Thursday, May 14, 2015

And it's goodbye again (well, after a mad dash to Uong Bi)

Writtten from Hanoi on the morning of the 15th of May (here), which is most noteworthy for this expedition in that it is the day I leave and the "we" of the past month, the Little Horse and I, will part company again, probably for a long time this time.

But we managed an unprecedented stunt the past two days and it worked out very well (so far at least).  In the past, I've herded her back to Hanoi something like a week before flight day and generally kept her within a few kms of the airport until the time came to actually go off in the taxi and leave.

This trip an earlier tentative offer from Ms. Cuc and Mr. Diep (the basket boat maker near Uong Bi) matured into a firm plan that called for me to turn up about 17 km east of Uong Bi at 0730 yesterday morning and be taken around to see a village where "everybody" (not really true, but mighty close) makes woven basket boats in the Halong Bay style.  Yesterday, not to make too much of it, was the day before today, and referring to the opening paragraph above you will see that that makes yesterday the day before departure.  Never, that is to say, absolutely never, have I been 130 km away from the airport on the day before I was to fly home.  Just not the done thing.  So on Wednesday afternoon I loaded half a bag of spares and clothes on the bike and we went.  I'll cut this to a reasonable level of detail.  The road from Hanoi to Halong City is a major route in excellent condition.  The weather was hot and dry.  Threatening maybe, but never came up with the rain. . .just a rather fierce quartering head wind.  The bike ate it up.  We re-located Mr. Diep's house (after just a month you'd think I could ride straight there, but there've been a number of roads and houses since that first visit). . .and having located it, began to prospect up and down the highway for a hotel to lay over until morning.  Then came a text from Ms. Cuc, to the effect that we had to start at 0630 since she'd had a schedule change at work and needed the hour in her day.  Fair enough, she was purely a volunteer in this operation, and a lot of people would have just cancelled eh?  But it kept me close by for hotel choices, which turned out to be most exceedingly fortunate.  Mind you, most of the hotels I stay in here are really perfectly nice and some are lovely.  That said, this one was really lovely. . .a more or less normally nice facility, standard bed, fan and an air conditioner (that worked) as well, so it wasn't just a pleasant clean room.  The family that turned out to be running the house were marvelous.  Grandma and Grandpa, the young married couple, a 15 year old cousin, a 7 year old (young lady) maniac bicycle rider and a six month old who even tolerated being handed to me long enough to have his/her photo taken.  Okay, I admit, I only just think maybe that was also a young lady. . .no direct evidence.  Grandpa (60 years old) had clearly suffered a stroke and lost most use of his right arm, so I offered him a reverse but formal handshake. . .ergo, left hand to left, with the right hand (for a change) gripping my left wrist. . .why that should be formal or particularly "nice" behavior, I have no idea, but it is.  I guess, in general, you don't offer things one handed here. . . anyway, I ended up eating dinner with them (Grandma can cook!) and sitting talking with the young couple while the maniac bicycle rider rode rings around the hotel. . .which is half a block off the highway, and so very safe for such shenanigans.  So it was a delightful visit.  But 0500 came early on Thursday morning.

At 0618 I pulled into Mr. Diep's yard and parked.  All quiet.  At 0628 Ms. Cuc and her patient husband arrived in full flight (timed to 2 minutes in a 30 km run from their house. . .not bad).  Cuc shortly flushed Mr. Diep out and in a flurry we got the big Ford SUV out of the car port and put the two motorbikes in and we were gone.  Mr. Diep is definitely a successful businessman, with a lovely house and the car. . .and he was definitely in a fine mood to show me his ancestral village and all the boat builders working there.  I'll skip over the boat building. . .there'll be an article sooner or later on the boat website. . .but here are the numbers I was given to think about.  There are about 100 families building the woven boats in this village.  Each "family" may consist of 2 or 3 households and at least three generations. . .and each family produces something between 5 larger boats a month or 10 smaller ones. . .with obvious allowances for mixes and, I suppose, variations in demand.  The place is lttered with boats in all stages of completion (it's obvious they inventory bare hulls of various sizes and then outfit them to suit the buyer when they sell).  As I've seen in Hue, the big flat mat takes longer to weave 1.5 to 3 days) than it takes to "round out" the boat, mashing it down into a "mold" and wiring on the rim. . . though once the basketry is finished there's a lot more work before anybody goes to sea. . .wood framing to support the hull, tar to waterproof it (scary, that stuff is hot and fluid!), often a motor to install, oars to make (or buy, that seems to be a separate craft). . . but not sails to rig any more.  I've never seen a photo of one of these oval baskets rigged for sail, but in a living room there I was shown a gorgeous model, very believable, rigged to sail.  I admired it but said (through Cuc) that I'd never seen any evidence of such a rig. . .I've looked at a lot of old post cards. . .but Cuc stated clearly that up until about 2000 you could still hunt around and find one for the tourists to photograph.  Sigh.

Well. . .I said I'd hold down the details for now. . .it was a grand visit, a wonderful lunch at Mr. Diep's house with his delightful family (though I can no longer sit comfortably on the floor to eat.   Sometime in the past year or so I've stiffened up enough it's hard to do now. . .maybe a successful diet strategy??

After lunch I declined the use of the guest bed for my afternoon nap and got on the road back to the city. . .which the bike did quietly and smoothly.  By 5:00 yesterday afternoon we were home, showered and changed, ready for today.  The ride, 3,850 km in 21 days. . .is over.

Bamboo basket boats all start life as a flat mat and it goes from there.

Rounding up the bow of the boat.  It's still remarkably light at this stage!

Very very hot and very fluid, and he works fast.

Fitting the owing stanchions

Ms. Cuc and fish traps ready for market.

The sailing model I didn't buy. . .and the rowing model I did.
The Master. . .he has a title something like "National Living Treasure" in the Japanese style. . .an artist of a boat maker.

There are a lot of fish traps made here too, seemingly a lady's job.

I can do this. . .

Big brothers are so cool. . .

People around here are really good at splitting bamboo.