An Overnight-Train
Ending in Vietnam...
December 20, 2007

I guess an overnight train ride is always a great place to get that last ‘experience’. I wasn’t really prepared for an eventful trip
as I was so tired when I got on that my only intention was for my head to hit the pillow. At least I was pretty sure no spiders
would be lurking around my bed.

The good news was that the ‘sleeping part’ of the ride was uneventful as I was in a cabin of non-snorers.  

The craziness came into play with regards to the child from a village that was on our carriage. Her escorts were three older
Israeli men donned in yarmulkes. It was obvious that everyone was curious about the story here…as it looked awfully shady.

Many of us onboard befriended each other and before long, it felt like we were having a semi-slumber party. In attendance
were Singaporeans, a Belgian, Iranian-Americans and an American girl. Oh – and every now and then there was a girl was a
village up in Sapa whose name was ‘Ta’.

When Ta wasn’t around, we would share with each other the bits of information that we had learned. So far we knew that the
Israelis had bought Ta a new dress that day – a ‘traditional’ beaded number probably from one of the shops in Sapa. And that
they were taking her to Hanoi and Halong Bay for roughly 4-5 days before putting her on a train back to Sapa. This was her
first train experience – and a quite nice one considering it was in the 1st class carriage. Ta wandered from her carriage with the
three men to the carriage we were all sitting in. While she was in our carriage, we would subtly try to ask questions (it also
turned out that this sole dress was all she had with her for the next 4-5 days) and when she wasn’t in our carriage, we would
try to figure out the situation (Kris’ input of saying that it would be really easy for them to book their own boat in Halong Bay
and be alone with this girl wasn’t too comforting to any of us).

Ta was apparently 16 years old – though she looked more like 11 years old. But this is what she told us. To say she was a
spitfire would be an understatement. She was also smart in the sense that she understood everything we were talking about.
The types of things she had most likely picked up from tourists were actually pretty humorous. I wish I could remember
everything. But I can’t. She did look at me at one point and said “Pregnant?” All I could do was laugh and say ‘no’. I guess
eating all this food in different places
has taken its toll on me. She also told us of her Australian boyfriend and that most people
in her village get married at her age but she doesn’t want to get married because she doesn’t want to have babies.

Now she is off with the Israeli men for the next 4+ days. All of us were a bit concerned. We almost felt as if we had some part in
it if something were to happen to her since none of else felt right about the situation.

But who knows – maybe the men
do have good intentions? Maybe they are giving this girl the gift of opening her eyes to
things beyond her village.

To be honest, after getting to know her personality I don’t really fear for her – I fear a bit more for the men. Though it crossed
our minds that their wallets might be enough to allure her. But when we subtly suggested something happening with her and
the men she gave us a grossed-out face and said “Ewww. No way. They’re like 100 years old.”

I guess at a time like this, it’s best to assume the good in people…
Back to Vietnam.