I know, I should have written and published this post long ago but I just couldn’t find the free time and motivation to write it! And now since I’m in the mood to do it I’m just hoping I still can remember major details.
Anyway this one is from Cat’s and my escapade to Vietnam back in August, for a total of ten days. We started from Danang and wandered all the way up north to Sapa, then came back down to fly back to Malaysia from Hanoi.
You can read my previous posts on this long, wonderful trip of ours below:
After spending two days on the cruise ship at Halong Bay, we headed back to Hanoi as Cat and I were scheduled to depart to Sapa on a sleeper bus that night. This was one of the places we anticipated the most as we had, before even setting foot there, heard a lot of great things about this paradise on earth.
Sapa is the border town between Vietnam and China, sitting at 4921 feet above sea level. While still at Halong Bay, Cat and I had no idea that Sapa was going to be cold, until a Chilean couple mentioned about it.
In my heart I went like “Aiyah, whatever lah! Don’t think it’s gonna be that bad!” And of course, I was wrong.
I’m not sure about Cat, but my bus journey to Sapa was such a horrible one. We were supposed to take off at 7pm from the Hanoi bus station but ended up having to wait exhaustedly for hours for our bus to come.
I was already drained after our Halong Bay trip because I had woken up at 5am the same day – while everyone was still sleeping – in order to witness dawn on the upper deck of the cruise ship. Furthermore we were occupied with various activities during the daytime.
There was no explanation on what was going on, except they kept telling us to “please wait.” In the end I had to find out from a local who could speak English to tell me what was going on. Apparently the bus operator had oversold the tickets, and thus there was an under-supply of buses.
After about 12 hours of bus journey, the bus stopped at Lao Cai, where some visitors were seen getting down. Cat and I had no idea if that was where we should get down also, but apparently asking other travellers did not help as they too had no clue.
After trying to communicate hard with the driver who could barely speak English, he shooed me back onto the bus and that was when I figured out that it probably wasn’t our final destination yet.
We finally reached Sapa an hour later and by that time it was already close to 11am. If there had not been any delayed we would have reached Sapa two hours and a half earlier.
My initial bad mood started to wane after being greeted by the nice, chilly weather in Sapa. The temperature, I reckoned, was about 15°C.
Huong, the hospitable owner of Hanoi Family Homestay who made our Halong-Sapa trip possible, had arranged her people in Sapa to pick us up upon our arrival.
It was her sister, also named Huong and operating a guesthouse in Sapa, coming to fetch us with her bike. Yes, a bike, with the three of us on it! Of course, in addition to that were our luggages.
We must be lucky or what – the day of our arrival actually coincided with Huong brother’s wedding day, and hence…
Huong’s brother – the groom clad smartly in Western attire – was busy welcoming guests coming to his wedding lunch reception right outside the guesthouse. I buey-paisehly went up to shake hand with him like I was one of the guests.
I experienced an immediate culture shock as it was the first time I had witnessed a Vietnamese wedding reception. I was just as stroked as most of the guest were.
Although we did not join them, the guests were all so hospitable – they kept looking and smiling at us joyously, with one or two of them throwing us the “let’s have some beer” gesture!
Five years into my career and I still do not own a car. Every now and then my friends would ask why I am not considering to buy a car.
Not that I cannot afford to have a car or don’t have a driving license. Neither am I thinking it is unimportant to have a car.
I always told them that I intend to work overseas in the near future, and since my office is just a stone’s throw away from my home, I simply do not need one for the time being.
But apart from that, there are more reasons that I have been keeping to myself, why I refrain myself from buying a car at this point in time. It is not that I am being reserved to share my them with others, just that not everyone would share the same sentiments as I do and thus I feel there is no need to explain so much every time.
I come from family that is neither rich nor poor. At home (as in the home at my homestate, not my current one), where my father runs a small grocery shop, we used to have only a van before I came over to the Peninsular.
Things have changed over time, of course. Right now, on top of the van I used to fetch my friends with and drive us to tuitions or hang around, we now have another car, which my brother and his wife are sharing.
As I didn’t always get the chance to drive the van whenever I wanted, it had trained myself to learn and rely on other methods of travelling about.
I remember my good hometown friend Jong and I would travel by bus or by foot to get around the city during school holidays or over the weekends. Public transport at that time, mind you, was neither as good nor as frequent as what we get today! Cabs, on the other hand, were unpopular and also very costly for students like us back then.
Things got better after I came over to the Peninsular to study. I still did not have a car to drive, but public transports proved to be way more convenient here, especially in the hustle and bustle of the Klang Valley.
Maybe it has to do with my outgoing nature and also my passion for travel and adventure, but I love travelling by public transport.
The more I opt for such a mode of travelling, the more I feel it is a blessing not to own a car. Of course, having a car would help in a lot of situations, say, getting around a few places given a short period of time. However there are also a lot of things that you will miss out on once you start driving.
I love the freedom associated to such a mode of travelling – not the kind of freedom where you can drive to wherever you want when you have a car of course, but the freedom to sit inside a bus or a train observing things and people because you don’t need to take control of the steering; the freedom to sleep while you are getting transported from point A to point B; the freedom not to care about anything else but to “eavesdrop” what the people are thinking of certain government policies; the freedom to get down at wherever you wish without worrying about parking your vehicle.
It is because of travelling by public transport that I have learnt to be a more sensitive, more observant, and more thoughtful individual. By opting for public transport, I get to witness, for example, how the lower class is coping. This is something you may not get to see easily from neither the mainstream nor alternative media, or when you travel by car.
I used to see many locals working as cleaners, general workers, attendants, and security guards in shopping centers like Mid Valley and One Utame, as well as stations like KL Sentral and Seremban’s Terminal 1. But now foreign workers are rapidly replacing these locals.
And this actually worries me. I am not sure what these locals have done to deserve having to compete with the foreign workers in their own homecountry. When they are already not very well-off, they should have been protected. What are they going to do when they don’t have a job?
Travelling by public transport, therefore, turns me into a thinker; it makes me a more conscious person. Just when I think there are certain things I have to have in life, seeing how some people struggle to live their lives during my travel makes me change my mind.
While waiting to take off in on a bus in Mandalay, Burma a few months back, a grim-looking young girl, about seven years of age, came up the bus handling out an envelope to everyone – each envelop had some Burmese text written on it. The girl had her hair tied up, albeit messily; part of her face was covered with dirt, and her clothes looked unwashed. She was not wearing any shoes.
Out of curiosity, I asked the person beside me what the envelope was for, and although she struggled to explained things to me in English, I got to understand that the young girl was asking for donations from us for her sick mother.
Out of compassion I took out some money and slipped it inside the envelope before returning it to her. The moment when she saw my willingness to donate was priceless – she probably did not see it coming as I noticed many passengers return empty envelopes to her. Her face immediately changed from gloomy to hopeful.
I then took out some Snickers bars that I brought along and offered them to the girl. As she took them from me, she uttered something enthusiastically, which I assumed was her thanks, and then made her way out. Outside the bus, she turned to look at me through the window and gave me the most appreciative look I can never forget.
Encounters like that have given me an opportunity to appreciate my life better. As much as I don’t consider myself much of a materialistic person, or someone who is afraid of losing out to others, still there are certain things some of my friends have that I am sometimes envious of and wish to also have.
But then again as I reflect upon myself and compare myself with some of those I have met in public transport or on the streets who are striving to even make ends meet, am I not already so much more blessed and luckier? After owning something I don’t need to have in the first place, then what?
Sure it cannot satisfy me long enough before I realise it is no longer the most important thing that I want; there may be some other things I would fall for and chase after next.
Of course, I am not saying it is wrong to use our hard-earn money to buy what we desire. My point is that there has got to be some balance and control in life. If we cannot pause for a moment, reflect upon ourself, and learn to appreciate the things we have, then nothing else in this world can ever satisfy us. We will never be content.
As we progress into a more sophisticated nation, the material values in us are also expanding. For me, travelling by public transport is when I can take take a U-turn from such values to revisit the most fundamental spiritual values hidden inside of me.
Five years down the road, I may find myself needing a car when I have my own family, but that’s okay. For now, when having a car is still an optional thing to me, I just wish to see walking and using public transport something to enjoy, not frown upon.