Someday I’ll have to put the check-in procedures at Noi Bai into a story — no one would believe it as non-fiction travel writing. I always start too early for the airport, but today my early start paid off. Traffic was bad on the drive out of Hanoi and there was chaos at the airport as hundreds of Vietnamese workers on labor contracts were processed through to Cambodia and Laos. Their extended families came to see them off. And of course I had excess baggage, then there was no ticket number in the system for me. At various points I was separated from both my baggage and my passport for varying lengths of time. In any case, I’m now drinking iced coffee in the airport’s internet cafe, so all is well. And I must give the Vietnam Airline staff people props. I was frustrated and sweating, but they were calm and professional amid the chaos. Must be because they get a lot of practice driving to work!
Well, it took me a bit longer to recover than I’d anticipated and now I’m taking electrolytes and acidophilus to recover from the antibiotics. Ah, the joys of foreign travel! This morning, though, I feel great and even though it is blazingly hot alread at ten in the morning, I’m going to head out and buy gifts for friends and a couple of things for the house. I often get discounts in the shops as a reward from my efforts to speak Vietnamese, but I find that the closer I get to going home the more I find myself falling back on English.
I’ve had a good and relatively productive trip, but I’m feeling ready to come home. When I was younger, I loved travel and always fantasized about “getting away,” but these days my instincts are profoundly domestic. I’m looking forward to gettng home to Carole and the dogs; I want to plant some herbs and peppers while it’s still early enough in the year; and I am anxious to sit in my own little study and write — I’ve filled a notebook here, but I can’t really do serious writing while I’m traveling.
Well, all the preparation is complete. I’ve picked up my travel funds from the university, gotten travelers checks, made sure my prescriptions are filled, taken my old car to the dealer who has my new one on order, packed most of my things, sent all the necessary emails, and now I feel as if I am on a little vacation before I go on Tuesday. My trip is shaping up a little differently than I had originally expected, its shape determined to some extent by who can help me and who is available to meet with. I’ll probably spend a bit less time in Hanoi and a bit more in HCMC, with a few days in Hue it now appears. I spent a couple of lovely days in Hue in 1998, so I’m looking forward to getting to meet writers there. And I have a strong bias toward Hanoi and the north, so it will be good to explore the virtues of HCMC and the south. With luck I will get out to Chau Doc to see the Lady of the Realm, the center of a relatively new cult in Vietnam, which is famous for inventing a wild variety of syncretic religions. I’m curious about the degree to which a tendency toward syncretic pragmatism might affect contemporary Vietnamese writers.