Thursday, January 12, 2006


04:20 The guard bursts into our cell, shouting urgently in Vietnamese. I was asleep and it takes a moment to register that I'm not dreaming, and he really is there. I try to shake off the sleep and regain my wits. Where am I? I am blindfolded, lying in a 6'x6' cell with five other men, lacking the space even to stand up. The guard is still shouting at us but, from behind my blindfold, I do not have a view of his body language to aid my comprehension. I try to think what he could be saying - guards usually need to be understood and obeyed.

But I get ahead of myself.

22:18 We leave the hotel in a rush. We're almost 20 minutes behind schedule and rushing often leads to problems. We don't want problems this far from home. We jump into a taxi and tell the driver where we want to go. He gives us a blank stare. We try again, but he clearly doesn't speak English so we dredge our memories for some Vietnamese. Harvey tries "Ga Ha Noi". The driver nods and we speed off into the night.

22:35 Harvey panics. How could he have been so stupid? We take a moment to plan his escape... if he times it just right he can make it. But he's stopped at the gate by a female guard and returns to our cell.

23:18 The guard visits our cell and gives us each a plastic tag with our allocated number. He slams the door and returns to his office to process us at his leisure. There is a spirit of cameraderie in our cell and we chat before drifting off to sleep, exhausted, in the small hours of the morning.

04:20 See above.

05:15 With much shouting, the guard releases 3 of the inmates from our cell.

06:59 "Breakfast!" is delivered with a shout and a smile. Don't they know how early it is?

08:10 I get up, leave the cell sized sleeper-cabin and search for some hot water to add to my complimentary breakfast of chilli beef flavour instant noodles. I love the taste of MSG in the morning.

09:55 We cross the Ben Hai river which marked trhe centre of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) during the American War. At the time it was bombed, shelled and napalmed literally to death. Contamination meant that nothing grew there for more than a decade after the war. Now, though, it is green once more, although I think I prefer the super-processed breakfast noodles to the rice grown in those particular paddy fields.

10:57 We arrive in Hue, our destination.

22:13 - 'Ga' means 'train station'. I'm no philologist, but would hazard a guess that it's a remnant of the Vietnam's time under French rule.

22:35 - Panic due to realisation that he left his camera battery and charger plugged in at the hotel. We were already on the train and not allowed to leave.

23:18 - The plastic cards were swapped for our tickets. I guess they were so that the guard could wake us up/make sure people got off at the right stop.

04:20 - The wake up call.


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