My first semester in China as an English teacher was over. I would leave at dawn for Vietnam on Monday, January 25, 2010. Now it was time to go and see if I had what it takes to travel for real. This would be the first time traveling alone in the developing world without a gun or a posse. I not only didn’t speak the languages, but lacked any mathematical ability whatsoever. I knew that I was poor by American standards, but in Laos, I was a millionaire. Trouble lurked ahead when I would try to calculate the cost of a soda or a room. If I was a dollar off, the entire economy would go of whack and incite the Lord of Misrule to make a cameo appearance. Furthermore, I knew this little nature walk through the jungles of darkness and up the river of doubt would prove to be my greatest challenge up to date.
I had three goals:
1. Find a beach in south Vietnam before Chinese New Year (Tet) makes travel impossible.
2. Spend my first days of the Year of the Tiger in the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
3. Make it back to China via her back door in the jungles of southwestern Yunnan province: That is, bus and boat through Cambodia, Thailand, Laos via roads and waterways of the Mekong River Basin.
I spent my last weekend in the academic fastness of Xiangnan University purchasing last minute items, packing gear, and tinkering with my will. Traveling in Asia was not for the meek. I wasn’t worried so much about landmines and bandits and pit vipers as I was about the insane crowds. Half the continent went on holiday around this time. Even the public transport and hospitality workers disappeared into the woodwork and red tape for Chinese New Year (aka Spring Festival).
Imagine traveling during American Thanksgiving. Multiply that experience tenfold and you’ll get an idea.
Then take into account there was no queuing. The Chinese and East Asian mainlanders in general were anti-queue. Credit them for inventing gunpowder, compass, paper and printing. Unfortunately, Confucius had never inculcated the value of queues. Nor would queuing ever take root here. Oh, but computers and cell phones and cars have been embraced by the Chinese. But not so the fine art, science, and etiquette of queuing. Such behavior was characteristic of lower populated barbarian societies on the outskirts of the cosmos.
In other words, getting a ticket or getting on a bus or train was akin to a Black Friday stampede. It seemed some holiday behavior was universal. Even Granma Lu and Granddaughter #2, suddenly infused with adrenalin, will bat policemen aside in order to secure a ticket and a seat. Everything was “first see, first serve” – as opposed to say, something as strange as “first come, first serve.”
I have been mentally rehearsing the possibility of acquiring Adult Onset Agoraphobia during this time. If in the event such a condition should make an acute appearance, I hoped to find medical attention with minimum loss of face. According to the DSM-IV, symptoms of agoraphobia was prevalent amongst those suffering from pathological wanderlust.
So here goes nothing.
My journey included the following places of interest:
1. Guilin, China
2. Hanoi, VN
3. Hue, VN
4. Ho Chi Minh City, VN
5. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
6. City of Siem Reap & Ruins of Angkor Wat
7. Vientiane, Laos
8. Luang Prabang, Laos
9. Jinghong, China
10. Kunming, China
The clockwise route took me through some of the most beautiful and rugged terrain in Southeast Asia. And this neck of the woods was one of those places where taking the road less traveled was ill-advised. I planned on blogging & tweeting along the way. And I hoped that my tendency to write in the past tense was not an ill omen.