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Full Circle

Day 74: Nanning to Hanoi

Dong Dang, Vietnam 
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Friendship Gate, the way out of China and into Vietnam.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe last rites of Chinese bureaucracy are given from what looks like a requisitioned cow-shed. Behind desks, in stalls separated by concrete partitions and with only a mean corrugated iron roof above their heads, sits a trio of black-uniformed and epauletted officials from customs, immigration and quarantine. There is no sign of ring fences, barbed wire or the usual trappings of military surveillance. For the world's third largest country, this sleepy, tree-shrouded backwater is a most unconvincing exit.

The barrier is raised and we make our way down the muddy track to Vietnam. Only then do we notice a big new circular concrete and glass building under construction amongst the trees. This is what will replace the cowshed. To the very last, evidence of China being reborn.

A cold wind blows through Friendship Pass, and there is not much one can do to avoid it. The facilities at the Vietnamese border post at Dong Dang are basic. The steps and wall outside are monopolized by a large and rebellious German tour group which has obviously been here for some considerable time. There is a toilet, situated in a blockhouse behind some nearby bushes, but this reached saturation point years ago and no one goes inside it any more, preferring to use the bushes themselves. Small, sad-faced Miss Ha, our fixer in Vietnam, waits with inscrutable calm as the enigmatic processes of customs and immigration slowly evolve.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 74
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Dong Dang
  • Book page no: 109

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