• Joanna

I've had Softer Seats on Better Days...

This is a very difficult post for me to write...

Looking back at this day, I probably should have just stayed in bed... in Hoi An. I never should have left. I would have stayed in Hoi An... blissful in my new life of illuminated lantern luxury. I had booked & paid for a shuttle to come take me from my homestay to the Danang train station. Today was train day.  Looking back at when I booked, I remember thinking that it would be a real adventurous and almost refreshing thing to do. A lovely train ride throughout the countryside... To be honest, I was delirious with joy about not having to go through another airport security check.  I've been through 6 security checks since October 29th... I deserve a priority pass... or at least to get my Redbull back. I really do think that there should be a stamp card for good behaviour at security.  Get 10 stamps, win a prize!


"Congratulations, Joanna - that's 3 times flying without a concealed weapon!"


You win a luggage tag and a bowl of tomato soup from the arrivals lounge cafeteria...

My shuttle was over a half an hour late, which always tends to leave me slightly agitated. I was really beginning to get a bit antsy, when he finally ran in, announced his arrival and then proceeded to scurry right out again. Please note that I now have not one, but two pieces of heavy luggage, thanks to the streets of Hoi An. Anyone who had even glanced my way would have seen the amount of luggage surrounding me. Well he didn't even skip a beat... in fact, he sat in his van and watched me struggle. This was the first moment that I felt the day wasn't going to be marvellous...


There was one other man in the shuttle and he was on his way to the airport.  Not that we spoke AT ALL during the entire journey. The only reason I knew this was because our first stop was the airport... and he got out. Actually, the airport was interesting... upon arrival, our foolish driver decided to pull in to park next to the curb, completely disregarding all other drivers surrounding him... and failed to see that the vehicle that was already parked there, on his right, was pulling out.  The end result was crunch, crunch, smash... the collision occurring at my passenger side door. Not impressed. I had a train to catch and was NOT in the mood for this. Trust me to be in the accident in Vietnam. He jumped out immediately and all but lunged at the other driver, fists a-flyin' in the air, yelling obscenities and accusations. I was in shock. This was HIS fault. All passengers from the other vehicle got out as well and the match was on.  Fingers pointing, name calling...

The other passenger from my shuttle disappeared quickly.  He was having nothing to do with this debauchery. I felt the same... and after contemplating my escape for a few minutes, I opened the door, got out, hailed a new taxi, grabbed my bags and went to leave. My shuttle driver suddenly realized what was going on and ran right over, attempting to rip my bags away from my new taxi driver.  I was having none of this.

I turned to him and yelled "NO" ...and he stopped.

Then I pointed right in to his face and said "This was YOUR fault!"... although I'm sure he had NO idea what I was talking about.  All just foreign dribble... Well my new taxi driver wasn't a hell of a lot better,  I had said 'Train Station' from the very beginning.... and from what I gathered, he seemed to understand.  I think that I need a lesson in how to depict what people do and don't understand, because I think that he was under the impression that our drive together was a good opportunity to practice his English... and he spent the majority of the time on his phone, trying to translate sentences for me.  I was so beyond caring and/or empathy that at one point, I actually leaned forward, grabbed his phone right out of this hand, threw it down on to the passenger seat, pointed ahead and said "Drive... please... just drive! Train Station!!!"


I had just been in an accident with a taxi driver and I wasn't really in the mood to get in another one.


He just thought this was hilarious... picked up his phone and started all over again. At one point we were at a full-on standstill in the middle of a busy roundabout.  Mopeds and vehicles were whizzing past us and he was silently typing...

My patience level hit an all time low and that was it. I was about to lose my shit. I shrieked "TRAIN STATION" and pointed at my metaphorical watch in a frantic and desperate attempt to indicate that time was a-tickin'!!!  My train was set to leave in 17 minutes... I didn't have time for pleasantries, questions, translations, stopping, stalling or any of this...


Put your PHONE DOWN!


"Train station!" "Huh?" "Train?"

He suddenly had the most dazed look.... Did we not agree that I was going to the train station?


Where the f%^k was he taking me???


I put my hands up to my face and screamed a small, silent scream in utter frustration.

I think it finally dawned on him then that I was beyond annoyed now and nothing was funny or cute anymore. Then it was game on... and we were on our way to the train station.  In fact, this time I had to beg him to slow down because his speeding through busy, narrow alleyways was not making me feel safe or happy.  At all.


I hated taxi drivers today. I finally made it to the stupid train. As I mentioned above, I had booked the train to take me from Danang to Hue a few months ago and it was a very cheap traveling option.  I think it worked out to just over $3 Canadian... of course, with the 30 cent option to upgrade to soft seats.  It took a while to really commit to the soft seat, trying to determine if this would be financially feasible... a good monetary decision?


Can I afford to?


Can I afford not to?


Fuck it... let's do it!

Soft seats, it shall be! If I expected the Orient Express, I was sorely disappointed. There was an overwhelming stench of urine both on the platform and inside the train.  I don't necessarily think that anyone urinated on the train... but the bathroom was an bouquet entity all unto itself.


One would expect there to be food served on a train ride, and if you think this as well, then you're absolutely right.But instead of the usual sandwiches, bags of chips, chocolate bars... two men made their way up and down the aisle with enormous pots of roasted corn on the cob, cabbage. white rice and spring rolls. No one could come up with anything lighter?  


Less laborious? I don't know if I would necessarily brag about the softness of my seat... actually kinda want my 30 cents back...  but it did make me really wonder about the hard seats... Benches? Ahhhh... if I only had the time and the inclination to find out. I sat there, in my uncomfortable not-so-soft-seat #41, next to a tiny little man hiding a dog under his blanket, and watched the rain come down.  It was depressing and didn't add to my current state of misery.  I'd looked forward to seeing some of the countryside on this trip and all I really could make out were some palm trees, rice fields, tombs.... and lots more rain.  Oh well... it's all about the experience, right? When I arrived in Hue, there was a taxi waiting right there to whisk me away to my hotel and...

I was disappointed from the moment I walked in. The girl at the desk didn't have a clue what was going on. I tried to show the amount I had already paid online and she kept trying to do a currency conversion on the total to make me pay again.  My name was confusing, my booking number was confusing, my passport was confusing... everything I said to her set her facial expression to bewilderment. Then I got taken to my hotel room


... how do I say this...?


I am fairly confident that my hotel room is the filming location for the sequel to 'Flowers in the Attic.'

I carried my bags up... and I shit you not... 87 steps. If the average staircase has between 8-10 steps... imagine that. It was absurd... and I almost went postal when I hit my head on the lowered ceiling at the left side of the staircase.  I literally screamed out ... and the girl showing me to my room did nothing. Nothing. Zero expression.  It was like she was riding her moped. I hate my room. The shower IS the bathroom and I have to stand next to the toilet and lather up.  The light is a buzzing fluorescent light bar.

You should see the pillows.  Look at the lumps.

Seriously.  I can't make this shit up!

Only a 1/2 roll of toilet paper (which would only prove to upset me off even further a little later on)... one towel... no complimentary soap... no mini bar... no water... The hotel is dirty, loud, uninsulated and I hate it.  HATE IT. And I hate this whole day.  The person that gave this place a great review is going to get beats. I was mad.  Real mad... and when I'm like that, I have to remove myself from the situation instantly. I just wanted (and needed) to be left alone to wallow in my anger. Exasperation beyond repair... my shuttle, my taxi, the train, the rain, the hotel, my concussion, the 87 stairs, my heavy luggage, the bathroom... all of it. I knew that the best idea for me would be to get out of the hotel and find a nice place to relax... and calm down. Take refuge.

I needed some place to take shelter from the rain, sit down, have a really good meal and write...

I managed to find a little colourful, cozy and funky restaurant called The Nook and it was exactly what I was looking for.  I ordered veggie springs rolls, honey Chicken with sticky rice and a couple glasses of red... and I just sat in the corner and wrote. The animosity I had been feeling for this day was beginning to diminish... not rapidly... but one step at a time... They say that life can blindside you in the middle of the day, regardless of where you are, regardless of what you're doing and regardless of whether you are ready or not... That's what happened. I got sucker punched. My phone beeped and I received news from home that my father was failing fast and the doctors did not expect him to last more than a couple of days.  My father has been suffering from Alzheimer's for the couple of years and has been living in a local care home of late. I had hardly had but a few hours to process this information, when another email arrived letting me know that he'd passed.


My father died.


When I was a kid, I idolized my father.  In fact, the only one that ever rivalled him in the competition of the biggest, strongest, smartest and greatest, was my Papa.  

Unfortunately for my father, Papa usually won, but only because he was quite a bit taller. To be completely honest, my father and I didn't have a great relationship. We hardly had a relationship at all.  When I was 15 years old, there was an argument about something trivial... and unfortunately, before there was time to let bygones be bygones, it escalated.  I was a rebellious teenager and he was a very stubborn man. We ran in to each other at random times throughout the years, but those brief meetings only proved to cause me more pain, bitterness and animosity.  We never reconciled and it managed to create a huge void in my heart... and my entire life.  A void that, despite numerous futile attempts, was never filled. This void, accompanied by adolescent confusion and a sense of betrayal, assisted in creating resentment... and definitely played a major role in the development of my own stubborn character.  I now have my own demons and regrets to deal with, and perhaps this 30 year wound will never heal. Almost two weeks ago, just before leaving for Vietnam, I felt the strong urge to visit my father at his care home.  It was one of the hardest things that I've ever done... and I tried, in my own way, to bring myself peace. I was told that it was the day after my visit that the serious downward spiral began.

Never in my wildest 15 year old dreams, would I have imagined that 30 years later, I would be cooped up in a nasty, dirty little hotel room in Vietnam and finding out about my father's death via a 4th party email.  But here I was... alone on the other side of the world... not knowing how to act, how to feel or what to do... I was a bit of a mess, admittedly so... and at 2am... sitting by myself in my dark attic, the 1/2 roll of cheap, single-ply toilet paper nothing more than a few pieces of mushed up snot rags, decorating the bed & the floor. Here I was, popping Tylenol and Aspirin like a junkie, chasing them with red wine (all I had), desperately trying to subside the pounding in my head and the throbbing of my temples.... And if I thought yesterday was a bad selfie day... Hot, sexy selfie-yesteday-me would roll over seeing puffy, red selfie-today-me. RIP Patrick Aloysius Kevin McBride

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