I escaped from the locked confinement and walked towards the group of mingling Western strangers. They were heading for Ha Long Bay, a destination that matched the tour group ticket I had bought from the attractive Hanoi hotel receptionist the day before.
She had told me not to worry, that things always work out in the end and that everyone is to be happy. This, she said, was Vietnam; if things are diverting off course you have two options – tell yourself to be happy, or if that does not work, pay a bribe.
Now I was boarding a minivan in the company of strangers, escaping Hanoi, the crowds, the coffee and the chaos … that is until the minivan arrived at the port of Ha Long Bay and port security asked me for my passport, which of course I did not possess.
It was still at the Chinese Embassy, gathering dust in a room occupied by one woman, who was from a country of a billion. Instead I offered the Vietnamese security guard a passport photocopy and waited … and waited while things went from chaos, to chaotic, to calm and details of the security breach made its way up through the chain of command; from security, to council, to police, to committee.
Then, finally, the command came down and it was agreed I would be allowed to take the tourist boat trip around Ha Long Bay. But I would not be allowed to spend the planned night on the boat moored within Ha Long Bay itself. Instead I would be transported back to dry land, delegated the task of finding another bar to drink Vietnamese beer, all by myself.
Which, I must inform you, I duly did.
In a secluded bay, below my hotel accommodation, wooden planks roped atop floating barrels, serving beer. The ebbing current, swaying, gentle, rocking the bar like a mother singing her child to sleep, I was nearly happy, reflective.
Earlier, the scenery within Ha Long Bay had been spectacular; karst mountains protruding up from a calm murky depth, providing tunnel vision to the broad world beyond.
Ha Long Bay, seclusion and respite before the unknown of the ancient world, China.