Friday, July 23, 2010

Checking out and last night in Hanoi

So last night was our final night in Hanoi. S&L wanted a final fantastic sidewalk cafe fresh seafood feast and I figured I could always watch them while drinking beer. They have an amazing nightly tradition here that starts at 8:00 pm. Many little sidewalk cafes/markets spring up with TONS of fresh (as in still moving around and wondering where all their friends are) seafood that they bbq or grill right there. bunch of little tables and lights and these little places all over the place. very neat. they sure love eating here in VN!

Boys wanted to stay home and study up on their VN history (aka stay in hotel and watch cartoons and play nintendo) so S&L and I found a place to eat right around corner from hotel. Tables were little tiny and the stools were even tinier. Could barely fit one butt-cheek on the stool...but no problem! I wasn't really planning on eating anything. Sue had her heart set on fresh clams in this amazing tamarind sauce. My conception of jumbo shrimp has changed dramatically. They had fresh (live) jumbo shrimp that were abs bigger than my entire hand. They convinced me to have some...I am always a bit on-and-off when it comes to shrimp...but these were unbelievable. Complete w heads, which Long loves (big delicacy here...yuck). The meat could have passed for lobster as far as I was concerned...definitely best shrimp I've ever eaten. YUM. So the 3 of us had a few beers and had a very nice final dinner in Vietnam.

I taught the boys and Sue and Long how to play Casino and it is now Derek's favorite game. It's all he wants to do any hour of the day. The first words out of his mouth when I see him in the morning are "Uncle Rob, do you want to play casino?" He has gotten very very good and we play the more advanced version where we can build face cards. I also taught them all how to play Cribbage, which Derek also loves. He now walks around w a deck of cards and has gotten very good at shuffling and can even do a bridge/waterfall shuffle.

Derek has one of the biggest personalities I've even seen in a kid. He is awesome - always 120% engaged in whatever he's doing (think I mentioned this before) - when he is mopey there is no kid mopier - very funny - head and shoulders sunk into his chest and his feet barely moving - and few minutes later can't wait to play casino or cribbage hour after hour. And he's also a very good sport and takes losing in stride w no problem - Ethan just the opposite - will be 12 soon and is pretty detached and wants to spend time more alone or internet or nintendo.

I tasted an amazing new fruit which I guess is maybe pretty trendy in the US also - mangosteen - very sweet and lots of flavor and yummy. I also like bamboo shoots when they are cooked properly!

I can't wait to get home..."be it ever so humble"... so I bumped up my flight from SJ and SD and will get into SJ late saturday nite and then fly to SD sunday noon. I cannot even believe the trip is nearly

Also very nice is that Long gave me a 10 out of 10 for my embracing of VN culture and not being the ugly american (at least not too often...I think I only had a few instances of ugly-americanism). Truth is it has been a lot easier than I figured it would be. I was in a good state of mind before the trip where I just wanted to leave all my american nice-ities behind and come to VN w a fresh outlook and it has worked great. And of course amazing planning and babysitting by both sue and long has made the trip even easier.

I suppose the next blog will be an epilogue written while I sit in my SD apt, happy to be home, but missing VN as well...

"Where are you going Derek?"
"I'm going to the bathroom. I have exploding diarrhea."
"Thanks for the info, Derek"

Now friday afternoon and we are all checked in for our flight tomorrow night. It will be nice to get home.

"Miss Nhan"
Yesterday I walked over to Hoan Kiem Lake to read my book and enjoy the scenery and activity. I was standing around looking for an empty bench and a very nice young vietnamese woman offered me a seat next to her. I sat down and we started chatting. She seemed very nice and was a recent graduate in computer technology. We were having a very nice conversation - her english was fair and we enjoyed trying to get each other to understand. She is from Hanoi, but the lake area is a bit pricey and touristy and locals don't necessarily spend much time there. She asked me if I would like to walk to the VN First University, which was a few km away. That certainly sounded fun so I agreed, but then started sprinkling a bit. We were both enjoying the cooling weather even tho we were starting to get quite wet. The rain turned into a downpour and we were both totally soaked and we sought refuge in a little trinket shop by the lake w about a dozen locals trying to wait out the storm. I actually found a little gift for Jeff (which perhaps he'll like). There was no way to walk anywhere in such a downpour but my hotel was only 2 blocks away and I thought it would be fun to introduce her to sue and long and the boys, since we had already talked about them some.

I didn't want to embarrass, or offend her by asking her to my hotel room, and I also didn't want to end up as the hapless groom that evening in a quickly arranged VN wedding...but...I decided not to overthink it, and since we both seemed to be enjoying each others' company and our shared experience I went ahead and asked and she agreed. We bought 2 rain ponchos for $2 and ran to the hotel. I was a bit worried that Sue and Long wouldn't be there, which would make things a bit awkward, but luckily they were in. Sue seemed a bit surprised when she opened up her door, and I was standing there with a cute little 24 year old vn woman and we were both soaking wet. Anyway, we came in to the presidential suite (sue and long's room) and chatted and had a very nice time together for the next hour-ish. We then invited her to lunch but she had other plans. We took a few pics and exchanged emails, so it will be fun to send her the pics and have her practice her english via email. Overall, a very nice afternoon.

For today's adventure I spent several hours wandering around Hanoi Old Town on my own, armed only w a little map. I managed to cross several very crowded streets and found both my destinations, the VN history museum (yawn), and the VN revolutionary independence museum, (a bit more interesting). I found a little side-walk cafe and ordered "some of these" and "some of those". These were pretty good, those were not, and I also had a nice ice-cold beer. I really enjoyed wandering around the city, and am feeling fairly comfortable now doing so. I must admit that the traffic takes full concentration to avoid getting rundown, but I also feel almost like a local crossing crowded streets, which I also get a strange satisfaction from.

Back in the presidential suite, using the only private internet computer in the hotel. Check out tomorrow and head home. Wow - unbelievable!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Winding Down

"Gray beard starts to fade.
Visions of san diego
becoming clearer"

Smelly feet problem is ME of feet stink, and I think everyone else's probably do as well. Scrub as I might they will not come clean (think lady macbeth out damn spot). My apologies to sue and derek - their feet cannot be worse than mine!

It is thursday afternoon right now as I sit in the hotel IndoChina II lobby using one of the 2 public computers.

Yesterday we had another adventurous day-trip to the Perfume Pagoda - which is very old and sacred Buddhist temple, high in the mountains a couple of hours S-SW (?) of Hanoi. All 7 of us meet for early breakfast and take a taxi-van to the small town where we will catch a boat that will take us rest of way where we can hike just a bit up to the pagoda. I am already a little travel-weary as we head out, and we spend the next couple of hours fighting Hanoi traffic and driving thru the entire city. Mercifully we have the mellowest taxi driver in Hanoi, who hardly ever honks and is not overly aggressive (Like most of the drivers) so this helps quite a bit w the long trip. Driving thru Hanoi SUCKS, but finally we get outside the city and the green fields of rice and mountains and jungles are everywhere and very very scenic. We get to the small town (name later) where we will rent a small river-boat to take us the rest of the way to pagoda. The heat is worse than it has even been since we've been here and it is nearly unbearable. We are all feeling it. Absolutely drenched w sweat, shirt and shorts, and drinking non-stop bottled water and never having to PEE!! The threat of heat-stroke is very real so we all make sure to drink plenty of water and try not to over-exert. I am esp concerned about Donald, since he is a very large man, sweating profusely (as we all are), and seems out of breath. Derek also seems very hot, but I must say how impressed I am w both boys once again, and neither of them complains a single time during the entire day-trip. very good boys!

(Right now there is some VN guy in the lobby screaming into his cell phone in his crazy annoying language - very very irritating, but I can rise above my baser instincts of walking over to him, screaming SHUT UP and smashing his cell phone beneath my very nice VN sandals that I bought in Hoi-An)

The boat is a small sort of large metal canoe with 5 seats up each side and there are 2 paddlers who paddle us up the river (i guess a tributary of the Red River) and the trip takes maybe another hour. Again the heat is outrageous but once the boat starts moving we get just a taste of breeze which makes a big difference. While I am sitting there pouring out buckets of sweat and thinking how uncomfortable I am, sue says to derek, "Derek, next time you complain about how much homework you have to do, I want you think about our paddlers, who do this all day long, every single day." point-taken and I start to (once again) enjoy the amazing and beautiful scenery along the river - green lush mountains and jungles everywhere, with distant ranges slowly dissolving in the mist -

Get to Pagoda area and it is a commercial zoo as we walk up the main path (pagoda still a ways off). Typical VN street-sellers type stuff every step along the way w just about everyone selling cold drinks, food, trinkets. We stop and all get a cold drink which is very nice.

Sue and Long had been here 15 years ago and had actually hiked the rest of the way up the mountain to the pagoda, but there is now a cable-car thank god. We still have to climb up and up along stone/rock path, catch cable car for 10 minute ride to top. Weather much cooler and just a bit drizzley up here which is a very needed and welcomed break - but still quite hot and humid.

The Perfume Pagoda itself is actually down from the very top of the mountain into an amazing canyon/cavern with shear cliffs and feels very tropical rain-foresty. The entrance to the pagoda is now down down down long stone staircase that has been there for who knows how many centuries. At the very bottom right at the entrance to the pagoda, there is a sign for "No Shorts Please" (inside the temple) Personally I think it would have made a lot more sense to warn us of this a bit earlier, since we are all in shorts of course. I ask Long what his thoughts are about if we should go in or not - He's not sure, but many people w shorts are continuing into the temple - think "Bat Cave" (literally). So we all go in. Very very dark lots of incense lots of candles, lots of tourists, fairly small cave, a bit anti-climatic after the entire trip, but overall magnificent. I cannot even imagine the buddhist monks building this monument high in the mountains/jungles.

We head back and enjoy a bit of cloud-cover and just a bit of drizzle on the return trip which is just perfect. Still hot, but no longer "immediate coronary hot"...just "pretty uncomfortable hot" , which is a marked improvment. I take lots of pics of the beautiful and mystical, serene mountain scapes mixed in w lush greenery of jungles and river.

Back down along the river and back into the taxi-van for drive back to hotel. I am starving (we ate breakfast at 7:30 it is now 2 pm and we've done quite a bit of hiking) and I am feeling the trip and quite travel-weary and in the worst mood of the trip. Everything is bothering me and I spend most of the trip listening to Sue and Terri discuss their work, and Long and Donald discuss computer problems. I think we are all ready to go home.

Except of course for Saint Susan - who never seems to get tired or cranky. She is still amazing and I am starting to wonder if she is my sister or a cyborg replacement.

Finally back to hotel and we all find very nice resaurant to celebrate D&T last night w us. They will be flying out in the morning. The weather is nice and cool and rainy which is fantastic and we all enjoy a very very nice dinner w plenty of beer and great food. Grand total is about 700,000 dong which is about $7 US each - very very nice.

I say goodnight to everyone and retire early. Donald and Terri have grown on us all, and they will be missed and they were a nice addition to our travels. Donald, Long, and I have a billiards date next time I come up to San Jose, which should be a lot of fun!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm Leaving on the Midnight Train to Sapa
(and the famous sunday morning market at Bac Ha)

"beautiful Sapa
where heaven and earth are one.
Mountains, clouds, and rain."

It's tuesday right now and we are back in Hanoi. Trip almost over, can't even believe it. We return on Saturday.

Spent the last couple days traveling and vacationing in Sapa. 8 hour overnight train ride from Hanoi. Details to follow...

We needed to catch the 8:30 night train from Hanoi on saturday night. Trip was with all the gang - D & T, E & D, S & L, and ME!! Rainy lazy day in Hanoi, killing time til we could take a taxi to the train station. Finally we take 2 cabs to train station (we will meet D&T there). Sue and the boys in one cab, me and long in the other. Long and I arrive at the train station 10 minutes later (very short ride) and get out and we hook up w D&T, but no sign of Sue or the boys. Storm starting to move in and intensify. Train station a total zoo (probably like this most of the time). It is now very close to train leaving and if we miss it, there is not another one and we miss the trip to Sapa and the market which sue has wanted to see for many years.

I am waiting on the street outside the train station for sue and the boys and Long figures maybe the cab driver took them to the "other train station" - very close by -maybe sort of connected to the main one- not sure. Anyway we've literally got about 15 min before train leaves - wind gusting very strong and rain picking up. Long decides to run over to the other station to search for his family and I standby in case they arrive. 5 minutes to departure and here comes the Le family thru the rain and fog. Sue is really mad for the first time on the trip - turns out the Hanoi taxi drivers are NOTORIOUS for being dishonest and cheating tourists - and this guy probably deliberately took them to the wrong station to drive up the fare, then wouldn't help them w their bags, then didn't want to give sue back change for the fare. Anyway, as w all of our other plans, we manage to be among the last people on the train, and it leaves 30 seconds after we get on.

We are travelling first-class so we have our own sleeping car/room. Very tight w 4 beds - 2 lower and 2 upper. Mercifully we also have A/C and as part of our first-class treatment we also get "soft beds". The 5 of us (Le's plus Stone) are very happy to be on our next adventure and we all crash fairly easily. Reasonably comfortable, beds plenty long, a bit narrow but not too bad, and good company. D&T are next door w their own sleeping car. The train is noisy and rattly but very nice for jostling to sleep. I doze off wondering whose feet are so smelly. I suspect Sue or Derek!

Arrive 4:30 am in Lao Cai - main stop in the very rural mountainous Bac Ha. Long has arranged taxi-van to pick us up and take us the next 2 hours so we will be a-mong (sorry bad joke) the first to arrive at the famous sunday morning Hmong market. Hmong people of course are hill/mountain people of SE Asia. The women dress in spectacular colored outfits, do much of the work, take their vegetables or meat or touristy trinkets to market and try to sell them, and the men sit around drinking home-distilled liquor and/or smoking opium all day.

We get to market around 7 am and are certainly the first tourists there. Market is still getting started and we spend a few hours wandering around and I really enjoy the town and market. Similar to other VN markets but certainly w it's own flavor and flair that is neat to be a part of. Sue is in heaven as she loves the Hmong people and customs - seconded only to her odd fascination w water buffaloes! more to follow on this.

Anyway, after several hours at market we continue on to Sapa - this is another 1-2 hour taxi ride as we go up and up in elevation and wind thru the amazingly beautiful north-western VN mountain rode. The fog is thick in the valleys but the road remains strangely clear. This taxi trip is amazing w the dense jungle deep green vegetation farmed by hand and water-buffalo all up and down these very large mountains and hills. Abs insane - terraced farming mostly rice, in places it looks impossible to even get to much less get water-buffalo to.

Arrive Sapa and check in to hotel where we will spend one night and return on the night train the following day. Sapa is high the mountains 10,000 ft? and it is actually COOL and light raining the entire time - just fantastic. Never raining too hard so you get soaked, and we could still wander around the town in the drizzle.

Sapa is just an amazing town, and possibly the most beautiful landscaping and natural environment I have ever seen. The farms and mountains and huts and villages (and 5-star resorts!) and the amazingly green lush mountain-jungle is constantly breathtaking! The town is populated by VN and Hmong and "Red Zhou" people - not sure about them - religious or culturally unique and distinct from VN and Hmong. Most of the town proper I think is populated by VN, w the hmong and RZ people living as they have for centuries in the hills and mountains all around.

I take a lot of pictures and I even shop a bit for a few little things, despite the fact that these little hmong ladies are extremely aggressive trying to sell their stuff. If you are unfortunate enough to make eye-contact or smile, they will hound you..."YOU BUY ME YOU BUY ME!!"

Sue of course just loves all of this and is now practicing her Hmong language skills. While she is wandering around she is accosted by a particularly aggressive and nasty hmong woman who will just not leave her alone. A few of the red-zhou ladies are then around them and maybe trying to help sue or maybe just trying to get a piece of the rich tourist. Sue is charmed by the RZ ladies (who are even tinier then normal VN), but the hmong woman does not like them, and she pulls out her umbrella and BONKS one of the tiny RZ ladies on the head. This is too much for Sue who has amazingly reached her breaking point w this hmong lady and she rushes to the defense of the RZ ladies. She gets between them and yells at the hmong lady "YOU Nhuc-dao ME YOU nhuc-dao ME" which means "You headache Me!!' and "khong mua" which means "NO BUY". Finally the hmong woman moves on defeated and Sue has 3 adoring old red-zhou ladies follow her back to the hotel. Sue buys a little something from each of them and takes a pic w them. I wander out of the hotel just about now and meet them all and I also get a pic taken w them. They then start pulling out native RZ caps for me to buy, but sue is able to tell them, "I already buy you no more" and I don't have to buy a RZ cap!!

Nice evening with everyone in good mood and we eat well and wander around, get a good night sleep. Next morning more wandering around taking pics mostly of the amazing mountains and farms and trees and rivers and fog and mist. The view from our hotel rooms is spectacular - right on side of mountain. Catch a early afternoon taxi-van back to Lao Cai for the evening train back to Hanoi. The 5 of us again share a first-class sleeper car w D&T next door. We are all in a very good mood and we play some cards and then finally get to sleep.

I doze off again wondering who in world has those smelly feet...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Adventures in Hanoi I

first a quick haiku:

silly old woman
attempting to squeeze past me.
I will yield no ground.

up early and meet sue,long, and the boys on the top floor cafe for breakfast. afterwards we all go for a little walk around our hotel, which is fantastically located near the heart of the "old city" and 1 block from beautiful lake Hoan Kiem - very picturesque, park like, nice bridges, neat old "Tortoise Shrine" in middle of lake - legend has something to do w ancient king defeating some enemies using sword he got from the "magic tortoise" who then returned the sword to the lake. No joke. A magic turtle. Go figure. Sounds quite a bit like arthurian legend - wonder which came first?

Boys a bit grumpy/mopey so they stay back at the hotel studying their vietnamese...oh wait a second, I mean playing gameboy and watching cartoons. oh well, true american boys!

3 of us wander around a bit more, rest, have some lunch at very local sidewalk cafe. very hot and muggy, back to room early afternoon for cool-down and naps.

Up around 4ish and we all head out again - we want to go explore the Hanoi Old Quarter not far from us. We wander around a bit, find yet another big street market and also find the "36 Streets" which is old and historic and each street represent one of the 36 trade gilds. So there is one street just for shoes (breathe mary ann!) one street just for clothes, one for kitchen-wares, etc. Sue is in heaven and could shop for days, Long and I in hell, boys fading fast. But they are excited to ride some "cyclos" around town - these are the bicycle-pedaled rick-shaw type seats for one or two w nice little canopy. The 5 of us rent 3 cyclos and have nice little trip around old quarter and back to hotel. Boys are going thru withdrawal from video games and TV so we get them quick sandwich and they very happily retire to their hotel room. Sue, Long, and I have very nice walk some more around the lake and markets. We are all thirsty and find this wonderful little ice-cream/cocktail cafe right on the lake where we stop and refuel w a few beers and smoothies. It has been a bit overcast and windy all day and it finally starts raining which is just wonderful. We enjoy the rain for a little while at the outdoor cafe, then decide we better high-tail it back to hotel since the rain can become monsoon intensity without any notice. we head back.

"Rob is culturally insensitive and embarasses everyone except Rob"
On the way back a very nice young lady selling fans peaks sue's interest and they start chatting and bargaining for prices. Seemed to me (WRONG!) that they were at it for a while, the lady was not dropping her price to where sue was ready to buy, and sue kept walking away, and the lady kept following us. Seemed rude to me (WRONG!). So I sort of block her way so she can't get to sue and maybe was a bit gruff/angry w her so she would get lost. This was the culturally insensitve part I later learned. Turns out Sue and the Lady were simply involved in the age-old bartering ritual of I offer price you refuse I walk away you follow and drop price a bit but not enough I walk away again you follow me some more and eventually we agree on price and everyone is happy...Sue informs me of my rudeness (go figure!). Lesson learned. DO NOT GET BETWEEN SUE AND ANY POTENTIAL PURCHASE. So sue and I have our first (amazingly) little mini-spat since the trip began.

Sue goes back to hotel (w her new fan) but I don't want to go back yet - still raining not too hard and very nice out and Long and I are both hungry so we find nice small local sidewalk restaurant and enjoy a couple of beers and some grilled chicken and beef, under a nice canopy, enjoying the rain and watching people and traffic. Long wants to head back but I am still not ready and I figure I can navigate the 2 blocks between the hotel and the lake, so I head back to the lake. Now is probably around 8 pm, completely dark, little rainy, very nice out, friday night so still quite a bit of activity.

"Rob is saavy enough to not get shaken down by young vn punks" or "Rob is incredibly rude to a couple of nice young vn students" - you decide...

So I find a very nice little bench along the walkway around the lake that is just a bit secluded and away from too much people and noise. I am sitting enjoying the scenery and just relaxing and taking it all in when a young vn guy sits down right next to me. (bench is small bench meant for 2 maybe 3 people) He asks me how I am, and I decide to assume the best but keep on my guard so I figure he is just being friendly practicing english etc. I say I am fine how are you at which point he signals his friends and I am now surrounded by 3 young vn guys and feel a bit uncomfortable. The 2nd kid says he is 17 (which he could have been) and we continue chatting just a bit how are you? how old are you? (a std vn question, common and appropriate) and I answer and we joke a bit. He tells me his 3rd friend is also 17 (no way). All a sudden he asks "you want massage? and I say "scuze me?" and he says "you want massage?" so I now know these are not just nice young kids. I say no thanks no massage and of course they don't leave and the kids keeps asking me stuff that I'm not quite sure what he is saying and by this time I am starting to act dumb so they will leave. I have my wallet and camera in a fanny-pack that I wear in front of me and of course it has several hundred dollars in it. I also have my nike golf cap hanging around my waist next to the fanny pack. All a sudden, the first guy (still sitting next to me) reaches across my lap and touches/grabs my golf cap and I fairly aggressively slap his hand away. So the younger kid in front of me says "We need some money - maybe 10,000" which is 10,000 dong and is about 50 cents. I ask him to repeat himself and he says it again - not particularly menacing, but I very quickly say in vietnamese (I had just learned to word for money) "no money, thank you, goodbye". At least that's what I meant to say. They stick around just a bit longer and ask again for money and I repeat "no money thank you goodbye" at which point it seems like they figured this wasn't the easiest of marks and maybe they should move on since there are plenty of people around in general. So they leave and I am pleased that I handled the situation pretty well. Of course maybe it just frightened them when they asked for money and this big white crazy guy keeps repeating "horse charcoal! kick water! Rice Soup!!" I guess I will never know...

I manage to make it back to hotel where I will now enjoy watching a little of the british open golf tourney.

Overall Hanoi is very neat and I like it. As w rest of VN, a very interesting blend of old historic city, french influence, poverty, communist center of the country, new wealth, and a city on the verge of blossoming into a major international city. (which maybe it already is?)

ok enough for now. rice soup.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hoi-An/Danang -> Hanoi

refreshing sea-breeze
share with us your sweet gift.
unbearable heat.
-(oh god not more haikus?!)

last day in HoiAn very nice lazy day. Plane to Hanoi not til 5:00 pm. Quick taxi into town w Sue to buy me some sandals! my Nikes finally broke down so got very nice pair for about $8 - little expensive but what are you going to do? Back to hotel and check out. D&T already left for a few days on their own - we will meet up w them in couple days. The heat is again a bit overwhelming and we spend couple hours in the (very nice spacious 5-star) hotel lobby, dozing, and enjoying an unusually nice and cool sea-breeze (hence the haiku! - warning-more to follow!).

Early afternoon we walk across the street to little restaurant. There are 3 restaurants across the street next to each other, and we go to the one WITHOUT the proprietor yelling at us "YOU EAT HERE VERY GOOD".

We have a very nice lunch and the whole day is very nice and lazy and quiet and uncrowded. Downtown Hoi-An of course a major zoo, but hotel about 30 min from town, on beach one-side and river on the other and very mellow. Long says the very nice guy (who I will call Mr. Thuan...don't know if that's his name, but I think there is 30% chance that it is Mr. Thuan) and his family who run/own the restaurant just bought or started it, so they are still a bit new at serving western customers. Example: while taking drink orders, long orders ice-cold lemonade for Ethan. Mr. Thuan then rushes to the front of the rest., fishes cold lemonade out of fridge, gets glass, and returns. Then I order ice-cold "Coke Lite" (aka diet coke). Mr. Thuan then rushes to fridge, gets my coke, glass, and returns. Repeat for rest of drinks!

(aside) [
I didn't notice a lot of war remnants while in saigon - of course we were playing it very local so maybe that's why. There were certainly very old bunkers and former military bases/prisons around, but not a lot of war-damage. Danang very very different. During 45 min drive from airport to HoiAn you see many bombed out wreckage of homes - presumably untouched for 40 years. very powerful emotionally for me and surprised havent been cleaned up etc. Of course most of region very very poor, and Danang was the dividing point betw N and S. Anyway, as w the rest of VN, the odd blending of new and old, rich and poor is striking. Danang countryside fairly wide-open, here a small bombed-out very small house, 1/4 mile later a very nice expensive new one. I guess similar story all over VN - very difficult to move and/or buy a new home - I think govt must approve every sale/move so aside from being very expensive there are some political hassles as well, that I guess virtually all the VN people would rather not deal with. So if you are poor you live in very shabby tiny little house/room, and as you get more money you just upgrade by adding extra floors, marble tile, AC, cable TV etc.]

At any rate back to Mr. Thuan and the restaurant - As w many of the locals we have come across he is very open, warm, and friendly. He tells about VN war fighting that took place in Hoi-An right where his restaurant is. He tells us that his father was killed in the war just outside, along w 3 americans he was fighting alongside. I am mezmerized. He rushes to the back of the restaurant (which as usual is his residence as well) and comes back w an old VN helmet liner - the very one his father was killed in. He is extremely proud that his father fought alongside and died alongside the american soldiers. How is that for bring the VN war back into focus? I ask if I can take a pic w him and he is very excited. Sue must turn my camera sideways since he is very small and comes up to about my shoulder. very very sweet man - hope pic makes it home!

This episode also brings into focus perhaps how selfish I have been in avoiding any war sites etc. Of course I view the whole VN war and US involvement w great sadness and guilt (and a lot of naivete), but I think I got it wrong. I think you must embrace the war and the horror and the pain and sadness in order to understand a bit more about the VN people. I wish now we had seen the DMZ in Danang and "American War Crimes Museum" in Saigon. Next time I am in VN I will go!!

1hr15min plane flight from Danang to Hanoi - I have now prepared myself emotionally to spend the next 1.5 hrs in a seat designed for 2nd graders, totally immobile w my knees up around my chin (maybe a slight exag but not much!) The plane is an old 737 that holds I have no idea maybe couple hundred people? I think there are about 1200 vn people on board and each one has at least one small child or baby. Still I am in good mood and just tripping out on the whole experience.

My new hobby - I think I mentioned how amazingly rude and obnoxious the VN people are en-masse - and long confirms this - in small groups very warm friendly and polite, but in large groups - whether in traffic or cramming into an airplane, there is just no concept of "after you". So I am constantly being jostled out of the way by little VN ladies dragging their kids around. Often, I start off in line w rest of my family and by time we get on bus/plane I am nearly dead-last. So my new hobby is "yield no ground". I am tired of being pushed out of the way, so I simply "yield no ground" now. When a little VN lady tries to squeeze past me while we are waiting to deplane the aircraft, I ever-so-subtly stiffen my body and make it abs impossible for her to pass me. It gives me surprising pleasure when the lady finally realizes that I am every bit as stubborn as she is, and inevitably she gets stuck half-way while passing. I mean really, where in the world is she going in the airplane aisle that is already packed? No more Mr. Nice Guy!!

need to go eat lunch now w rest of family. continuation to follow.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Days something to something+2 or 3, or "Couple Nights in Danang/Hoian

We left saigon couple days ago. The boys took me out for great and very fun final dinner and beers - long, his brother tri (super great guy, very warm and open, very good english), his adopted brother Thanh (older, very gruff, no english, quite intimidating, but turns out heart of gold). They all ordered snails and stuff but were very considerate in ordering me some bbq ribs and yummy chicken stuff. I [very] accidentally ate some "sea worm" which somehow I thought was a pork wasn't, and it was yucky, but impressed everyone w my adventurous nature!
Many beers and a very nice send off.

Early morning cab to airport for mid-morning flight to Danang. VN 3rd largest city and very less crowded than saigon - altho I guess that's not saying much. Life here in the middle section of vn the most difficult - jobs are few, weather awful w typhoons etc wiping out modest homes etc. Weather fine for us - tho still hot hot hot. 30 min drive to Hoi-An, a touristy beach town. very very beautiful scenery still. We are staying in 5-star hotel - Palm Garden Beach Resort - very very nice. They hosted the 2008 miss universe pageant so there are pretty pictures up everywhere from that.

We spent the last 2 nights here. 7 am now and we will fly back to Hanoi this afternoon and spend a few nights there. The touristy section of town is brutal. The local vendors very very aggressive which I just can't stand. There were actually a couple of shops I wouldn't have minded browsing in, but the second you wander in and/or look at any of their wares (I was going to look at caps and t-shirts), they descend on you w their broken english buy this buy that how much this one for you etc. I can't deal at all w that, but Sue is right in her element and just loves it, so still fun to watch her interact w locals.

Long and I take off by ourselves for a few hours and get off the tourist beaten track a bit which is very much what I prefer. We find a very nice riverside cafe and get a couple of drinks. How is this for service...I order a pineapple smoothie from the old lady and her cart. no problem. she heads up the street to buy a pineapple, comes back, hacks it up, blends it, and there is my yummy smoothie. We sit and enjoy watching the people and the river activity. Strike up a conversation w 2 british lads just out of hs and have nice conversation.

back to town and hotel for shower and nap. Donald and Terri meet up w us in the evening and we have very nice dinner together across the street from the resort.

We retire for the evening around 10ish, but then long knocks on my door and wants to go to the bar, so we do that and the two of us drink and bond.

up early for magnificent buffet breakfast catering to virtually all tastes from all over the world. I get my first cup of hot coffee since in vn - which i actually havent missed - I really love the ice coffee w milk and sugar and am now addicted to it. nice meal of ham and cheese omelet, fruit etc. We spend most of the morning camped out by the pool in the shade of nice big umbrellas. very nice and relaxing, everyone getting along fine. boys love the pool, and I read a bit and doze a bit. into town later for walking around and taking some nice sunset photos and another nice meal. back to resort around 8 and I crash hard til next morning.

will blog again when I can. rice-soup for all!