So another 2 trains and nights to get from Beijing, China to Hanoi, Vietnam, and yet ANOTHER midnight border crossing. That being said after the Trans-Mongolian route this felt like nothing. The Z5 started off as a very busy train, every cabin in my carriage at least is full. As far as I’m aware I’m the only westerner aboard this carriage as well. I’m treated to incredibly pungent smells of preserved eggs and other ‘aromatic’ delicacies courtesy of my cabin companions. 3 of them seem to be on a middle aged, lads on tour styles trip, lots of raucous laughter along with plenty of beer. However next to me in the top bunk is a decidedly older man who manages to get to sleep through the noise at about 7pm.
I feel remiss in the fact that I have not learnt much Chinese and could not find out where these people were going. Holiday, back home, commuting to work. I never found out. From those in their 20s, possibly younger, to a more elderly collection of 50/60 somethings (who I assume ARE on a trip as they take photos of every station sign). The overall surroundings are not particularly breathtaking. Lots of farming fields with the occasional worker, but mostly just villages with the occasional larger town. Oh, and a few cattle of course!
Guilin was the first time the scenery for particularly interesting with numerous verdant peaks scattered around. That’s one thing I have noticed in the journey south, it has become increasingly green and the atmosphere seems a lot clearer, lacking the congestion and pollution of Beijing.
It’s very strange being looked at because you’re different. I honestly didn’t expect to experience it in Beijing as it’s such a hub for tourism, yet you can’t help but notice the gazes from passers by. Having grown up in London I’ve never really found any one person particularly remarkable and worthy of a double take (in terms of being different visually). Sometimes people might do things that I think are weird and I may casually observe, but there is this overwhelming urge to ignore it and not be a nosey nelly in a very British way.
I’ve had people come up to me and ask if they could have their photo taken with me like I’m Mickey Mouse at Disney. It’s just bizarre! When I’m in more remote areas of the world where they see less western tourists I can understand their fascination, ok well maybe not understand but comprehend at least. But even when in relatively rural parts of South India I didn’t feel as much of a spectacle as here.
It’s one of the things I appreciate about having grown up in London. You’re exposed to every type, shape, belief, colour or any other observable, labellable characteristic. With this upbringing you don’t really question what anyone is and I think that’s what is important. I don’t care what you are. What label you ascribe to yourself, any identifiers you have that will help me find you in the Argos catalogue of life. I care who you are. This is something I could only learn through interacting with you. Not judging a book by its cover, not assuming to know anything about someone based on what you see.
Now, I’m not claiming to be the paragon of justice when it comes to upholding this practice but I do try! I just think maybe if you find yourself starting at someone, for whatever reason, maybe you should start a conversation with them instead? I mean, I know I’m saying this as a Londoner where you try to avoid social contact with anyone you don’t already know. But then how did we ever make new friends? Everyone was a stranger at some point and what’s different from starting a conversation on the tube with starting a conversation in the pub?
It’s the people that are most strange and alien to you that you can learn the most from.
Back to the train! I get off at Nanning for the next leg of the journey onwards to Hanoi. Getting off the train I immediately notice the difference in climate through the humidity and heat. I can tell I’m travelling south. I grab some Zhajiangmian (Ja-Jang-Mien), a noodle dish containing ground pork and fermented soy bean paste garnished with matchsticks of cucumber and radish, a couple of baozi, and head to the waiting area for my next train. Train T8701 sets off at 18:05 and I find I have another cabin all to myself. I’m actually pretty happy with this as it allows me to sort my things out, change out of my jeans and spread out a bid. I feel I may need to invest in an extra pair of shorts for SE Asia.
Here we have another border crossing (which all seem to take place in the middle of the night!) once we hit Pingxiang on the Chinese side, followed by checks at Dong Dang, 16km further on the Vietnamese side. All in all relatively painless. At the Vietnam border it was pretty swift, got another stamp for my collection. I must say, my passport is beginning to gain quite an impressive array of stamps and markings. I’m also starting to think I should shave as my passport photo is a lot less bearded and they tend to scrutinise my face rather thoroughly. Either that or they’re just blown away by my stupefying beauty and splendour.
Going off on a tangent. I learnt that things from Naples are called Neapolitan because originally it was called Neapolis.