Saturday, January 12, 2019

The last bit in Hanoi, and on to Korea, homeward bound again!

Written from home a week and more after The End
That last afternoon in Hanoi was like so many others I've lived through, but better too.  I walked around, stretching legs, working off excess energy, looked in a lot of shops I didn't need anything from and restaurants I was too full to eat in, drank coffee, took a nap, finished packing.  There's something about leaving at midnight that makes the day go on and on.  The dentists spent a half hour fussing over my new front teeth late in the afternoon, the book's editor phoned then came by on her scooter (what could be more appropriate for a delicate young lady than a scooter called "Atilla"??) and then the dentists and the Architect (three sisters from the Hotel family) took me by the collar down the street and around the corner to my favorite supper. . .won ton soup (er. . .something like "Mi Hoanh Thanh" with appropriate diacritical marks).  It was funny, the cook-waitress knew all of us, but separately, so we made a surprising table for her but she never blinked.  Her hair reaches well below her bottom on the rare occasions it's let out of her bun at the shop. . .I told her once how lovely it was, and she blushed, but hair or not, she serves a wonderful bowl of noodles with any number of surprises. . .a crisp fried won ton on top, a few soft steamed won tons, slices of pork and liver (yuck. . .) a shrimp, and of course, a wad of "mi" noodles. . .small and slightly tough, with a sort of nutty flavor. . .all in a boiling hot broth, with lettuce, herbs and spices on the side.  Wonderful.  Then finally there were the farewells at curbside, hugs all around (I went eleven years in Viet Nam without a hug ever, now they're a matter of course. . .even the editor for goodness sake).  The long ride out to the airport was unusually good.  The taxi was well driven, without the murderous (suicidal?) dashing through the crowds of motorbikes and buses and dump trucks on the freeway.  The new bridge across the river was all lit up. . .I'd seen that once before and tried the new little camera on the best of it.  Bridges here are a celebration of success, progress and a better life.  Lights in the evening are entirely appropriate!
This is an unusual wedding procession these days. . .more common is a parade of Toyota Camry's or even Mercedes sedans,  all decked out with flowers and ribbons.  Here are folks in traditional celebratory costumes, carrying very traditional gifts-table ornaments, riding in cyclos through the Old Quarter.  I didn't take the time to chase them all down and see what else there was to see. . .where, for example, are the bride and groom and all their attendants?  Shame on me!  Actually, I've been pretty much avoiding weddings in recent years. . .the music is too loud and the alcohol too abundant, and omigosh, the food is too good.  Anyway, I've rarely been invited into a wedding in the City. . .but out in the country. . .goodness me.  I've sometimes been dragged off the bike and into the middle of things, willy nilly.  I guess I'll miss that!




There are whole streets like this scattered around, everything you need to set up your own pagoda, or just your family altar.  


I think I'll even miss this.  It's not supposed to be a contact sport really, but rubbing elbows now and then is acceptable.  








And that's the new bridge over the Red River, or rather part of it.  It's pushing 9:00 pm, I've been up since 5:30 am, walked all over the Old Quarter and now I've the departure formalities, the five hour flight, the arrival formalities, and a quick ride to the hotel in Incheon, Korea.  I've done this so often I could probably do it in my sleep. . .if I could sleep on an airplane.  H'mm.

And so through the new terminal, still far too large for its work, but the work is growing into the facility quickly.  When I first flew in here to Hanoi in 2005, to the old terminal, there were only a couple of arrival gates, perhaps four or five airplanes (and small ones at that) standing on the tarmac, and hard, nasty seats to sit in and nothing to do while you waited in the departure lounge.  This still isn't Seoul or Taipei, by any means, but at the rate they're going. . .not long, not long at all!

Then Korea, early in the morning, to a warm and familiar hotel a few minutes from the airport, a desperately needed sleep, and up for lunch.

Lunch, in a funny neighborhood consisting entirely of hotels for transiting airline passengers, a number of purely Korean restaurants, and a surrounding area of offices and shops and one (apparent) megachurch.  The neighborhood is wildly colorful in a cold-drab-winter sort of way (Seoul, or rather Incheon, is deep in winter now, though there's no snow on the ground this trip).  Every street level wall is covered in menus and advertisements. . .the menus graphically explicit and detailed (so many slices of pork, so many shrimp, the bowl of hot broth, the kim chi (several sorts) and a price. . .repeated with innumerable variations, all in Korean text and Korean Won).

On all these trips, in my defense, I've been accustomed to Viet Nam, where Visa cards still are only of any use in  scattered ATM's and tourist spots in the big cities.  Mostly, away from the tourist zones, if you don't have cold hard local cash you don't have anything.  The lady who makes your egg sandwich or your bowl of noodles or cup of coffee doesn't have a terminal, she has a box full of folding money, all mixed together, or a roll of bills tucked into her waist band.  I guess I'd assumed the same for Korean restaurants (in an international airline-hub?? duh!!) all these years, so when I found my Visa card was welcome anywhere in the neighborhood, I didn't fool around.  $12,000 Won?? (almost $11 USD) for rice, bul go gi and kim chi??  You bet!!  What a lovely spicy meal, and the walk to find it was great fun, though the frost kept nipping at my ears.
A dandy lunch spot, one block from the hotel.

H'mm.  Well, the ground floor is obviously a restaurant and some retail space, and the upper floors must be. . .well, something else eh?  No doubt that accounts for the crowds of local folks in the restaurants.  

This one looked a little rich for my blood.  Seafood restaurants tend to be pretty pricey in Viet Nam too, but you have to admit the photos look just fine.  Maybe next trip?

By golly, English too!  

Well, it's all Korean, but I figured it out, draft or bottled beer, raw fish, and all sorts of meat to barbecue at your table.  

Thus back to the terminal, through the formalities and onto another plane. . .for only 9 hours this trip, with our ground speed often up almost to 700 mph.  We had a ferocious tail wind I think, the same distance took 12 hours on the way out.  I guess we got those hours back going home.
On the concourse in the airport at Incheon, millions of dollars of luxuries in "duty free" shops, a strolling band of players re-enacting the imperial court procession from centuries past. . .and this wonderful quartet, cello, clarinet, flute and. . .the longest shiniest grand piano you ever saw.  Gracious sakes alive.  Just out of sight to the left was a row of seats, just right for tired travelers!

And so it's truly over.  I've gotten home again and I've gotten old. Nothing more to tell.  If you believe me now, nothing more to tell ever again.  The End.  Fini.  That's All Folks.  I think.  Nobody seems to be taking bets though.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Book, The City, The Bus Tour, The Ribs,. . .and home again

Written in the morning of December 18th, in Hanoi, where the sky is blue and the air is crisp!  Goodness, this doesn't happen often, we'll have to make this a short blog post and get outside and bask in the sunshine!
So, bruised, cracked or broken, whatever they are, the ribs are sore!  I can sleep now without having to wake up every few minutes to enjoy the discomfort, but I certainly prefer not to cough when it isn't absolutely necessary.  The ribs have had a considerable effect on this past (last) week in Hanoi.  In the normal course of events I would have ridden out to Quang Yen and Bai Chai to say goodbye to several friends out that way, and this year, with the ribs for company, I didn't even feel like doing it on the bus. . .and hardly ever used the bike around the city.  H'mm.
However, there were two fine days working at the publisher's office, with the editors and book designers finalizing the layout and checking the text-photo layout.  They've done a lovely job and the book looks to be everything I was hoping for, informative but also very beautiful, assuming only that you like boats, boat building, and seascapes!
I've had a number of lovely long walks (easy on the ribs) around the city nearby (to walk around the whole city could take years. . .by the time you got back to where you started, the place would have grown again and you'd have to start over on the new perimeter.  The new construction all over Viet Nam and Laos is simply staggering.  There is hardly anywhere you might go without seeing major new infrastructure projects in all stages. . .newly finished, or in progress.  Some of that is a bit sad of course, as old, beloved places change out of all recognition, rivers dammed, transmission towers and high tension wires strung across the mountain sides, whole neighborhoods removed to make room for another lane of freeway,. , ,but there is so much that clearly benefits the local people, that it is hard to complain. . .well. . .except maybe for some of the dams!  Anyway, here are a few highlights from the past week:
Lunch at the Publishers:  Up on the fourth floor  is a splendid meeting room with a table that can seat perhaps forty people. . .and my work station was the desk at one end.  Lunch is eaten there too, can't waste that space, so I sat all morning down the hall a short ways from the kitchen and the busy chef, making a hot lunch for everybody on staff.  The smells of cooking wafted down the hall to keep me interested!  Promptly at 12:00 people began trooping through the kitchen helping themselves to lunch. . .rice, stewed pork, steamed veggies, sauces. . .and taking seats up and down the long conference table.  So far, so good.  But then, as people began finishing lunch, I was taken gently in hand and down the street for coffee and conversation, so the other ladies on the staff (20 or so I think) could use the room for a quick nap before afternoon!  How cool is that?
Pestering the Tin Smiths:  The hotel is only a couple of blocks from a long street filled with tin smiths and their modern successors.  It's actually named "The street where you buy tin" and many of the techniques still on display on the sidewalks on each side are the same as they would have been ages ago. . .hammer, mallet, rivet, shears. . .but there's also a good selection of welding techniques, many Makita chop saws and angle grinders and modern drills.  Some part of what's for sale there is imported or factory made elsewhere, but the greater value, I think, is in custom made things for local people. . .repairs to refrigerators and stoves, new boilers for soup shops, gates, shelves, display cases, anything made of light metal.  Oh, and it's not much "tin" so much as aluminum and stainless steel, with some galvanized sheet metal too.  If you guess wrong and ask the wrong man to build you something he'll walk you down the street to the right shop!
The little square stoves are very common, used for burning spirit money or paper trash, and for heat in really cold weather

Tin smithing is mostly about light, accurate taps with a mallet on a steel "anvil".  

The work is almost all done on the sidewalk, where you can talk with the workman about your project and see what sort of work he does.

Okay. . .this is just retail.

Layout done full size on plywood

Then necessary pieces cut to length

These soup boilers are used in every noodle shop you want to eat in. . .


Repairing appliance skins is a common job. ..light sheet steel rusts out before the refrigerator or stove functional parts die, so new, often stainless, exteriors are made here.

A BIG lunch with the whole family:  I've never known just where to draw the line around "the Hotel family", and I still don't, but Sunday I was invited to go with "the whole family" for lunch. I'd met almost everyone there at one time or another, but there were two son in laws and two grandkids that I'd not met before, and a couple of kids, now grown and married, that I'd not seen since they were much younger. . . kids.   I'm not positive, but it seems as though the real purpose of the lunch was to celebrate the new apartment "the Surgeon" has purchased.  The Surgeon and his Lady (the physician) have lived in an apartment at the back of the hotel since I've been coming here.  When I broke my leg on the stairs it was those two who helped Khoi get me down the stairs (from the third floor) to where the ambulance crew could get me on board and away.  I've never thought of them in any other context.  Well. The new apartment is stunning.  It's in a stupendous new residential tower complex overlooking West Lake, about like saying a condo in Seattle with a sweeping view of Lake Union and the surroundings.  From the 21st floor, the view from their balconies is tremendous and charming at once.  The lunch was fabulous as well!
West Lake is the biggest (of many) lakes in Hanoi and is almost entirely surrounded by high end residences and restaurants of every sort.  This is the view from the 21st floor


Kitchen and dining room area. . .occupation is probably a year out right now, lots to do throughout the building.


What a view from here. . .

Just out the big glass doors downstairs

Nineteen of us, including Khoi who took the photo.  Dear people every one!

This couple has actually been to visit us in Seattle! Their son works in Bellevue. . .it's a small world for computer geniuses!

 Taking the Little Horse back to storage:  This is always, of course, a bittersweet thing to do, the end of the riding for the year, parting from the machine that has carried me so very far through whatever I've thrown her at.  (Actually, I don't throw her at much of anything, thrown objects have a tendency to go "splat!!".  But it's a fun figure of speech). This year I made the long ride (about 8 km through the city and out into the southern suburbs) and sat to drink tea and visit with Mr. Dung (who keeps her for me when I'm gone and has her ready to ride when I come back for her).  While we sat there, nearly everybody on the mechanical and tour guide end of the company came through the shop and everyone took time to talk a while and say goodbye.  These people have been fixing and storing my bikes for eleven years now, and I'm fond of all of them.
A bus tour to Trang An and Bai Dinh Pagoda:  My ribs having noticeably improved and the bike back in storage, I felt up to a bus tour on the next to last day in country. . .so I picked out Trang An, another limestone-cliff-combined with-river-lake sort of place, absolutely gorgeous.  The price to pay included having to tour Bai Dinh Pagoda first. . .something I would have passed on, it's famous as the site of an ancient pagoda complex built into the side of a mountain, but has been developed into the largest pagoda complex in Viet Nam. . .tallest tower, biggest bell and drum (both of bronze) and the biggest bronze statues in the country.  I would have been happy with just the boat ride, but really, the pagoda was amazing as well.  In every way, it is temple architecture writ very large!

Just the bell and drum tower.  Goodness

The statues, of  a black stone, were originally finished with a stippled surface that looks almost white.  Pilgrims touching hands and feet have polished them shiny black over the years!

A suitable striker for the huge bell.





An unusual portrayal of m'Lady Quan Am.  Here she is shown with her thousand hands and eyes, to watch over all the world's people and help each as they need.  

And another unusual portrayal, without her usual vial of water of compassion pouring out for mankind, and standing on firm ground, not the waves of the sea or a fish's back. 


The biggest bronze statue of the Buddha in Viet Nam.  Truly huge


This is a huge replica of the ancient bronze drums that have been unearthed in archaeological explorations of the Dong Son culture (if I have that right).  It sits just below the bell and is comparable in size!



Drum below, bell above.

Had to be a boat involved here somewhere. . .this is a very famous illustration from one of the old drums, showing a paddled war vessel under way.
Loading for the boat ride!  With a Korean family of three and me, we had about 3" of freeboard amidships.  Yikes.  There are big blocks of styrofoam under the decks fore and aft though, and the water wasn't too cold.  We'd have survived a dunking, but the cameras and phones wouldn't have liked it much!

Fleet getting under way


Actually carrying what looked like construction materials out to a site on the shoreline.

Wild Lotus. . .might be a name for a restaurant?

My Korean shipmates. . .Dad sitting next to me, didn't make the portrait.  We all four paddled to help out our oarslady quite a lot.  When we worked well together we passed a lot of other boats!


She had a lovely voice and a powerful amplifier. . .and his monochord playing was good too. . .echoed all through the hills!
The caves here are low and not overly pretty, it's just the miracle that you can row the boat under the mountain.  Our oarslady saved me from a cracked skull at one point, whacked me on the head just in time . .low roof!




Almost the end, the sun is mostly gone behind the mountains, not yet 4:00!


About two hours paddling through the mountains. . .putting the boats to bed for the night.

I've a thing or two to see to out in the city this afternoon before the flight tonight to Seoul, then after a short stay in my favorite hotel there, on to Seattle tomorrow.  I'll perhaps write again, but for now, That's All Folks! Hope you've enjoyed the trip. . .