Friday, April 14, 2017

Sailing the Quang Yen Junk

Written in Hanoi, on the 14th of April 2017
After the funeral ceremonies and lunch on the 10th, Mr. Chan organized a scratch crew to take out the boat.  He'd promised to take me himself a month before, but the funeral made large demands on his time, and that just wasn't going to work.  However he has been effectively training his friends and workmen to handle the boat (none of them had sailed one before this one was launched in December) and we had a perfectly competent skipper and one of Mr. Chan's older sons (he has four to choose from), so we had a crew.  The archaeologist who had started and financed this whole project, Dr. Nguyen Viet, likewise had intended to sail with us when we talked about it last month, but he has been ill for three weeks, something that makes him cough a lot and not sleep much, so I got his whole staff instead, his driver (a gentleman whose name I never learned), and a young lady who is his  housekeeper, videographer, IT person, document manager and cook. . .all in one. . .Miss Linh. .  . who also filled in as the sort-of translator for the day.  On the way from lunch to the boat,  we all stopped in the big house for another round of drinking tea and I almost derailed the whole thing.  I asked if we could perhaps take a mtor boat as well, so that I could photograph the sailing junk operation from on deck. . .then switch over to the separate motor boat in order to photograph the sailboat from a distance. . .and we ran out of people.  That, however, is what telephones are for, and with three shipyard people trying at once we soon had an additional deckhand available and we were off.

Well.  We got as far as the boat and the younger, more agile people got on board by walking down an amazingly narrow and bouncy plank.  I, and two other sensible people, stood on the bank and stared at the wet water under the plank (and the slippery black mud uphill from it).  But at last I gathered my courage all together in one place, found a nice piece of bamboo lying around to use for a cane of sorts (anything to steady my wobbly legs) and with a healthy young hand to grab at about the halfway point, I got aboard.  That got the rest of the crew motivated (or maybe they'd just been politely waiting for me) and shortly we were all on board, including a gentleman even older than I (I think) who'd joined at the last second.  Meanwhile the chase boat (with two young, agile, healthy people on board) had gotten away from the moorage and was waiting for us out in the river.

Let me stop and set the scene for you.  This is a lowland bit of river at the downstream end of a significant delta, so not only is the bank muddy, so is the bottom, at least near shore.  The boatyard sits at the top of a dredged cut that runs right back into the shore a hundred yards or more with the marine railway that is the yard's lifeline into the river at the head of the cut.  The sailboat is moored against the bank, fairly close to the main stem of the river and her head is already lying offshore. As we leave the slip, the river is flowing by (gently, but flowing) from left to right, downstream.  It's a tidal river, with a range of at least three or four feet from what I saw, so it may actually flow upstream on a big flood tide, but this trip the water was close to low tide and the ebb was going the right direction, downstream.  There's a grand new concrete highway bridge downstream less than a kilometer from the moorage, not open to traffic yet, but almost.  The sailboat can pass under its spans at least near the top of the arches, probably at any tide. The river is an active waterway, with tugs, barges, powered barges and small ships all running up and down river.  It's about ten kilometers to Halong Bay and the ocean, but we didn't get that far.  As far as I saw this trip, the wind blows upstream, producing an ideal sailboat opportunity.  Going upwind toward the sea you have the current with you, and fighting the current back upstream you have the wind free.  Add in the various combinations of ebb and flood and a catty sailor can get up and down the river just fine, though he may sometimes have to wait for the tide to change, but that's what they made anchors for.

This boat is not a replica, not a tall ship with a modern engine room below decks.  Rather, she's just another working sailing fishboat from thirty years ago (or fifty or a hundred years, they were the same at least that long).  She's built as though a fisherman and his family would take her straight away to start filling her with fish, making a living, and living aboard.  She was not built with stainless steel hardware and modern fittings but black and galvanized iron.  Most of what makes her work is hand crafted wood, and her masts are held up by simple single strand galvanized wire, doubled for adequate strength, and tightened by the same hook-and-eye turnbuckles you see in any heavy hardware store here.  She has no motor, just her sails, oars, and push poles to get around and an anchor to let her hang on to what she's got when things go against her. The mud. . .well, it's very fine grained, very dark gray, or maybe black and very soft near the surface, stiffening a little when you lean on the push pole. . .and it will, with the right attitude on your part, let you have the push pole back if you don't wait too long to ask.  It will also mark sails and deck with artistic splotches of. . .oh, never mind, just pay attention when you're waving the muddy end of your push pole around.

The foresail, the volunteer deckhand, the pole and the mud.

The skipper aft and the deckhand forward pushed her out into the river with the long bamboo push poles, with the wind from our right hand side, setting us toward the bank of the dredged waterway on the left.  We slid out easily though and once clear of the cut the river carried us slowly away downstream into the breeze.  It was blowing around 8 knots, a pleasant light breeze, but, as it turns out, lots to move the junk, she has an ample rig.  Clear of the dredge cut and into the river a short ways, the deckhand put his shoulder under the lifting bar of the daggerboard, reached down with one hand and pulled the iron bar that pins the board up. . .but he didn't lower the heavy board all the way, pinned it off again about half way down.

One of the glories of the junk rig is it can be readily handled by a small crew, and in this case our single deckhand set both sails in a matter of just a very few minutes.  The halyards are four parted (that is, they use a block and tackle to amplify the strength of the man pulling on the rope. . .he has to pull four times as much rope in to make anything move, but he makes it move four times stronger.  The sails are big and spread out with bamboo battens nearly as thick as my wrist, eight of them, as well as luff parrels to keep the sail against the mast and diagonal luff chains to keep the leading edge of the sail in line.  It's a lot of weight and the deckhand puts his strength and weight into the hoist--he gets three or four feet of line with every heave and up, up she rises about a foot at a time.  And immediately the boat comes to life.  She doesn't lurch and lean heavily in this breeze, just leans over a little and begins slipping easily through the water, up wind. . .and downstream toward the sea.
The deckhand, the mainsail, the four part tackle, and lots of line to heave in.

I stayed on board for a number of tacks, under the bridge and off down the river.  The skipper tended the main sheet from his post at the tiller.  That required that he let go of the tiller and leave it hard over as we turned across the wind to tack, but she seemed very even tempered and continued to swing around while he loosened up the tail end of the main sheet (the line that actually harnesses the wind power to the boat) and, while the sail was asleep, waiting for the wind to come onto the other side, he shifted the sheet to the other side of the stern and cleated it off.  Not on a cleat, but rather in and around a simple notch in a heavy timber bolted down on deck as far back on the boat as there was any boat (and it was barely, or not quite, far enough back for everything to clear).  Meanwhile, the deckhand, on the foredeck easily shifted the foresail sheet from one side to the other, cleated it off to a sort of bollard arrangement, really just an iron rod driven through a frame head, just ahead of the cabin front on each side. . .he waited for the sail to fill away on the new tack, and adjusted it to suit the course and wind and, since we were short tacking down the river, stood by ready to go around again.  There was no fuss or fury.  Nobody shouted orders.  There was a quiet conversation going on, but they might have been discussing anything else and probably were.  The tame good manners of the junk rig are amazing.  A comparably sized modern sailboat sail would have had to comment about tacking, fluttering and shaking its stiff sail cloth and perhaps banging the boom around as it came through the wind.  The junk rig, with its battens holding the sail stretched out and partially balanced (that is, with some of the sail actually ahead of the mast) makes the maneuver very quietly and you're shortly going the other way.
Cleating off the fore sheet.  That's a stout frame head that runs all down the side of the vessel, and a simple iron bar driven through it. . .simple and strong, but demands a certain quickness and skill from the deckhand.

Now and again we tacked without using the whole width of the river, getting out of the way of the heavy shipping that was trading up and down river. . .understanding that here, at least, steam does not give way to sail.  We keep out of their way and are happy to do so.   With a couple of long tacks ahead of us the skipper gave me the helm and I got my first trial of a junk rigged sail boat.  It's interesting, unlike a typical western sail, the junk begins to luff (to lose the drive from its sail when you point to close into the wind) one panel at a time, so if you are squeezing her up wind too hard, you'll first see the topmost panel start to flutter, while the rest of the sail is still pulling. . .but if you don't correct it soon enough and let her off the wind a bit you'll soon stall the second panel and then the third and shortly you'll kill her way altogether.  I wasn't quite that rough on her though and kept her moving pretty well.  She has a fair amount of weather helm the way she's set up now.   That is, you have to hold her firmly to keep her from turning up into the wind like a weather vane, but a bit of that is a good thing and if you wanted to fuss around a bit, there are a lot of adjustments built into her rig. . .I think it would be easy to make her very gentle to steer indeed.  She comes about very nicely, not snappish like a racing dinghy, more like a renaissance dancer, pivoting politely on her daggerboard, and doesn't fight you at all. . .in fact, you have to lean on the tiller (the rudder control) a little bit to straighten her out when she's finished her turn.  She loses very little speed in the turn, just continuing on her way.  With a full load of fish, food, water and cooking fuel on board, not to mention the wife and a child or two and a big pile of net, it's easy to imagine her carrying her way a long ways once she's moving.
Under the bridge. . .lots of room

The skipper at the helm.  The rudder can be hoisted up out of its slot entirely, or part way, but can only be used when it's down like this. . .well under the boat.

Miss Linh in the meantime was photographing from the chase boat, which was circling us like a slow old sheep dog. . .ahead and behind and on both sides.  The skippers agreed on a rendezvous and Mr. Chan's son nosed the chase boat up to the sailing vessel as gently as you could want.  I reached across, found something stout to grab and swung myself over onto the motorboat.  I never saw Miss Linh leave, just noticed she was on the other boat by the time I had my balance back.  She, by the way, was at the top of her form, happy as could be.  She'd photographed and video'd the construction of the boat all day long every day, running the automatic stationary camera, moving it around and changing its batteries and memory cards over and over, and crawling all over the growing boat with an iPad to make "portable" video.  But this was her first time to actually get on the boat and go for a sail.  After two solid months of construction, this was finally her payoff.

The chase boat, a squidder by trade, with Miss Linh busy on the foredeck with the camera.

And Chan's son was into the spirit of the thing as well, though whenever I saw him over the time I was there, he was smiling and cheerful. . .he took to the chaseboat role perfectly, working the fishing boat to put me into the best possible position to photograph the sailboat, considering the point of sail and the angle of wind and sun.  I ran my little camera as a video machine for a while, then shifted over to the big camera for stills.   After a few more upwind tacks that carried us a good ways on down river we turned the whole parade around and the sailing vessel could free up her sails, pick up her daggerboard a notch and march straight back up under the bridge, against the current, but with the wind free.  We were back to the moorage in short order and the sailing skipper took her quietly into the slip on the downwind side, carrying full sail until he was nearly up to her spot against the bank.  Then the deckhand dropped the foresail in a matter of seconds and the skipper pulled her around to lie, head against the bank, where they could easily pick up her head line.  With that done, the main came down and both sails were straightened up in minutes, while we in the chase boat looped around and tied up back out at the end of a string of anchored and rafted fishing boats that stretched out into the river.  By the time we'd backed down into position and tied up and I'd (very carefully) crossed from one fishboat to the next over and over until I finally reached solid ground from a small basket boat tied to a wooden walkway. . .by then, as I was saying, the sailing vessel was secured for the night and everyone was ashore.
Isn't she lovely.  She's not really finished yet, she will be painted later.  The traditional colors I think were black and black, or oiled brown above and black below.  The marine growth problem was addressed traditionally by beaching the boats several times a year and flaming their under sides to kill off the critters and weed.  Nowadays antifouling paint is the method of choice.

Miss Linh has found a small piece of net that had been set off the side of the boat. . .complete with two dead fish and a deceased shrimp.  An expressive face!

Nosing into the berth, the foresail already asleep in the lazyjacks.

My route ashore from the chase boat. . .across a dozen or more boats all rafted together and anchored up.  The last few were small baskets high on the mud.

Well, there was nothing to do but go have some tea and tell each other what fine fellows we were and what a great sailboat she is and what a dandy trip we'd had and so forth. Miss Linh shifted absolutely seamlessly from project videographer into perfect hostess, keeping the teapot full of hot water and the little teacups in front of us all full (hers included of course) all while trying to make sense of my English and translating the rest of the conversation for me in fits and starts (I was pushing her a little, but she rose to the occasion!).  And then, at a cue I didn't notice, the tea was finished and we went to find Mr. Chan and say our thank you's and good bye's and settle the time for the interview I'd been asking for tomorrow morning.  And all that got done, Mr. Chan named 8:00 in the morning for the interview (I had Mr. Hai's promise of availability to be the real translator (he's completely fluent in English and great fun to be around) and he is a really early riser as I knew from that visit a month ago, so I felt that 8:00 was likely to be fine. . .but more of that later).

The three of us, driver, maid of all work, and old American, piled back into Dr. Viet's car and headed back to town.  That's actually a delightful drive down an extremely narrow dike-top road, with many duck farms in the large square ponds that were once dry(ish) land and are now the levee itself.  The road is narrow enough, in fact, that the local authorities have installed a low concrete barrier that completely blocks the road for anything even a tiny bit wider than an SUV.  People approach it very precisely and inch through, listening for scraping noises.  Delivery trucks must be chosen for size, and a pair of SUV's meeting will slow to a crawl and inch past each other.  Just right for motorbikes of course.  In town we stopped at a small house next to a large pond (there are a lot of ponds in a delta setting) and bought $5 worth of a very interesting looking shrimp sort of a creature, still alive and flipping tails to protest the handling. . .and I still have no idea what they were, other than quite tasty.  H'mm.
It's good to eat, but what is it??

Miss Linh did not even go up into the museum when we got back, but carried her wriggly creatures over to the separate kitchen on one side and went to work.  Our driver and I went upstairs, and I was soon back to work reviewing construction video.  I'd spent a couple of hours early in the day getting my arms around the huge volume of recordings and, with only this one evening available to see what I could, I kept at the work absolutely without interruption until well after dark.  By the time Dr. Viet came to call me to supper I'd clicked through that huge accumulation of video, stopping now and then to study something that seemed a little different, or clearer than what I've managed to document myself over the years. . .a true treasure trove of minute detail (only a scientist would go to such lengths! and Miss Linh obviously was un-stoppable).  And speaking of Miss Linh, in the time I'd spent on the museum's computer she produced an absolutely grand five course dinner for the four of us.  Four of us. . .h'mm.  Our driver had gone home for the night, but Dr. Viet had been joined by a colleague from the Ministry of Culture for the City, a man who had been very helpful in the sailing junk project, and so we were four and it was a meal to remember.  With the funeral lunch, it made two absolutely great meals in a row and I was actually hungry enough by then to do something proper about it.  The strange shrimp-like creatures by the way, separated from their shells and cooked, have a little more texture than a shrimp tail. . .and taste slightly different. . .though really, different shrimp have different flavors too. . .anyway, dipped in a salty peppery sauce at one end they are very good food.
By then it was nearly nine, good byes and thanks were said and I reclaimed the horse from under the doubtful eyes of the watchdogs and left. So ended the first day with the sailing junk.  I was content and would have been perfectly happy if that were all, but there was more to come in the morning.

Mr. Hai and I had agreed to simply meet at the boatyard.  The weather was fine and it saved the difficulty of me figuring out my hotel's address so we could meet there.  As it turned out, Hai couldn't make the 0800 start time, but promised to be at the boatyard by 0830.  I went ahead and turned up when I'd said I would and found the household utterly changed.  The funeral things were all gone, the extra tables and chairs cleared away (rented, I'm sure, but in the event, it seems they just moved next door for their next chore).  It was quiet.  The two household dogs were back (two lazy old ladies, obviously long term mothers) and the black cat with the kinky tail and the banty rooster with his two hens were all patrolling the yard as usual.  There were no extra people around, it was a Monday and work was resuming in their world.  Mr. Chan confessed to being very tired from the past two days of funeral, but he's both a grand gentleman and a tough old bird and was ready to go ahead with the interview no matter.

We drank tea a while, waiting for Mr. Hai, and then a situation arose.  A TV crew arrived with the big camera (and the man behind it), a vigorous lady reporter, a sound man and a young lady to carry cords and tripods and so forth.  These people had done TV coverage for the construction of the boat, as it turns out, and were back for a post-launch follow up.  They beat Mr. Hai by at least five minutes, so we went with their program first.  So much for my early return to Hanoi.
Chan on camera.  Whether he's with his workmen (I saw hours and hours of video with him leading the crew) or with the TV people or explaining something to me, he speaks and acts like a long time professor.  He's a master of his trade and  fully aware of his place at the 11th generation of boat builders.  

On the other hand, the reporter wanted a boat ride and we got one. . .a pure bonus for me and well worth it.  This time Mr. Chan had the boat and one of his men had the foredeck.  We were seven on board, three from the station, Mr. Chan and his deckhand, Mr. Hai and me.  And there was lots of room, this is a big boat.  The wind had a little more weight in it this second day, and though we poled out easily enough, we were nonetheless set down against the edge of the channel before we got under way, and hard poling followed, getting off of the mud.  She came free though and in a few moments spread her wings and we were away.  I didn't have a chase boat this second day, so concentrated on the sailing and handling of the rig, trying to pick up all the details of the boat handling. With the better wind we could still comfortably carry full sail, though I noticed the TV reporter flinching now and then when the boat heeled over a bit.  The boat has an easy motion, with her wide flaring sides she will heel under pressure of the sail, but stiffens nicely as that side bears on the water and she just accelerates away.

It was a real pleasure to watch Mr. Chan handling the boat.  He was completely relaxed, but intent and focused. . .and he certainly didn't look at all like a tired old man.  However, it was a short ride and we tacked over to run back into the slip before we cleared the bridge.  Mr. Chan brought her into the slip from the far downwind edge of the dredge cut.  The deck hand got the foresail off of her in just seconds, all tidy and bundled in its lazy jacks, and Mr. Chan brought her through a 180 degree turn with the main sail still up and nosed her into the bank immediately next to an old grounded tank that serves as a sort of mooring dolphin, with a walkway to the beach.  It took a minute to get the main down after we had the headline on board, something had fouled the main halyard and the sail would go neither up nor down very far.  Nobody was very worried (except maybe me, a fouled halyard spoiled my day once years ago).  In the event, the two of them juggled the lines and shook the sail by its battens and whatever it was let go and we put her to bed.
Mr. Chan at the helm.  Barefoot and happy...

So at last Hai and I got to do our interview and I got a lot of detail and insight into the project directly from Mr. Chan, with the clarity that comes from having a solid translator instead of relying on pantomime and inadequate vocabulary.  This was time well spent. . .and took us right up to lunch time.  We four, that is, Chan and his Lady, Hai and I sat down to a day-after lunch, solid plain food, with some tasty left overs too.  A couple of grandkids came by for a bit to eat too and. . .and then that was over also, and, with a lot of thank you's and shaking of hands and big smiles, I took my leave for good and rode off down the dike road back to town.
And explaining how he lays out the planking to start the boat. . .fascinating.

Well, it was too late to want to ride to Hanoi, I'd be arriving in the worst of the evening traffic if all went well. . .and I'd be riding after dark if it didn't. . .neither one what I wanted just then.  Besides, there was still a lot to see around Quang Yen, and (as I now know), I had a lot of writing to do.  At the hotel nobody was offended that I was there past checkout time and were perfectly delighted when I said I'd spend another night.  So the horse and I played tourist with the rest of the fine daylight and spent the night in Quang Yen while the rainy weather system moved in.  Oh well.  That's what they made rubber boots and rain gear for.
I've actually been through Quang Yen any number of times on QL 10 without taking proper note, but this gray church right on the river's edge has been a landmark I've remembered for years.  I tried to photograph it once from a moving vehicle. . .no.

I was simply asking permission to park in a rather crowded spot outside a small shop, explained I'd only be a few minutes, I just wanted to photograph the church (I saw it was locked and was just going to try to get the outside). . .but no, I not only got to park, I was taken down the street to another door and introduced to a gentleman who had keys to the church, taken to a side door and let inside.

And then I photographed the exterior.

A canal near the boat yard. . .again, no doubt related to the levee construction in years past, though it's nowhere near enough volume to have built the whole levee.  Who knows?

Just a pair of quite nice homes in downtown Quang Yen

They're re-building the levee along this stretch of the river. . .that will be a new outfall and floodgate structure through the dike when it's finished.  The earthern cofferdam is just for construction.  No sheet piles!

I was just going to shoot the day care center when I noticed there was a Mom and Kid couple coming out. . .yes.

And yes, they'd stop and pose.  From that hat and trousers I'm pretty sure she's a little girl.  Anyway, I blew her a kiss as she rode away and she blew me one back.
These two trees are said to date to the time of the great battle with the Mongol navy nearby.  The victorious Vietnamese general, Tran Hung Dao (who has a street in every town in Viet Nam) prepared the battle site by setting a huge array of sharpened stakes into the river bed at low tide, then lured the Mongol fleet in at high tide, harassed them until the tide started to ebb, and skewered them all.  Fire and sword settled the matter thereafter.   These two trees were saplings then, and were the only trees left standing.  They've been protected ever since.

This kite, which I thought might have a four or five foot wingspan, was flying very calmly, not far outside my hotel room window late in the afternoon (remember, we'd had a good sailing wind).  The whole time there was a mechanical moaning sound, like some machine working in the distance.  H'mm.
Well.  There's your "mechanical sound"  A big array of whistles on the flight deck.

Oh my, it's four meters. . .thirteen feet across.  He flies it with 1/8" cord. . .some kite.

How do you carry a 13' wide kite home?  In the wind??  Carefully!
More kids. . .note the green jersey is very alive and well, active you might say.

Not to be left out she pedaled across the field to have a look.

But in the mandatory group photo, one of the kids fell asleep on the front of the bike.  How did he do that??

And in the morning we went home to Hanoi through misting rain and the edge of a thunderstorm and much much cooler air. . .a front came through late at night.  There's not much time left now, we'll start putting things away for another year.  There's a little more to report, perhaps I'll get it out to you before I leave.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A little while in Hanoi, and then to to Quang Yen to sail on the dinosaur

Written (or at least begun) from Quang Yen city (large town really), Quang Ninh province, North Eastern Viet Nam.  It's the 11th of April now, and we have a little catching up to do.

The time in Hanoi passed quickly.  A lot happened, but there's little that makes good story telling.  My laundry got done, the sharp part of an old missing filling's hole got polished down to a pleasant  nubbin that doesn't make my tongue sore any more, I bought a pair of nice sandals, we got the book contract finalized and signed. . .that sort of thing.  Not a lot of drama, but stuff that needed doing and a few nice photos.
There were two of these young ladies, perhaps twins, the same ao dai (dress) and the same bouquet, posing for a professional photographer. . .but not together.  Nope.  I don't have a story to go with that.

This, on the other hand, is a long-time friend.  She's made me two pairs of saddle bags and modified my daypack so much there's not much left of the original.  She always flinches when she sees me coming, then she grins, then she sews whatever I ask.  That's the whole shop.  There's a loft overhead filled with bits of canvas and leather and I don't know what else.  Back behind the place opens up, and she lives there with her kid sister who thinks I'm funny.

A fellow motorbike rider on his 150 cc Suzuki.  This sort of bike is heavily built, rugged and reliable, and gets a surprising amount of performance from a small engine. . .Now though bigger bikes, including Harleys, are available here, and he's put a deposit on one.  Oof.  We met in Laos last year, he was riding with a delightful group of friends. . .The Team.
The curtain was supposed to go up in 7 minutes, but nobody was worried, and it didn't. . .Why is it the girls always get to look glamorous and beautiful on stage and we men. . .well. . .

The young lady in pink was busily combing her hair when I walked by. . .I told her she was pretty already.  A good line no doubt, but the curtain was about to go up.  I got the smile though.

Hoan Kiem Lake at night.  I do love reflections in still water.

Yes. . .

They've added a red fabric skirt to obscure the pretty red bridge piles.  And they've re-done the lighting on the island.  Oh well.

You'd hardly notice this little place in the daytime, dull and brown.  

Alone again (Adrian by now is on his way to North Korea. . .yikes), on Saturday morning, the horse and I rode out of Hanoi from the hotel by going the wrong direction entirely.  The clutch (how many times have I mentioned the darned clutch this trip??) finally got the best of me and I took it to the shop.  Mr. Dung (say it "Zoong") was expecting me at his new off-premises garage in the far southern edge of the city, and had the clutch lying in pieces on the floor as quick as he could tell the young apprentice (17 years old and eager, if ignorant) how to get it apart.  Regrettably, parts were not immediately available, so I stood and sat and drank tea and ate lunch and petted the puppy while the parts found their way from wherever they were to where we needed them.  And then Dung put it all back together again, with a little help from the apprentice.  Dung is a masterful motorbike mechanic and it's a real pleasure to watch him persuade tricky bits to go back where they belong.  But it was also almost two in the afternoon before we really started to Quang Yen, and we were starting from a long ways in the wrong direction in afternoon city traffic.  It wasn't a particularly ugly departure from the city, but it certainly wasn't fast.
Clutch on the ground.  Parts coming.  Eventually.  Sigh.

Mr. Dung's (Zoong's) new huge garage, with one mechanic and one eager apprentice.  Enormous amount of space and serious equipment too. . .drill press, bench grinder, a big upgrade from the little hole in the wall in the old quarter.

And way back in the corner. . .not one but two from the 1960's, still in splendid condition.  Dear me.  They won't go in my carry on though.

The clutch plate(s).  I'm not sure if the wear is due to the malfunction or the cause of the malfunction, but replacing these made her run well again, so I'm happy.  That's her in the background.

Once onto the highway (QL-1, northbound) things were smooth and easy until we made the turn off toward Halong City onto QL-18.  Darn.  That used to be an easy, even a pleasant ride, but now there are factories all along the highway and the built up area just keeps getting more built up and the traffic. . .won't fit on the old two-lane highway anymore.  It's a bear.  Dusty, dirty, noisy, crowded, rough (worn out) roadway. . .and way too many loud trucks and buses, even if the motorbike population is still within reason.  Sigh.

We had had enough by the time we got to Uong Bi, still 40 km from Halong City. I wasn't sure how far from Quang Yen we really were and I was completely unfamiliar with the place. . .been there once in someone else's car and didn't learn a thing.  Anyway, I've ridden by Uong Bi a great many times on my way to and from Halong Bay.  However, I've never even nudged the horse off onto the main street of the city and had a look. . .just sort of glanced at the ends of the City street as we passed by on the highway (there's quite a nice park at one end).  So, with nobody expecting us in Quang Yen at any particular time, it was an easy choice to stop in Uong Bi for the night.  It's a pleasant stop really, the main street must have been the highway a few years back. . .okay, quite a few years back (it's been a separate loop since I've been riding by), but it's basically almost parallel with the highway and must take in three or four kilometers of sweet downtown.  There are a number of hotels and lots of places to eat and pretty much any service or supply you'll need, and it's remarkably clean and tidy.  It also has a gigantic coal fired generating station at the Eastern end of town.  It's really not fair to say that the power plant dominates the city, but at the Eastern end. . .it does, with its two huge stacks and constant low humming sound clearly heard for blocks around.  So we got a room at the East end and made the power plant the theme of the evening.  To be at least fair, it seems to be a pretty clean sort of power plant. . .there's a steady plume of steam from both of the huge stacks, but you can't see any sign of particulates. . .goodness knows "clean" coal is a doubtful association of words, but still. . .there's no mountain stream around to provide hydro-electric, the wind mills are all out on the coast farther south where the wind is dependable, I'm certainly not eager to see them using nuclear plants. . .should we turn off the lights??  Not in my hotel room anyway. . .or in my breakfast restaurant either please.   So I'll beg Uong Bi's pardon, I'm sure the plant is not the most important thing in town, but I took a lot of photos of it.
Views of the power plant. . .it stands behind its ramparts and towers over the neighborhoods. . .and that doesn't include the stacks.  It's a really big plant.

Water intake lines and at least one cooling water discharge.  A lot of water!

Looking back from the highway. . ..

Rotating ducks and some stationary roast pork!  There's a continuous chain drive on the side by the operator.  He picks up a skewer and sets it into bearings at each end and a bicycle sprocket on the skewer engages the moving chain, neatly spinning the bird..  There are three levels of flame here, and the hottest (at this end) includes a drip catcher that discharges into the pan on the left.  Duck drippings. . .oh my.

A truly hole in the wall sized chapel, but I couldn't figure out for whom.  It doesn't go far left and right, but takes two frames to get it all in vertically.

Pretty anyway.

New construction in town usually requires some interesting demolition.  The lots here seem to be mostly laid out 4 meters wide, by perhaps 25 meters deep.  Makes for tall skinny houses that go way back into the block.

And this is why I don't like to walk on the sidewalks at night.  This is very recent damage, and will no doubt soon be properly repaired. . .Uong Bi is a well run little town, neat and clean. . .they won't tolerate this long at all.

And then it was a super simple ride in the morning, ten km in a dead straight line on flat ground directly into the most important intersection (for us anyway) in the city. . .the cross roads of QL10 and the road across the bridge to the far side, where the sailing junk lives.  With a full tank of gas and a whole day in hand to find our way around, my first choice was to find the boatyard and the sail boat again, so we never even slowed down, but ran straight across the bridge to the far side, and turned downstream (left) to run along the river, just inshore of the new levees and flood walls.  The river is going to have to really get full to spill into the lowland communities around behind that wall but I suppose it probably will now and then, rivers are like that.  Anyway, with the river on our left and us in the right stretch, finding the boatyard was just a matter of keeping moving and staying awake, which is a good idea anyway, one doesn't want to sleep and ride a motorbike much.  The entrance to the boatyard is up a steep little driveway (to get over the flood wall) and then down into the household on the river side.  That involves riding past a huge stockpile of old salvaged timber and a few newer pieces. . .all destined to turn into boat parts in the yard's sawmill eventually.  And once past the pile of timbers, you're suddenly in the front yard of the house, which is actually partially closed in and roofed with a metal canopy. . .sort of like a mostly outdoors living room .  And  all over that living room there were all the preparations for a family funeral set up when we rode in.  I pulled the horse to a stop and started to back up to turn around and leave, but Mr. Chan, the boatbuilder we've come to see, saw us first and pulled us in.

So.  I've crashed a number of weddings in this part of the world, and have mostly given it up as a bad plan, what with the horrendous loud music (??) and the overabundant alcohol. . .notwithstanding the usually excellent lunch and the chance to meet the bride and groom and wish them well. . .it just is too much these days, so we always look the other way and keep riding now.  Funerals are altogether too similar. . .different music I admit, but usually just as loud. . .a great lunch after the ceremonies. . .and not too much alcohol. . .define too much.  Anyway, we haven't crashed a funeral either in many a year, so it just seemed natural to go away and leave the family and friends to their grief.  But not to happen.  You might appreciate that, while on the one hand I stand out here like a purple pig (big fat bald white guy with a bushy beard???) on the other hand, I wanted nothing so much under the circumstances than to quietly fade into the wall paper. . .if there'd been any wall paper.  Oh well.  As it turns out there are really two phases to these funeral days (and I promise you I'm an ill informed outsider, even if somewhat observant).  But here's what I saw:
The formal ceremony,

 There is a memorial "altar" set up at the top of the room, in the center.  It's an old, well-traveled, very ornate table, on which sits a formal portrait of the Chan's old mother and a variety of offerings, food, drink, flowers, money, candles and incense at least.  That's how I knew instantly that the household was in mourning. . .the set up of extra tables made it clear that the funeral service and associated feast was imminent.

  • All morning long, in the outdoor space behind the house (essentially in the boat yard) a team of neighbor ladies were cooking.  Lots.  They must have started early, they were well along by the time we got there and it wasn't late yet.
  • Friends,neighbors and relatives drop in and out and visit a bit with Mr. Chan or his lady Wife (whose name I never heard, darn it, she made a lot of effort over me while I was here).  Mr. Chan is 68 and looks and acts about 40 most of the time, but his demeanor is subdued and he looks serious this morning, already wearing the white head scarf that marks a mourner here.
  • I begged leave to go look around the boatyard and was taken in hand by a younger son (who, it turns out, has an iPhone 5 full of boat photos I wish I'd taken. . .though he cheerfully copied them onto my laptop later).
  • That lead to a round of drinking tea in the other house next to the boat yard with an older brother and a friend.  It's a grand house, and the people were exceedingly gracious.  The younger brother has a little more English than I have Vietnamese, and so it was not a hopeless conversation, but often ended in dead ends when I had to admit I couldn't understand.  Oh sigh.
The big model in the living room. . .a lovely home, gracious people, and a wonderful, perfectly accurate model of the new sailing junk.  Mr. Chan has built a number of them.
  • Back in the front room, Mr. Chan produced another lovely small model of a sailing junk, one of a great many he has made, and simply gave it to me.  He removed the oars from their racks and lowered the sails and his lady Wife carefully wiped it clean (dust. . .we're in Viet Nam) and found it a cardboard box to ride in. . .and everyone put in opinions on how to pack and lash it to the bike!
Mr. Chan, with his mourner's head scarf, lowering sails and stowing oars on the model he gave me.  This is an old model he built before the new (full sized) junk, and thus not identical, but very very similar and well-detailed.  A magnificent gift.

The only way to carry the boat with all my other stuff. . .put the duffel the wrong (cross) way.  This is how all my Vietnamese friends want me to carry it anyway.  1.  That way I could take a passenger at need, and in fact, I've turned it crosswise just for that purpose.  and  2. to keep the center of gravity (and thus rotation) as far forward as possible, since the bag is a significant percent of the total weight of the outfit.  However, it also effectively blocks on-the-road access to the side bags, which is where the rain gear and boots live. . .so this was a one-time only arrangement.  I carry a lot of bungee straps.
  • Around lunch time the people stopped just passing through and began seating themselves around tables set out in long rows.  It's segregated seating. . .with old men (yes, that includes me) at one end of the first table, a small gap, then the older ladies, and at the end, a few younger women, with children in laps.  Across the room another long table, for "general seating", younger men, children who can behave, and so forth.
  • The space in the center of the room in front of the altar is left clear.
  • After a long time of visiting and drinking tea or smoking the northern pipe, some people began putting on the full mourning outfit, cheap, temporary, unadorned white over-clothes, cut in a vaguely old fashioned style. . .loose pants with drawstrings, an over-tunic, long sleeved and belted with a piece of cheap twine. . .and of course the white head scarf.  Women also wore a white shawl, sewn to form a hat with a trailing end that reached below the waist.  
  • A contingent of four men arrived and put on more colorful formal clothes, an overcoat of bright colored (blue or red) silk and the formal Vietnamese hat, clearly different from the mourners' dress.  One is the "celebrant" (for want of a better word. . .more than a "master of ceremonies"), he lead the service but also read extensively from hand lettered documents,some of which he later burned in hand, dropping the ashes onto a tray an assistant held for him.
  • Recorded funeral music played continuously. . .this is very loud, very Asian music, the instruments are a 2-stringed fiddle that can be quite loud even unamplified, a shawm or oboe like instrument with a trumpet's bell (think in terms of the melody pipe of a bagpipe, high and loud!), and a variety of drums and wooden things (okay, what would you call them?? "ideophones"  something you hit with a stick like a drum that makes a "thonk" sort of sound) they all produce a rhythm, though at times it seems chaotic.  The amplification is horrendous!  To skip ahead, this is the first day.  Tomorrow will be the second day, with a much bigger crowd and live musicians rather than recorded. . .but back to today.
  • The service itself takes perhaps 20 minutes.  It is very formalized.  The women are in one line on the left side of the room, the men make two lines on the right, all spaced nicely, with the spacing intended to produce enough room for each to kneel and touch the forehead to the ground at various times.  
  • The celebrant concentrates on reading, and singing (chanting?) the correct words.  One of his assistants cues the mourners when to kneel, when to stand, another assistant mans a stand with a large drum and a large gong at the back of the room, striking one or the other at times.  The last assistant kept busy handing the reading materials to the celebrant, and, if they were burned, having the tray ready to catch the ashes.
  • The women knelt for prolonged periods, crying, keening, or muttering quietly, almost completely hidden beneath their shawls.  The men stood erect most of the time, and neither spoke nor cried, but held their right hands to their mouths, as though covering them with a handkerchief, or perhaps simply holding back their grief, prostrating themselves when prompted.
  • When the ceremony ended, one of the assistants moved through the mourners and used a large knife to cut the belts. . .the pieces of twine. . .from each man's tunic.
  • Given my near complete lack of the language, I've no notion of what was said, but the formalized pattern of the ceremony cannot help but be moving, with the ancient woman in the portrait on the altar witnessing it all and the incense and candles burning.
And then it was time for lunch, and what a wonderful lunch it was.  If the old mother ate her share on the altar then she had to have been pleased.  It was far more food than the crowd could eat and extremely good.  The weeping and wailing women went back to gossip and chatter and petting small children, men resumed their animated discussions, many people tried to talk to me (and with various amounts of help from the people with some English) managed to satisfy their curiosity.  The main points were widely known. . .I'd traveled a lot in Viet Nam over the past 12 years, I was 71 years old (VNese reckoning), I was interested in boats and particularly Mr. Chan's sailing junk. . .and I can answer questions about my wife in America (yes, I have one, and one is enough), how many children and grandchildren I have, my job, whether or not I really travel on that motorbike. . .the ordinary social questions.  The atmosphere stopped short of the joviality of a wedding feast, but not by much.  It did not have the feeling of a solemn funeral once the formal ceremony was over.  It wasn't quite up to the standard of an Irish wake perhaps, though there was alcohol and tobacco in abundance, and some men became noticeably more cheerful by afternoon.

Here's my gift for you from the funeral lunch--a recipe for a wonderful salad.  Think of it as a bean-sprout, cucumber and pineapple salad. . .blanch the bean sprouts and cool them (don't cook them, just scare them) they're probably the largest volume of the salad, slice a crisp cucumber into rounds and quarter the rounds (okay, quarter the cucumber and then slice it. . .and leave on the peel).  Guessing here, but I think then soak the cucumber in rice vinegar for a while, but drain it.  Cut the pineapple into smallish pieces, less than a bite each, and combine the ingredients cold and serve.  For further experimentation. . .a tiny bit of mint might be right, or maybe just a trace of ginger.  I don't think there was any sweetening other than the pineapple. . .though some pineapple juice might have gone over the top as a dressing.  It's lovely.  It wasn't included in this salad, but I can easily imagine little bits of chicken as well. That might make it into a main dish.  Up to you!

I had not even looked at the town as I rode through to the boat yard, so at a reasonable time after lunch I took my leave (many handshakes and smiles) and went looking for a hotel, and the museum.  
The hotel was easy, several are grouped around a big soccer field near the end of the bridge to the boat yard and the first one I tried had a sweet lady eager to show me upstairs, a large airy room with a view of the soccer field and nearby restaurants. . .a writing desk (no, really!!) and a rock hard bed.  Oh well, you can't win them all, and I long ago decided to sleep on rock hard beds if it seemed like a good idea. . .opens up all manner of otherwise superior rooms here!  So that was settled.  

The museum. . .this is one of two, soon to be three curated by Dr. Nguyen Viet, the scholarly older gentleman who owns the sailing junk I'd come to see.  The junk and what I learned of and from it will take another chapter, but just locating the museum so I could meet Dr. Nguyen Viet at ten in the morning as promised was the immediate challenge.  
The street sign just outside the museum made this silly easy.  I thought I had gps coordinates too, but the camera hadn't locked on by the time I pulled the trigger.  No matter, it was fine.

Mr. Hai's car five weeks ago. . .it was raining then. . .that's a gray ca, not a two-tone brown.  Oh.  He's parked at the museum gates.  You might have a hard time identifying it if you didn't know. . .and if the dogs are out don't even think about going in.

I'd been squired around here before by Mr. Hai, in his car, which means I had a photograph of the street sign in front of the museum and I knew what it looked like (not a museum, at least not from the outside).  But, as is always the case when I've been driven somewhere by somebody else, I had no idea where that street sign was compared to where I was.  Well.  It was incredibly close and convenient, four blocks and two turns away. . .easy to find with a little help from my phone and, at closer range, my memory for the shape of the place.  So that too was settled.  

The rest of the afternoon (not much) was spent in exploring the town.  Mr. Hai gave me a grand tour a month ago when he first brought me to meet Dr. Nguyen Viet, so I had some good visual references, and tied them together with several looping trips through the town, main street and side streets.  I'd been getting noticeably shaggy after a five weeks on the road, so turned in at a barber shop. . .a Vietnamese sort. . .the sign reads Cat Toc, Nam, Nu. . .which is literally, Cut Hair, Man, Woman.  So, usually (but not always) a lady hairdresser who will cut men's hair too. . .and the first such I'd ever been in.  I parked the bike on the sidewalk in front and found the lady in charge busily scrubbing somebody's hair. . .she said to come back in 20 minutes.  Good enough, I left the bike and went hiking.  No matter how many times you drive up and down a street you won't see it all until you poke along on foot, so it was not time wasted at all.  Besides, I found a new little shop selling Che, and had a very nice cold sweet dessert. . .yes, before dinner.  

The haircut didn't take too long, there's not too much hair left to cut.  When she'd been around the sides and the back of the neck and down into the beard as far as I wanted, she held up all ten hairs on top of my head. . .poor wispy things. . .and asked me?  I nodded, and they were gone in an instant.  Perfectly bald on top!  Meanwhile, the young lady with the freshly laundered hair was sitting in another chair, busily drying her hair with one of the shop's hair dryers. . .actually, by this time there were two youngsters engaged that way. . .first toweling it off, then combing and drying for quite a while.. .Vietnamese people tend to have a lot of thick black hair.  Drat.  

I was no more than out of the chair and paid my dollar, when a stool was plopped in the middle of the room and a little boy, perhaps two or a bit more, sat upon it while his mom held his hand and he got. . .a Mohawk, with the barber lady stooping a bit to get at him.  Good grief.  What fun!  I was tempted to just sit on the bike and watch for a while, moms, kids, guys and gals. . .a very cheerful little shop.  Glad I stopped (and I can stop worrying about mussing my hair for a few weeks).

Gee Mom, are you sure I want a Mohawk?  Do the girls like a guy with a Mohawk?  Is this going to hurt?  Why does that man have hair on his face but not on his head??

A sweet little house (with a gross sofa on the front porch) set well back from the street.  It's for sale, but I didn't find out the price, probably wouldn't fit my whole household anyway.  Many of the streets here are laid out with 4 meter by 25 meter lots. . .skinny and deep.  That's 13 feet and a hair wide. . .subtract your walls. . .you're down around 12' of interior space.  Come to think of it, I've lived in trailer houses that wide. . .H'mm.

It's a flat countryside, and wet.  We're quite close to the ocean, at the end of a large delta.

A pretty standard $2.00 dinner.  Rice, pork,  fish, peanuts, cooked vegetable (this might be sweet potato vines, or possibly water morning glory, I have a hard time telling them apart) and a cucumber salad.  They do those really well around Quang Yen.

Push ahead nets on little boats. . .the one closest to us is actually a woven basket.

I can't help myself.  She's really nothing special, but she looked nice sitting there with the family laundry drying in the rigging.  She has structure and a mast for a push-ahead net, but nothing rigged at the moment.
But this is really why we're here, to ride the dinosaur.  That'll be tomorrow's story!