One of the things I decided to cover off while flipping through Lonely Planet on the train out of Vietnam was a tour to Dazu Buddhist Cave. This is a region where a number of buddhist statues were carved out of naturally formed landscape. Despite my initial hope, I had to stay one night in order to take part on this tour that departs first thing in the morning. I was pretty tired from the 2-day train journey but managed to wake up in the morning. The people at the tour agency told me I needed to come back in the morning at 八点钟.
I don’t really speak Chinese but I can understand most when it’s written. Characters are often the same or similar as the use in Japanese, and I studied the basic Chinese when I was in university. 八点钟 ba dian zhong – I was thinking that would be ‘8th hour and half’. I was getting ready to leave at 7:30 and something bothered me. I flipped through the phrase section on the Lonely Planet and there it was… ‘8 o’clock sharp’. Damn, I’m late for the tour pick up!
I pack my bags, ran down to the hostel’s reception to check out. Then I’d asked them to call up the travel agency, to tell them I’ll be late. They told me it would be better to take a taxi rather than a bus. The reception wrote down the instruction to driver for me. I knew it was a few minutes’ ride. Sure it would be safer than waiting for a but that may never show up. I was in a taxi in no time, and was dropped at the travel agency. Then I did not have enough cash to pay for deposit for this evening’s tour so I left my bag, ran a block down the shops to find an ATM, get some cash out and headed back. Once I paid for the Dazu tour and the three gorges cruise, I was late for the pick up. The guy from the travel agency led the way rushing along the road to somewhere along the highway, which I assumed was the pick up point. We got to the mini bus, they spoke to the tour guide about something, and I was on board the tour.
It was an interesting tour. Got to meet people from different parts of this large nation. To be honest, after experiencing how Buddhism is embraced as a part of live and in the way community is ran in the Northern Thailand, I could not quite appreciate this grand-scale show. But that’s just a matter of preference, I suppose.
In the evening, the tour bus dropped me off by the port, and I was taken to a big tour agency office at the end of the road. It was extremely, blindly bright, with well polished tile floor reflecting too many fluorescent lights. I left my big back with them and went for a walk around the block.
The street behind was busy with lots of trucks and people moving boxes. It was getting a bit dark, but I could not resist trying to capture those workers. They looked at me like ‘what is this odd foreigner taking picture of us just working like normal people?’
There was quite a bit of reliance on man-power around here, a bit hard to believe, coming from a place where people may use more machinery… though having said that I remember my father was working in a market and lots of vegetables in bags and boxes were carried by human pulling the carriage around the market. I only went to help him once or twice, and being a relatively weak kid without interest in sport, I found it difficult to manage even small portion of packages. Here people throw stuff on their backs and ran from a truck to a pile, a pile to another truck.
I was getting bored waiting. I did not want to go too far and get too tired. After all, I was going to be on a boat for a couple of days – not a good time to get sick or anything!
So having a good bowl of noodle soup seemed like a good idea. Still a few hours before boarding the ferry.
And then, finally, we were on board. It was one of the oldest cruise ferries on the river. There were lots of new ones out there, with their massive size and bright signs, but this was an old school, just way it has always been. In other words, it was an old boat…
I was told this was my room. When I got there, there were 3 other people: 2 older people who looked like the parents to the younger man who would be about 30 years old. I left my bag and went out to the deck to get a fresh air until departure, then when I returned they were gone. Did I offend them?
Turned out, the couple took another room which was in the front of the boat, facing the deck I was on, while the younger man stayed. He had slightly less respect for my privacy, which annoyed me a bit, but he was not a bad man or anything. I was invited to join them for a drink and snacks in their room during the cruise, and they were nothing but accommodating. Turned out they work in a bank I think they said it was in Mongolia or somewhere rather. The young man showed me a few pictures on his smartphone which looked exactly like how those endless grass fields where I imagined horses ran (a scene from a child’s book about a horse in Mongolia).
Toilet and shower. This is the 2nd class, not the 3rd class I thought I was in. I paid for the 3rd class fare, so what happened? Somebody took discretion and allocated me, a fearless (stupid, in other words) foreign tourist, to a 2nd class room???
Soon after departure from the port, a guy with a clipboard comes to catch me, and ask me to come with him, without a word of English. I had no idea where he was taking me, and he shook his head when I gestured lifting my bag, to indicate I should bring my bags. So it was not him moving me to another room now that the couple went to their own room. So what?