Monday, February 15, 2016

Get some sleep tonight--we ride in the morning

Okay.  Blogger is absolutely being uncooperative tonight.  This photo was supposed to be down at the bottom of the page, along with the other "nice city street" views.  It won't move.  Heck.

And this danged angry bird was supposed to be the last thing in this post.  If I get my hands on this Blogger guy tonight, he's toast.  
Still in Hanoi, February 15, 2016.
The weather has changed and we're leaving in the morning.  The weather, unfortunately, has gotten pretty close to cold, mid fifties for a high today, overcast, with a Northwest wind.  That's after 3 days of plain and simply hot in the afternoon with lovely cool nights.  Oh well, it's spring here as much as it is in Seattle, so we'll take the weather as it comes, and according to the weather man it won't rain or snow for our first days on the road.  And that will do.

It's a little late tonight, and all I really have to report is a series of chores completed so it's not really very adventuresome yet. . .but there's a new horse.  Let's start with the horse. . .that's the puzzling bit of news.  I got tired some years ago of buying a motorbike in a hurry, paying top price, waiting days for the paperwork to catch up, then  six weeks later at the end of the ride, still in a hurry, selling for cheap.  Buy high and sell low--that was my motto the first few years here and it went against the grain.  I finally bullied the guy who had become my favorite mechanic into taking a good bike home and storing it for me for a year between trips. . .what with one thing and another I could pay him a tidy sum to keep the bike and still come out hundreds of dollars ahead. It worked well.  He'd ride the bike to work now and then, just to keep the oil circulating and I think now and then it would go out on rental if he was short a bike, but it was always there in front of the shop the day I came for it, new tires, new chain, new spark plug, a fresh oil change. . .and no paperwork to do.  Wonderful solution.  Last year I made two trips fairly close together, trying to change over to an early spring riding season, and the old horse had been ruined trying to act like a swamp buggy in southern Laos.  So, having replaced the old horse with some regret (she'd been a particularly good ride before the swamp), at the end of the second ride last year I still had what amounted to a new bike, around 10,000 kilometers on the meter, only a year old by the calendar and going strong.  I expected to ride her this year and next year too most likely.  Shucks, given my age these days I'd thought she might have been my last Vietnamese bike.

So you can imagine my surprise when I walked up to the shop this week and saw MY saddle bags and helmet bungee'd onto the back of a brand new BLUE motorbike I'd never seen before.  Be honest. . .my first thought was "omigosh that's a pretty blue motorbike!"  Then I got around to ". . .but where's MINE??"   So. . .she developed a noise in her transmission,  Mr. Dung decided she had to go and sold her.  ("Mr. Dung". . .he's a great mechanic, so if that's what he says, that'll have to do. . .oh, and you say it "Zoong", it's a fairly common name here. . .don't ask)

Well, it was all very odd, but what the heck, I ended up with a brand new bike, it's ready to go and the road is out there.  There are a couple of minor things. . .Mr. Dung has never really believed my saddle was anything special. . .but he only commutes on a bike.  If he had to ride all day every day for a month or two he'd learn to really like the upgraded saddle I've carefully moved from bike to bike the past few years.  The factory saddle makes saddle sores.  The upgraded one doesn't  It's as simple as that.  Alas, the good saddle went with the old horse.  However, I know where the saddler's shop is and he was perfectly happy to sell me another piece of the better grade of foam for $22.40, so that's taken care of.

There's still the matter of the "new bike syndrome" to get through.  It might be the fried spark plug and the melted voltage regulator (those seem to go together) or it might be the fly-away chain or perhaps the front wheel bearings going out.  Or I suppose it might be something I haven't seen before (Oh Great!).  The first month on the road with one of these little Chinese bikes is sometimes a bit of a trial.  Once the initial break in problems are all broken in they seem to be pretty good machines. . .but the first month usually seems like an endless search for another mechanic on down the road.  We shall see.   Dung put a spare spark plug in the saddle bag and actually bypassed the factory voltage regulator (left it in place as a spare) and wired in a Honda brand one.  Who knows, that may cover it.

Other than that it's been chores and hikes to get them done.  There was the telephone to get fired up again, everything about it had expired.  And I needed a new road atlas, the old one sort of melted in the rain last year, and anyway, there are supposed to be two new highways out there now.  Chores. . .money to change, things to go find and get bought (tooth paste?  I forgot tooth paste??), or just landmarks to touch, breakfasts to eat and coffees to drink in various special coffee shops.  Really, it's mostly about walking to the point of exhaustion so I can sleep the night away on the local schedule.  My body clings to Seattle's time zone and I force the issue.

The City has continued to come back to life after the Tet holiday. Now it's eight days into the new lunar year, so a lot of people are back to work, the crowds in the parks around the lake are thinning a little, the night time street parties are down to a dull roar though those are mostly tourists really. There are lots of foreigners yes, but Vietnamese tourists too. After all, you can only visit with family at Tet for so long and then it's time to get out and party.  Street corners that are world famous for really cheap beer served on the curbstone after the shops close at night (try the corner of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Cuong) have been so packed the past few evenings the locals gave up and barricaded the streets off. . .not even a motorbike could get through the crowds. . .they left just enough of a trail down the middle of the street through the rows of red plastic kids' chairs filled with people full of cheap beer. . .to let a single file of replacements thread their way through into ground zero on foot.  I have no idea how anybody got served, the roar of a thousand conversations must surely have drowned out any calls to a waiter. It would have been funny, unless you wanted to pass through there on your way home.

Daytime chores that lead past or around the lake provided entertainment of a gentle sort, photographing cute kids and pretty young people and a wrong turn lead me into the middle of a book fair.  Right, books in Vietnamese, by twelve or fifteen different publishers.  No, I don't read Vietnamese books, but I've been looking for a publisher for the past eight years.  It took a minute to soak in (I'm still in deep jet lag, and I'm a little slow on the uptake anyway), but it was really a simple process.  You go into a publisher's tent and pick over books. . .if there's nothing but text and bad black and white illustrations, or if all he publishes are coloring books and kids' picture books. . you keep going.  But if you find classy color photos, good bindings, nice presentation and attractive fonts. . .get that man's name and address!!  I ended up with names and addresses for 3 publishers who do the right sort of work, which was 3 more than I had before.  This boat book thing is looking a little brighter today.

Actually, the book fair was yesterday.  So today after I ran a computer repair shop to ground to clear this little machine's idea of a joke (it just told me ". . .we couldn't complete updates, removing changes, don't turn off your computer. . ." and was frozen solid. . .After that got fixed, I set off to track down my three publishers.  One I didn't get to, the one with the least attractive products. . .one I got to pretty easily but found the director and the English speaking person out to lunch (at ten in the morning??) but the third (a long long walk away) was great.  There was nobody in the office EXCEPT the young boss. . .and that was after I found the offices concealed in the compound of the "Vietnamese Union of Women", which looked like a government office (and probably was).  Anyway, the publishing company was all shut down for Tet except the boss in the office trying to catch up and write to-do lists for everybody I suppose.  No English.  At all.  Have you ever tried to impress a publisher while speaking dog-Vietnamese?  It was going really slowly until I remembered Google Translate.  Voila!!  We took turns typing input and craning our necks over the other guy's shoulder to read output.  Very workable, though it was interesting that Google hasn't caught on to the use of "bac" ("uncle") to mean "you older gentleman" (instead of plain old "You").  Worse, the machine translated "bac" as "physician", which is close. . ."physician" is "bac si".  Oh well, I got used to being "Physician" and the rest was really good.  When that was over and hands had been shaken and so forth I traipsed halfway across the city yet again to try the first place.  Not the same at all.  The English speaking person really could, and was a charming and very pretty young lady, but her boss (an ugly old guy, you'd have thought we'd have gotten along really well) simply wasn't interested in talking to a foreigner.

The walk was worthwhile in any event, a good many miles I suspect, taking me through "real" Hanoi. . .the capital of the country, broad boulevards, shaded by lovely old trees, modern shops and restaurants and embassies (??).  Yes, the Norwegians and the people from Quatar are almost neighbors there and the Philippines are only a few blocks away.  It's an entirely different  city than my home neighborhood in the tourist zone of the Old Quarter.

But that's over and it's time for a good night's sleep, tomorrow we'll head West and then North for a big counterclockwise loop through the northern mountains.  Of necessity, it will be along a lot of roads I've already ridden in other years, but there are some intriguing new stretches as well.  Off we go!

Here are some Hanoi photos from the last day or two. . .
Tet in a small "dinh" or local sort of pagoda. . .or community house or something of that sort, with lots of goodies left on the altar.  These places often amount to shrines dedicated to a local hero, maybe the man who introduced the local trade years ago. . .first silversmith on the street of silversmiths for example.  

This old fellow with the bony knees really is red, and nearly up in the rafters. . .beautiful lacquer work, but not a lot of light for the little camera.  I've no idea who he is or why he's here. . .

An interesting "Buddha". . .with a large selection of arms, each equipped with its own eye. . .it takes a lot of hands to take care of all the trouble people get into, and a lot of eyes just to spot it.  A sort of guardian and dispenser of compassion.  

Just pretty. . .
In a candied fruit shop's window. . .every plate of goodies had a critter of some sort also made of sweets.  Shooting through the window though didn't work too well.
Now isn't she sweet!  This would be a 1960's CD-90, one of Honda's bigger successes of that era. . .and this one hasn't been all dolled up, she's just been taken care of pretty well for a long time.  If a lady like this tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could come home with me. . .h'mm.  Need some more room in the barn!

So this is a lousy portrait of the new blue horse trying to hog the photo away from a brand new BMW rocket ship that shares the parking garage with us.  I've no idea what the taxes would be on such a machine, astronomical, I'm sure.  Not only that, but the young gentleman drives her here in the Old Quarter traffic. . .totally insane.  

These are really a full 6" across and probably half that thick. . .a whole tub of them by a fountain at the pagoda.

A sand hauler tied up next to a row of temporary gardens.  The water gets up to the road here and even into the houses on a bad year.  The young lady is whacking away steady as a pile hammer, turning over the garden bed with a mattock, or is that one a hoe?  A grub hoe?  H'mm.  Effective anyway, and she's strong.

A lug rigged pagoda.  I have a lug rigged puddle duck racer.  We could beat this guy easily, but I like the colors of the sail.  Maybe for the puddle duck???
Just the "real Hanoi". . .not downtown, not the old quarter, just a nice street in the city.  I walked a lot chasing publishers and computer repairmen!
. . .more nice city streets--Now page back up to the top and have a look at the coffee shop and the Teed-off chicken and you're through for the day.  Good grief.