Monday, July 13, 2009

Vietnam, not now.

Around 2008 New Year, I went to Thailand—yet another debating competition. But it was, in a sense, my first international competition (let’s not talk NTU, and AUDC was in ITB). Anyway, what I regretted the most is my lack of planning. We went a day before the competition started, and left Thailand as soon as the competition was over. Only during the competition—and month afterwards I realized that this was a grave error, I could’ve extend my stay and explore Thailand, or like Tika and Sony, went to Vietnam. What I had in mind was only final test for Wave and Statistical Physics. Argh.

So another opportunity arose. As a reward of a pageant, ITB DIKTI actually has money for us to go visit Singapore and Thailand, visiting universities with higher rank than ITB. I was hopeful I will be able to spend a couple of days afterward for unplanned itinerary, perhaps even going to Babel or Vietnam!

But no such luck. Apparently ITB wanted us to be back in Bandung by August 11, for some hubbub on new students. Practically impossible to extend my stay there.

On the other hand, the writing I quoted here from Tika's note in Facebook made me hate the situation even more. Sigh. Perhaps some other day, in not-so-distant future *hoping

A Bay Trip (By Tika Anindya)

I've been writing about the Asian trip for a long time, but I never got around finishing it. Thought this may be an interesting review for some.

So now that we’ve swarmed around the Hanoi area, we started preparing for Ha Long Bay. We booked a trip for two to the receptionist in our hotel, who claimed she handles these sorts of bookings all the time, and the next day, we were conveniently picked up at 6 AM. Half the people in the car were Caucasians and the other half were Asians, and it was pretty obvious that all the Asians know each other. The Guide, a young Vietnamese girl, explained what the program looks like. We’ll mostly stay in the ship and sail around for two days. There will be cave explorations and kayaking, both of which I couldn’t imagine doing in this cold weather. I voiced this concern to Sony and he brushed it off, saying it’s too much fun to pass, and I didn’t think it was worth mentioning that I’m worried about sea sickness too. So after a couple of hours, we arrived at the pier, where about 20 large ships huddled tightly. All the ships were made to look old-fashioned, with wooden finish and, in some cases, dragon heads on the side. We climbed into our ship, which was much harder than it sounds, and made our way to the top, which was much more exciting than it sounds. All the ships have an open area at the top where they put some beach chairs for people to enjoy the view. It was a great convenience to enjoy that sort of 360-degree view, and I imagined it would be better if it wasn’t so darn cold.

Our ship looked almost like this, except without those awesome wing-like apparatus.

Anyway, as the ship sailed, our first agenda was lunch. The main part of the ship was set to be a dining room, with a large TV on the side. The bedrooms were downstairs, but we can only check in after lunch. The meal was the pleasant Vietnamese kind – meaning they don’t tell you how much more is coming, so you end up stuffing your face on one course only to find the next one brought out. The Asians, which we’ve now concluded is a large family, occupied a whole table and spent lunch talking in a language we don’t understand. Sony and I sat on the other table with the Caucasians, who did not talk very much. I had to ask the guide if anything was made of pork – after Sony incorrectly identified some pieces of fried meat as beef – but overall, the meal was very good.

Keys were then distributed. Given the number of people, Sony and I have assumed that we will have to stay in one room, which at that point didn’t really matter. The thing is, as we found out later, there was only one bed per room. It was large and obviously fits two very well, but still, it was one bed. We were also excited to see a bathroom in our room – an exclusive bathroom is a luxury we have not enjoyed ever since we left Assumption Uni – but baffled to find how transparent the bathroom door was. Clearly this is a room for newlyweds. You can see so much that one of us had to leave the room when the other was taking a shower. But since everyone else were either families, same-sex friends or couples, we know there’s not much point making a fuss about this, so we didn’t. The bed was fluffy white and the bathroom was clean. We’ve been through worse.

We sailed for about an hour and we observed the absolutely gorgeous scenery : blue-green water speckled with mounting rocks, mostly as high as a three-storey building. We saw some ladies rowing a couple of small boats around us, each of packed with snacks & drinks. It was literally a floating convenience store. One of the Caucasians jokingly shouted out for a Tiger beer. I contemplated buying a can of Pringles from them, just for the hell of it, and Sony noted how these people have probably carried around the same stock for months. I suppose he’s right.

They got a lot of these in Halong Bay. Sony wondered if the products are expired.

Then we arrive at the cave, which was interesting. It’s definitely one of the biggest cave I’ve ever been in, and the Guide Lady was trying to be funny by pointing out animal shapes in the rocks. There was a piece shaped like a big thumb “although the imaginative guys think it’s something else” and I remembered this part because this was where Sony received a call on his mobile. I thought it was very odd that he managed to get reception off the beaches of a foreign country – and in a cave – but he did.

At dinnertime back in the ship, the Guide announced that we were going to have a karaoke party. In fact they were going to bring our ship right next to another one and fasten it so we can move safely from one ship to another, generating more crowds for the party. We weren’t thrilled by the program, but really, neither of us wanted to suggest sleeping, given the shared bed, so we distracted ourselves by sending text messages to people back home. We sent good lucks to Dyota, who was preparing for his FES finals the next day. We vented to Onta, who thought being stranded in the middle of the ocean with 10 degrees’ weather and no sweater is “so cool, I’m jealous” and we thanked Ruli, who recommended Ha Long Bay to us in the first place. Then we slept.

The next day's main attraction was kayaking! At breakfast the guide told us a lot of people are backing out because of the weather. We, on the other hand, were getting really excited, having concluded that it must be several degrees warmer than Hanoi, a fact worth celebrating. We stopped by a small pier, with a small cafe and a place for fishermen to keep their day’s catch. They gave us lifejackets, a pair of rows and pointed to where the kayaks are floating freely, and wished us luck.
Now, I’ve never tried kayaking before, and I expected it to be very unstable (hence the lifejacket). It’s actually very stable, even with me and Sony practicing our asynchronous rowing. Over the journey I couldn’t get over the gorgeous water – almost static-calm and the light green is nearly opaque, it felt like you’re looking at a vast tub of jelly – and now as it’s all around me, the fascination is heightened. I had to resist the urge to dip in. Not only were we now very close to the water, we were very close to the mountains of rocks. Like I said, they were very tall but very narrow, and we were able to circle around a few. Some of these “rocks” are large enough to be called a small island, with flat surface to stand on and such. The rocks are so tall, they’re like isolated pieces of a small hill, scattered in the water.

There was one particular rock with an enticing hole on its bottom, which we hovered around, hoping to see an awesome hidden cave or something. We explored the hollowed area and found out we couldn’t fit the way in, then we tried exiting and found out we couldn’t fit the way out. We spent a couple of seconds laughing, then panicking, then pushing our rows against the surface to propel us away from the rock. Obviously we were eventually released, although I later pondered what would have happened if we remained stuck. I suppose trying to stick yourself into a rock in the middle of the sea, with nobody near enough to hear you scream, is not something particularly intelligent. It's just that the whole view made you feel like you had to touch the rocks, just to see what it’s like, as if you’ve never seen a mold-covered rock before. Needless to say, I found the whole experience amazing.

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