Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Around Halong City

Written from Hon Gai (old, northern portion of Halong City), 2-26, 27, 28, 2012

I've been forgetting to start with an appropriate date line, my apologies.


The past three days here in Halong have been a mix of enforced idleness, interesting interviews, and frustrating periods of computer struggle. Well, that's a little strong, there's been some great city exploring and one full day's run through unfamiliar countryside. . .more about that in a minute.

This stop in Halong City was very much out of my normal mode of operation. I was here to meet with a certain Mr. Cuong, to whom I had an introduction via a certain David Brown, whom I've only met by email and to whom I'd had an introduction by. . .this could go on for a while. In short, a string of people connected only by the slimmest sort of thread (starting with my boat webpage me to call Mr. Cuong and ask for his help in my boat researches, to which, on the strength of his friendship with the last gentleman in the chain of introductions, he cheerfully agreed. It wasn't until he found himself chauffeuring me around Halong City to meet his friend and mentor Mr. Quy (the old traditional boat builder) that he thought to ask how I knew David. I had no choice but to admit I'd never met David at all. To his enormous credit, Cuong did not stop the motorbike and let me off, but kept on going. I began to explain and got about to the third layer of the onion and it all became clear to him. . .and we continued to Mr. Quy's. Mr. Cuong is as I now know, a career officer in the Civil Service locallhy and is presently working for the department of investment encouragement for the province. In the recent past he had a long run in the department of conservation (culture and the environment), and working for UNESCO, in a conservation role also. One of his major projects involved creating a floating museum of the bay out on the bay, and stocking it with, among other things, Mr. Quy's models. If you've never heard of Halong Bay before, try a web search, it's an amazing place, with its thousands of gorgeous limestone mountain islands, blue sea (er, well, gray sea when it's wintry as it is now). You wouldn't want to try gardening on the islands, but they're great for tourists to photograph, and provide a relatively sheltered environment for fishermen to work in.

So my big hope was to meet Mr. Quy, a fourteenth generation local boat builder. If you figure 20 years per generation, that's. . .er. . .a long time. Maybe I misunderstood and he's a 4th generation local boat builder. That's still impressive. He's 68 now, and a little frail (diabetes and high blood pressure, which must make us brothers or cousins, and he does have a beard). For the past several years has contented himself with building models. So I hoped to see a room full, or at least a few of them. . .but no. They're all gone, mostly to the Bay museum in the floating village out in the islands, but some to Japan, France and Korea to other museums and private owners. Since he had no models to photograph and he did have some photos to show me, I took pictures of pictures (note the elegant bedspread background surrounding each one. . . But I'm getting ahead of myself. I also can't figure out how to rotate this photo in Blogger. Twist your neck please.

First Mr. Cuong arranged an introduction for me to Mr. Doan Van Dung (say it “Dough-Awn—Vun--Zoong” and you'll be close). Mr. Dung is a second generation owner of a fleet of junks. His father left each of his six sons with enough to start a fleet and Mr. Dung at least has done exceedingly well in the business. He owns “Indochina Junk”, which is anything but junky. I don't know how many boats are in his fleet, but there are several, all of them top of the line for their size, very well built and superbly kept up. I crawled down into the engine room of one and you could eat off any surface down there. . .if you could squeeze in.

His captains wear WHITE UNIFORMS and look proud of them. Heck, the cooks and housekeepers and bar tenders wear neat uniforms on board and all speak English and all are definitely proud of their company and their boats. Mr. Dung speaks English, but employs Ms. Cuc (“Kook” is close) who has a university degree in English and also does shorthand in Vietnamese. . .so the conversation is precise. . .very different from my efforts at dog-Vietnamese and pantomime when I'm by myself! Delightful people and very helpful. Mr. Dung has set up a community based eco-tourism effort centered around one of the villages in the islands, where passengers on his 3-day cruises can even go out fishing with the locals, help haul in the nets, and eat dinner out of their catches. Unfortunately, his 3-day cruises are way out of my price range, so.. .oh well.

One of his boats is a modernized (to meet safety regulations) sort of traditional sailing boat. . .that actually sails! Most of the boats on the bay step a mast and carry a sail or two they can set for photos, but none of them are actually sailing vessels and some are outrageous.

The weather has been cold and gray and my photos show it, so Mr. Dung gave me the two photos of their boats in the islands, and I took some on board as well. More interestingly, he gave me an introduction to one of the boatyards near Haiphong where they do maintenance and some new construction, and Ms. Cuc gave me some good instructions, all of which leads to my tale of inglorious wandering in the general vicinity of Haiphong yesterday. I set out (in the cold gray morning) for highway 10a, about five miles north of Uong Bi on the main highway back to Hanoi. . .I mean, that's where I should have set out for. I had a firm picture in my mind of the turnoff onto Hwy 10 and proceeded there, about 10 miles SOUTH of Uong Bi. Note the lack of an “a” after the 10. It's relevant. Thus, nearly frozen I came to yet another fabulous new bridge (Cau Binh) into Haiphong, where I'd no intention of going, and about 15 miles from where I should have been. So THEN I bothered with looking over my directions more carefully and plotted a sort-of course back toward where I should have been. Made it eventually, but it would have never happened without the note Ms. Cuc wrote for me in the back of my field book. I don't doubt that what it really says is something like “this poor lost foreigner is trying to get to the boatyard at. . .” and that's the effect it had. When writing for my benefit her handwriting is crisp and clear. When she wrote for a Vietnamese audience I cannot read it. Don't ask, I don't know. However, instead of coming back to town in ample time to clean up (it may be cold but it's still filthy on the road) I barely had time to wash my hands and face and pull on my only clean pair of jeans before Cuong came to get me. The night time ride clear across Bai Chai and most of Hon Gai (including the gorgeous bridge between the two halves of the city). . .was cold. Gorgeous, but cold. It's supposed to warm up this week. I'm ready. (Do you wonder about the fact that every year I begin by griping about the cold and/or wet in the North and then promptly spend three or four days trying to get South out of the weather, when all the time there's a perfectly good airport in Saigon. . .nice and warm. . .h'mm.) Anyway, I found the boatyard, met Mr. Quy, Mr. Dung and Ms. Cuc, won't get out to the floating museum in this gray cold weather, and it's about time to move on. The way the highways work, I'll return to Hanoi for the night, then on to the South.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

To and Through Cam Pha

It's Six o'clock on a gray saturday afternoon in Cam Pha, which is sort of a coal-gray sort of place anyway. Let me digress a little. Thinking back to yesterday morning in Hanoi, that new SIM I got for the phone put me in touch with Mr. Cuong in Halong City, though he was just going into a meeting and we had a really short conversation to start. Mr. Cuong is a friend of an acquaintance and (I think) a professor of something teaching in the local university at Haiphong City. You can check me on that later. In any event, he has yet another friend, or rather an "associate" who is a historian of, you guessed it, Boats. Specifically the history of the people fishing in the Halong Bay area from prehistory up through the 1960's, and he has something to do with a small museum in one of the floating villages out on the bay. No, really, I'm not chasing a daydream here, this could be a really interesting contact. I hope. We agreed to meet on Monday after further telephone conversation on Sunday, so yesterday (Friday, in case I'm getting this confused) I got the bike and myself organized and we rode to Cam Pha.

I used to think the run from Hanoi to Cam Pha was a nice easy ride. Something's happened since then. Either they've lengthened out the route considerably or I've gotten soft or something. It still only takes about five hours to run down the distance,so the bike does it fine, it must be me. Anyway, the route is: out of town across the southern bridge over the Red River, but then a right turn at the big traffic circle a mile or so through the city, which puts you on the freeway to the big port city of Haiphong. . .for a few kilometers. They've finished the approach to the new freeway northbound to China (Hwy 5), and it's well signposted if you know you're wanting to go to Bac Ninh. . .which is actually the next biggish town down the new road and also the turnoff for the road we want, Hwy 18. . .which if you don't miss any further signs at a dozen or so forks in the road will eventually bring you here. So the navigation is pretty easy.

The scenery? Well, getting out of Hanoi is basically city combat driving in the middle of the day. Lay your ears back, keep your eyes open and behave yourself. When you turn up onto the new freeway northbound it's a shock. No traffic to speak of, at least not in the context of downtown Hanoi, a median barrier that takes the word "barrier" seriously (there will be NOBODY coming at you from the opposing lanes, at least not alive). It's wide open country, almost no development, just miles and miles of rice paddy, truck farms, duck farms (have you ever seen a thousand white ducks? Tried to herd them??) and the occasional backside of a village. The freeway has cut right across the landscape like a string-straight concrete canal and nothing has been developed along its banks. People on the freeway need stuff though and the locals along the way have begun to make it all work. Signs, hand lettered and braced against cardboard boxes say things like "Sell Gas", "Fix Tires", "Food", "Noodle Soup" and especially "Sell Gas and Fix Motorbike" (combined). The merchandise or facilities (whatever they may be) have to be kept on the other side of the crash barrier, but the signs tend to creep over the line. The tools for fixing a flat are usually in plain sight on top of a barrier post, and the barrels of gasoline with ther glass 5-liter cylinders on top are pretty obvious. There's always a house somewhere nearby if there's a sign for "Food" or "Noodle Soup". Otherwise it's a very long ways between stops!

I'd filled the bike, we didn't have a flat and I didn't get hungry until much later, when we'd turned off onto Hwy 18 and run a good many kilometers. Actually, if was my sore seat that finally drove me off the road into the comforts of a small open air restaurant for a cup of supersweet milky coffee and a bowl of pork hearts noodle soup, which was excellent. The cook-waitress-dishwashing person sang freely while she worked. Friends joked (about me do you think?) and altogether it was a cheerful place. Also. . .the red plastic chair was full sized (??) and didn't bear on a sore spot. Luxury!

No doubt one of the high points of this ride, which is almost entirely on flat delta land, is that little by little you come into outliers of the limestone mountains that jump straight up out of the rice paddy. The first few are all alone (er, and also mostly being nibbled away at by cement factories)just a solitary mountain with nothing else in sight but flat land, but as you go along the clumps of mountains get thicker and by the time you finally ride out of the flat delta floodplain into the hills that border the sea, the vertical sided mountains are all around.

But, spectacular as they are, they're seriously outdone by the new Bai Chai to Hon Gai bridge that now joins the two halves of Halong City. It's utterly stunning, a cable stay bridge that takes off from cliffs on either side of the narrows. A simple pair of pylons, unadorned tapered concrete needles carry the suspension cables on the bridge's centerline with two lanes of traffic and a sidewalk on each side in a great arching leap across the water. I really liked the old grumpy growly ferries that used to swarm across the narrows for twenty cents or so a ride, and I'm sure the waterfront merchants on both sides miss them. . .but the bridge is spectacular. It's also the beginning of the end of the long day as you fight your way through the downtown traffic at the far end and finally out onto the open road north along the coast.

It's really built up all along, rather in the way that highway 99 runs between Seattle and Everett. . .always busy and built up, but not really downtown traffic. School and work were both letting out when we passed by and it was a genuine rush hour, motorbike style, with people making crazy decisions about left turns and intersections. . .just as a matter of course. I think the only univeral rule of the road here is "DON'T HIT". Short of actually running over somebody (or something), most anything else you want to try is fine. Just pay attention and believe what you see. Yikes.

It was just about 5 hours out of Hanoi when we turned off the narrow highway and the little bike growled and grumbled along the waterfront of Cam Pha. For me, for the first year or two, Cam Pha was an anomalous ugly place, waterfront property on the edge of a Unesco World Heritage Site, with the incomparable mountain-islands of Halong Bay in the background, but the foreground filled with ugly almost-development, hotels and bars and karaoke joints, some nice homes and some shacks, all scattered among the weeds of unused lots, a would-have-been waterfront pleasure drive with street trees every ten meters, all grotty with debris and broken pavement, the trees ungroomed and unloved, really, an unlovely spot. However, right on the rubbly edge of the raw fill pushed out in the bay was an ad hoc boatyard with a small gang of boatwrights making traditional wooden boats by hand out of scraps of wood. The old man who ran the gang fed me tea and chuckled to see me photograph his boats and write my notes. His dogs growled at me and his workmen wanted their pictures taken. I came back time and again to smiles, handshakes and more tea. I spent the night once in one of the hotels nearby and never looked up the hill for the town, though I suspected it was there from the size of the typeface on the map that named it Cam Pha.

Later I rode up the hill and found the main street of town, running parallel to the highway, hemmed in with the railroad and highway below and the steep to mountainside above, but a nice sort of town, or a small city really, running along for several kilometers, only a few blocks wide. I found a hotel I liked there, with a nice coffee shop next door and some restaurants and noodle stands around. . .and got to know the place a little better. I've never seen another white fellow here, though surely they must come through at times. It's only 23 kilometers to Halong City for goodness sake and only 130 on beyond to the border crossing at Mong Cai, with all of China beyond that. But still, I've never seen one here. Perhaps it's the coal dust.

Well that was then. The old man is gone this trip, his shack empty now. But one of the younger men who had started another launchway just down the beach a ways has expanded and has a pair of big horizontal band saws making lumber right on site. The old man's spot and the bit of land next to it have been taken over by another builder, a burly man, much younger, and very serious. There are five boats building right now and great flitches of lumber scattered around everywhere.

The old man built boats with the traditional Vietnamese one-piece stem-bottom plank-keel-sternpost, right up to the last boat I saw him start. That one had a separate timber stem bolted to the bottom plank. . .and a little different shape to the stern, though perhaps you wouldn't notice, it was a bit flatter in the run to carry a bigger motor a little better. Maybe he just got tired of the change and retired, they tried to explain it to me this morning, but I don't have the vocabulary I needed. Today all the boats abuilding there are the more modern style. But I have my photos from before.

So, what about Cam Pha? For one thing, you say it "Come Faw", but with a little bit of an upward tilt at the end of each syllable. It's a very linear town, trapped between the sea, the highway and the railroad on the low side, and the mountains close at hand above. So it runs on for a good long ways. If you turn toward the water you're likely to run into the coal port, or the conveyor that feeds it (running for miles I think, from the mines out to the dock). It's a dusty town and my lungs are a little unhappy about that, though I prefer the dust to the black slimy mud that comes with the rain on the road. Aside from my boatyard there's not much for a tourist here, the entire waterfront seems in the midst of development, demolition or decay. The main streets of town have all the shops anyone could need, and far more mobile phone shops than anyone could possibly want. The restaurants are all meat and rice or noodle places where you can get a large meal for a couple of dollars, but nothing fancy I've seen. There are gorgeous homes on the hillsides and a few bizarre mansions, but there are also grim Soviet-era concrete apartments. . .though they are thick with cute kids and friendly people. . .still, "ugly" hardly gets the point across. But they're fading into history I think, bright new apartment buildings and ordinary pleasant homes are really more common now. The two fancy coffee shops next door to my hotel have a selection of wifi bands, and monster screen TV's with either music videos or soccer. Some of the English music videos are HORRID (what must they think of us??), the Vietnamese videos tend more toward sentimentally sweet or very "song-and-dance". To me the football still all looks the same. It's as likely to be two teams from England or Singapore as it is local games.

There's a company in town bottling soda, beer and a wonderful local sparkling mineral water, one of the best I've had. And if they have natural mineral water to bottle, not surprisingly, there's also a hot springs resort, but it's a well guarded secret. I asked at the hotel for a massage spa and was handed to a motorbike taxi man who hauled me along a twisting route up through the upper side of town and onto the flank of the mountain to. . .the hot springs and attached facilities. Like many developed springs, it's hard to tell where the water comes from, but it's piped into a modest swimming pool which is always full of Vietnamese soaking and surrounded by Vietnamese cooling off. There is a nice looking hotel and two rows of massage-bath rooms, each with its own tub fed with the hot salty water. The massage staff wear nurse's uniforms, white and professional and for $11 you get a thorough working over. Ah yes. Their training seems to involve a severe chapter in pressure points too. Yikes!

The people in town are uniformly sweet and curious, and many have at least a little English, something more than just "HELLO!". There's an odd thing I've noticed here: Someone, maybe the owner of a sandwich stand, will ask me a few introductory questions and get answers she can use. Other customers will then ask her questions to ask me. . .which she does, and when I can answer, she repeats my answers back, usually verbatim, but sometimes with a bit of commentary. The other person invariably then addresses another question through her. . .and so it goes. Funny. Of course, I always run out of answers eventually. I can handle "Where are you from?, Are you married? Where's your wife? How many kids do you have? Boys or girls? How old? How old are you? Any grandkids yet? How long have you been in Viet Nam? What do you do?. . ." About then I run dry.

I'll be leaving Cam Pha today and moving just back down the road to Halong City. Hopefully will meet Mr. Cuong and the Boat Historian tomorrow.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Post Script from Hanoi

Okay, I suppose I owe you an apology. Yesterday and again last night was a struggle with and my poor little traveling computer. 1. I couldn't get the Blogspot dashboard to function in English (I'm sorry sir, you're in Viet Nam so you must need the dashboard in Vietnamese, Yes?) 2. I hadn't written in so long I couldn't remember the layout of the dang thing, so kept clicking awry, and 3. the poor little computer desperately wanted its updates (16 months worth). When I finally gave up and sent what I sent (3rd try) and shut down, she downloaded until past midnight. . .and this morning when I fired her up she did something like 24,584 update operations before she'd talk to me. So, it was a little rocky. First, some explanations for the photos, in no particular order. . .Mr. Dung and the bike in front of his shop should be obvious, the pretty young couple were just one of half a dozen wedding parties doing their pre-wedding photos at Hoan Kiem Lake, the red bridge is a very famous landmark, goes from the city out onto a small temple island in the lake, which is well worth the dollar they charge these days to go out and wander around on. The kid with the dust mask and the eyes is about typical of a kid about to go for a motorbike ride. His mom is wearing the twin to my city helmet, but it's hers, mine is here. The bridge is Long Bien, a part of it that's still related to the Eiffel Tower. Somehow I'll have to get a shot from the inbound lanes of the next bridge downriver. There's no parking/stopping/walking on that one and it's hugely busy all the time, but maybe I can fake it somehow and let you see the poor lady's broken smile, with half her teeth knocked out. The two young ladies were sitting on a motorbike parked at a wide spot on the bridge and were happy to have their photo taken. On the other hand, the young lady just managing to stay on the back of the Honda and keep the big bale of goods balanced behind the driver has to do without the footpegs. The bale of stuff doesn't need them or won't use them, but on the other hand, makes it so she can't reach. She didn't know I was there and might have bopped me on the head if she'd known, but it was cute anyway. Some photographers know no shame. So my two days in Hanoi have been, besides meeting Dung, busy with trying to wear out a pair of walking shoes, mostly for good reason, but also just to wear the body down to the point it's willing to fall asleep at night. I've been out to get a new sim for my phone (say goodbye to your contacts), to buy a pair of rain pants, to find out about a Cambodian visa (but didn't buy it yet, not sure enough of my itinerary, as though I'll ever know what it was until it's over), to buy a new left side mirror for the bike (why Dung changed mirrors I don't know, but it might have something to do with one of the minor scratches on the tank. . .h'mm). I've successfully contacted Mr. Cuong in Halong City (the main reason for the new sim in the phone) and will meet him there tomorrow most likely. The point whereof is that he knows a model-building historian of the local fisheries and boat building culture who runs a small museum in which, so I'm told, I would have a great deal of interest. The historian in question, however, does not speak English and Mr. Cuong is a very busy man, but I expect something will work out. In any event the Halong Bay area is one of my favorite first stops every trip so even if nothing works out, something will. It's always that way. Other than that, I have a full itinerary to the South, supposedly ending up in either Phu Quoc Island (WAY south) or Cambodia, or both, so many miles with many stops planned en route. In the meantime, I've been thinking about the finest bowl of noodles I ever ate, home made noodles in a superb broth with actual CHUNKS of meat and nice greens. . .about 350 km northwest of here in the mountains back of Bac Ha, which, come to think of it, is pretty much in the back of beyond itself. I may have to spend a few days that direction before I straighten out and head South. Every trip when I arrive there are people I must see and say hello to. The family at the hotel of course, except for Miss Nga (24 years old now and doing an MBA in London, for goodness sake. . .she was just a talkative teenager when I first started here),Mr. Khoi, the physics professor who held my foot one stairstep at a time when my knee was broken. . .had I fallen, no doubt I'd have killed him, but his sister (the doctor) and her husband (the other doctor) had my elbows, so perhaps it wasn't that terribly dangerous, The Grandmother of the house, my first love here, 88 now and definitely getting old now, both of the Dentist-daughters, the whole bunch of them familiar as family now. . . but others too. . .Mrs. Lien the Tee shirt lady, for example, who sends me emails now and then to let me know how things are in the city. She's very sweet and sometimes even sells me a shirt (they're all too small, even the XXL's). Of course the people at my breakfast coffee shop, the proprietress and her young waitress (who never speaks to me but smiles at every move), the local Party Committee Member and his elegant wife (he speaks a little English and sometimes wears an American flag on the lapel of his suit coat), their friend the slender fellow (?) and several other regulars there. The old fellow who wears his ex army uniform and a red armband at night, manning a tiny desk along the street by the hotel. . .a neighborhood watchman. . .always is enthusiastic to see me again, and now remembers that I don't smoke. . .though he always starts to offer me a cigarette. I missed him my first evening on the street, but he ran me down last night, so all is well there (though he's lost some more teeth!!). . .and of course the gentleman in the gold shop where I change my money. He still firmly believes I work here and am kidding about being just a tourist. . .and the lady who has the internet shop I used to use all the time. Now, with this little netbook and local wifi I only stop there now and again, but she waves everytime I walk down the street. Of course there are people I remember that don't know me. . .the tiny twins that were new born when I left 16 months ago are (surprise) about 16 months old now, still dress identically and their dad still shows them off when I remark how cute they are. Truly identical, though it was easier when all they wore was a diaper and a blanket. They are no doubt trouble brewing! I'll see if I can get you another photo of them shortly. Last evening after supper I wandered around with the new fast lens on the old Canon EOS, just to see what it would do with available light in the city. I'll put up a few of those photos and one or two from this morning's walk for breakfast and then it's time to be on the way. Most are self explanatory. The girls were playing badminton in the street where I live. . .and the plain white shop front is the
dentist's office. "Rang Ham Mat" means "Dentist's" and if you look closely behind the wad of wires you can make out "Nha Khach My Lan" or "Guest House My Lan". Pretty much, it's a dentist's office these days! I haven't gotten the bike out of the hotel hallway (an ordeal) or packed yet, so I'm hours from departure I suppose.

Back on the Ground in Hanoi

If I were to say that we just popped over to Viet Nam and here I am, that might seem a little casual, yet, to describe what really went on is a little hard to do. On one hand, a fragile aluminum and composite machine almost completely loaded with explosive fuel and an amazing amount of stuff meant for the Philippines. ..not to mention 300 odd people (figure 8 across by at least 42 rows plus whomever they were pampering up there in First Class). . .that machine, guided by radio signals bounced off of multiple satellites and fiddled by a bank of electronics (made in China do you think?) streaked through the day almost seven miles above the Ocean (by which I mean to include a bit of the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska, so rather a bitter cold and stormy ocean at that), come to think of it, we endured temperatures of 60 degrees below zero and a head wind approaching 100 mph. . .crossed bits of Russia and China
and did an end run around the northern edge of North Korea (Nukes and Migs!!)and finally they put us on the ground within five minutes of when they were supposed to. . .eleven hours and a bit after leaving Seattle. Or, looked at from my view point, I ate three meals (Korean for two and "Western??" for the other, watched 3 movies (what a selection, everybody in the airplane was watching something else. . .Korean movies with your choice of five languages for subtitles, Chinese and Japanese movies with Korean subtitles, American stuff with your choice of English or Korean audio and subtitles in Japanese and Chinese. . .not to mention shorts of all sorts. . .what did you want to know about the Bugati super car? Golf? Sky diving? Whatever. Who me? Oh. . .well, I tried the White Snake and the Herbalist (Chinese with Korean subtitles, flying dragons, enormous crumbling winter mountain ranges and a sexy lady (the snake no less). . .lasted five minutes, couldn't handle the flying sorcerer with the big pitchfork arrangement). But no matter, three movies. In one sitting. Yikes. The Korean one with the tangled romances (five of them I think, depending on how you count romances versus catastrophes) was probably the most fun. Gee. I got a short nap too. Real high adventure in the Arctic Sky, sort of like a cross between Lindbergh and Scott, or would that be Amundson. ..Bering maybe? And that was just the first leg!! Seoul was a 2 hour layover, most of which was spent waiting my turn to go through security with my SHOES ON. And nobody hijacked the plane either. The second leg, on down to Hanoi, was a mere five hour jaunt across China. Somehow or another we arrived in Hanoi at ten thirty at night. The arithmetic doesn't work as far as I can see, but there's the International Date Line in there somewhere and a good number of time zones. Take my word for it, it was late. Note to Self: They have two baggage carousels in Hanoi now. Check the other one sooner next time. So I snagged the next to the last taxi with my seat mate Steve and we made it to our hotels seconds before midnight. Mr. Khoi was waiting up for me and opened the door and the iron grillage just as the cabby was about to decide he was not going to leave me at a dentist's office. The dentist-daughters of the household obviously won the battle of the new sign, it really looks a lot like a dentist's premises from the street now, with just a bit of a "Guest House" sign above. No matter, before One o'clock I was unpacked and wound down in my GROUND FLOOR room (they not only threw out whoever was in it last week, they painted it the day before I arrived, all sparkly clean and nice). Next thing I knew it was six thirty in the morning and my body thought we should be up and about. Not my eyes or my head mind you, the eyes were scratchy and the head was still six or eight time zones off somewhere, but the other two hundred pounds of me wanted up and away. Some things have been going very well in the meantime. I talked to Mr. Dung (say that "Zoong", the Northern pronunciation, not "Yoong" as it would be in the South, and certainly not "DUNG"). Excuse the digression, but we needed to cover that. In any event, I spoke with him last week and asked him to get my bike out of storage and give it a once over. She was sitting on the sidewalk in front of the shop when I turned up. Er, well, I didn't just turn up. I was hoofing it along the street a couple of blocks from the shop when yet another pesky motorbike taxi guy asked if I wanted a ride. . .to the shop. . .it was Dung (Zoong) himself, back from a parts run. How do you suppose he knew it was me?? H'mm. I guess I'm something of an elephant locally even if I'm not on a motorbike. Anyway, I arrived in style riding pillion (I won't use the b__ word in a family blog) behind Dung. She has a new oil change, a couple of new scratches,
a new chain, new rubber blocks in the rear hub, about a thousand kilometers she didn't have before (he was SUPPOSED to ride her a bit to keep her fluids circulating) and maybe three tablespoons of fuel. At a guess. We got her some more a short time later. So, not needing to waste a week hunting for a bike to buy and getting paperwork done and so forth, I'm ready to go as soon as my jet lag seems manageabgle. I've been walking for hours both days so I'll sleep more or less when everybody else does. . .and taking lots of photos. . .and throwing most of them away. However, there are a few you might like, cute kids, traffic in the streets, odd shots of the citizenry in general, a hike over the old Long Bien bridge (that's the one we bombed the bejeezus out of during the war, so although it was designed by the same fellow who did the Eiffel Tower, 112 years ago, and pre-fabbed in Paris. . .it's kind of lumpy these days). All the war damage was repaired with simple truss girders instead of the pretty arches. Oh well. You can sort of extrapolate how it was if you stand off at a distance. Helps if you can buy an old French post card though. It's late and I still have to upload some photos.