About the author…
As an author, I am new to writing books and fiction. My writings to date have all been training manuals and student notes. I am a 46-year-old single male exploring all aspects of the world and my life, including my spirituality. I have an educational and hospitality background, teaching hotel management until emigrating from New Zealand to Australia’s Sunshine Coast and setting up a café. I am an inspirational speaker and clairvoyant. I believe strongly in karma and life’s spiritual practices. In New Zealand, I developed a large following for my spiritual talks and meditation sessions. My journey through Vietnam was part of an odyssey to find myself and travel to Europe. The beauty of Vietnam and its people captured me and when I returned from Europe, I felt the desire to set down in writing this land of the heart and join the different worlds of my life in a book.
Sitting at the table I didn’t know why I had even come back, but the air was still, the frost sat heavily on the lawn just outside the window. Karen was carefully arranging cups of tea and biscuits on the breakfast bar ready for our conversation. Millie, the Bichon-cross puppy, was playing at my feet and panting relentlessly for more food. The scene was set and it was time for me to tell Karen my experiences of the last few weeks.
I’d known that I had to come back to New Zealand and now something really strong was compelling me to share all my thoughts and feelings. It was that little voice inside telling me that I had to tell someone or I would burst and I knew Karen was just the right person to tell. Being a very good listener she was not likely to make judgements; she was just who I needed at this moment.
Karen had arrived at the airport excited to see me. We had been friends for years and she was truly a loyal ally if I ever needed one. As she stood there with open arms and long flowing auburn hair I felt that it would now be all right, I wouldn’t have to run any further. As she hugged me I felt the warmth and energy flow from her body to mine. I was home. Now I could talk about my experiences and let it all out. For the last few months I had been travelling and so much had happened. My whole life had changed and it was so exciting.
Karen grasped me by the hand and led me to the airport car park. ‘Let’s get you home to my place and we’ll have a big chat. You and I have lots to catch up on,’ she said.
As we walked to the car and headed to Karen’s, all was quiet, much quieter than it had been for the last few months. The trees had just started to blossom around the park, splashes of pink and white adorned twisted trunks and young saplings. People were walking their dogs between the trunks and playing golf on the manicured lawns. They were enjoying the sunny afternoon, largely oblivious to anyone watching them. It was unusual to see people sauntering along without worry and fear in their eyes, which had been an all-too-common sight on my travels. Coming home was such a change. This was a truly happy place and I was glad to be back in Christchurch.
Karen, a teacher at a local college, worked with students looking for first-time employment. It was a hard job and she often came home exhausted. She was dedicated and put as much energy into her job as she could. It was her combination of tenacity and patience that I really admired and this was what had kept her there. Working with this calibre of students was tough day in and out and not everyone’s lot. Karen, though, coped admirably and had just the right sort of personality to understand the students’ problems and personal struggles. I think that is why we became friends. Her views on life frequently mirrored mine and she understood the people around her – she would have to be understanding to take in my story. It was a long one and likely to take most of the day.
After a few preliminaries Karen dug deep into the conversation. Her face remained emotionless and yet I could see inquisitiveness behind her eyes.
‘You’re different,’ she said. ‘There’s something about you and I’ve noticed it since you’ve come back. Something I can’t quite explain. It’s like you’re smiling with your face not moving. Even your skin has a strange kind of glow. It could be that Vietnamese summer I suppose but I think there is more to it. What have you been up to, you rascal? What’s been going on? You’ll have to fill me in on everything. Whatever it is feels important.’
I knew then that I couldn’t hold it back and would have to tell her as much, as fully, as I could. I would have to be careful though – too much and she would be overwhelmed, possibly even in danger. I wasn’t sure just how far the forces would go to shut me down and didn’t really want her be involved in something that could put her at any risk.
As Karen handed me my tea I started to relax. The puppy had curled up on the large white rug on the lounge floor and begun to snore. The room became still and full of anticipation. Karen settled back into the big old lounge chair with her cup of hot, fresh tea steaming on the side table. She stared at me, ready. Now was the time.
I started to tell her about my trip. The postcards that I had sent had explained little and she was keen to find out what had really happened. Now she would hear what had really gone on. So I began with Hanoi...
Chapter One—The Green Turtle (part sample)
As we flew into Hanoi long grassy fields loomed up on both sides of the runway. It seemed quiet for an international airport. Ground staff on tractors were filling, checking and cleaning the aircraft parked on the grass verges awaiting their passengers. Many aircraft were new and being readied for the great number of predicted tourists, but a few were frail and worn. Their days were numbered and they travelled shorter distances. It was an eclectic mixture of the old and the new, a meeting of two worlds.
As the attendants rushed to align the portable stairs for us to leave the aircraft, I thought about the start of my journey and already my views of Hanoi were not what I had expected. There would be much that I hadn’t expected, and many more incidents leaving me wondering just what I had expected. Vietnam was to be its own mystery.
As my travelling companions Lisa and David and I started down the steps, the tranquillity and beauty of the place met us. The tarmac glowed with a calming haze and a warm breeze lapped at our overdressed bodies. The day was hot and the humidity added a cloying stuffiness to the air. Breathing this all in we took the steps slowly, following the signals of the ground staff and the passengers ambling in front of us.
After all those months of planning my feet were at last on foreign soil. I collected my thoughts and realised I was finally on holiday. It was like a new adventure to me, one I had set out to enjoy. A smile covered my face and I grinned inwardly too. My step quickened and I paced out full of enthusiasm towards the plain grey terminal, where the arrivals hall was large and dimly lit. It had obviously not long been built and its grey oppressive sides were shapeless. The lights in the duty free area flickered on as we wandered through.
Passing through customs the local guards, dressed immaculately in tight smart uniforms, took over. They checked and stamped our papers and passports efficiently. The few officials who could speak English handled any queries. It was a well-organised routine and obviously designed to expedite the newly emerging wave of tourists visiting their country.
Standing just past customs were about five government taxi drivers and behind them the local drivers. Within seconds we were surrounded and gestured at from all sides. The drivers needed to make a living and foreign tourists were a quick source of lucrative income. We’d heard that one fare could often pay a week’s food and rent, so three unsuspecting visitors to them were worth all the jostling and yelling.
With all the drivers lined up it was hard to choose so we settled for a quietly spoken young man who had stood back and waited patiently. He escorted us to his late model sedan, past taunts from the other drivers, and stowed our baggage neatly into the boot.
It was a short journey into Hanoi and our driver made it pleasant by pointing out features on the way. As his English was limited we had to work hard to make out some of the phrases but were glad he tried to communicate with us.
Passing over the Red River we saw peasants waist deep in mud foraging for shrimp and fish. Houses made of temporary materials stood on both sides of the river and large barges towed coal up and down. A lone boy walked his buffalo on the mounded riverbank, talking to it as if it was his lost friend. An elderly woman walked quickly along the roadside with bundles of wood stacked on her head.
All these images were just too much for me. To see people surviving in such a way and to know the comparative wealth I had left at home was challenging. I knew already that my journey was going to be more than a holiday and I would be changed by my experiences.
How though did I know? How had I always known? I was no different from anyone else yet it was always me who walked into coincidences. It was always me who had my emotions and feelings tested. I knew that I had some sort of gift – but why me?
We pulled up outside the Ta Hien Hotel and I could see that the streets were dirty and crowded. Old world Hanoi would be a new experience. The hotel was an older style built for Chinese tourists right in the centre of the city and there in the lobby were a lot of older people sitting on small stools drinking green tea from shot glasses. Outside on the narrow pavement, bicycles were parked on stands side by side.
As we neared the reception area a young woman came up and asked if she could help. She was smartly groomed and wore makeup; something we had not seen so far. We asked for a room and were shown to a plain room on the top floor with three beds. The shower was a headless piece of plastic tubing with a trickle for a flow and the toilet had to be flushed with a bowl of water – but as were tired and wanted to rest it was a nice clean choice.
Later we found that this was typical of the places we stayed in, and part of Vietnam.
We quickly unpacked and settled in for a long sleep, expecting the next days to be long and to need our energy. As I drifted off to sleep my mind started to wander. I could see myself standing by the riverbank we had just passed thinking I had been here before. When though? I had never left New Zealand apart from some quick trips to Australia. Why did this place seem familiar?
Just then an old man, dressed in a light blue pants suit and sandals, appeared. He opened his eyes and spoke gently to me.
You have a lot to learn and soon you will know. This place has much to show you. Watch carefully for there is also danger.
Who was this man and what did he have to do with my life? Why did I already sense that I knew him? All these things swirled in my mind and my head was working overtime just to put it all in place.
I sat bolt upright. His face had seemed so real that he must have been in our room. But I looked at our door and it was still bolted, as we had left it. I had to ask myself again, who, then was this man and what danger was he talking about?
All I could think was that it was a dream. My travelling had tired me and I was restless in my sleep. Just then David stirred and asked if everything was all right.
‘Fine,’ I said, ‘just a bit of a dream. Nothing much. Go back to sleep. It’s all OK.’
Nothing much! As I lay back, resting on my elbows, I sensed more was to come. I’d experienced this sort of thing before and every time the images got clearer and clearer. Thinking about it, I drifted off into sleep and woke only with the crowing of a rooster next morning.
As the sun rose the warm air filtered through the shuttered windows and spread across our bodies on the beds. There was a smell of fresh bread wafting from the street below and the noisy bustle of the market starting up. This was Hanoi. I had wished for so long to come here and now it was a reality.
I got up and went into the bathroom, to stand under the trickle that was the shower. With a hot sticky night behind me the gentle flow of water running down my spine was cool and calming.
The other two in the room were still asleep, content in their own worlds and curled up under light sleeping bags on hard mattresses. It would be a pity to wake them so I slipped the bolt on the door and eased out into the daylight.
The city was alive. Motorised cycles were buzzing up and down the streets with sellers heading to the markets with their wares. Children were dressed and raring to go to early morning school. Women were hanging their washing on makeshift lines from the balconies and at the backs of their houses. Although it was only six o’clock in the morning they were keen to get the day started and this was how I felt as well.
My sleep had been restless but I had things to do and I knew the day held more. I rushed down the stairs, past the reception desk and into the lobby where the old people sat. They were there bright and early and the green tea was being poured freely. Their cheerful, smiley faces told me this was a good place – as if I was going to have a nice day.
But just then a khaki-green truck with a red insignia drove by. The old faces went quiet, their smiles faded and the conversation hushed. The soldiers in the truck sat bolt upright, surveying the lobby with piercing eyes. They were looking for something – but who or what? Why did they keep looking at me? Their stares made me nervous.
Another quick glance and they were gone, absorbed into the throng of people further down the street.
Not sure what to do next, I sat down on one of the child-sized stools and thought about it. Seeing me, the receptionist came up to me with some tea.
‘You are being watched,’ she said.
‘I don’t understand why they want to watch me. I’m just a tourist.’
‘All tourists are watched. They are afraid they may tell our secrets,’ she whispered in her broken English.
‘Mr Tony, you come here for three weeks. This is long enough to learn many secrets.’
As I had registered at the hotel the night before, she knew that I planned to stay in the country three weeks. She had also taken my passport so knew my key details. I wondered if she had passed this information on to someone – and was part of some local organisation monitoring every step of my journey. If so I would have to keep quiet. I decided not to ask any more and paid her for the tea.
Casually I got up and strode off toward the crowd of people into which the truck had disappeared. But I couldn’t help wondering what ‘secrets’ there were and if I was likely to cross their pathway. I was here to enjoy myself, and worrying about what was or wasn’t going to happen would not help my enjoyment.
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