Friday, June 08, 2007

Getting smarter at Quang Ngai Train Station

by Saigon Charlie

June 8, 2007 – Friday - Early AM – Quang Ngai Train Station

Awoke this AM to the sound of roosters crowing, horns blowing and bells and alarms going off around me; and all this before 4AM!

It wasn’t long after that I decided to forget my attempts at sleep and instead got up and showered. Shortly after that I was making my way down the 5 flights of steps onto the bottom floor where I knew the sliding, steel doors would be locked. I was right.

As I peered around the placed filled with the expected motorbikes, I noticed a woman sleeping on the floor under a mosquito net and as nicely as I could be, kept saying ‘hello’, ‘hello’ but to my surprise, the man who checked me in from the previous evening popped up from behind the counter. It was then that I noticed that he also had a mattress under the staircase also covered in mosquito netting. Given the fact that it was 05:20 AM in the morning and the sun was just coming up outside, he was amazingly polite, letting me out with his key to the huge lock holding the steels doors while patting me on the shoulder as I stepped through into the new day’s light.

Getting a lift to the train station, even at such an early hour was surprisingly easy as within seconds some entrepreneurial soul had pulled up next to me making an attempt to have me engage him and his motorbike for my transportation needs.

Even though I had the train station written down in Vietnamese, it quickly became apparent he couldn’t read as well as the half dozen or so other fellows we consulted on the same corner’s ‘café’ in trying to make a determination about where I wanted to go.

It was finally determined my destination with smiles all around when I went ‘Choo choo!”. Those were the magic words and seconds later after determining my chauffeurs fee by holding up 2 fingers (‘2’ what wasn’t discussed as it could have been 20,000 dong or $2 USD), we came to an agreement and 10 minutes or so later, I was being delivered to a train station just coming alive. Upon arrival, I pulled 20,000 Dong

Well, as usual, things just don’t go to plan and it was impossible to obtain a ticket for the 06:10 ‘express train’. As it turns out, at 07:30 AM as I type these words, the train hasn’t even arrived yet. Maybe my 12:40 train will come sooner?

Another thing that has come up only within the last few moments is a man who is obviously Asian but not Vietnamese has had his bag stolen while talking on his mobile. He is a BIG Asian, maybe Chinese, wearing shined military boots and a strict military haircut. I noticed him the moment he came into the station as his clothes and demeanor were way out of place for this part of the world.

He however is now one very, very pissed off man and this place has turned into a hornet’s nest of activity with police looking everywhere with no one understanding the other. At least here in Quang Ngai they are making an attempt to help while in Saigon when my camera was yanked from my hands by the high speed motorbike thieves, the police officer who witnessed the theft only meters away, only shrugged.

My words to those traveling here; if it can be moved, bolt it down somewhere when you aren’t using it. It the case of my camera, don’t know really what to tell you as I had the strap wrapped around my right arm and they still managed to get it.

Even today there is still a nasty scare as well as a nice and pretty black and blue mark from the force of the pull of the strap from my arm. Everything has a price and in my case, my camera here costs $800 USD. So I guess that is the price of these words. Not sure what was in the man’s bag here in Quang Ngai, but I suspect I got off light compared to him as I think I heard him say his passport, money and other documents were in there as well as his computer. Triple ouch!

Although no one that is an official here speaks English, the woman serving me my tea and coffee at the train station café speaks amazing English. Her name is ‘Shirley’ and I even noticed here as she rode into work on her friend’s motorbike who also appears to work here in some official capacity. It is obvious she has worked with or around Americans before.

As I write to this blog a bit later and after more lengthly conversations with 'Shirley', I find out she was a nurse with the 91st Evacuation Hospital unit in the late 60's and early 70's and the way she talked about it, you could tell she was very proud of her experiences. Now she sells coffee and tea to train travelers and is married to a Vietamese police officer who also works at the station.