An excerpt from "30 Reasons to Travel"
REASON FOUR: TRAINS
Rattle and Hum. Most know this as the title of a U2 album. But it can also describe something of the experience of riding a train. In some countries (where they don't shut train doors), you can hang your body out of a moving car. As wind pours over your face, your eyes sweep the landscape-mountains and valleys, rice fields and corn fields, villages and towns – and all the while you hear the cathartic clank of the train as it carts you to a place you've probably never been. The sound, the scenery, the sensation of forward momentum – all are alluring reasons to board a train. The icing on the cake, however, is the people.
It was still early morning when 71-year-old Do Vau Hien, sitting with his wife, snagged me with his eyes as I leisurely surveyed the 100 or so people in my section of the train. He was on the far end of the car and enthusiastically waved me forward, so I left my seat and walked down the aisle to say hello. After a handshake, he offered me a seat across the aisle from him. It was, however, occupied by two shy girls in their late teens, and Hien did not know them. He insisted they make room for a third person, but I said it was no problem at all for me to squat here in the aisle. And so I squatted in the aisle.
Hien, who for the next fifteen minutes would delight me with his excellent English, told me he had been on the train for a while already (I had boarded only twenty minutes earlier in Hue). He had moved to Saigon from Hanoi in 1954, he explained, and liked the U.S. very much. Wishing to offer evidence of his fondness for America, Hien pulled a weathered notebook out of his bag and turned to a page filled with paragraphs of tiny, precise handwriting. It was a speech by Abraham Lincoln, one I had never read before. While I cannot remember the name – by the time I wrote in my journal that night I had forgotten it – I do remember that the speech's theme was liberty, and that on the opposite page of the English text Hien had translated it into Vietnamese. I asked him why. "It is for my son, who does not speak English well. Lincoln was very wise, and I want my son to understand the meaning of liberty."
Two hours later, while sitting back in my own seat with the legs of a sleeping 80-year-old man stretched across my lap, I looked up to see Hien standing beside me in the aisle. "The train is about to reach the station in which my wife and I will leave you," he said. Now clutching my hand tightly, he added, "The world is round, so I think we may meet again."