Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Busy doing nothing

Hanoi’s starting to irritate me now. I’ve spent far too long here and I’ve run out of stuff to do. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were lots of interesting places nearby, but there aren’t. Those are all in the south of Vietnam. Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if Ho Chi Minh (the best communist dictator evah, according to his ubiquitous personality cult) decided to invade because he was bored shitless.

Also, every time I leave my hotel I want to gripe about the traffic. All the pavements in the Old Quarter are taken up with parked motorbikes so whenever I go out to eat, I find myself walking along the edge of a narrow road, wincing as bikes, motorbikes and cars buzz past me. No one takes a blind bit of notice of traffic lights or pedestrian crossings. It’s so frustrating, there are moments when I feel like shouting condescending and offensive comments about this otherwise marvellous country. I’m going stir crazy, I tell you!

Deep breaths.

The thing is, all I’ve done this week is watch the latest Doctor Who (dull) and the Ashes to Ashes finale (twice, it was so brilliant) and go on a day trip to Tam Coc, which is like Ha Long Bay only less dramatic.

Ah well, I’ll be out of here in a matter of days.

I got back to the capital on Friday, having spent ten days in the Sa Pa region. Unlike most tourists, I made the 11-hour train journey during the day because I much prefer it to travelling at night. Next to me sat a young woman and her little boy, who I guess was six or seven. Since neither spoke any English, I concentrated on my guidebook and my mp3s for the most part.

Then an hour or two before we reached Hanoi, I took my headphones off and put my book away. This was my neighbour’s cue to offer to share some fruit with me, for which I was very grateful. Apart from a French loaf I’d bought from an old woman who’d shuffled down the carriage clutching half a dozen of them as we were setting off, I’d had nothing to eat all day.

Her son took a bite of his fruit and smacked his lips together. I did the same with mine and they both laughed. He did it again for effect. I let out a comical slurp and in no time at all, the little Vietnamese lad and the overgrown kid from England were engaged in a prolonged face-pulling competition.

Not far away, a boy of about eight or nine was looking on enviously and after a while he too became involved. I mimed fisticuffs with him and punched myself in the jaw. Suddenly it dawned on me that I had, in effect, become a part-time children’s entertainer. God knows what the other passengers thought, watching this white guy clowning around with a couple of kids while their mothers sat back and laughed.

I did enjoy it, though, to the extent that if I do end up teaching English in China, say, I’m more open now to working with young children. I think it might be quite rewarding, actually. For me, that’s a huge change in attitude.

The older boy’s mother, a Vietnamese woman who teaches primary school English, was dumbstruck when she found out I was single and childless. She reacted like it was the saddest thing she’d ever heard but told me, as I was getting ready to leave the train, that she thought I would return to London, get married and have kids. “It’s very enjoyable, when they cry, when they laugh…” I wasn’t at all convinced, though I appreciated the sentiment behind her comments.

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