19th February 2011
With heavy hearts we left wonderful Hanoi but we were excited about beginning our 700 km journey to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The first leg would be an overnight train to the city of Hue just south of the De-Militerised Zone (DMZ). Our cabin was small, quaint and a little grubby but there was clean(ish) bedlinen on the bunks so we couldn’t complain.
We had arrived early and were half way through devouring our snacks when our room-mates arrived. A tall, stooping man in his 60s appeared at the door. He wore faded denim jeans pulled up a little too high and belted tight to restrain the red polo shirt that was fiercely tucked in. He had a bush of snow white hair on his head and face and the space in between was occupied by square black rimmed glasses. He had a kind face and I was instantly relieved that we would be sharing the night with an ageing gentleman. “Hi” he said enthusiastically as he entered the cabin and we exchanged greetings. From the corner of my eye I could see someone else lurking in the doorway. I turned to look and noticed at first the impossibly high, faux snakeskin, gladiator style, stiletto heels. I looked at the girl tottering in these shoes and smiled. Then out of her mouth came “Hello. My…name…is…Guan!” in a deep baritone voice to rival Arnie Schwarzenegger. Whoa!! It would have been less of a surprise if I had noticed the veiny masculine hands, impossibly padded, pillow-like breasts and the ginormous adam’s apple grazing the neckline of his/her t-shirt.
I have to say that next the few hours that followed made this journey one of the strangest I have ever experienced. The kind older gent was a Canadian who, for six months of the year left his family in Canada and drove to Arizona for his holiday. But he wouldn’t stay in Arizona long, jumping on a flight to Bangkok. There was no doubt that Guan was not a lady by birth and the fact that she had met her bus-pass boyfriend in Bangkok only helped seal the stereotype. The Canadian was very friendly and chatted away but the more he talked, the more it seemed that he was either a little odd or an apple short of a full fruit basket.
“Do you put eggs in the fridge?’ he burst after there had been a comfortable silence for some time. “Pardon?”
“Do you put your eggs in the fridge?” he repeated.
“Erm…” (Chris and I look at one another slightly bemused), “yeah, in the egg tray, in the fridge door”.
“Oh yes, that’s what that’s for. I guess you do. Hmmm…” he paused to think, “I met an English woman. She said that in your country the eggs aren’t in fridges in the supermarket”.
So the conversation about eggs, fridges and ‘our’ country continued for an unnatural amount of time until eventually he was satisfied with the outcome and it ended as abruptly as it had begun. And all the while Guan lay there, quietly snoring, his/her legs wrapped around him.
Things didn’t quite improve when we all finally fell asleep. Every hour or so I’d be violently woken by the snowy-haired loony shouting. Sometimes it would just be grunts, parts of words, screams. Then there was the odd sentence like, “There’s no need to push, it’s open….the door’s open” or “don’t come in!!!”. The only constant was the intermittent outburst of “Trixie! TRIXIE!!”. God knows who Trixie was but I was hoping that poor snoring Guan couldn’t hear his/her lover’s adulterous exclamations. When the morning arrived I arose from my crumb infested bunk to the sight of Guan re-aligning his/her pillow boobs that had shifted in the night and now resembled baps accidentally placed in the bottom of a shopping bag.
We parted company with our ‘roomies’ once we got to Hue, to cheery chants of ‘good luck’ from the gent and deep words of “next time you have baby” from his man/lady friend. That irked me almost more than earlier seeing the Canadian mime a request for something involving his/her mouth and the privacy of the train toilet.
Needless to say, we vacated the locomotive with exceptional speed.