Virtual meanderings

The Tempest (international edition!)

When I woke up in the morning, I certainly did not anticipate any more surprises on that trip. After all, I’d arranged to stay with my current group, do whatever more sight-seeing there was to be done with them, and go back to Hanoi.

But during breakfast our Vietnamese guide came in the hall and announced that our boat would be heading back to Halong main pier. A typhoon warning had been announced on the radio. The original program for the day was to be cancelled – or at least significantly altered.

Typhoon approaching, Halong bay, Vietnam

        The water in the bay was deceptively calm, but the sky was not (for another such extreme marine adventure in Thailand, read my earlier post here).

As our junk boat drew nearer the pier, we joined dozens and dozens more junk boats headed the same way. The ocean waves looked innocent enough because the bay subdued the force of the elements but the weather was progressively getting worse. The junk anchored offshore in a line with many other junk boats and we began waiting. Finally, a motor boat arrived to pick us up and tranpsort us to the pier. We were then told to walk to the big souvenir/snack covered area some three hundred meters from the pier and wait (until a transport would become available to take us back to Hanoi). More tourist groups came after us, flooding the place.

Souvenir shop @ Halong, Vietnam
The age-old Vietnamese saying goes:”Typhoon warnings good for souvenir business”

In the meantime our guides were making phone calls to their company’s headquarters and talking in high-speed Vietnamese. Finally we were told that they’d arranged a van to pick us up. It would be here in about an hour. The catch: it could not fit everyone and two people would have to wait for yet another transport. In the meantime, those who would be picked by the van would have their scheduled lunch in the snack area.

Wouldn’t there be any compensation for the failed second-day program? – the Western European tourists began asking (the elderly Singaporean couples said nothing). The question kind of pissed the Vietnamese guide and he said “you signed for a two day-trip, and the second day you were supposed to have lunch on the boat, right? Now you will have it here, but this is all the difference. What compensation?”

His answer in term pissed off the Europeans. To be honest, there had been already a number of organizational and personal transgressions on the Vietnamese part since the trip began. So, while the typhoon warning had been beyond their powers, some of the Europeans decided that they’d had enough. They began telling the guide that they were very unhappy with the whole organization and would post negative reviews online, etc.

Then the Vietnamese guide totally lost it and began shouting at the Europeans. He was furious and since he could not speak English well, it only made things worse. It was not his fault, he shouted, that the weather had gone bad, and there was no grounds for any compensation, he shouted, because it was to be a two day trip, and since it was now day 2 of the trip, it was as advertised, etc.


            I moved aside, so as not to listen to the drama. One Japanese guy and I had already agreed to be the two people staying for the second van. The two of us sat on the staircase at the shopping area entrance and began chatting. The guy’s name was Hiroshi, he was 36, and was a manager at a fast food chain in Tokyo called Pronto. He was in charge of about 200 locations in several Tokyo districts. “So, you must be a top level manager.”, I said. “Oh, no, no. Middle level. Thousands Pronto locations in Tokyo”, he answered with a smile.

(On a side note, when a couple of weeks later I was in Tokyo, I tried to spot at least one of those and I never saw even one. Rather a testament to the size of Tokyo. I looked up the chain’s website – and, voilà, one of the biggest chains in Japan, indeed.)

Pronto, Tokyo, Japan
Some Pronto advertising for free, courtesy of me as a token of gratitude to Hiroshi san 🙂

I began chatting with Hiroshi about all things Japanese – an unexpected possibility that I did not want to miss. We talked about sites to visit in Tokyo, tips, recommendations, dos-and-don’ts, etc. As he spoke, he took out his notebook (a paper notebook, not a laptop!) and began sketching some itineraries for me.

I also asked him what his favorite beer in Japan was. “Suntory Premium Malts.” And as he said it, he diligently wrote down the name for me on the paper with the itinerary.

When the two of us finally got back to Hanoi it was raining heavily, even here – 130 kilometers away from the ocean. I entered the hostel and I noticed an agitated Western girl who was explaining something to her Vietnamese counterpart behind the reception desk.

The agitated girl (a Canadian, by the way) was coming from another unfortunate trip. She claimed she had been maltreated, moved around like a sack of baggage, shouted at, etc. etc. The Vietnamese girl at the reception, for her part, was offering apologies and making compassionate faces. Then eventually the heavy guns – the hostel owner, an Australian woman showed up and took over.

I joined the conversation, because I needed her to give me a partial refund for my trekking tour (I had that one agreed with the Vietnamese woman on the phone last night when I decided to change my three-day tour to a to-day. Of course, many other things had changed since then).

I told the Australian about the arrangement and added that since I‘d never gotten a proper second day I would not mind getting a slightly bigger refund. The Canadian girl was demanding all of her money back, was threatening to write the story on her personal travel blog and blast the hostel for the problems as well. To her credit, from what I heard, she’d really had a bad experience.

The Australian woman (who’d seen it all in her life) was offering sympathy, etc. – but she obviously did not truly care, as long as nothing bad was said about her hostel. After a couple of phone calls, she granted the Canadian girl a full refund.

As for me, I got $20 out of the $88 I’d originally paid. Perhaps to get more of it back, I should have cried?

Moral of the story: watching people from different nationalities handle a charged situation could never be boring. So, thank you, everybody! 🙂


One response to “The Tempest (international edition!)

  1. Pingback: Getting to China | A must-read « mastercopycat

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