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Archive for May 19th, 2018

And now  that I have that song from Robin William’s brilliant comedic  turn in the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam” relentlessly playing in your head, * I will move to our actual destination: Hoi  An.  We flew from Hanoi into Danang Airport, formerly the US Air Force Airport.   Hoi An was part of the region operated by the US during the American War, (their term for what we call the Vietnam War.  They won:  they can call it whatever they like), and so the area was protected from the heaviest aerial bombardment in US history: almost 7 million tons of ordenance fell on North Vietnam, more than was dropped on Europe in World War II.  They are still “finding”  live bombs in farmer fields.  Hell of a way to lose a cow.  Or a leg.

This small ancient town was a world apart from the frenzy of Hanoi but still we were relieved to be in the sanctuary of our Four Season’s Villa.  (Remember, 60th birthday and my only rule towards spending on hotels is that I had no rules) We could have stayed all 3 days in the villa, which I discovered was like a summer camp for affluent adults:   there were classes on lanternmaking and memorial candle lighting and group activities like sunrise yoga or bonfires on the beach.  Albeit private bonfires for 6 with starched linen napkins, billowing curtains, liveried servants scurrying about serving French champagne.  Definitely not Camp Mini-Ha-Ha in the wilds of Northern Ontario.

But the beauty of Hoi An got us out of our tranquil bubble  for a couple of special events. Yes, there are many tourists, buying bespoke clothes, enjoying the many restaurants, checking out the galleries, but it did not feel as frenetic as Kyoto. (Or San Miguel.)     Perhaps because there are no cars allowed in the confined area of Old Town, and you must have a ticket to enter it. Rules on building heights look to be strictly enforced.  A private cooking class for two with a market tour, an art gallery visit, and a really delicious dinner overlooking the spectacular lights of the beautiful Thu BonRiver. So this is less of a blog and more of a photo essay.  Enjoy.

 

Cooking Class & Market Tour with the charming Chef Instructor Bo.

 

You know when you are taking casual “happy snaps”, and when you get them back to the hotel, you see a photo that is so perfectly composed and lit that you cannot believe that it came from your little iPhone 6?  I think that the photo of the school girls on their graduation day, dressed in the traditional white ao dai, might be the best photo that I have ever taken. Unedited.

* Good Morning Vietnam, 1987, was loosely based  on the real life story of Armed Forces radio disk jockey, Adrian Cronauer.   “Loosely based” since  I gather the dialog consisted mostly of  putting Robin Williams in front of a microphone and letting him go.  “Danang me, Danang me, they ought to take a rope and hang me” has stayed with me for over 30 years – so now over to you.

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Almost a week ago, we left the carefully controlled, cool, precise world of Japan, for the erratic, messy, hot world of Vietnam.  Worlds apart.  Confession: I spent so much time sorting out our trip to Japan, that I ignored the Vietnamese portion of the journey.  I just knew we going to Hanoi & Halong Bay (the subject of this post) and then HoiAn and finishing in Saigon.  (And yes, everyone here calls it Saigon, not the Ho Chi Min City, despite of how much  “Uncle Ho” is revered here).

When I told Ben that I wanted to go to Japan for my upcoming special birthday (60th) he suggested that if we were going to go that far, why not add another country?  I immediately said Vietnam, without checking first what the weather would be.  And it’s the double whammy for Ben of heat (34) & humidity (60%+). I had gone to South East Asia ten years ago, but in our winter.  So we find ourselves at the Four Seasons, and every night, rinsing out sweaty underwear to hang in the very elegant outdoor shower.   I am sure that the maids had a chuckle at the Canadians who are so cheap that they won’t use the laundry service.

Did I mention that my handsome husband Ben was a frugal Scot?

So Vietnam.  How to capture in words or even photos, the frenetic energy, the  tangible dynamism, the passion for growth?  Hanoi, the capital, is overrun with scooters, nimbly moving in and out of lanes, carrying full families (and dogs on occasion) or elegant women covered completely in colourful “scooter burkas.” ( I just made that up, but truly, the fabrics are pretty, but under the helmets, only the focused black eyes show)

While I make no claim to be an expert on comparative religions, something of the difference in cultures may be found there.  In Japan, Shintoism & Buddahism coexist quite comfortably:  as our guide said, “Shintoism is a form of animism, so we can worship spirits in nature and ask them for help during our life.  Buddahism deals with the afterlife & reincarnation, so we revere and ask the ancestors for help in the next life”. So as Ben observed, you’ve got it covered both ways.  Practical.

Here in Vietnam,  some people are Buddhists,  a smaller number are Christian, and the majority, well, the guide said with a shrug, nothing.  Based on the rate of entrepreneurial activity, the welcome given to foreign investment, and the aggressive property development that we observed in our week in  Vietnam, you might come to the conclusion that all that matters is growth. Communist capitalism if you will.

But ancestors matter too:  in fact they have  one day a year where they celebrate the lives of their dead family members, with food, music and parties.  Sounded like Mexico and the Day of the Dead to us.  In fact, we saw a lot of parallels between the people of  Vietnam and Mexico:  both nations have endured centuries of colonization and the devastating affects of imperialism.  And yet they remain hard working, positive, warm, friendly, accepting of others.

How did we spend our three days in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi?  Well, we ate.  (Ben and I are putting on weight like the Titanic took on water. Sigh)  We spent a sobering hour in the “Hanoi Hilton”, so nicknamed by downed American flyers, including John  McCain during the American War.   That prison has a more gruesome past, as the place where the French imprisoned, tortured and sometimes guillotined the Vietnamese who tried to over throw their 100 years of brutal French domination.  The notion of French Indochina no longer has romance for me.

 

We spent a fascinating hour with an American expat & veteran who became involved in the anti-war movement after his discharge. As a result, his parents refused to talk to him for years:  the pain of that remembrance brought all three of us to tears.   Another expat of the same generation took us through her fabulous art gallery home:  the moment I walked in, I thought of San Miguel de Allende.   As it happens, she has good friends who have just moved there, and she is planning a trip soon.

 

 

 

So, in the interests of saving time, and frankly, just having a lark, I chose a seaplane transfer from Hanoi airport to Ha Long Bay, one of the most beautiful places on earth. (And how else can you meet an investment banker from Istanbul with multiple passports, including Canadian, who keeps a pied a terre in Dubai for tax purposes.  He was so handsome that 2 giggling Chinese girls had their photo taken with him. He drew the line at a kiss, however. )

Legends say that in ancient times, dragons appeared to fight off the invaders from the north (mmmh, I wonder what country that would be) and when they vanquished them, they dropped emeralds in the sea that became the beautiful islands we see now.

We only spent one night at sea, and while it was nice to be sleeping on a boat again, but I am not sure that I converted Ben to cruising.  Might be because they made us wear these silly outfits.

 

 

 

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