In this post, you are not going to hear about the good stuff (there was lots). You are going to hear about the down side of traveling - the kind that wears you out and makes you promise yourself you will stop doing this crazy thing sometime very soon.
The bus ride from Saigon to Dalat is supposed to take about six hours. Part of the road is washed out, though, (six of us leave after work on Friday, at 5:15), so - instead of six hours, the trip takes over eight hours.
When we go to book the bus back to Saigon on Sunday, we are told that the only bus available will be leaving at 5 - all of the earlier ones are booked - this according to our hotel guy, Rot. Not wanting to get back at 2 am the night before a work Monday, we check into flying. Flights are booked, too. Feeling despair, we reluctantly decide to book the 5:00 bus back to Saigon.
But at the last minute - after witnessing our agony for over half an hour - Rot says, "Well, there is another bus that I can check." When we ask him why he didn't mention this other bus before, he says it's a "second-best" bus. We check to make sure that "second best" doesn't mean "high fatality rate" and when he calls, we get 1:00 tickets on the Mai Linh bus. Mai Linh is a taxi service that we all like, so we feel pretty happy. We get on the bright-green bus promptly at 1:00 and rave over the neck balloon pillows that are provided.
And then, when the bus gets going, The DVD is inserted. The DVD is Vietnamese slapstick comedy, and it comes with a laugh track. Like everything else played through speakers here, it's turned up to distortion. We are instantly miserable. But it can't last long, right?
After three hours of listening to comedy in a very loud, tonal language we don't know, we stop at an odd tea room/rest stop. Over artichoke tea, we come up with a plan: I am persuaded by my fellow-travellers to dig out my newest Michael Jackson DVD (I collect them, found this new one in Dalat - started this before he died, just FYI) and give it to the bus officials in hopes that they will switch things up in our favor. "He is the god of pop," they tell me. "The whole bus will love it."
So I ask the driver to open the storage under the bus and fish out my DVD. I give Michael to the assistant on the bus and she smiles and says, "Yes!" She looks excited, too.
We all move to the back of the bus feeling light and full of expectation, just waitng for the DVD to appear on screen. We are all laughing, joking and happy. However, not for long. I notice it first: the DVD is struggling to play. After a minute of the swirling icon, it says, "Cannot read DVD." Our hopes are dashed. Michael is ejected and Vietnamese slapstick comedy goes right back in. It plays for the rest of the trip - for eight hours total. Every so often, I look around because I think that, surely, the patrons on the bus will tire of this loud formula. But no; most of the people on the bus are thoroughly enjoying the never-ending comedy show. They are laughing their heads off.
I try to concentrate on the book I am reading: it's called Sold~ it's about a British girl and her sister who are sold as Yemeni wives/slaves by their British/Yemeni father. The laugh track in the background serves as a twisted sound track to the tragedies the book describes.
When the bus finally arrives back in Saigon, the DVD continues to play until every last person steps down from the bus. We are the last ones off. We have listened to over eight hours of purgatory comedy.
During the taxi ride home - all of us sitting in stunned silence - I wonder if I have been permanently damaged by the ordeal. All night I dream of things that are supposed to be funny but aren't. Somewhere in there, what is not funny has something to do with British women being sold as Yemeni wife-slaves.
Tales That Make You Want to Stay Home, Part Two will air tomorrow.