Scar tissue – samniubii – Medium
This post is about the second part of my travel in Vietnam. If you haven’t read the first part, you can click the link below.
Leaving Dalat, I headed north. My destination was the busy Hanoi. I spent many days to reach the north of the country. Nobody was chasing me and I had all the time my visa was allowing me. So I took my time, I didn’t run and I moved slowly. I visited several cities and few villages. The first one I want to tell you about is Hoi An. This small city is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the old town is something really unique. Its architecture is a perfect mix of french colonial style and vietnamese style. Bouganville trees are everywhere and they stand out in contrast with the yellow painted buildings. Canals and boats are a vital part of the city and bridges are just another one of the many amazing examples of mixed architecture you can find there.
The city is not just popular for its beauty but also for being a lanterns city. Walking at night along the many canals, you will find yourself surrounded by lanterns that diffuse a warm reddish light all over, and being canals there, the visual effect created by the reflection in the water is truly mesmerising.
Four colours dominate the city, red from the lanterns, yellow from the buildings, blue from the water and green from the tropical vegetation. Walking along the canals or in the small alleys you will have the feeling of walking in a painting. If you add the numerous bakeries that dot the city, Hoi An is a real jewel and if you will ever go to Vietnam you should really find some time to go visit it.
As I said Hanoi was my destination but before reaching it I stopped in Halong to visit the popular Halong Bay. In Halong I was staying in a small hostel that provided single or multi-day tours in the bay. I booked a standard tour inclusive of accommodation aboard a wooden boat, breakfast, and some activities like kayaking and cave exploring. The boats used for this kind of tours are quite comfortable. Considering that I booked one of the cheapest tour available, I guess the more expensive ones will give you the chance to stay in a very fancy and luxurious boat.
Anyway, I had a single cabin accommodation and all meals were included. Can’t complain.
Mine, was a 3 day 2 night tour. Early in the morning a minivan came and picked me up just outside my hostel and then we picked up other people in different locations. We ent to the harbour and in few minutes we were all standing on the deck of our boat. The crew welcomed us with a drink and briefly told us safety rules and showed us our rooms. After few hours of navigation we stopped and lunch was served, it was the first meal all the participants at this tour had together, me included. Eating together and sharing food is always a great way to get to know people, start conversations and create bonds. On our boat there were about 20 of us plus the crew. Few middle aged couples and about 10 backpackers like me. Three girls from England, me, a guy from Chile, two germans and a couple from France. Probably I forgot somebody.
In the afternoon we went exploring some caves and it was fun.
Back to the boat we had the time to take a shower, relax and then dinner was served. After dinner the starry sky was above us, only small lights from boats floating in the bay were illuminating the night.
On our boat after dinner somebody decided to go to bed and somebody else stayed on deck. I stayed and after the crew finished to clean the tables where we had our meal they took out microphones and speakers and suddenly a karaoke session was happening on a wooden boat in the middle of the bay. It was really entertaining, some members of the crew were good singers.
Then one of the brit took the microphone and started singing. She was nice to talk to, British accent obviously, big eyes, beautiful body and she could sing real well. She sang “Never ever”, a song I never heard before at that time.
The night went on alternating drinking and singing sessions.
We all went to bed quite late and fortunately no activity was scheduled for the following morning.
We all had a late breakfast and we spent the morning aboard, waiting for lunch, talking, joking and recovering from the intense night that just went by. After lunch we went kayaking and it was really really cool. One seat and two seats kayaks were available and we all had few ours to explore the bay kayaking in the green water. To you it might seem like we didn’t do much during these 3 days and two nights but one of the best thing of the tour was just staying on the deck observing the landscape around us. The green flat waters of the bay were pierced by rocky formation that emerged and went tall, like hills in the water. Really impressive and something I had never seen anywhere else.
The sunset in the bay were magical and the starry sky not contaminated by any lights was like painted.
Back to us, after kayaking we all returned to the boat and we had some time to rest before what was going to be our last dinner on the boat. After dinner some of us decided to spend the last night on the roof of the boat laying down and staring at the dark sky. I remember me and two of the british girls were the last ones to go back to our room, the bay was so quiet and dark that it felt like floating in the air. Or maybe we just had too many drinks.
In the morning we woke up and you could see in everybody’s face a patina of sadness. The tour was over and everybody was going to go in a different way, it was time for goodbyes.
I never saw anybody from that tour again. But I am still in touch with someone.
After Halong my last stop was finally Hanoi. I spent there few days to conclude my Vietnam trip and get ready for my next trip.
In Hanoi I had one of the most touching experience of my entire life.
I met this girl from Finland, tall and blonde. She had been in town for a while at that time and talking to her I found out she knew somebody who was running an orphanage and she told me she was going to visit it the following day. I asked to join her and so we went together. I ended up going to the orphanage every day in the last week I was in Hanoi.
The facility was very decrepit. Obviously there was not enough money to face all the needs.
The manager of the orphanage told us that the building was owned by the temple nearby and that monks were taking a big chunk of the money destined to the orphanage leaving to it just the bare necessary to survive and keep it working.
The kids in the orphanage were not just orphans, but most of them had bones problems, diseases and skin conditions due to all the chemical agents used during the Vietnam War, after more than 40 years new generations were and are still paying the price of the war. I am not here to take parts or to judge the war, I am just saying what I saw. Kids with respiratory problems, some had deformations that made it impossible to walk around without help, some of them had big heads and tiny bodies, some of them had skin problems and had to wear bandages all the time to keep the skin from falling down.
It was really overwhelming the feeling of powerlessness I had. All I could do was spending some time with them, make them laugh, play with them and help the volunteers to take care of them.
Some of them were destined to die before the age of 10 they told me. I remember feeling so powerless, and at the same time kinda guilty because I knew that I could leave at any time and even in the worst scenario my alternatives were better then theirs. A similar feeling I had when I was living in the slums in Lombok, Indonesia. Was I just a western lucky guy who was there for few days and then I would have been gone back to my good life or what I was doing was really helpful and appreciated? All I focused on was to give the kids a good time and maybe for few hours they forgot what their conditions were. Or at least this is what I like to think and hope.
Fact is that these kids have scars of battles that they didn’t fight. They have scars they didn’t ask for. They are the scar of a war that changed the country and the world.
Life is not supposed to be fair, and I know. Life is hard for everybody, but for somebody is harder.
We can’t save everybody but we can help, and instead of talking and talking, it’s better to be quiet and do.
As Rachel Dawes said: “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you”.