Friday, December 19, 2014

And then of course, we made it to Quy Nhon and stayed a couple of days

And in fact we're still here!  It's Thursday evening the 18th of December 2014 and the weather is still crummy.  If you take it as given that I mostly live on my motorbike or by the side of the road during the day and then sleep in comfy hotels when I can find them, you'll understand how much of an impact foul weather has.  At least this far south it's pretty warm.

The ride on south that last 100 km into Quy Nhon (that same 100 km I thought would be really close with only two and a half hours of daylight left) that ride took, to be precise, almost five hours to do. There was a howling tailwind that sometimes was a knock-you-down kind of cross wind (oh thank goodness we weren't trying to go North) and mostly it rained buckets.  I didn't even try to wear my glasses. . .just put them away and blinked a lot.  Mostly though it wasn't the rain, but rather the unending road construction that slowed us down so much.  It's hard to keep up much of an average speed if you're standing still or moving at a walking pace.  H'mm.  But for all that, it wasn't REALLY unpleasant, and we were into town by one in the afternoon.  I actually took a few photos, trying to capture the atmosphere of the countryside in that weather.
Nice green countryside, usually with a good bit of rice bottom between the hills.  

This is a tiny bit of the good old days. . .the demolition guys are a couple of miles back down the road and headed this way, so in a week or a month anyway this will be torn up and wrecked. . .probably for several months now.  At least they won't have as much dust this time of year.

If they take half the new roadway from each side of the highway then most of this yard will be gone.  The house will be fine, but maybe not as nice to live in hereafter.  Widening highways is a rough business.  Sweet little house, well kept.  He's sweeping leaves.

Rice bottom and hillsides.  No rain just this moment. . .when it pours the camera stays under cover.

Sometimes a farmer gets to watch the rice grow. . .pretty nice work when you can get it.  But the preparation for planting is brutal. . .plow, harrow, smooth (like finishing ever-wet concrete) and finally transplant the little guys you started earlier in the spring.
  I guess I'll never take photos of the rain or the ruined roadway.  I don't want to wreck the camera and I don't dare stop in the construction zones. . .there's not room and somebody would get hurt.  Probably me.  Maybe I'll pick a really gruesome zone and try to figure out how to get it on film. . .er pixels. . .so you can enjoy the mud and chuckholes with me.

But, on into Quy Nhon.  Quy Nhon, you may recall, is the city I've never quite forgiven for bulldozing the old fisherman's and boatbuilder's shanty town and the nicer neighborhoods inshore, just to build a waterfront park (two miles long!) and a bunch of glitzy hotels.
Glitzy Hotel (from the balcony of my not so glitzy hotel)  Exactly where the shanty town used to be.  What a change!

 The shantytown was dirty, ugly, crowded, unsanitary, and home to some very interesting people who did some neat things with wood and paint and nails.  Today the Quy Nhon area is still a treasure trove of gorgeous boats and prosperous boat yards (elsewhere), with a wide variety of traditional, sort of traditional, and definitely modern sorts of fishing  and local freight and taxi boats, of which I've written and photographed a lot.  I can give you a link to that general part of the Boats And Rice website, but you'll have to scroll down a long ways to find Quy Nhon.  Just keep rolling through Ron and Ly Hoa and Hue and Thuan An and Da Nang and Hoi An and eventually you'll come to a sunrise scene with a pearly sky and a fleet of fishing boats anchored. . .and right after that, a bright green fishing boat being launched from the shantytown beach.  Slow down and read for a while. . .Click to go to "Boats And Rice" and then scroll down. . .

So out of all the boats and boatyards to choose from here I had two specific missions as well as the general need to check on the boatyards.  There are three different beach boats working in the Quy Nhon area (one of them sometimes even in Quy Nhon proper).  One of them is pretty ugly and I think there are only seven or eight of them still alive. . .a pretty rare bird that I've documented pretty well.  But there are two  that are particularly interesting.  They are both part basket and part timber, one of them usually a rowing boat these days and the other one always a diesel powered, bigger boat.  Both of them are unusually beautiful.  The smaller one has a pedigree. . .it (or something a great deal like it) was documented in a French book (Voiliers d'Indochine, J. Pietri) in 1943.  I'd believed the type was extinct until a couple of years back when I found two of them hauled barely out of the water here in Quy Nhon.  Eventually I chased them down to the northern harbors on both the inshore and the offshore sides of the peninsula that protects the big lagoon north of the City, but I didn't find the builder(s) and I haven't seen just how the tricky structure at the bow and stern is done. . .or for that matter, how the delicate split bamboo ribs that support the basketry are fitted into the timber upper structure. They are quite unlike any other basket based boat in the country, and just for fun, they are extremely reminiscent of certain Eskimo kayaks,  I don't think there's any possible connection, it has to be a case of form and function working out in very similar fashion at opposite ends of the earth (well, not really, but a long ways).  So, to chase those down again I wanted to get to Nhon Hai on the ocean side of the south end of the peninsula.

A year ago the road was pretty good (narrow and bumpy, but clear and dry).  Last year  I was reluctant to name the place, which has been isolated for years there until the new bridge was completed a couple of years back.  This year the road access is pretty tough and I think likely to get worse.  The whole middle of the peninsula has been cleared, grubbed and leveled, storm sewers, lighting and streets with curb and gutter put in. . .and basically it sits.  I guess in all those hundreds of acres (thousands??) there are two small industrial facilities, but the vast majority is an unprotected sand surface.  The wind howls down out of the north and drifts the naked sand around (stinging your ankles and fingers and any exposed face, getting into everything).  The drifts are deep enough now in places that even the local people who have to get home have a hard time slipping and sliding through the deep stuff.  It's devilishly hard to ride in and stay right way up, but it's hard enough when you fall to break mirrors and clutch levers.  So I'm not worried right now about starting a land rush to the little harbor village.  There are no rooms for rent though there is a coffee shop by the water front, and two part time noodle shops inland two streets. There are 3 streets total now, but they're adding another.  The rest of the town is an absolute rabbit warren of narrow paths among the houses.  Even from the air (courtesy of Google) you can't find your way through them.  So besides a nice coffee shop and two noodle shops. . .there is a lovely pagoda right off the waterfront too, well worth a visit if you make it that far.

Most important though (for me at least) there are at least five of the fully traditional bamboo and timber rowing boats still in use and being well cared for. . .and there are 8 or more of the modern version. . .using blue plastic barrel cut offs to replace the bamboo (boo, hiss) which seems to make a really good boat, darn it anyway.  Blue barrel segments.  Good grief.

This trip I found a fellow bailing the rainwater out of his bamboo version, up on the beach-front street.  His was the nicest of the old ones left and I got him to talk a little.  He was one of the Vietnamese who just can't or won't hear me when I talk, but this time I kept after him.  Finally he came around a bit and asked ". . .you want to know if we have anybody around here that still builds this kind of boat?"  "Yes, that's right."  "We have."  (Vietnamese often uses fewer words than English to communicate a thought).  Then "Where does that man live?"  "The man who builds boats like this??"  (I think I was losing him then.) but he pointed up the hill to the road and told me "Over there."  I suggested he could go with me "over there" to meet the man.  He was polite but declined.  And that was that.  Well.  I have enough photographs of the type that if it really comes down to tracking the builder to his lair and getting him to build one for the camera(s), I should be able to get it done, but not this trip.
Two traditional (organic, vegetarian,whatever) bamboo and wood rowboats.  Two blue plastic barrel cutout alternates on  the beach beyond.

They really are the very same boat except for that one minor detail.

The houses right along the water's edge are very small, though somewhat larger houses are common on the other two, inland streets of the village.  The waterfront space is too precious to spread out very far at all.

Protected in ordinary weather at least, by rocks and islands.  It's too big to get all in the camera at once.  Look in Google Earth at Latitude  13°46'11.02"N  and Longitude 109°17'35.30"E.  That will make it clear.

A very nice pagoda for such a small town. . .Quan Yin, quietly pouring out the water of compassion for the world.  We need that.

A Buddha of a thousand eyes (one in the palm of each hand).  Needs that sort of capacity to keep track of people and their troubles.  Another depiction of Avalokiteshvara. . .a Sanskrit name I think.  In Vietnamese she's more often shown as the lady pouring out the water of compassion for the world. . .

From the pagoda, looking offshore past Quan Yen

He kept an eye on me the whole time I was roaming the pagoda.
Normally in winter the harbor holds fifteen or twenty 30-foot class fishing boats, in several styles.  It's a gorgeous dramatic seascape, a tiny little speck of almost calm water (on an ordinary day), protected from several (but not all) sides by rocky islands and reefs.  It was utterly tumultuous this trip, the northerly gale whipping big rollers into the usually sheltered center and throwing up huge spouts of spray and foam where people usually anchor their fishing boats.  Not today, all the boats were moved around inside the lagoon for the duration!  Actually, from the aerial photos you can count over 100 boats in the little harbor on a nice day in July.
This must be most of that hundred. . .A large fleet is sheltering from the Northerly gale here, on the other side of the peninsula.  Plenty of wind to keep the boats straight, but no ocean wave and swell.
Here's the native vegetation on the sand hills of the peninsula.  

And some reasonable, sustainable development. . .a new single family dwelling on a pad of sand. . .more sand to come to build up the driveway and maybe a bit of raised garden.

And some large scale filling of salt marsh. . .Viet Nam is still at that point in its history when it thinks in terms of "reclaiming  land" rather than "filling wetland".  

But here's what happens when you strip and level thousands of acres of the sand hills.  There are miles of these roads, with storm sewers, street lights and ornamental trees planted,. . .but nothing to secure the sand from drifting, and almost nothing at all to justify the damage.  Look at Google Earth to get a feel for the size of the scar!  Oh sigh.
The other expedition was the other direction about the same distance, 18 km or south of Quy Nhon is a village (or co-op?) named Xuan Hai.  Last year we (the Archaeologist and I, search back through last year and you'll find her and that day) the Archaeologist and I, as I was saying, found a fabulous fleet of about 50 surf boats working off the beach there.  Besides the wood and bamboo surf boats there were at least that many motorized little round bamboo baskets and the larger sort of fiberglass tub that is making a dent in the basket population these days. I really got enough photos of the boats on the beach and coming home through the surf last year, but I have the same problem here. . .I've not seen them under construction and there are several tricks to building one of these big wood and bamboo boats that I'd really like to get recorded.  So when I turned up at Xuan Hai this year I was dreaming of a partially built boat (dream on) I could record.  Instead I found the whole village, or at least a good percentage of them, all down on the beach clustered around what looked like a piece of beached whale from a distance.  Several young men were energetically hacking away at it with long handled machetes and pulling pieces off the mess.  It wasn't a whale though.  I've no idea how the wad was formed, but it was a mass of various sizes of netting tightly tangled, with a lot of lines and twine. . .around two large steel anchors.  Most Vietnamese anchors are pretty rusty, with a trace of gray muck on their flukes when you see them hanging from the bows of a boat.  These were shiny as a new nickel. . .polished no doubt by the sand and the netting and all the rolling around they'd no doubt done in the surf.  Even so, given the huge wad of netting and lines of various sizes, You have to wonder how those two anchors managed to wash up on the beach.  Courtesy of our week-long northerly gale I guess.  Well.  In all that crowd I did not find my boat builder, but several people knew him and were willing to lead me through the maze to find him.  It was a matter of squeezing between boats (they were all hauled up tightly together as far from the surf line as they could get) and stepping over and on piles of rusty fencing and loose bits of timber and such. . .a fishing village, not a museum here.  Anyway they lead me straight to a lean to where four men were trying to wear out two old black sewing machines. . .running them wide open, one man feeding fine mesh net panels in and the other pulling the finished work out the far side of the machine and piling it up off to one side.  My builder was running the nearer sewing machine.  My native guides chattered away much faster than I could follow, though I heard "America" and "Boat" and a few other bits that made some sense.  I asked point blank if he was the builder of boats, and yes, he is.  Is he currently working on a boat (fingers crossed) and no, he isn't.  Darn.  Does he plan to build one soon. . .No, not until somebody needs one.  Oh.  The boat without a motor will cost $1100, which is amazing, they're really quite substantial boats with a lot of hand work involved.  it will take either ten days or a month to build, depending on which time I heard correctly.  I have his phone and address, so it's just a small matter of finding funding to build the thing while I run the cameras. . .and a museum that needs it.  Or rather, one I can convince that it needs it.  Maybe I could foist both boats off on the same curator??  Worth a try.  I could bring back a couple of stock round basket boats too, just to round out the display.

Speaking of the round basket boats, I stopped along a cliff top overlook on the way home from Xuan Hai and ended up watching for ten or fifteen minutes and saw a marvelous display of casually excellent boat handling. . .in one of those round baskets.  The fellow had the paddle roped to the rim of the basket, much the most powerful way to use the thing.  As I pulled up to the lookout and parked the bike he was stroking out from the land to a 30-foot class motor fishing boat anchored just outside the break a hundred yards or so and a quarter mile from the beach he'd come from.  The swells  appeared to be about 7 or 8 feet, not quite enough to completely hide the boat's cabin, and they were stacking up and getting critical (ready to break) a few hundred feet inshore from the anchored boat.  My boatman approached the stern of the anchored boat, which was rolling probably 20 degrees to either side and pitching wildly, showing half its bottom alternately forward and aft as it plunged against its anchor line.  Our gale was still blowing out of the north, though the rain had let up.  The boatman held her there, the little round basket, just aft of the anchored boat a few inches, one moment looking down onto the stern deck, the next moment looking up at the rudder and propeller and a lot of red bottom paint.  In a minute or two (it seemed to me to be forever he held that little basket right under the stern of the much larger boat). . .surely it was only a minute or two the men on board the boat had transferred a good sized anchor into the basket and one of them had jumped into it when the basket and the boat were both together on the top of a swell.  Two men on the boat then payed out an anchor line (they had a LOT of line available) while the one boatman stroked that basket straight inshore, and the second fellow controlled the anchor in the basket.  As they went inshore further the swells were stacking up steeper as each one came in. . .he was moving right into the offshore edge of the break, with the basket tethered to that anchor line.  At last, when I thought for sure they would be taken by a breaker, they lowered the anchor overside. . .and the boatman stroked back offshore, this time up wind and against the waves as they rolled in.  He dropped his passenger back on the anchored boat and stroked on back to the beach, straight upwind.  It was simply stunning to watch.

What else?  I bought a needle (one, wrapped in newspaper) and some thread and another (much larger) umbrella, changed some money and gave the horse her next oil change.  She's rolled 2900 km under her little wheels so far.  We'll leave in the morning, mission only begun, by no means accomplished.  If you know a museum curator who needs a new fascinating display of woven bamboo boats, please put him (or her as may be) in touch.  
Xuan Hai beach, the fleet of (mostly fiberglass) motor-tubs, with a good crowd around the "beached whale"

The beached whale and the populace with a typical reaction to me. . .they laugh. . .and smile and give me the peace sign.  

The first anchor is almost clear, only a little left to chop away around the stock.

Mountains of netting. . .sewing panels together at full throttle (those old machines can still hum!)  My boatbuilder is in the blue shirt.  

Super guide.  He writes a lovely hand in Vietnamese and knows some English too.  

They're purely a workboat. . .nothing fancy or unnecessary. . .and yes, the eye is necessary, though I'm not sure which myth to believe in.  As far as I know they've all been written down by round eyes, and we're a gullible bunch.

And that would be why people had time to stand around on the beach today. . .nobody going fishing through this stuff.

Not to worry, you can either mend net or work on the motor.  Gosh these plastic tubs are ugly. . .but the men seem to like them.  Darn.

Once the anchors were cleared out of the mess (the real dollar value) people settled in to liberate every bit of useful twine and line.  AND they were hauling the garbage up slope and stacking it in somebody's unfortunate basket boat.

You'll never guess so I'll tell you.  This is a cup of Lipton tea, hot, with a dried sweet cherry, a dried salted plum and several different sorts of berry "raisin". . .and I've no idea what sort of fragrant grass stems those are, but they are well worth chewing.  Well.  I guess Quy Nhon can show Hanoi how this is done!!  It's not a fluke, I had the identical cup in two different coffee shops a couple of kilometers apart.  Complete with the sweet green orange.  Who'd have thought??

Just a typical "traditional" double ended fishing boat running into the fishing harbor in Quy Nhon, showing fine form!

This is really the same boat, but rigged up with a bunch of tires to bounce off the dock and other boats with. . .she's a "bumboat". . .a water taxi, hauling people, not from beach to larger boat, but rather around to the various villages on the far shore of the peninsula (it might as well be an island, the northern part is trackless salt marsh.