Thursday, November 21, 2013

Odd Bits from Nha Trang

Written from Phan Thiet, November 22, 2013.  Early morning sun from a mostly clear sky.  But that's today, yesterday on the other hand was pouring rain for 230 kilometers, from Nha Trang here.  Warm enough not to get dangerously chilled, but danged uncomfortable anyway.  That's been the story the past week, a lot of rain, mixed mostly with dark overcast.  Sigh.

Nha Trang continues to evolve and get busier.  Traffic on the main streets is now as dense as in most of Hanoi, and a much larger portion of it is un-trained tourists, which makes for occasional moments of terror as you realize that the fellow approaching at twice anybody else's speed is a gentleman from Russia and clearly doesn't know the ordinary rules of road behavior here.  Your first impression on seeing traffic here is that there are no rules and it's a total mayhem situation.  Not true at all really.  The rules are just a little different and they start from two rather interesting points.  First, everyone is entitled to use a public street, not just rich people with cars.  So if you need to move a few cattle from here to there and it's close enough for them to walk, they're going to walk.  Why would you rent a truck??  That extends of course right up through the range of mobility from Ox carts (oxen pull heavy loads. . .slowly, but they pull) or horse drawn carts (faster and more fun, but not as heavy) up to bicycles and motorbikes and so forth.  The other point that takes a while to pick up is that the rules of behavior are worked around the fact that the motorbike, not the car is the basic unit of transport.  Millions and millions (over 80 million registered in a country of 90 million men, women and children) of motorbikes.  They don't have any special right of way mind you, but the observable rules are based on their mobility and speeds.  Anyway, once you understand how it's supposed to work, it makes your life on the road a good deal nicer.

In any event,  Russian is probably the second language in Nha Trang.  Some businesses in the tourist zone don't even bother with French or English any more, just Russian in their windows.  Or, if the sign is in Vietnamese and English, it might be out of date.  A "Juice Bar" with a solid wall of Vodkas for example. . .well. . .it IS juice I guess, and it wasn't just vodka, there was a little whiskey and brandy down at the far end.  It's only fair of course, when the entire rest of the world turned their back on Viet Nam, and China tried to grab a bit of the North, the Russians were "helpful".  So it's cold in Moscow now and very nice here if you don't mind the rain.  The upside of all that is that I can recognize a few words in Cyrillic now. . .Taxi, for example. . .and Coffee, for sure. . .oh. . .and Vodka.

Wildlife--not something that often comes up in discussions of Viet Nam--it used to be abundant I believe, tigers, elephants, that sort of thing, deer and wild oxen and all manner of birds.  But I had an interesting contact with local wildlife on a run back along the coast road from Cam Ranh to Nha Trang.  The Archaeologist was riding 100 meters behind, about where she likes to be when we're on the road, and she saw it all. . .I, on the other hand, being right with myself, missed all but the climax.  I "drive" the road a good ways ahead, and having identified any likely problems, keep moving my attention on down the road.  So I didn't see the little bugger launch himself across the road ahead of me.  My vision picked him up at maybe ten feet ahead and ten feet off to my left and moving very fast to the right. . .way too close and too fast for me to do anything about it.  So I just braced for the impact and dropped the throttle. . .and he made it.  I might have gotten a little  of his tail hair, but no more than that.  So. . .he was almost as red as a fox in summer time and as big as a smallish dog, body and tail together might have gone to three feet.  He had a sharp little nose and a long bushy tail sticking straight out behind him.  The overall impression (if you've been on the big island of Hawaii) was "Mongoose!"  but. . .he was too big and too pretty.  Mongeese (?) are not all that good looking but this fellow, if he'd let me, would have been worth looking at for a while.  The Archaeologist was just waiting for the crash and thinking about bandages and so forth, and she was sure I must have touched him at least. . .but no.  We all got out of that one alive.  Oh.  No, no photos of him, whoever he was.

There are white egrets here in their hundreds. . .often earning their name "cattle egrets", hanging out with cows.  The question, how many egrets are needed for each cow?  It depends on whether the cow is walking around loose or if he/she is tied to a peg in the ground and dragging a rope.  Five will cover the work if the animal is walking free. . .one for each foot and one for the nose. . .that way no bug or frog gets away, the egrets are REALLY fast with the beak. If there's a rope. . .well, that just depends, how long is the rope??

If you've read the right part of the website ( you'll know that I have seen a lovely big boatyard upstream from the Cham Towers in Nha Trang. . .upstream of the old bridge.  You'll also know, if you read the fine print, that I'd never been able to wind my way through the maze back in those little streets to find the place.  This time, with the Archaeologist wanting to see every possible boat yard in case there was some remnant of an ancient technology to photograph, we persevered and got there.  It is now absolutely certain that all their timber comes by water.  Unless they have helicopter delivery.  The little streets are just barely wide enough to turn a bike around in and SO crooked.  Anyway, they're a delightful boatyard with a good crop of new construction going. . .but it's all the typical Modern Motor Fishing Vessel, so she turned up her nose at it all and we went looking elsewhere.  Some people are hard to please!

One of the elsewhere's turned out to be a tiny boatyard, most of it under one low roof, where the gentleman had just begun building a 6 meter long by 1.6 meter wide "canoe" shaped work boat. . .wooden sheer strake to define the shape, held in place with braces and turnbuckles. . .and rolled steel gauge metal (heavier than "sheet metal" but not yet "plate".   He said it would be finished tomorrow!  So we came back, actually for 4 days running.  He was not kidding, he had completed the steel shell by the next evening, but there was still a lot of work to do on it (boat building is like that. . .the hull is only maybe 1/3 of the work).  So we kept coming back and it was my last stop on the way out of town yesterday.  It was all finished except for the engine and rudder. . .and he said he'd finish that too in another two days.  Amazing.  Less than a week start to finish, and it'll be quite a workwise litle boat.  Built to carry sand I think. . .people dig it off the shoreline and bring it into town to sell to masons.

The corollary to "I've left Nha Trang" is that the Archaeologist has gone back to work at Hoi An, so from this point forward, it's just the Little Horse and me again.  But Nha Trang was a joint effort.  I've often said I wouldn't encourage anybody to come along with me, for fear of promising them a good time and ending up getting them squished by a pig truck or some other horrible fate on the road (dysentery anyone?).  I still agree with myself, but traveling with someone like the Archaeologist who is well able to fend for herself was quite pleasant.  I'd have her along again if it worked that way, even if she doesn't like papaya and lime.  How can you not like papaya and lime I wonder. . .very odd.

Okay, it didn't rain all day every day. . .and we saw a few things besides boat yards

She's a very unusual Quan Yen, longer hands, much slenderer (the more normal representation is noticeably chubby).  This is a hillside Chua along the highway, just North of Nha Trang 28 km or so.

Evening of day one. . .the Archaeologist interrogating the builder

I almost bought a boat like this one once. . .the fellow said "she has a little soft wood in the bow."  Yes.  I see, well, they can fix it.

A really little half-basket rowing boat--the blue topsides are wood, but the darker material below is basketry, perhaps a Vietnamese innovation not seen elsewhere. . .and very effective!

Just really typical Nha Trang small fishing vessels, essentially unchanged since sailing days. . .well, except for the motors and the paint and. . .no sails.

And this is the typical larger fishing vessel, though she's had a fabulous trip.  She's down so far forward with fish that her propeller is almost in the air aft.  Not in a sinking condition, but mighty well loaded.  We used to say of such  a load that ". . .they found the fish market out there!"  Indeed.

One Look and the Archaeologist was ready to leave. . .no old style boats here.  I stalled a bit.  Really nice big modern MFV's.  We found dozens of them under construction and hundreds of them in the harbors. . .this is the shape of Vietnamese fishing these days. The timber comes from Laos whenever we asked.  Viet Nam has largely been shorn of its large wood.

Evening-Day Two, only this little dab left to finish the "planking".  And. . .it's all riveted too.

And evening of day 3. . .gunnels on, thwarts added, all the steel finalized and sealed (well, almost, he finished before he quit for the night.  It looks like a mixture of sand, dung and varnish, but who knows??  He called it "Chay"

We provided supper time amusement while we tried to find out where a certain canoe came from. . .far away. . .at Song Cau.  We'd been to Song Cau.  Found a key there actually!

And here's the morning of day 4.  All finished but for the engine and rudder and they were to happen in the next day or two.  She'll sell for $12 million VND, or $600 USD more or less. . .about what I paid for the Little Horse when she was new.


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