Tien Yen

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I arrived at the Vietnam border and located a hotel. Having been in more or less Chinese territory for 5months, it suddenly struck me that this was now a fairly simple matter, as were locating food, internet and communicating with the local people. It is, I've come to realise, the traveler's curse to leave a country just as they begin to get a handle on it, and long before they understand it. I changed money with a street vendor on the Chinese side, hoping that the notes she gave me were actually legal tender of some kind, before crossing what the Chinese almost certainly call the 'friendship' bridge and emerging into Mong Cai.

At first glance it was similar to Dong Xing, but there were subtle differences. The cashpoint had no cash, for one. More importantly, however, there were hot baguettes on sale on the street, with fried egg and salami in them. Vietnam made a good first impression.

The border formalities hadn't taken too long, so I pushed straight on, riding the hilly 95km to Tien Yen. It was like pedalling over giant, grassy moguls. The Vietnamese have no sympathy either for cyclists, or for the old and shoddy engines that form their haulage industy. They build ruthlessly steep roads and drive them with little apparant concern for their own or anyone else's safety. Arriving in town near dusk, I found a hotel through the expedient of allowing a willing local to show me the way. I was pleased to bargain the rate down from 150,000 to 100,000dong (3.5USD), despite my guide's 10% commission.

Tien Yen was hosting, for that week only, an impressive night market. In addition to selling frightening looking massagers, useful utensils, clothes, and some handicrafts, there was a pop band and neon lights. It was clear that this market was one of the most exciting things ever to visit the town, since it seemed the entire population was jostling to hand over the 5000dong entrance fee.

I met a Vietnamese woman, Kim, who was a Swedish resident, having escaped to Hong Kong as one of the 'boat people' after the American war at the age of nine. She volunteered to be my guide through the melee. She'd already shown me her parents home, one room with a bed, communal seating and a television. Bright posters of Buddhist mythology on the blue-ennamelled walls, a bare utility room dividing this from the cramped, concreted external kitchen, mostly occupied by the butt collecting rainwater for drinking. I wanted to complement her mother's home, but knew she was showing it to me because it was a humble dwelling. I settled for smiling ingratiatingly at her mother and thanking her for showing me around.

-Now you see how real people live in Vietnam

The tour of the market was concluded with a scooter tour of the town- me driving, her riding pillion, directing and pointing out the sights, such as they were.

-This is the river, (pronounced to rhyme with driver); this is where the poor people live; there is the hospital, the school. Th- are you sure you've driven a scooter before?
-Erm. Once...
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