The overnight train trip from Danang to Nha Trang was interesting. We hadn’t been able to get berths together so were spread out into four areas in two cars. Aaron’s and Madeleine’s berths were in the same compartment. The rest of us were entertained in our compartments, which had four beds in each, by Vietnamese travellers.
In my case, I found my berth, a rumpled upper bunk, and after removing a bug or two from it, climbed in. Together with me in my compartment was a dad and his 10 year old daughter in a lower berth, a grandfather with his constantly blubbering and ‘schlemming’ grandson in the other lower berth, and two guys about 30 years old sharing the other upper berth. While these others slept two to a bed, I was hard pressed to fit into my bunk on my own. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much but instead spent time improving my skills at the Angry Birds game on my iPod. At about 4:00 a.m., the two men on the other upper berth left the train in a sudden flurry of turning the lights on, grabbing their bags, and exiting with a lot of commotion. Since no one else in the compartment had noticed this exodus and the consequently brightly illuminated room, the light stayed on until sunrise. This at least gave me better light to do some reading.
At about 6:00 a.m, the others in the compartment stirred and awoke for the day. The boy, who during the night had mercifully had stopped his feigned but prolonged discomforts which resulted in endless whining, started up again now that the new day had begun. His grandfather, who now had been joined by his wife in the compartment, tried hopelessly to console the boy by wiping his face with a wet cloth, and fanning him alternately with his jacket then hat then jacket. No such luck.
A short time later, the dad and his daughter were joined by his wife and two other children who all materialized from elsewhere in the train. I saw later that two adults and three kids had been sleeping on a piece of foam in a small compartment about 1.5 meters by 1 metre just down from our sleeping quarters.
The families bought what in essence is noodle soup in plastic bowls from one of the many vendors who advertised their wares by sticking their heads into our compartment as they passed by, one every 60 seconds or so. Now there were 4 adults and 4 children along with me all sitting in the lower two bunks. Cozy! The families slurped their soup with gusto, stopping occasionally to look at me, say a variety of indiscernible words, laugh, then continue eating.
After their breakfast, the father encouraged his son to practice his English language skills with me. I spent a good part of the next hour responding to, “What is this?” as he pointed to all the objects large and miniscule in the tiny room. He and his dad would repeat my words such as “That is a noodle” then have a good laugh together.
One girl, about 10 years old, with beautiful hazel brown eyes, constantly looked at me with what seemed to me a mixture of fright and intrigue. Whenever I would look at her and smile to show that I wasn’t the devil incarnate, the girl would look away in horror and seemed ready to jump out of her skin. This looking at me and looking away kept going as I continued to enlighten the boy and his dad in the English names for blanket, shoes, window, paper, floor, nose, elbow, etc. etc.
The grandmother, who seemed to have a permanent smile stuck to her face, asked me using hand gestures how old I was. Granted, I only guessed this is what she was asking via a process of elimination. I responded with showing the numbers on my fingers. When she continued to ask questions, I thought it easiest to show them my passport. Since I carry all of our family’s passports, I took them all out. This started a flurry of interest in the pictures and information in the documents. I then proceeded in my best Vietnamese sign language to tell them that the other family members were also on the train but were sleeping. These new details about me were obviously fascinating. So, now that I was on a roll, I took out my computer and proceeded to show them pictures of my family and the places we had visited on the trip. Soon, I had the kids, including the shy girl with hazel brown eyes, crowding around me and practically on top of me while the adults loudly scolded them since they couldn’t see the screen as a result of the constant melee of the kids jockeying for the best view.
This drama continued until the grandmother suddenly stopped, looked outside, and told me that we were in Nha Trang, my destination. Since the train doesn’t stop for that many minutes, I hurriedly packed up my things and squeezed out of the train as new passengers were boarding. On the platform, I found the rest of my family waiting, also rather bleary-eyed. As I turned to wave to the Vietnamese families now pressed to the windows of the compartment we recently shared, I wondered what stories the rest of my family would have about this train journey.