If I hadn’t realised it 10 months in I certainly bloody did during this trip… some Chinese people have no chill, respect or awareness of others around them.
The flight to Macau (our 8 hour layover) was 3 and a half hours long which means food is provided and, just as it is on every flight, the crew wheel the trolley to the front of the plane and work their way up the plane, asking customers preference in a variety of languages. As a customer you sit patiently and wait for them to park up next to you right? Wrong, according to a Chinese pensioner. He had his eyes fixated on the food trolley in some kind of trance with his head and shoulders leaning half-way out of his sit into the aisle. AND THEN one of the women walk by to collect more food and he stops her to ask what I can only assume is “When will my food arrive?” because she points to the trolley and gestures it moving up the aisle. Was he worried the plane would land before he even got a whiff of his beef noodles and coffee?
We’d just landed from that same flight and were pulling off of the runway and average speed the sky outside was a gorgeous shade of blue and we just knew we’d probably regret this 8 hour layover in an airport, so we were too fussed about rushing off the plane. The other 198 people HOWEVER shot up from their seat, grabbed NO BAGS (why didn’t they travel with a carry on?) and darted down the aisle within 2 seconds of the seat belt sign going off and then came to an abrupt halt because the plane HAD NOT BLOODY STOPPED.
Our third encounter with Chinese people was well into our holiday… “away from China and the people”. Oh how foolish we had been. Spencer and I paid a visit to the Ho Chi Minh garden thingies in Hanoi, where his home and fuck off huge yellow palace were. To our left stood said huge yellow cuboid and below it, to our right was a mass of red t-shirts with yellow stars centred on the front, the people in them gawping at their surrounding and bustling amongst themselves to listen to the tour guide holding a fish on a stick. I looked at Spencer, Spencer looked at me… “Chinese tourists” were blurted out. Chinese people are a lot elephants, they always need to travel in groups and it’s pretty odd if you see a loose one wandering around alone. Amongst the sea of matching people were OF COURSE the ones who stopped us in order to have their photo taken with us, it was like being back in Beijing. I almost wonder what their reaction might’ve been if a Vietnamese local stopped them for a photo.
Our fourth and final encounter was with a rude Chinese guy that we had the pleasure of sharing our row with. The moment we sat down this guy was gawping at us from the side of his eye. Then he got his phone out and held it at such an unnatural angle that it was just too obvious that he was taking photos of us. Dumbass didn’t realise I could see what he was doing in the window reflection. I got out my phone and put it in his face, rightly so.
At first I didn’t mind all the staring but, when people are evidently being rude and taken photos without my consent I get pissed off.
Encounter 3 came during our second whistle stop day in Hanoi. We’d gotten a second overnight train from Sapa to Hanoi and began our day at 5am. Our plan was as follows: Starbucks Chai Lattes, Ho Chi Minh’s dead stuffed body, vegan Vietnamese lunch, famous weasel coffee, famous egg coffee, train track street, Women’s Museum, Starbucks, train track street weird water puppet show, hang out with Spencer’s uni friend whilst drinking more coffee. The over excessive consumption of coffee left me feeling super ill by the end of the day.
On approaching the mausoleum I was a little sceptical about seeing a dead body, stuffed and made up – President Mao is actually on display in Beijing but I haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet. Luckily for my unsettled mind the mausoleum was closed on a Friday… at least I think it was Friday. We steered our direction towards the presidential grounds instead. Now, President Ho Chi Minh (or “Uncle Ho” as he’s known in Vietnam) was an incredibly influential figure during the war. At the forefront of the grounds is this huge presidential mansion painted a drugged up custard cream colour, it’s actually gorgeous. However, Uncle Ho chose not to occupy this fuck off huge gold bar because most of his people were still suffering with much less. Instead he had a small wooden house built on stilts in the depths of the gardens – ultimate dedication to his people. We’ve been taught that dictatorships and Communism is a form of terrible brainwashing, right? But, at least these people feel safe and happy with their government.
We continued to immerse ourselves in the political history of Vietnam by visiting the Women’s Museum which was just fucking breathtaking. Vietnamese women were and still are absolutely incredible, they were at the forefront of each war as guards, craftswomen, fighters etc. even at young ages like 13. My inspired eyes led me from one profile to the next, each story of strength and determination hitting me in the chest.
The last stop for Vietnam was Cat Ba, a small island off the east coast of the country. It’s home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long bay and its islands… all 367 of them. The part of the holiday where we head straight to the beach upon arrival and sleep for 4 hours. Before getting to Cat Ba Spencer had expressed how much she wanted to rent motorbikes and drive around the island which I hastily agreed to. After we met up with our host for the 3 days, Kenny is his name, he took us to go and rent said motorbikes. I can barely ride a bike let alone a gas fuelled machine… lets not forget how many times I’ve almost died on a pedal bike. I’m also the kind of person who tries something once and if she fails she gives up. So, I get on this bike and begin edging myself forward, little did I know Kenny is sat on the back of it weighing the whole thing down incredibly… I am doing okay, until I have to do a U-Turn. I begin steering us to the right and WHAM! We’re on the floor and I was shouting “fuck I’m so so sorry” at 1000 miles an hour. Consequentially, Spencer and I decided that just one bike was safer for the 3 days. So really it was like being back in Beijing where she chauffeurs me around all the time.
We needn’t have worried about what to plan for our second day because Kenny had kindly got us spaces on a Halong Bay Boat Trip along with people from the Backpacker Hotel, which he assured would be a sick time. He was not wrong. The itinerary of the trip was to make 3 stops; the first was kayaking, the second was for food and a swim, and the third was a stop at monkey island.
With it being the arse end of our trip patience was beginning to wear thin between Spencer and I (we’ve since realised we are two halves of the same brain, our flaws clash with one another), thus you can imagine an activity where two would have to work together in perfect harmony had us both clenching our teeth. Aside from almost wanting to tip Spencer out of the boat, kayaking in between some of the small islands of Halong Bay was breathtaking. Each island of rock like the surface of shattered glass where each sharp edge paints a different mood of grey, almost as if each crack is wrinkled with time. The grey faces of these rocks don’t look as sad as the grey faces of unsatisfied people because the light crashing of crystal blue waters make them glow, unlike the pale rain drops that prick our cheeks. Our arms (and stomachs) began to groan as the kayak harbour came into view, disembarking the boat was a little less pushy-shovy-that’s-my-fucking-kayak.
Lunch was being served as we boarded the boat again, and it smelt absolutely fucking amazing. We shared a table with a guy called Nat from the UK and a woman called Sien from Belgium, who were so lovely to sit and chat to. Nat was especially interested in talking to us about China, he stared deeply into the peanut dish in front of us and said “apparently, you’re sick at chopsticks if you can pick up peanuts” and gave us a challenging look. We killed it obviously, if you’re a year into your time in China and you don’t know how to use chopsticks you’re doing it very wrong. As we’re tucking into the spring rolls and tofu Nat rummages through his bag and presents a bottle of Tabasco for us all… he travels with it everywhere, he knows.
Monkey Island is what it says on the tin, an island cohabited by monkeys but they are infamously known for their aggressive behaviour when it comes to beer… this sounds an awful lot like a certain kind of species that occupies a different island just west of Europe. The monkeys liked to roam around the beach because that’s where all the visitors with food were, but myself and the group from the boat trip began hiking to the peak of the island. I was expecting a walk with an intense incline to the top but no, this was a scaling-the-face-of-rocks-with-a-slight-chance-of-serious-injury kind of thing. Nat climbed up with me and made sure I was taking the safest route. There were moments where the next safest foot cove was a little too low and my heart began to thump out of my chest and I had to breath deeply to steady myself. The view was fucking incredible, even if it did take all of my core strength to keep me from toppling.
We met quite a few Kiwi’s on the boat which meant that I had to become conscious of accidentally imitating their accents, not because I think they’re ridiculous but because I fucking love them. The couple from New Zealand, Ethan and Izzy, had invited us to join them and the rest of the hostel on their night out that evening. After having such an awesome day on the boat we had an inkling that getting fucked up with them all would be even better… and it was, we just had a hell dramatic evening before getting to that point. To cut a long winded story short, someone had taken Spencer’s purse. When we came to the realisation that she hadn’t dropped it, and that it had actually been stolen we gave up hope and decided to go and meet the others.
The night got out of hand very shortly after consuming a bucket full of death with Spencer and Ethan (one of the Kiwi’s). We were all taking it in turns to play our own choice of songs in a bar along the strip of Cat Ba, it was basically like having our own house party with the benefits of loud music and sick lights. Ethan and his girlfriend Izzy are two of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met in my life, I’m so gutted we only got to hang out for one night. They’re both fucking crazy when they’re smashed – Ethan got behind an unused set of decks and started waving his arms about like one of those huge dancing things that is fuelled by air. I keep watching the video that I have of that moment and dying with ab ripping laughter. We moved onto a different bar which apparently I don’t recall, classic Jodie, but video evidence provided by Spencer suggests Ethan and I took full advantage of the pole. There’s some kind of magnetic pull that tugs me towards a pole in a bar, do you know what I blame for that? Cuba and Bac Bar, the 2 bars at University where I continued to lose my dignity.
I did not feel fantastic the next morning. Quite possibly the worst hangover of my life. My face was swollen and my stomach was churning, I paused Spencer mid-sentence to run upstairs and chunder into a toilet. I fucking hate throwing up too, so that when you know it’s bad.
That day we took it relatively easy, we continued to seek out several egg coffees and drove up to the Hospital Caves in Cat Ba, where Vietnamese war patients were kept and hid during the war. The caves were all man made and are so well hidden into the rocks of the island that it would’ve been impossible to spot back them. There’s a part of the cave where you climb a ladder into an open space where the ceiling of the rock so incredibly high it hurts your neck looking up. As we gazed in amazement drips of water fell from above and into a little plastic tub, it was eerie to think that barely 100 years ago that was a fully functioning hospital.
Our night ended with us seeking to catch the sunset on Cannon Fort, a peak high up in the hills that was base to soldiers in the war to look out over the sea. So many people gathered in this small spot, eyes fixated intently on the horizon in front. As the sun slowly started to descend the sky became illuminated with oranges, yellows and eventually blues and purples, just like the sunset preset on Microsoft PowerPoint. The water was a calm flowy blur of the same colours until the golden circle sank beneath the horizon and all of the small islands became dark silhouettes resting upon it.