ll have a good laugh about it…..12 o’clock…..12:30…..nobody, but nobody is around…. Okay, now my mind is officially lost. Not enough sleep, a who-knows-how-many-hour-bus-ride ahead of me and, yeah, my mind is gone. I emailed Duyen again, but she’s offline now and who knows when she’ll be back on. So I sit on the ‘couch’ downstairs, twiddle my thumbs and wait…..somebody’s gotta show up eventually, right? Around 12:45 the receptionist arrives and we have that laugh (which was a bit of a struggle for me at this point).
Thankfully, at least some lunch was being brought in (one of the job benefits is two meals a day) because all I’d eaten so far was that pear-ish thing. So, it was good to have something to eat, but I wanted to leave……now….. Okay, enough is enough, I decide…..I’m going to write a note to William (just so there’s communication) letting him know I’d decided to try my luck at walking toward a busier part of town, seeing if I could catch a cab and try to get to the bus station……and, as I’m writing, who, but who should come walking, sleepy-eyed down the staircase…..but William. He’d been upstairs in his bedroom the whole time…..he must’ve gone – quietly – to his room while I was in mine. He said, “Oh, I thought you were leaving at 10:30.” Upon retrieving my jaw from the floor, I said, “Uh….yeah…..I don’t know how to get to the bus station……” I told him the whole rigamarole I’ve just messed your head up with and I’m pretty darn sure I sounded like a completely blithering lunatic while doing so.
He was kind enough to walk me the 8 blocks to the bus stop (I never would have known to go there – it was at a different location than where I’d got off the bus the day before) and he made sure I got on the correct bus. So, two hours, a horn-leaning driver and countless jarring bumps and ruts in the road later, the bus pulls into the station in Hanoi……and here come all those guys trying to find out where I’m going. I almost get off the bus, swinging. Fully 15 men are talking to me at the same time, “Xe om?” “Taxi?” “Motorbiiiiike?” I just keep walking and saying, “No….Khong….no, No, NO!” This one guy follows me for the longest time, holding an umbrella over my head, insisting that I’ll be taking his taxi……no, pal,….I won’t…. I finally get away from the throng and keep walking into the nearby neighborhood where I find a single, solitary xe om, just sitting there waiting for someone to come along and ask him for a ride home….and that someone was me.