Welcome to Vietnam!

This is an assortment of writings about my trip to Vietnam, starting with excerpts from emails written since arriving. There will be photos added soon. There are so many to choose from! I'll even resize them smaller for those of you with slow connections. Hey, Marie, if the photo takes too long to load, let me know and I'll resize smaller so it download to your computer faster.UPDATE AGAIN: I've turned the blog upside down, so if you are using a laptop, just flip it over.... no, really I've put the more recent stuff at the top, instead of adding to the bottom. This will make it easier for those who read more often, but more complicated if you have not been keeping up. You will have to decide whether to read from the top down (most recent first) or scroll down to where you left off and jog back, forward in time.
The Saddest News about my trip to Vietnam is the Computer Crash -
Indeed a two-computer crash in which my laptop froze and the back-up wiped itself
of all 6 GB of fine expert journalistic and artistic photography from the adventure.
And Staples, unable to retrieve the data, recycled it as trash.


Feb 26
After more than four weeks sweltering in Ho Chi Minh City, we flew to Hué in the skinny part of Vietnam where the China Sea is close on the East, and Laos is close on the West. Arriving in the early evening we spent a very pleasant hour walking along the river and watching the six-arched bridge change from yellow to cerulean, purple, green and then red. The wide tiled sidewalk had plenty of room for street-sales of souvenirs for tourists and snacks for locals – motorbikes not allowed on this pedestrian walkway.
Smells abound as in Saigon, but here the air is fresh and the smells are mostly pleasant if you have an open mind - smells from fruit vendors, salt-dry fish vendors, incense from the many Buddhist shrines, trees, sidewalk soup (the famous Bún Bò Hué), flowers, rain and the river-smell with an occasional whiff of sewer.
The hotel is tall and narrow and long. Our room is at the very top, very back - a small balcony overlooks palm and banana trees in backyards and into the block behind; two big windows show that this city – unlike Saigon - has boundaries: mountains peek through the fog - and I saw rice paddies on the way from the airport.
Tomorrow we go for a city tour on hired motorbike - Hue is a very ancient city with many historic sites including the Imperial City and some ancient tombs. Apparently motorbike is one of the most fun ways to see it.
I've not been good about putting photos online - wish I had a quick and easy way to do it... it is slow on my website...
Excuses, excuses; I'm just having too much fun tasting, smelling, listening, looking, and learning. That is why my blog is so behind. Oh well.
Feb 24
Got back yesterday from a few days in the mountains. There was no internet there. Waterfall, resident chained elephant, quiet! stayed in a bamboo cabin on stilts. Ate sticky rice cooked in a cane-stalk. Had a pleasant evening with Mimi, a writer from Japan, and Mr Vu, a friend whose job is a Vietnam wilderness guide!
On our drive back to town to catch the bus, we stopped at a most impressive set of waterfalls - what a roar! Lots of trails to walk and discover errant sections of waterfall and a wobbly rope footbridge over the river to see what's on the other side.
It seems every day we keep so busy that by the time we are back in the hotel, all I want to do is rest. Yesterday we went to the Reunification Palace. I had just about given up on going there - each time we planned to go, something else came up and we did something else instead.
It was interesting, but not nearly as beautiful or interesting as other places.
We walked around our local hindu temple the other day, too, and took photos. Dan wants to bring Bill and Saskia here to see all the religious sites!
I have a billion billion photos and will plan to add more here, but it is a slow process.
Today we need to walk across town (Ho Chi Minh City is huge, so really we are only walking a teensy bit of the city) to pick up our passports so we can fly up to Hue which is further north and will be cold... like 55 to 65 degrees. It will feel cold after all these days of 85 to 90. And I didn't bring much clothing for cool weather.
transcript of an IM conversation: I deleted the other persons questions and comments since i did not ask permission to make public. You can get the gist.
friend(2/23/2008 5:42:37 AM): good morning!
friend(2/23/2008 5:42:37 AM): quite early for you, isn't it?
Tina (2/23/2008 5:42:55 AM): Yes
friend (2/23/2008 5:43:22 AM): do you have amazing plans, or did you just wake up by chance?
Tina (2/23/2008 5:43:30 AM): We just got back to Ho Chi Minh city - we spent a few days in the mountains
Tina (2/23/2008 5:43:55 AM): Spent the night on a bus. An eight hour ride.
Tina (2/23/2008 5:44:18 AM): It was supposed to be a sleeper-bus (where you actually lie down)
Tina (2/23/2008 5:44:59 AM): But due to various communication issues, we ended up on a regular bus..
Tina (2/23/2008 5:45:35 AM): Sat in the very back all the way (assigned seats) on top of the engine. It wasn't as bad as I thought it might be.
Tina (2/23/2008 5:45:53 AM): The bus was totally full; no room to stretch out.
Tina (2/23/2008 5:46:09 AM): We stayed at a bamboo cabin up in the mountains
Tina (2/23/2008 5:46:54 AM): yup. tired. I think we may go out across the street for some breakfast instead of going to bed for an extra hours rest.
Tina (2/23/2008 5:47:42 AM): Lots of photos... but not of mountains.. it was a plateau up in the mountains, so no actual mountain pictures
Tina (2/23/2008 5:48:19 AM): Saw planations of coffee, pepper (black pepper) cashews, bananas, and sugar cane.
Tina (2/23/2008 5:48:46 AM): It was really nice to be out of the noise and pollution of the city!
Tina (2/23/2008 5:49:18 AM): Very quiet - well, there was a river that roared gently in the background
Tina (2/23/2008 5:49:49 AM): I would have liked to stay longer, just lie in a hammock and read.
Tina (2/23/2008 5:50:54 AM): It was cold water, only, though. Bed was a small piece of foam on the floor. Still was not too rough.
Tina (2/23/2008 5:52:11 AM): It was a really nice break
Tina (2/23/2008 5:53:19 AM): Now we have two days in the big city before we can pick up our renewed visa/passport and then get a plane to Hue, a small historic city further north
Went shopping today for some everyday clothes… it’s not that easy to find what I wanted. Ended up buying a silk set because it is such a lovely color - and a special reminder of Tet since it is red and gold. Then bought another really plain set which fits fine – it is a XL – except the capris legs only just reach my knees. Next set I’ll get the full leg and shorten it if I still want capris. I am much bigger than the average person here...
I'm still trying to find where women get the really pretty patterns.. didn’t find any of the really fun, wild colors and patterns I see being worn everywhere.
Feb 10? or 17?
Update: The last day of Tet celebrations,
Dan took a day off to rest and relax, play guitar and nap. So I went adventuring on my own, thinking I’d be about an hour.
Walked up the road to the big traffic circle to slowly circumnavigate the still-closed Ben Tahn Market and buy some fruit. The door to the market was partly open and a few shops inside were doing business, so I went in and had a chance to see it mostly shut-down, shuttered and empty. It was dark and cavernous overhead with piles of debris here and there.
I bought some brown wrinkled salty-sour dried fruit – had it in a clear plastic bag nibbling as I walked along. One salesgirl asked if she could have one, and the rest of the way I offered them to the girls as I walked through. Most of them were delighted to have a treat, which was good since they had a very strong flavor and I had too many for me. Found a purse shop and paid $2 each for a few embroidered cell-phone holders: little silk bags with a toggle top and silk shoulder-string, just right for iPod, camera, or sanitary supplies, too.
Back outside, the fruit sellers were lined up along the sidewalk. I had in mind some Rambutan, also called Chôm Chôm. These are the golf-ball size pink-to-red fruit covered with spiky rubbery “hairs” – they are very cute and I hadn’t had one yet. 20,000dong for a kilo… do the math and it comes to a little under 50cents a pound. We agreed on 10,000 dong for half a kilo and next thing I know I’m walking down the road with a big heavy bag of fruit – she gave me a sample to eat, thus showing how to get at the clear, firm flesh not unlike a large, firm grape with a single pit the size of an olive pit.
Fortunately chom chom are popular with the little kids and before my arm wore out I had given away half of them to appreciative little hungry mouths and their equally appreciative tired parents and grandparents.
The skin is soft and rubbery but brittle enough that firm pressure from both thumbs, pressed in as if trying to rip the fruit in two, causes the skin to, indeed, break and pull apart into two equal pink spiny cups leaving the whole round grape-flavored flesh to pop easily into the mouth. It is just the right size – any larger and it would be more than a mouthful.
Rambutans in hand, I took a walk along Le Thanh Ton past the People’s Committee Hall then skirted around behind the Opera house and coming up Thi Sach to Me Linh circle where the statue of Tran Hung Dao sits in a fountain, missing the Ton Duc Thang Museum by a block. Followed Ton Duc Thang along the river, then turned up for a last day of Tet stroll up Nguyen Hue Ave.
Less crowded, but still plenty of people strolling along the wide road. Six lanes, usually for cars and motorbikes, but closed off for Tet and filled with fantastic flowers and scenes – this is where the rice paddy, complete with pond and bridge across have been constructed. Three or four temporary fountains right in the middle of major intersections, a long flower garden running the length of the road, in the middle of the road.
Along the way, I stopped at a stall where a woman was weaving. Here I bought several more little purses for cell phones at half of what I had paid in Ben Thanh Market. Then a clever sidewalk baker offered me a little tiny cake cooked in an iron form over a brazier on the sidewalk. I paid an astounding 60 cents for a little baggie filled with tiny cakes and hurried home to the hotel so Dan could try them still warm.
But then the door in the wall to the Hindu Temple was open and in the deepening shadows of the lowered sun, the light from within was appealing. A woman at the door waved me in to where a sign explained the rules: be respectful and welcome (they used a lot more words to say it though).
I stepped into the brilliantly tiled area, much surprised to find it was an open courtyard with a roofed sanctuary in the middle. Blinking lights outlined the ornamented figures in the sanctuary, which is an open space filled with columns and statues, with one small room at the back for a shrine.
Large portraits hung on the wall: Gandhi, Nehru, Rabinidrath Tagore, and two others. A separate shrine for the Mother Buddha was in an open area of courtyard as well as a round ornamented silver-clad carriage made for one person to sit cross-legged on a round dais in the center. A man motioned me to go up some steep metal stairs to the roof.
Up here – well, it was so pleasant, it is hard to describe: just a flat clay-tiled roof and a standard Hindu mound of brightly colored and detailed people and figures as a roof-top ornament. There was a slight breeze. The heat of the day was waning as the sun dropped lower behind the sky-line. Lights from shops below flickered on the leaves hanging from tree-tops level with my eyes.
Hurrying now, I stopped only once more, to purchase a drink from a cart: a green milky substance in a plastic bag with ice. Waiting until the little girl ahead of me took a good sip of hers and smiled, I took a draw on the straw sticking out of the rubber-banded plastic bag. Soymilk?. Cold. Sweetened green soymilk?. Lovely.
That was my lone adventure in Saigon.
(here is the pond. People are crossing on a one-pole bridge (for fun). This is in the middle of a city street!)
Strolled along the wide lanes of Ngyen Hue Avenue watching birds eating rice in the lovely rice paddy, with the pond and bridge and watching people strolling in their finery and snapping each other's pictures. Sometimes I offer to take the photo for a couple or family, so their whole group can be in the picture. In this way we meet people from all over the world.
The four large fountains sprayed, cooling the air; flowers bloomed in massive plantings in the middle of what is usually street. Shadows gathered in delicate shapes around the many sculptures and displays. Bamboo and cane constructions glowed gold in the artificial light as the perpetual soundtrack of American love songs repeated ceaselessly over loudspeakers all along the avenue.
On the way back to the hotel, I bought some little pandan flavored cakes cooked over a sidewalk brazier and a plastic bag full of some mystery milky green drink and ice. A young girl had just bought herself a bag of the drink and the look of refreshment on her face as she took a big sip from the straw dispelled any doubt I may have had. It was a lovely refreshing and quite indescribable beverage - perhaps made from green soybeans.
The next morning we set out to buy coffee from one of our favorite sidewalk coffee ladies. The street is empty of decorations. There are no fountains. There is no sign of a rice paddy. No garden, no flowers, no ponds. Just cars driving along a city street. Overnight the entire display is gone... blocks and blocks and blocks of plants, bricks, dirt, grass, water, the bridge and the even the entire pond, cutural displays of brass and concrete, and flowers in pots, flowers in gardens, and flowers on elaborate displays... all just simply gone overnight.
It has to be magic. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I'm working on how best to get photos uploaded here... or somewhere. It will be worth the wait, believe me!
Feb 9
Today we had another Tet dinner with another Vietnamese family - this family is from Saigon (Southern part of the country); the family we ate with on Thursday was originally from Hanoi (Northern part) so there were some differences. Also, today's family was Catholic, the other was Buddhist, and today we were in a very elaborate home with expensive details, large by Vietnamese standards. Thursday the family was modest - a small home of a middle-class University Professor. Haven't seen the inside of a poor family home yet.
Yesterday I rode around on a "scooter" (motorcycle) with a 30 year old newly divorced woman (Divorced in July) whose 4 years old befriended us on our Mekong Delta day trip. We ate street-food and she had a chance to talk about her divorce with someone who was supportive and non-judgmental. Divorce is not yet very common or accepted here.
Most evenings we walk around and people-watch in the crowds and crowds who come into this part of town to see the decorations. Two major roads have been blocked off to traffic so pedestrians can walk and gawk.
Now it is getting late again - and I need a shower after all the sweat of the day. Most days hit 90 degrees and are humid also.
How's everyone at Meetingbrook? Tell them I said Hi.
The best coffee is sold on the streets - In the restaurants it is only mediocre. Actually, the best food is on the streets, too. I have my next few day's meals planned: I've tried the purple steamed rice and the black coconut/sticky rice, so I still need to try the orange, the yellow with light beans, the cream-color with dark beans, the blue, and the ... gosh, I've forgotten the other one. Yesterday's was served with a smear of bean-paste, a sprinkle of sugar and salt, some brown stuff like ground-up nuts or seeds, a drizzle of thick white coconut cream, and a sprinkle of fresh shredded coconut. Eat with a tiny plastic spoon out of a tiny Styrofoam box while standing on the sidewalk dodging motorscooters - or find an unoccupied piece of curb for sitting, or squat like the locals somewhere along the side of a building that does not smell of urine.
My friend Tan Do took me out for shoppings but all the shops were closed for Tet, so we feasted moveably instead. Starting with some Jackfruit bought from the back of her scooter from an old woman in a cone-hat and eaten from the plastic bag while walking down the road after she found a place to park the bike at a sidewalk parking lot where the attendant puts a chalk mark on the seat of the scooter ( a lovely pink Piaggio with flower designs along the front and sides) and Tam takes her half of the ticket.
We look for a good Pho (pronouced "Fah") stand. We are lucky! Not only is the Pho excellent, but there is a sugar-cane juice seller under the same clump of umbrellas. We talk so long that we are there when the umbrellas are rearranged for the movement of the sun.
Nearby, a boy is chopping ice on the sidewalk with an ice-comb and we get an occasional sprinkle. The ice will be used to chill cans of soda, bottles of water and coconuts for drinking as they are hawked from big baskets and boxes on the backs of bicycles. We steal a sliver to wash the sticky jackfruit off our hands.
Pho is eaten at any meal. For an everyday breakfast, and also for Tet, the biggest holiday of the year. For lunch, for dinner. It has as many variations as it has makers, and that is saying a lot! Some streets will have a pho stand every few meters all down the block. A clear savory broth, containing various cut up meats, noodles, and a pile of unfamiliar greens to dump in as desired. The greens may include several varieties of mint, bean sprouts, and some shredded part of a banana plant. Be prepared for knuckle-bones, skin, sundry organ meats, beef, pork, meatballs, and in some areas, seafood. The noodles may be anything from super-thin rice noodles to fat white spaghetti-looking, flat, or round, like long macaroni. The broth is sometimes tinted red with mild chilis. On the side is always a dish of tiny limes to squeeze in, a dish of some spicy or mild sauce, some very hot fresh chilies, toilet paper for napkins, and toothpicks. Sit on a stool 12 inches high, eat with chopsticks in the right hand, a large spoon in the left hand, and wipe your face with the toilet paper provided. A feast for a Queen!
After the cane juice and pho, we scootered to a different part of town and while we were waiting for a couple of coconuts to drink at the sidewalk tables of a tourist-trap restaurant, a woman passed by on the street pushing a cart with delicious smells. Hopping up, we watched as she tossed a large handfull of pretty patterned, delicate shells the size and shape of periwinkles into a hot wok filled with garlic and spices. A minute later we were back at the restaurant sidewalk table with two coconuts to drink and two dishes of strongly seasoned seafood from the street vendor: a dish of the spicy snails and a dish of some bivalve meat, also sauteed in the wok, delivered by her helper in china dishes with a dish of dipping sauce.
On the way back, we stopped for a small dish of seaweed pudding the texture of stiff jello, flavored with some green leaf. Eat standing and return the dish to the vendor.
Riding around the streets is very different from walking! Instead of an obstruction in the flow, you are one with the flow. Cooling humid air breezes past your face as the bike weaves through bikes, buses, taxis, pedestrians and all the various vendors and vehicles.
Okay - I am ready for another walk after cooling off in the hotel air conditioning. See you later. Oh - the stuff to the left of the greens in the picture is bahn chung - a sticky rice filled with meat and beans. Traditional for Tet and Yummy.
To Angelica::
We walk miles every day, but I am not losing weight.... no fair! I think it is the sweet drinks and the heavy breakfast every day. We have had an invitation to spend one day of Tet in a Vietnamese home... I need to call her back and tell her yes if she is still willing to have us. It was a retired teacher who learned English so she could work in Russia (don't ask me!!).
We met while watching a cultural display of singing and dancing with an orchestra set up in the middle of a busy street (they closed down this section of the street for the performance). I took videos of it and maybe I'll figure out how to put it on UTube. Mostly, though we are busy enough that I don't spend much time on the computer.
We also may go for a trip to the Delta - but I think it is just a day, but will probably be gone from early to late.
Feb 2
Just got back from an evening stroll to see the Tet lights... like Christmas lights on a huge scale. Maybe tomorrow or Monday I will get the next installment on the website. Terry got the preview all to herself!
The roar of motorcycles is almost like the roar of Niagara Falls as you wade into moving traffic at night while walking back to the hotel. Once in the room it is hard to imagine it is anything other than what it is: a million million motorcycles driving by, honking each its own particular honk at frequent intervals to warn each other and the world at large they they are on the move.
(Later my friend Tam tells me there is a popular song called "Nine Million Motorcycles" about Ho Chi Minh City)
The lights stretch along three major roads - or more - each with its own theme of silk decorations, colored moving lights, flowers, statues, fountains, in an array like nothing I've ever seen before.
Now I'm pooped after a long day's ride in a cyclo - pedal-driven bicycle with something like a baby stroller for adults attached to the front. We went to Chinatown in Ho Chi Minh City. Isn't that amazing?
Our Vietnamese guide tells us there are many many Chinese living there, but, I haven't entirely got the knack of discerning one SE Asian national from another. Every once in a while I'd think "Oh, she looks Chinese" but since I don't speak Viet or Chinese, there was no practical way to ask as we rolled along slowly and steadily through thick traffic. My driver (pedaler?) did not speak English, so I was on my own to figure out what to look at and where we were.
At the big Chinatown Market, there are more things I do not recognize than things I do. Much appears to be wholesale: colorful cloth and children's clothes and the little cotton masks worn to keep the sun and pollution from the face.
At one stall I bought a bag of sundry dried fruits for 10,000 dong, less than 70 cents: dried kiwi, and four other fruits I do not recognize. Priced by the kilo, the seller was remarkably patient and allowed me to create my own selection from his huge display - then he topped it up for me with some extra kiwi.
We spent considerable time looking at the Cao Dai Temple and our guide made sure we read the literature so we would understand the religion's excellence. Before departing the Temple, we were served tiny cups of tea, refilled until the pot was empty.
In Saigon:
Here is the dilemma: There is too much to write about. So you can help me get organized..we can start with sidewalks.
The sidewalks are ceramic tiled, some places beautiful, some places broken and as filthy as anything you can imagine - there are no waste receptacles, everything gets tossed on the street and later swept up by rice-cone-hatted orange suited municipal workers wielding long brooms made of twigs - because it is not rainy season, the filth builds up.
The sidewalks are blocked by street vendors selling cigarettes, cameras, canned drinks, coconuts to drink, fresh fruit cut up, peeled, and on a stick, fresh fruit whole, lottery tickets, dried shrimp, tiny oranges, bright red and gold TET decorations.
The sidewalks are blocked by "cyclos," their operators sleeping in the three-wheeled bicycles, waiting for a customer to want a ride somewhere or nowhere in particular.
The sidewalks are blocked by street vendors selling meals - setting up a cook-station with a cart full of boxes and bags filled with ingredients, a cooker, icebox, porcelain dishes, silverware/chopsticks, toilet paper in boxes for napkins, little dishes of condiments, and tiny little tables and chairs spread out across the sidewalk filled with people in business suits having breakfast of skinny noodles with greens and meats, served with spicy sauces or fat noodles in a rich broth with different greens and meats.
The sidewalks are blocked by street vendors selling suppers from a simple pot of stew kept warm over a charcoal fire in an old 2 litre oil tin sitting on a bamboo mat; patrons stand while eating, or sit on the curb. Or walk a block and step into air-conditioned cool, marble stairs and an elegant menu with abbreviated and occasionally incorrect English translations.
The sidewalks are blocked by vendors selling sandwiches, candied fruit, dried fruit, various vegetables, shoes, watches, T-shirts, dried bananas flattened and heated over a tiny brazier, fresh squeezed orange juice served in a plastic bag with a straw.
The sidewalks are blocked because they are used as parking lots for motorcycles.
The sidewalks are blocked by people getting onto and off their motorcycles, and getting dressed to ride their bikes.
The sidewalks are blocked by people servicing motorcycles, washing and detailing motorcycles, sitting leisurely on motorcycles in the shade and talking on cell phones while lying down on motorcycles.
The sidewalks are blocked by brass polishers, shoes shiners, hair-cutters, manicurists, children playing kick-the can.
The sidewalks are blocked by motorcycles taking a shortcut down the sidewalk because the street is already full to capacity with motorcycles, motorcycles, motorcycles, carrying two people, three people, four and five people squeezed onto one bike. Motorcycles deliver everything: parcels, packages, three or more 5 gallon jugs of water, stacks of boxes higher than the driver's head, big bags of laundry tied on in front, behind and hanging down each side, a boxed refrigerator I saw being tied to a young driver's back as he set off to make the delivery.
Moms ride behind grown daughters, carrying the day's groceries and a box of canned drinks and a fat bag with three packs of diapers and a spur of the moment purchase of a birdcage and a flowering plant in a pot for Tet. A birdcage carried in the hand, bags tied on handles and seat, boxes between the legs, plant rides between Mom and Daughter. The women don their commuting apparel: a colorful facemask of soft cotton to protect against pollution, sometimes small, like a surgeon's mask, sometimes large, covering the ears, neck and upper chest; a helmet enforced by the new helmet law; maybe a decorative cover for the helmet; Long shiny gloves that come to the shoulder to keep the skin from tanning, likewise silver or gold toe-socks in their spike-heeled gold backless sandals, and a jacket against the sun on a day exceeding 90 degrees.
The sidewalks are built with small ramp-cutaways in the curb to facilitate driving motorcycles into the houses at night. In the hotel, several motorcycles park in the lobby all day - belonging to the staff, I suppose.
Motorcycles driving up and down the alley sound like a lion roaring in the distance, now here, and now distant again while we eat breakfast at tiny plastic tables on tiny plastic chairs. The alley is 7 feet wide - with supplies piled up along both sides and homes and businesses opening into the space. The alley dogs are quiet and small with curled tails and strong forequarters
Crossing the street: do not wait for traffic to slow. It will not. Just step out into the flowing mass of motorcycles and cars and buses. Walk slowly and deliberately ahead, keeping an eye on the oncoming traffic - veer slightly when needed to avoid collision as cars and bikes pass merely a breath away, indeed you can feel their breath as they go by. Buses have right of way. They do not stop at intersections regardless of signs posted, they just move ahead without stopping and all other traffic makes way.
At the restaurant beside the alley where we get breakfast, the vegetables are spread out and cut on the tiled floor; the sidewalk food prep is done on a slab of wood on the ground, or just a sheet of brown paper to keep the food off the filth and debris of the walkway while people walk by, scattering who-knows-what into the mix.
I want to try the little brown things in the bags sold by the old women - either mashed dates covered with coarse sugar or fermented fishballs with coarse salt... or something else. And i want to dry the flat brown things that look like flat dried persimmons. Yesterday at a buffet in a huge space filled too many people all talking loud vietnamese and children chasing each other and a maze of chairs and tables in what used to be an open area between buildings but now has a motorized metal roof-system amid a jungle-gym of pipes and scaffolding and palm trees, I tried the dried shrimp - served in a salad of thick greens. They tasted like tough little dried shrimp in a salad.
Okay - that is all for now - it is time for another walk or a nap. Oh - another time, you can learn about the walking park which has been transformed for TET into a huge garden by gardeners selling their specialty TET bonsai and orchis and topiary orange trees in the shape of dragons and tropical flowering plants from inches to three meters high.
To imagine TET, imagine Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving, 4th of July and the pagan aspects of Easter all happening at the same time. It takes three days and is The Biggest thing in the year.
And this year is the 40th anniversary of the Tet offensive, so there is extra going on - we saw a beautiful concert and dance in honor of the successful defeat of the Americans in the "War of American Aggression." It took place on the front steps of the Opera House; the road was closed off to accommodate rows of plastic chairs for the audience.
One of the biggest streets in the city has been closed off for blocks and is being transformed into a garden with flowering plantings, curving brick walls surrounding something that isn't there yet, and large fountains constructed in the middle of the street. Oh - and a rice paddy. Yes, they have built a rice paddy in the middle of a huge city street.
It will all be dismantled after TET and made back into road. Photos will follow but we've been having lots of interruptions with the internet tonight as usual, so I'll stop and save here for luck.
(statue in the fine arts museum) (One of many tall buildings in District 1)
just wanted everyone to know I am well and fine and in Saigon. After
weeks of anxiously watching the weather in case of a snowstorm that
would hinder my travel as happened to Mom on her way to Maine, the forecast for Bangor and Detroit was clear and sunny for my weekend flight and everyone made fun
of my worrying :
"See? Everything will be fine; there won't be any delays,
and you will arrive right on time."
Right on time would be Saturday
11:30 pm, Saigon time. That would be 11:30 Saturday morning in Maine, exactly
12 hours difference. Approximately 28 hours of airplane and airport, not
including the baggage claim time.
Instead, I got here Sunday morning. A small "cosmetic" (the word used by
the pilot) scrape on the fuselage of the jet in Detroit delayed our
departure 2 hours while mechanics inspected and then "signed off" on
it. The pilot was very forthcoming and kept the passengers informed of
the cause of the delay, thus my intimate knowledge of the details.
We had a spectacular flight across the Arctic - 10 hours of sunset/sunrise
over snow-dunes, snow-dunes and... um, more snow-dunes and a few sheets of
solid dark ice, some ice- crevasses stretching for hundreds of miles,
and more snow dunes - brilliant clear sky above and below.
We came due south across
Japan from northern tip to Tokyo (the airport is actually in nearby
Narita) and let me tell you, it is COLD up there in the North of Japan!
Most incredible
mountains - sharp peaks, sun shining aslant giving definition to the
shapes, all frosted with snow, all rivers frozen solid, all flat areas
pure while and all roofs white. Not many roofs. It looked beautiful and
remote and bleak. The plane was plenty warm and all the way every
announcement was given in three languages - English, Japanese, and
Chinese (this flight continues to Bejing).
We arrived one hour late, at 5pm Tokyo time - plenty of time, thought I,
to catch my next flight which was to leave at 6pm.
Northwest Airways
thought otherwise and had already changed my itinerary while I was
aloft. Instead of a direct flight to Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh
city), I was put on a plane to Singapore with promises of a meal and a
hotel when I arrived, with a flight next morning to Siagon at 9:40. I
gave the airline Dan's hotel phone number to call and let him know the
change, and got on the plane.
This plane had individual video monitors to allow passengers to select and watch a movie of choice. They had some good selections, but I wanted to save them to watch with Angelica (Nanny something) or Mom (a true story about a guy who... um does something) or Dan (it has that guy, you remember the one, whose hair is short so he looks bald - or is he bald - and he is in these action films, but this one had also humor) , so instead I chose a movie in Hindu with English subtitles. It was a haunted manor story with beautiful women, handsome men, and a happy outcome for all, but sprinkled with delightful plot twists. It was fun to listen to the unfamiliar language while surrounded by many other languages.
In Singapore they knew nothing about me or who/what/why. No meal, no
Hotel. A lovely young woman from Northwest Airlines believed my story
(with help from the ticket records) and took almost an hour to find me
a place to spend the night and food. By this time it was 2 a.m. - but I
didn't need to get up til 7am, so after a shower and a bite there was
still a good 4 hours to sleep only interrupted every hour or so as other
people came and went in the night.
(a sidewalk in Saigon, now a district of Ho Chi Minh City)
The place I stayed was called "The Rainforest Lounge" and if you are
ever stuck in Singapore, I do recommend it. It is right in the airport.
Northwest footed the bill, so I can't tell you the cost. Great showers,
very clean. The food was minimal, but available 24 hours, self-serve.
Mashed potatoes out of a push-button dispenser (didn't try them),
varieties of instant cup-noodles, rice, "French Onions Soup," raisin
bran, bread and butter, various cakes and buns, and a tea/coffee
dispenser that offered only tea with milk, coffee with milk or coffee
with no milk. All three come heavily sweetened. It was actually quite
good (yes, Angelica, I actually drank tea with sugar in it!) Tasted like
Lipton instant. At that point anything tasted good. I had raisin bran
showered, and headed to my cot. The lovely plump attendant in official-looking suit and flip-flops showed me the way.
To get to my cot, we walked down a curving hallway marked with a skirted
female sign. Showers and bathrooms were at the end of the hall. We stepped into a
room with four cots arranged in a curve, a sleeping figure on each.
Beyond these, there was a room divided up into mini spaces, each with a
cot, a pillow and a lamp. The "walls" were just slats - all sound and
light could pass easily through, but the slats gave a feeling of privacy
anyway. Under a light blanket I tossed and turned until 6:30. As I lay in bed trying to decide whether to give up and get up, I imagined that the people's voices drifting in from the lounge were speaking Hindu - and realized that the movie the night (day?) before had made such an impression that i was somehow converting the sounds of SE Asian languages to the language of the subcontinent. So I got
up for a leisurely breakfast of raisin bran and a stale croissant with
orange juice from a dispenser and three cups of sweet tea. At the table next to mine, a dark-skinned family was comprised of a young man in t-shirt and jeans, two women dressed in saris and a gentleman whose turban appeared cut from the same cloth as his well-tailored grey flannel suit. The language they spoke was indeed Hindu.
Then I set out for Terminal Two.
Terminal two is 16 miles from the Rainforest Lounge, walking along wide airport corridors crowded with tropical flowers and shops selling perfume, chocolates and fancy souveniers .. or so it seemed. At a free wireless kiosk, I met Sara Burk for a few minutes and left offline messages telling my nearest and dearest that i was "Surprise!" in Singapore instead of Saigon. A multitude of languages filled the aromatic air, but the only English was in my head.
(Statue of "Uncle Ho" in a traffic circle - Notre Dame is to the left, but you can't see it..)
Singapore Airlines was
fabulous, and we arrived on time in Vietnam. It took approximately
three years to finally get my checked luggage, but then came the biggest
shock of all: I think all 12 million inhabitants of Ho Chi Minh City
were at the airport to meet someone. People waiting for friends to
arrive have to wait outside on the sidewalk beyond a barricade manned by
police.. Coming out the door is like walking onto a stage - like a fashion show runway - with the audience all calling out, shouting, a cacophonous hubub so loud that I went back in twice to the relative cool and quiet of the terminal before venturing out again.
When I did finally see Dan, he was at the back of the crowd, several people deep and though I could see his mouth moving, the sound was drowned out in the noise.
Well, the internet just disconnected... in the middle of a IM chat with
Angelica. I'll stick this in the outbox and see if i can get back online..
Buying coconut drink - from recent email to Terry - coming up next.

Contact me:


E-mail: tina@tinalee.org

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