Da Nang- Ho Chi Mihn
I set out for Da Nang airport in style, sporting a new t-shirt from the markets and being super early, I was ready to check in. *ding* An email in Vietnamese from Jetstar, probably telling me to check in online. I soaked up the rays as I was driven to the Airport feeling totally chill.
My flight was delayed for 7 hours. Goddammit. Thanks a lot Jet star Pacific. Can you send email in English please? I sat with some Austrian travellers who attempted to teach me German for 5 hours which helped pass the time. With no reason that was able to be translated to a language I understand, I just had to wait. I was hoping to be in HCMC at 5pm, so when I arrived at 1.30 am and I got pushed around at the taxi line because of people jumping the queue, my patience wasn’t simply thin, it was gone. To everyone who pushed in front of me, I ordered them to the back of the queue. Speaking with an authorative voice, a few Australians watched on and cheered for me as i told at least 6 people off. I felt uqite justified when a few Aussies high-fived me and offered to share a cab into the city. Cheers to Australian Travellers, sticking together.
I arrived to my sleep pod hotel in District 1, HCMC, not really knowing what that was. I saw an online deal and had to book it. I didnt really know what it was but after watching the hotel bell boy lock himself in during his demo of how ‘safe’ it was…. then explaining sometimes it doesn’t work “because the wifi is unreliable” and relying on the SOS button to help him escape, I was certain I wouldnt be staying in the Start-Trek style sleep box. He was locked inside and said to me “Its okay, I’ll press the SOS button. *pause*…..oh, its not working. Sorry, malfunction. You will be okay.” Gawd. What a nightmare. By the look of it I would’ve been pickled in a jar or frozen and awoken mid-flight to Mars. Of course there was a manual override which he did not know how to use. I upgraded to the last room in the hotel, the Presidential 2 bedroom suite. It was nice and worth the difference. I enjoyed a shower after the long delay. I gazed into the buzzing city from my 10th floor high view. There were hookers spilling into the streets of HCMC. Real ladies? I’ll never know.
As I stood in the shower looking out of the floor to ceiling window enjoying the view, I”m almost sure someone was looking in, perhaps enjoying the view too.
This is it. I’ve finally taken my first steps on an adventure of a lifetime. A bit of eat.pray.love and a bit of study. I didn’t realise how quickly it would come up. I’ve always wanted to travel solo and have been talking endlessly about it to anyone who will listen. So here I am, in the prime of my life, embarking on lengthy trip. Like death, you know it’s coming but nothing can prepare you for how you will feel when it happens. It feels exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because I’m excited to travel and enjoy new experiences, terrifying because of the purpose of my trip.
I’ve spent the past week buzzing around getting Visas, a backpack, a selfie stick (yes, I am now one of those people I said I’d never turn into) and enough pharmaceuticals for a heard of cattle to overdose. I’m generally the traveller who packs a carry-on bag with merely a bikini, thin jumper, sunscreen (okay, I dont really pack sunscreen I pack tanning oil then moan the whole way home about my burned, peeling skin) and a few sundresses for a tropical vacation (sometimes I even throw in a razor). This time my suitcase is packed to the brim. I have everything I’ll need for rain, monsoon or cyclone. Lucky, because it is wet season in Vietnam.
So dear reader, I hope you enjoy my travel blog as I delve into the social happenings of South East Asia. I’m not talking about nightlife or partying (I am a married woman travelling alone for Christ’s sake), I’m talking about the interesting people I meet along the way and the way the way things are done in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand (These are just the first 3 countries on my list. I’ll be winging the rest); the way people live, the social norms, the poverty and vast differences between our culture and theirs.
Before I was chauffeured to the Bus station by my husband there were a few last minute items on my to do list. Namely, getting my nails done. Shellac and acrylic neon lime and magenta. It makes me feel radical, but I know (and as my father warned me on the phone last night) I will be staying safe. I sent my husband off to get my prescription Anti-biotics while I asked the Vietnamese lady who was hurriedly bufffing my nails how to say “Hello”, “How much?”, “That’s too expensive” and “Thank you.” I figure manners can’t hurt. Especially when I suspect the majority of white westerners will be making nuisances of themselves. I told her I am going to Cambodia to participate in an Anti-human trafficking program. She let out a big sigh then took a deep breath, her eyes welling up. She then told me about a little boy who was taken from her village in Ho Chi Mihn city south. He was 4. The boy was gone for a month before he was found. During that month the family worked with police to find their son. Can you imagine? Kidnapping is one thing, but to have your only child taken and sold as a sex slave at four years of age. Fuck. When I was four I was playing on our farm and hearding chickens into their pen at night, lest the foxes eat them (They wouldn’t, Dad make a fox proof fence). The child was eventually found in a human trafficking ring and was returned to his parents. Returned? Hmm…that seems odd. Why? Because the child was dead. He died due to sexual injuries inflicted upon him by an adult. Now think about that for a moment. Think about the size of a 4 year old asian child.
Did your stomach just flip too? Take a breath before we continue.
I guess now is a good time to tell you the purpose of my travel. I won a scholarship earlier this year to participate in an Anti-Human Trafficking immersion program in Cambodia. Don’t know what human trafficking is? Watch ‘Taken’ with Liam Neeson- it’s a kick-arse movie. Part of the preparation for the program was to research the topic extensively. Youtube was good for B grade documentaries and bleeding heart journalists trying to save the world; journal articles were good for a socioeconomic perspective. I dont think either has prepared me for what I’ll experience. Perhaps the one thing that never occurred to me was how many children are involved. I must admit that I felt pretty silly that it never occurred to me that thousands of children are trafficked. Here I was at the end of ‘Taken 2’ thinking that only attractive twenty-somethings get ‘taken’ and sold on the sex-slave market in Eastern European ghettos. How naive is that? Am I really the classic westerner, living in a bubble? Surely not. Perhaps it was because until recently that I thought people were inherently good. Nope. They’re not. There is an entire market of shit heads out there buying children.
I’m looking forward to the trip and a friend pointed out to me that rather than saying it will be ‘fucking horrifying’ that I should try the term ‘confronting’. So, dear reader, if you can handle a ‘confronting’ blog, get comfy, grab a box of tissues and then lets begin this journey….