|October 30 --
We decided to catch the Reunification Express from Hanoi down to
Hué last night. Appropriately, it was raining when our taxi
dropped us off at the crowded Hanoi train station. Humphrey Bogart
was standing on the railway platform, sopping wet with a sad dumb look
on his face as he waited, eternally it seemed, for Ingrid Bergman to show
up. "Let’s go boss, she ain't coming," urged Dooley Wilson (better
known as Sam), as he loaded his piano aboard.
Ingrid never did show up, which was a good thing, as the train was already
pretty full. Carol and I were the only non-Vietnamese in our coach.
There was a sign at the end of the coach: "Welcome to Vietnam Railways!
Have a safe and lucky trip!"
The train pulled out right on time, moving slowly past markets, streetside
soup vendors and old houses that seemed to crowd the tracks. On the
train, attendants came by with a large pot selling bowls of noodle soup,
a Vietnamese favourite.
The rain continued and intensified through the night. Huge bolts of
lightning lit up the countryside, reflecting off the lakes, fish ponds
and rice paddies. It seems there’s always water lying around somewhere.
There's an undercurrent of turbulence in this country.
The attendants brought us all blankets and we had your normal, restless
overnight trip kind of fitful sleep. We were traveling second class
"soft seat". It was okay, and certainly more comfortable than the
bus, but overnight was plenty.
In the early light the next morning I could see we were traveling through
large tracts of open land, scrub growth with barren patches. Right.
This was the old De-Militarized Zone, the DMZ which had separated the former
North and South Vietnam. It was also the de-forested and de-vegetated
zone, huge areas devastated by Agent Orange, the defoliant used generously
by American planes trying to uncover the Viet Cong and the Ho Chi Minh
Trail. Here and there you’d see clusters of grave markers and spirit
houses. Many of those once were villages.
The clouds had burned off and the morning sun was shining as the train
pulled into the station at Hué. As always, we were greeted
by a small but enthusiastic crowd of taxi and cyclo drivers. As always,
Carol talked one of them down to a price about half of what they were originally
asking. Our new hotel was a welcome sight. The bed was comfortable