Summer and I ran into the French-Minnesotan girl again one morning and she was lamenting, as she often did, that the price of bus tickets was too high. For the 18-hour trip to Hanoi, our hotel wanted $22. But she was able to find three $14 tickets after riding down the street a little way on her rented bicycle. The only catch was that we would have to leave at 2pm. It was 11:15. We still had items at the tailor that possibly still needed alterations. "I think we can do it." I said to Summer, salivating over the $14 pricetag.
So we finished our breakfast and ran to the tailors. Both of Summer's dresses needed alterations. Mine didn't have the $2 lining inside. We told the ladies to please hurry -- we had to be on a bus at 1:30.
Long story short, we got on the bus as a motorcycle peeled up the street, delivering Summer's last dress. This bus drove for a few hours, and then we were transferred to the sleeper bus. We found three top bunks in a row and were elated until we found out that these three beds were directly above the toilet. Stinky. And we were stuck there for 16 hours. The beds were skinny skinny, and unlike the other buses we had been on, there were no rails to keep you from falling off. Soon there were men sleeping in the aisles, so if you fell, you'd land on a man. I made the mistake of looking out the front window to discover that our driver's strategy was to straddle the middle line until almost in a head-on collision with the oncoming vehicle and then at the last second, swerve to the correct lane. He passed people all the way to the left hand shoulder. Somebody coming? No matter. Slam on brakes, honk, hope they do the same. All through the night. I didn't sleep very much. My bunk seemed to slant away from the wall, wanting to dump me out. I had to engage all of my muscles in order to stay. on. the. bunk. So, no sleeping. 16 hours of this.
But, that's not the point of my story. The French-accented girl born and raised in Minnesota. I asked her thoughtful questions about her life, because I was genuinely interested in someone who hadn't been home in six years and made a career out of traveling. She scoffed at each question and answered very condescendingly. And yet I didn't just shut up. Here are some snippets of the conversation (remember as you read to give her a French accent):
Me: "I can't believe your laptop was stolen. Your photos. The book you were writing! Summer, did she tell you she lost a book? Was the book about your trip?"
Girl: "It's not a trip. It's my life."
Me: (Confused) "So what is the book about?"
Me: "So, are you retired permanently, or will you eventually have to get a job?"
Girl: "My life IS my job."
Me: (Confused) "So will you eventually have to work again?"
Summer: (after 18 hours on bus) "Worst night of my life."
Girl: "Then your life has been very good."
I can't say I didn't purposely provoke her once I became acutely aware of her condescension. I would say things like, "H., have you noticed (insert interesting fact) about Vietnam?" and then let her silly French-accented-superiority-complex take over. Just for comedy. But, as I said, it was an 18-hour trip.
We had planned to spend one night in Hanoi with her, and possibly even share a room to keep costs down, but after she got off the bus, I said to Summer, "I'm over this girl. Let's just go to Ha Long Bay tonight." Summer's like, I thought you'd never ask. So we just parted ways, last-minute, leaving her confused and irritated. (Interesting, as part of her schtick was how often she likes to remind you that she never keeps a plan and changes her destination depending on which way the wind blew.) And now, even as I type this I feel like she's right around the corner, ready to pop out and get me.
Sorry, didn't get a photo. All in all it ended up being a good stranger-trade, as we then met the nice Aussie girl on the bus to Ha Long Bay.