TRAIN CREW

Trip Start Apr 04, 2008
1
10
15
Trip End Mar 31, 2009


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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On the train to Danang I'm friends with half of the crew,
older guys with bad teeth and even worse habits, sitting and drinking
coffee and smoking menthols while wanting to know my life story.

Hoa invited me up to the dining car for iced coffee and a smoke.
He's in his mid-forties, hair almost in his eyes and
long, sharp thumb nails, we walk from the sleeper car
up through 5 more cars to the diner.
We chat and he shows me off to his friends.

The cars that lie between the dinner car and the sleeper car are the
hard seat cars--the cheaper ride, uncomfortable bench seats of ribbed
wood in cars that resemble prison buses with metal windows and steel
mesh screens. It was like walking through a bad neighborhood, people looked
sad and tired, many were sprawled over each other and across the
aisles. Kids were writing on the seats with chalk while men sat in small circles
playing cards and huddled around their drinks. 

One of the train crew was in a circle playing cards,
and as I passed on my way back to the sleeper car 
he handed me a plastic bottle cap with clear liquid in it.
I, not wanting to be rude, drank it and thanked him.

Before I left the car, I could feel the liquor burn a path to my
stomach where it sat like a caustic in a metal drum, 
bubbling and etching and twisting up my insides.
Then my ears began to ring.

It reminded me of when I drank half a bottle of rice "wine" in another dining car
on a train in China while traveling with my father a year and a half ago.
That evening ended up with me hallucinating in the small metal bathroom
and vomiting all over the floor as the train rocked in sympatico.
I left my shoes next to the toilet and just managed my way back to bed.

This, however, was simply a warning, a caution flag that states:
As soon as you can no longer feel your limbs and your entire alimentary canal, from top to bottom, begins to tingle,
you'll know that you have no business partaking of such an unlabeled beverage.
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