The three of us boarded a train bound for Kunming, a small city of three million, about five hours away. Our tickets were for a sleeper car, with beds stacked three high. But instead of using all of the bunks, everyone sat on the bottom one, four to a bed. I ignored this convention and went straight to the top bunk, where I organized my backpack. Soon I felt a yank on my foot, and then I heard a continuous, angry shout. I turned around and saw a train employee who reminded me of Nurse Ratched. Apparently, the “convention” of sitting on the bottom bed was actually a “rule.” After I climbed down, Nurse Rached yelled at me some more, then stormed off. Per an eery custom in China, everyone else around us was locked into a distant gaze, as if completely unaware of the scene unfolding before them.
At last we arrived in Hanoi. This was to be Katie's final destination in Vietnam, and the beginning of my solo overland trip to Beijing. We stayed in the Old Quarter, a small section in the middle of the city. The Lonely Planet calls traffic in the Old Quarter “oppressive,” and I couldn't agree more. Simply walking across the street required absolute concentration and patience to avoid the swarms of motorcycles. But, as in every other Vietnamese city we had visited, Hanoi delighted the senses.
According to legend, early in the thirteenth century a nomadic tribal leader went on a hunting expedition to a mountain at the eastern edge of the Eurasian Steppe. As he stood on the summit, the spectacular view of the surrounding grasslands and forests inspired him. The man suddenly realized his desire to unify all of the tribes in the region. He gazed at the golden sunrise and commanded to his tribesmen, “Moerdaoga!” – “Ride into the battle on your horses!” The man's name was Genghis Khan, and this land would soon fall under his rule.