Sunday, March 12, 2017

A live marine dinosaur in Quang Yen. . .and other things of interest.

Written in Hanoi, March 12, 2017
It's evening in Hanoi, light rain falling in between downpours, temperature about 77 degrees, and a little breeze moving things around.  It's not bad really, though we had enough rain this morning, riding back from Halong Bay to suit me for a while, and where the bike sleeps here, on the ground floor hallway of the hotel (which is open to the sky), she's getting her fresh clean up wet.  She'll have rain spots if it dries up tomorrow and she'll be grumpy.

There were no surprises in the stable this year, no shining new strangely blue bikes where mine was supposed to be (that was a year ago), just the same little horse I left behind a year ago, with what must have been a few rough kilometers added to her clock while I was gone.  There are little signs. . .not least the odometer, but also the new ding in the gas tank and the new mirrors.  Why would you need TWO new mirrors (you usually only wipe out one side at a time).  You get the feeling she was playing rough at times or somebody made a really bad landing.  But she also has a new chain, big new knobby rear tire, a good spark plug and a fresh oil change.  With a little tuning she should make the route again this year (route? what route??), No, we really don't know where we're going yet, but I hope it's somewhere dry, which means an 800 km first leg southbound.  Hold on tight.

We'll get to the dinosaur shortly, that's really big news. . .but I've been here almost a week already and you need to catch up:

The flight across the Pacific was an hour-plus longer than usual this year (seriously, how long can those birds stay airborne??).  Instead of 600 mph ground speed we never got above 475, which seems like quite the head wind, though it also seems hilarious to complain that we were "only" making 475 mph over the ground .   There were a lot of us on that flight with tight connections, Manila, Saigon and Hanoi were the tightest, but they held the flights for us, twenty minutes in my case, so I made the transfer without getting above a brisk jog down the slide-walk in Seoul. I didn't really expect to have a bag when I got to Hanoi, but not only did it make the flight, it was just about the first one down the conveyor belt. . .so it was another fine trip, I waltzed through immigration and customs (they didn't even look TOWARD me in customs).  The taxi drivers have caught on that the speed limit on the new freeway into the city is 90 kph and there's not a lot of enforcement. . .so it was a really fast midnight ride through the dark countryside and into the hotel at something like 7:00 in the morning Seattle time, midnight here, and yes, my internal clock is still objecting, but the body will catch up with the airplane in another day or two.  I hope.

So. . .the first day or two in Hanoi was a lot like most "first days" here, stumbling on old friends along the street where I live, being careful to eat and drink coffee in all the right places, collecting a surprising number of hugs from people. . .not something I used to expect at all in Viet Nam, but maybe times are truly changing.  Anyway, fitting in again, getting the pulse of the place, noting some shop fronts gone and others in their places (how many zipper and button shops can you possibly need on one small street?  We must surely furnish half the tailor's shops in Hanoi!).  Mostly, those first days are really about walking to the point of exhaustion so I can sleep during the local night.  So. . .a lot of local street life. . .I'll add on a few photos to give you an idea.

This hides behind discreet doors facing on the street where I live, but from time to time is open to the public.  I've no idea who is memorialized here. . .it's likely someone who was important in the neighborhood ages ago.  Such shrines are normal everywhere here.  Do a good job and you're likely to retire like this.

Spider plant wall. . .but look at the planters!  There's a never ending supply.

Let your eye play with the angles.  With typical four-story high structures, all quite narrow (if deep), interesting geometry turns up all the time.  The ad hoc balcony rooms are delightful, but be careful of the loading!

Just a narrow street on a drizzly day.  You can walk for miles in places like this and catch glimpses of real life as it goes on. It's the sort of place you can collect smiles easily. . .just try

Aha!  There's going to be a wedding on our street.  And I DO mean "on" our street.  In towns and cities like Hanoi, there are  wedding restaurants, big, showy facilities for hire, sometimes with several large ball rooms available for whole flocks of weddings, but this is more common, a temporary tent erected outside a restaurant or hotel and edging out onto the street a ways.  In the city they're not a problem, I can just walk safely by.  In the country they're likely to chase you down and make you come join the party.  

Retail work can be awfully boring. . .

Lunch time at the flower shop.  Such bicycles carry every sort of produce, including meat and fish, all over the city.  Don't see what you want?  Wait a bit, it'll be by.

Okay, these are plastic. . .but still. . .

Yes, I'm jealous.  Think of the projects if you had access to bamboo like this.  And this is by no means the largest or longest. you'll find available, even here in the city  Oh my.

Not to worry, the heads will find buyers too.  
Chess, a truly portable spectator sport.  

Dried fish and a few squid.

Not so dry eels.  Superb in a tamarind based soup.  

Highly pissed crabs.

And what sort of masterpiece did you want?

No hands.  No straps.  No problem.  Gulp.

She took that pig apart so fast it would make your head spin. . .sharp knife. . .and she knew where to put it.
Normally one of the busiest streets in Hanoi--but yesterday, a street fair!

Okay, yes, cute kids, but there's a back story here. . .a few minutes ago I saw the most exquisite young woman, poised, beautiful, long black hair and shining eyes, with a crown of flowers in her hair., perhaps the Queen of Spring.  No, I didn't run her down and ask for her photo, but as I continued through the crowd, I saw more and more of the flower crowns. . .and these kids were perfectly happy to pose.  I never did spot the vendor though.  Ah. . .but to have glimpsed the Queen of Spring. . .

These were the toys of the day. . .bubbles in a plastic test tube, and a sort of screw-launched flying saucer, a most amazing thing.  You hold a small bearing in your finger tips under the flyer and push up hard. . .the flyer spins and flies. . .a long ways up. . .slows its spin. . .and settles back to earth.  If you're good you catch it back on your spinner stick.  Cool!

But about this dinosaur. . .it's really a long story, hinging on the fact that I've been photographing and writing about the boats here for more than ten years now and that has lead to finding some remarkable friends here in Viet Nam who look after me and see to it I am not likely to get bored.  This time it came (as often before) in a suggestion from a brilliant old naval architect that I should look into a sailing junk in Quang Yen province (which is not all that far from Hanoi, perhaps half a day's ride in decent weather).  The catch is that the sailing junks are truly extinct.  The last verifiable sighting I've been able to find was from the late 1990's in Halong Bay (where they used to be very common).  Not only are they gone, their trades are all taken over by motor boats and diesel trucks, and the men and women who used to build and sail them are, at best now, very old people, so even finding good first hand accounts has been pretty slim pickings. . .one real informant several years back now.  That's truly "dinosaur dead", gone, and not coming back.  Yes?  Maybe not!  As it turns out, a Vietnamese marine archaeologist (think "shipwreck archaeology") working largely in the Bach Dang area of northern Viet Nam has an obvious interest in the old sailing junks and HE found a builder (3rd generation?) who is still active, building and repairing more modern motor fishing vessels. . .a builder, to be more precise, who built and sailed the sailing junks as a young man.  The rest is obvious.  There is now an 11 meter (36') sailing junk, built entirely in the traditional manner, with no drawings, just the builder's understanding of the requirement, and rigged to sail and row just as its extinct ancestors were.  It isn't a yacht or a "replica", it's the real thing, ready to go to work.  That circle of friends I mentioned (including some I had never met before) set up a meeting and visit for me and that's where I've been the past three days.  They were so thorough in their planning that they even got the rain to slack off to just a light drizzle most of the time!   So. . .it turns out there was in fact one last dinosaur egg and it hatched in Quang Yen.  I've crawled all over it and scratched it behind its ears.  This is going to make me a lot of work I think, and it's definitely thrown a monkey wrench into my travel plans!
Here are just a few photos, there'll be lots more:

Hoisting the main sail.  That's the archaeologist (and owner) leaning on the centerboard.  It is really heavy, I could just barely lift it off the pins, and I doubt I could pick it up.  Perhaps I'd have to rig a tackle to hoist it,

Reattaching  the parrel line on the fore sail.  Or is this the main?  They're very similar in size!

Full sail, the builder (Mr. Chan) on the left and the archaeologist, (Mr. Viet) on the right

To support the fore mast the shrouds need much more spread than is available from the hull, hence the two "whiskers" bolted into the lower structure, and providing a wide base for the wires  Nice bulwarks would keep the deck dry most of the time.  Fabulous eyes. . .and a yin-yang on the small bow transom.  Everything as it should be!

A view into the cabin, actually arranged to seat perhaps 8 people at a table down the middle.  In sailing days, that would have been the family (crew) quarters.  She's a broad vessel, with a lot of capacity.  That would have been comfortable for a small family at the time.  The hatches are not dogged down, but are a very tight fit and would keep out the occasional boarding wave well enough.  the main mast (a magnificent bamboo) is in a tabernacle, but relies on its shrouds to keep it up.  She has no motor, just those long oars.  That might be hard work!