Monday, August 22, 2011

Babies on a Train

By Kathleen

The baby across the street has finally stopped bawling, just in time for me to be fully awake about a half an hour before I wanted to be.

But motivation strikes me early in the morning so, dear readers I will update you on our travels. Not having reliable fast internet means that often you are a couple of days behind us, which I apologize for but can really do nothing about. Also, believe it or not, we are supposed to be on vacation so the waking time is often spend trying to do just that, with obvious mixed success.

Last we left you I believe, we were in Hoi An, a beautiful historic city in central Vietnam. Its custard yellow lined streets and red hanging lanterns created a scene of beauty in the day and a magical romantic wonderland at night. I personally thought they should make all the visitors wear historic costumes ( yeah I know I’m weird) because it would have been really awesome then.

The food in Hoi An was, oh so good. With French fusion and really spectacular Vietnamese we were in foodie heaven for four days. Our favorite place Cargo Café was a café and bar on the bottom and a lovely restaurant on the top. The whole place was decorated in white and the food was… full of cheese. But really Lonely Planet totally overlooked this one, all they said about it was that it was a decent bar, clearly they never even went upstairs.

We left Hoi An two days ago and headed to Saigon. Remember when we said that if you were traveling long distances in Vietnam it was better to take the train not the bus? Yeah, well we were lying. Forget any long distance land travel. It’s defiantly better to fly.

Our train arrived on time, which is more than I can say for the bus and it did have bathrooms, they weren’t really usable and I think a graveyard was defiantly a step up from one of them but at least they were there right?

We had purchased a class of ticket called “ soft sleeper” by which we were told would mean soft flat bunks, one on top of another in a compartment. Sounded nice, sounded romantic, sounded like we would be able to sleep.

“Soft sleeper” class apparently means no such thing, instead we boarded our compartment only to find dirty reclining seats, like you would find on an airplane. The tickets assured us of AC but really it was more like sporadic wind and only worked as long as the train was moving quickly. In the dark, because they didn’t turn the lights on for new passengers, we had to find our seats, which was tricky because they were already taken. So we popped ourselves into some empty ones and hoped for the best.

I noticed a strange sweet smell, like warm popcorn coming from under my chair and looked to discover a bag of trash the last passenger had left behind. “Great, so they don’t ever clean this place.” I thought to myself.

The bathrooms were so revolting that Fiz almost threw up and I almost considered documenting them but decided that I would spare myself the memory.

About halfway to Saigon from Da Nang we were joined by the mommy squad. Three women with five babies, around the compartment eyes rolled. Soon all five were crying.

 Mom number one managed to subdue her two toddlers and then quite ingeniously with the help of some other ladies on board, hung a hammock from the overhead luggage rack. Once secured she placed her squalling little girl into it and swung her into sleep, which was great for everyone except the guy who was sitting directly behind her and so got his head knocked with each swing, bless him for not complaining.

The other mother got a family member to take her toddler and so turned her full attention on the baby boy in her lap who was crying hysterically.  He went on and on and finally I looked back to see her slapping him.

I don’t know what this was supposed to achieve but every time he let out another wail she would slap him vigorously across his legs, face, back, head, really any exposed part. This went on for a good long while, until, probably somebody leaded over and said “ um excuse me but have you thought to check his diaper” which she did only to revealed a huge mess, poor baby.

I don’t know if she changed it, I never saw her do so and they crying and slapping continued sporadically for the rest of the ride. Finally the baby must have realized the futility of his communication and it mellowed out to whimpers and an occasional sob.

Needless to say, it was interesting to watch the two different parenting styles at work. I think in the US we tend to admire different “ cultural” or “traditional” (meaning  not our tradition) parenting techniques, and there are many advocates for taking hints from peoples far far away.

But as this little example demonstrates, even far far away there a big differences between how individuals handle the same challenges and many “traditions” aren’t so great. I would hope that this shows that within cultures there is much variety and people from one place cannot be said to do everything the same. Looking inward to ourselves for answers is often a better gauge of how things should be done.

Our train finally arrived in Saigon a full 17 hours after it had left. “ Oh it’s 12 hours,” our guesthouse manager had told us. Right.

It’s worth the extra ten bucks to fly. To be fair this time we weren’t being cheap we had wanted to see some of the countryside. Well, we did, we say a lot of it. It was interesting and beautiful when we weren’t trying to sleep away the misery of the train.

I got to see a dragon fruit farm, strange cactus like plants growing on big pillars producing spiky magenta fruit. So, there is some upshot, but if you travel by train, go prepared, with lots of hand sanitizer, the light of the day confirmed my suspicious that no, it really hadn’t ever been cleaned.


  1. Wow, compared to a Vietnamese train ride, the NYC Subway seems like a lulling gondola ride in Venice.

    I read that Vietnam has one of the youngest, open minded population in Asia with over half of their population being born after 1974.

    I guess being young and full of ideas doesn't translate into great hygiene in the countryside.

    I'm loving both of your attitudes so far. :) At least you can sit back, analyze the crap situations you're in, and take what beauty/moment you can back with you.

    Continue to stay healthy, happy, and safe.

    "Sometimes even to live is an act of courage." —Seneca

  2. Interesting how o one seems to have the "correct" answer for parenting. In the US that second woman would have been reported to DSS or some other government group. Sometimes you wonder just what people are thinking. poor baby.