By Larry and Joan Dolinski
Continued from update #53
Our last major visit in China was in the city of Nanning, a provincial capital. Joan visited a local department store with a couple of riding companions, Pam & Lisa, both blondes. As one might expect they drew much attention from the locals. What the three ladies found most fascinating was that every sales counter uses an abacus for price calculations and do not accept credit cards of any kind.
As we have remarked in an earlier update, China is for the most part outrageously third world, with occasional exceptions, such as the central business districts of Beijing and Nanning. If Conan Doyle were to have composed one of his Sherlock Holmes stories here, a passage might have gone as follows:
[Holmes] "Watson, consider the remarkable observation of all the 'Road Kill'."
[Watson] "But Holmes, there was no 'Road Kill'.
[Holmes] "That, my dear Watson is what is so remarkable. Bon Appetite!"
We crossed into Vietnam at its Northern border with China. It took about 4 1/2 hours to pass through the two border stations. Besides all the perusing of passports and visas and filling out all kinds of declarations and getting our papers stamped, we had to walk a distance of 300 meters, toting luggage and bicycles from the Chinese to the Vietnamese border station.
Once all these formalities were completed we embarked on a five-hour "Bus ride from hell" to Hanoi. The road was all dirt with choking dust and potholes everywhere. Although most of the ride from the Chinese border took place after dark, we caught glimpses of conditions along the way. Even though things appeared poor and shabby, it seemed an incremental improvement over China. There were urban structures similar to what we encountered in China (those ugly garage-like store and house fronts), but there was some variety too. Generally the city streets seemed a touch more charming and appeared to be somewhat less dirty than what we saw in China. One could detect some French influence here and there.
Many of the places we traveled through have names that are only too familiar to us from evening news reports during the war. Hanoi is an unexpectedly charming city and is the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). It is often referred to as the Paris of the Orient. French influence shows up everywhere in the architecture and in some of the cuisine. Economic activity is bustling among restaurant owners, shopkeepers and street vendors. The vehicular traffic is as dense and chaotic as we have seen it up to this point (astonishingly, it is even worse in Ho Chi Minh City...a.k.a. Saigon). There are very few traffic signals (which are paid no attention anyway). Cars, buses, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles, tricycles, and water buffalo drawn carts compete with pedestrians for the road. There is never a break in traffic, so people and vehicles move right through other people and vehicles. The rule of the road seems to be "always keep moving and depend on others to avoid hitting you at the last moment". It's as though one were passing the repelling end of a magnet through a field of iron particles and as the magnet passes through, those particles are pushed aside.
A sobering incident... At the time the bikers left Hanoi to travel South, Kristie, the wife of our staff physician left for the North American West Coast to tend to a personal matter. She flew from Hanoi to Taipei, Taiwan in order to transfer to a Singapore Airline flight to Los Angeles. At the terminal in Taipai she spent a good deal of time conversing with a traveler who was preparing to fly to the U.S. West Coast on the following Singapore Airlines flight (45 minutes later).
Continued on Update #55
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