Archive for the 'Vietnam' Category

Bloggery beginnings

Posted in Travel, Vietnam, Writing on October 29th, 2005

Back from an amazing two weeks in Vietnam and ready to embark on an experimental blog writing life style.

At the time I felt envious of the blog owners who could capture a sense of the experience as it was happening like virtual post cards! There were Internet cafes where you could get your fix daily. The best I could do was to write my travel journal from hand notes taken on the journey. This means (for new blog peekers) the travel posts are in reverse. The entries are made in date order and are a way off completion. Keep watching this space!

Vietnam in 14 days

Posted in Travel, Vietnam, Writing on October 28th, 2005

In the past two weeks I have had the privilege of travelling through an extraordinary country. Having lived my student days in parallel with the Vietnam War (to the Vietnamese, the American War), I needed to catch up with Vietnamese life as it is lived today. Until 1995, it was a closeted world but in ten years the transformation to a market economy is remarkable. And yet it is still a single party state, run tightly by the inheritors of Ho Chi Minh’s struggle for an independent nation. Fighting the invader has been long familiar: living the peace is posing all kinds of new and relatively unfamiliar challenges.

The journey passed through cities and villages, high country and coastal plains, rivers and bays. A modern life-style: motorbikes, mobile phones and iPods, mysterious masked girls riding side by side with elegant women in high heels.

A rural living by ancient methods: water buffalos ploughing rice paddies and limpet hatted workers weeding vast spaces by hand; ripened rice is cut by scythe and stacked, collected by hand cart,then beaten and cleaned by straw brush on the roadside before being shovelled into bags ready for collection. And then there are the more up to date methods like motor bike bearing chickens and pigs in cages!

The fourteen day trip was spent in the company of our tour leader and local guides and eleven other total strangers all of who became a kind of surrogate family, sharing meals, boat, coach and air trips and novel experiences. I came away promising to return: the people, the landscapes, the scenes of working life, the organised chaos of the traffic, are unforgettable.

Bird Flu

Posted in Travel, Vietnam on October 25th, 2005

Back in sanitised Sydney, I read in the SMH that there have been 41 deaths from bird flu in Vietnam- top scoring country so far. But then tonight the ABC reported seven only which does sound more likely. There was not much mention of it over there apart from an article in the English language daily Vietnam News describing attempts to vaccinate the whole chook population helped by new supplies of vaccine from China.

Stop press - the total is now 42 as of November 8th 2005!

What do they think of us?

Posted in Travel, Vietnam on October 22nd, 2005

Last day. Alone at breakfast I muse on the gap between us. Visitors from the West come loud, large and often full of preconceptions. I am every day learning to put aside old ideas and just listen and watch. At the next table, two huge Israelis are sullen with each other and barely acknowledge the pleasant girls offering service. Rudeness and irritation is mainly on our side. Do they look beyond the tourist dollar I wonder? What do they see?

I pack slowly, casting aside as many items as I can so as to fit the precious new in the case. Success and then a manicure before lunch with Lynn at The Press Club where we mull over the trip and going home.

At 3 pm transport to the airport. This time the airport route is in daylight and the great white faux arch is clearly visible. The housing estate behind it is still an empty expanse of open fields. All around the growth of roads and buildings is everywhere. A city on the move and thirty years after a war that saw more bombs heaped on the country than endured by Europe in the Second World War.

The driver does not beep once on the journey and without my asking stops when I bring the camera out. At the airport I tip him with enthusiasm for not beeping his horn. He smiles clearly puzzled.

Final Day Reflections

Posted in Travel, Vietnam on October 22nd, 2005

Hanoi heat is more comfortable than HCM/Saigon. There is some sun and less humidity at this time of the year. A slight hint of oncoming autumn is in the air. Although I feel hardly in touch with the essence of Hanoi I am not much motivated to go street cruising. Feeling satisfied with the experience and with sufficient sensory experience to last for a while. My curiosity has been satiated for the moment. The Hilton seems to dull my curiosity with marbled air conditioning and the familiar overpriced food and drink. Hanoi in a day or two is an insufficient taste and we saw nothing of cultural life of the city. It has a depth and vibrancy that tempts you back.

Swimalong Bay

Posted in Travel, Vietnam on October 21st, 2005

The bus journey to Halong Bay is long, punctuated only by a happy house stop at the handicapped trading post where everyone bought more goods. The rice paddies are glistening grey under the early morning sun and tiny figures ply their way across with hand scythes, working the fields silently around the tombs and tiny mausoleums. A massive electricity grid springs up and wires criss-cross the skies.

After three long hours we arrive at the dock in Halong bay and find our boat, a red brown vessel that must have been under sail once upon a time. It is large enough to have tow happy houses both big enough to change in. Beer drinking on the upper deck and we drift slowly out into the smooth waters of the bay. The air is misty, sun just peering through but not enough to clear the skies. Ahead the islands sprouting like pointy mushrooms direct from the sea, have an ethereal quality. The calm is diminished by the noisy chug of little mobile fruit and veggie boats closely shadowing the larger craft. Another dares to sell pieces of coral and is received stonily by the visitors. Although there are many boats in the bay, it is still possible to find a relatively peaceful spot to drop anchor. Everyone who can, swims in the shallow warm water.

swimalongbay Lswimalong
This time I earn my T-shirt.

Nearby the Gulf of Tonkin where the US faked its excuse for attacking the North in 1964.
Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

Mid afternoon we return to the port and make the long road back passing the end of day rice harvesting. The pale brown sheaves are stacked neatly by the roadside and in the emptied paddies, the farmer is already ploughing up for the next sowing.

In the evening, cocktails at The Press Club and then a meal together. This time either from tiredness or sadness everyone is subdued. Tomorrow, when we awake our new family will have dispersed to homes afar and it will be time to resume our old lives.

Queuing in the Old Quarter

Posted in Travel, Vietnam on October 20th, 2005

Being first in line proved to be a great boon, once the sheer terror of being gently steered directly in the path of oncoming vehicles subsided. The ride through the teeming streets was nerve tingling. On all sides colour, smells and sounds bombarded the unsuspecting visitor. In time, you adjust to the rush and tumble of traffic and sensory overload gives way to sheer enjoyment. At first, it feels inevitable that the near misses will become hits, but the cyclo riders are far too skilled to allow a good tip to get away that easily and they steer through the packed intersections as if everyone will give way. They make very fine movements to avoid clashing metal on metal and flesh and ignore the blaring of horns. My man made his own commentary on the sights and when it looked as if we were finally to be brought down by an impetuous motorbike, made happy beeping noises by way of reassurance to his by now quaking passenger. By the time we reached the Water Puppet theatre, I had a real taste for more and would have cheerfully paid him to take me further.

Kids are kids even in Vietnam

Posted in Travel, Vietnam on October 20th, 2005

And unlike anywhere else in Vietnam, kids behaving like kids: shouting running bouncing kids taking no notice of any adult presence and displaying no reverence, or even awareness, of the little group of old soldiers standing before another giant Ho in bronze. The same kids in the old quarter hardly noticing the file of cyclos heavily laden with fascinated tourists, rolling about, pushing, pulling, laughing, teasing each other uninhibitedly.


Hallowed Ho

Posted in Travel, Vietnam on October 20th, 2005

Sadly, Uncle Ho was away in Russia being restored and in the vast square before his tomb, hundreds of similarly disappointed visitors milled about. Later we formed queues into the house on stilts not far from the official presidential residence, where he lived as ruler up to his death in 1969. It was against his will that he be memorialised but he is not around to put a stop to it. This is the problem with death: all your influence disappears and others take it on themselves to turn you into a museum. In the white modernist structure that is the home for Ho memorabilia, the designers have run riot. An extraordinary combination of grandiose marble halls, steel structures that would have done Dr Who and Star Trek proud, plastic symbols representing his role and, tucked away, old faded photos of the man himself performing physical exercises to inspire the troops.

Hanoi Capital City

Posted in Travel, Vietnam on October 20th, 2005

Immediately Hanoi is different: more brown faces and more intense, girls less masked and traffic thick but less anarchic. Private cars are more abundant and are starting to dominate; public bus transport is a futile innovation to stem the growing numbers of vehicles. The architecture is born of French colonial inheritance with glittering Vietnamese embellishments. I expect to see more modern highrise and signs of the clearance that bombing inevitably brings but it is hard to discern from the little of the city we ventured into. The old French quarter buzzes with frenetic activity: trade of every kind spilling onto the pavements. Streets specialise in one kind of goods apparently but we saw little of that on the first day. Instead the visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, the house on stilts and the presidential palace, followed by the other Hanoi Hilton took priority. It seems churlish not to go along with this on a first visit but as with most tourist experiences these are usually the ones you never repeat. First and only visits: the Tower of London, the walk over Sydney Harbour Bridge, the ferry to Liberty, New York, the Eiffel Tower, the Duomo, Florence, the golden domes of the Kremlin basilicas, Moscow… But iconic Hanoi is not to be found in spectacular buildings.