May 4 -16
May 17-Jun 1
June 2-9
June 10-19
June 20-30
July 1-9
July 9-18
July 19-28
Jul 29-Aug 11
Aug 11-24
Aug 25-Sep 12
Sep 13-27
Sep 27-Oct 18
Oct 18-30
Oct 3-Nov 10
Nov 11-16
Nov 17-Dec 1
Dec 2-7
Dec 8-14
Dec 15-20
Dec 21-24
Dec 25-Jan 1
Jan 2-7
Jan 8-15
Jan 16-21
Jan 22-25
Jan 26-Feb 3
Feb 4-11
Feb 12-16
Feb 17-23
Feb 24-Mar 7
Mar 8-14
Mar 14-21
Mar 21-27

  Day 249, Mon, Jan. 8, 2001 – Having lost patience (and time) with the tour bus company, we decided on a flight to Hanoi, which was the longest leg of the journey up the coast anyway.  The aerial view was nice over the green fields and jungles.  Despite a few bomb craters here and there, Chess2_WEB.jpg (73585 bytes)  Commsign_WEB.jpg (134483 bytes) we could see how Vietnam became a dominant rice exporter (in Vietnamese, the word for food and rice is the same).  In Hanoi, our taxi took us to the bustling Old Quarter North of the lake, which is where most tourists stay. Ivan and Naomi went "house hunting" while I crashed in a lobby and watched the scene pass by.  The sidewalks were full of motos, plastic stools, food, vendors, etc. and guys in green jackets and hard military hats with a red star in the front.   This is the first we’d seen of the remnant of the war, but not surprised as Hanoi is the home of the victorious communist party.  Red flags are everywhere, with many more featuring the hammer and sickle logo in addition to the yellow star. 

After deciding on Hotel Anh Dao, we took a leisurely cyclo ride along wide tree-lined  boulevards.  Streetfood_WEB.jpg (111562 bytes) Temple_WEB.jpg (121087 bytes) Hanoi is more green and relaxed than Saigon, but has just as much commerce going on, although not the high-end mall variety.  Like elsewhere, women do all the carrying, with two baskets suspended form a poll across their shoulders. The city was dominated by tiny stalls and storefronts less than 10 feet wide, with colorful goods spilling out onto the sidewalk and food cooking on the street.  We asked the cyclo driver to take us to Maison Centrale, site of the infamous Hoa Lo Prison.  It was built by the French in 1896 to house 450 subversives and independence fighters, but was home to over 2000 by the 1930’s.  It would later be called the “Hanoi Hilton” by American prisoners of war.  One of them was US Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain and another is Pete Peterson, who became the first ambassador to Vietnam when diplomatic ties were re-established in 1995.  Most of the prison was destroyed to make way for a skyscraper, but a portion has been preserved as a museum.  The exhibits highlight the inhumane treatment and torture meted out by the French on Vietnamese prisoners and their heroic struggle to cope and escape.  Chains, leg irons, and other tools are on display while dingy cells house mannequins of skeletal prisoners, and emotional sculptures show beatings and tortures taking place.  When the prison was used by the Vietnamese, they tell a completely Prisonsign_WEB.jpg (105725 bytes) different story.  According to one sign in broken English, the US prisoners were treated with the utmost humanity, allowed to write home, go to church, play Guiotine4_WEB.jpg (16336 bytes) volleyball, eat turkey dinners and sleep on nice mattresses.  This, or course, is contrary to physical evidence and the testimony of the prisoners.  They tell of horrendous torture, deprivation and mind games.  The only thing they did not use that the French did was the guillotine. When put before a camera for “confessions” and propaganda photos, some prisoners would slyly flip a middle finger and one prisoner used his eyelids to blinked out the word “torture” in Morse code.  

Prison8_WEB.jpg (88317 bytes)  Prisonsculpt_WEB.jpg (35443 bytes)  Prison2_WEB.jpg (102660 bytes)  Photomccain_WEB.jpg (17385 bytes)  Prisonphoto_WEB.jpg (14207 bytes) 

We left and walked through the business district, buying our first Time Magazine and Opera2_WEB.jpg (97878 bytes) Herald Tribune in ages, then continued to the elegant French opera house and the real Hanoi Hilton, the Portraits_WEB.jpg (101502 bytes) most luxurious hotel in town - now sporting a hundred red flags.  Near the lake, young guys played badminton, older guys sat on benches or played chess and kids sold ice cream and candy.  We tried to interview some people, but there were fewer English-speakers here than in Ho Chi Minh City.  Someone told us there was a statue of "air pirate" John McCain where he was dragged out of the lake after he ejected, but we couldn't find it.   We looked for some Womenlake_WEB.jpg (48377 bytes) more VCDs about the war, but could only find comedies and science fiction crap.  At dinner, the Indian food was delicious, but we were interrupted when some pots and pans fell to the floor behind us.  We all thought Naomi was joking, when she said she saw a rat, but 5 minutes later the little bastard scooted across the floor and out the door.  We left shortly thereafter.


Day 250, Tues, Jan. 9, 2001 – We woke to the horrendous screeching noise from public speakers, as if there was a hurricane or bombing raid in process.  It could have been the president for all we knew, or a special discount at the local squid market, but we speculated that it was just some anachronism from the past when the party broadcast propaganda to the masses to start the day off on the right foot.   Inspired by the patriotic fervor (and the omnipresent flags and portraits) Monument3_WEB.jpg (64308 bytes) we headed off to see the man himself.  When Uncle Ho died in 1969, the Vietnamese followed inHomuseum5_WEB.jpg (50346 bytes) the footsteps of their ideological cousins to the North and gave him the Lenin/Stalin treatment – namely, embalming his corpse so people could continue to view his actual body for eternity rather than a mere grave, headstone, monument or statue (although there are plenty of those things too).  When we had been to Russia and China, the lines had been too long, so we never got a chance to see Lenin or Mao, so we thought we better visit Ho.  The place of pilgrimage is a huge stone structure dominating a long wide boulevard, which was closed for traffic.  We had to leave our backpacks and cameras with a guard and walk single-file along a walkway escorted by unsmiling military types who shushed every noise.  Inside was very spooky.  Ho was encased behind glass and laid at a Guards2_WEB.jpg (33691 bytes) slight angle so you could see his face.  He looked like wax, but at the same time seemed like he would open his eyes at any moment.  Homuseum_WEB.jpg (94263 bytes)It was all very sad and creepy, especially with armed guards around to enforce the reverence.  Nearby is the traditional wood stilt house where Ho lived until his death.  It is much more serene and calming than the mausoleum.  We could tell by watching the visitors that Ho is still held in high reverence as the revolutionary that won independence Guard2_WEB.jpg (83944 bytes) from colonial France and defeated the Americans.  Apparently, the subsequent failings in government are blamed on his underlings and successors (no wonder he’s the only face on all the currency bills).   There's a gift shop with dozens of posters, books and marble busts of him, like a Vietnamese Graceland.

Outside, cyclo drivers jockeyed for position and fought for our business. We hired the two Banner2_WEB.jpg (202039 bytes) mellowest guys to take us to the Temple of Literature, a collection of pavilions, gates, courtyards on the site of the country’s first University, opened in 1076.  Pagoda11_WEB.jpg (128453 bytes)Some of the pavilions house stone steles recording the achievements of graduates.  It is a welcome reprieve to stroll the grounds amidst the trees and flowers and young students sitting in circles on the grass.  We had a delicious lunch of thin pancakes, fish and dumplings at a restaurant that specializes in training orphaned kids in the “culinary arts”.

After lunch, it started to rain again, which changes the whole character of the city – we felt the dampness that prompted Graham Greene to write “you can rot comfortably in the damp of Hanoi”.  Dolls_WEB.jpg (93238 bytes)When the rain let up, we walked through the narrow alleys of the fascinating 1,000-year old quarter. In the 13th century, the city’s 36 trade guilds set up Liquor_WEB.jpg (172298 bytes) shop on different streets.  To this day, you can still have the odd experience of walking whole blocks dedicated to jewelry, silk, shoes, lacquer ware, paintings, flags, candy, headstones, or plumbing supplies.   We even found one corner with more types of liquor than we'd seen in ages.  We encountered our own version of this in our neighborhood – Tour Guide Street. We tried to book a trip to Tam Loc for tomorrow, but it was hard to pick from the 6 Sinh cafes, 3 Kim Cafes, and 2 Queen Cafes, so we went with Love Planet partly since there was only one of these and partly because we liked the name.  

Candyshop_WEB.jpg (165344 bytes)  Gravecarve3_WEB.jpg (47403 bytes)  Decorations4_WEB.jpg (139242 bytes)  Dolls2_WEB.jpg (133459 bytes)   


Day 251, Wed., Jan 10, 2001 – Awakened again by the screeching morning broadcast, which added to Tamcoc9_WEB.jpg (24888 bytes) the rainy gloom that only strong coffee can counter.  We boarded a minivan for the two-hour drive through the green and damp countryside to the area known for the huge limestone rock formations similar to those in Guilin in China.  Naomi napped while I read the new Time Tamcocwork4_WEB.jpg (131361 bytes) Magazine filled with bad news about Philippines, Indonesia and Jerusalem.  At Tam Coc our driver helped negotiate for two small boats before darting inside for a smoke and tea. Our boat was maneuvered by a tiny lady pushing it along the river with one oar while standing in the back.  Ivanhelentamcoc_WEB.jpg (115313 bytes)It was much like riding a gondola in Venice, but the scenery was natural and there was only one direction to go – up the stream, through a few tunnels and then back down to the dock.  We thought we were freezing throughout the ride, but some poor guys had to work in the shallow rice paddies, building dykes, planting,Natamcoc2_WEB.jpg (92352 bytes) raking, and working irrigation pumps.  One guy was up to his chest wearing a floppy Russian fur hat.  The ride was peaceful until vendors rode up next to us hawking embroidery and Tamcoc12_WEB.jpg (130152 bytes) sodas, neither of which we wanted to bother with in the freezing cold.  The advertised serenity is also broken by the constant chatter of the women boaters, who seemed to pass gossip and stories along the river to everyone they passed – one of the ladies maneuvered miraculously around the back of the boat on stylish 4-inch heels.  We made through three amazing limestone caves and back to the dock without any major incident.  

  Tamcoc21_WEB.jpg (35567 bytes)  Tamcoc3_WEB.jpg (123368 bytes)  Tamcoccave2_WEB.jpg (45999 bytes)  Tamcocwork6_WEB.jpg (70582 bytes)  Jaomitamcoc_WEB.jpg (122235 bytes)   

After a lunch at which Ivan’s chicken looked a hell of a lot different than my chicken (and more like Kengakids5_WEB.jpg (90970 bytes) man’s best friend), the tour continued to Kenh Ga, which was billed as aKengaboat3_WEB.jpg (127088 bytes) floating village much like those in the Mekong Delta.  Unfortunately, market day was yesterday, so the village was very quite.  This is off the beaten track, though, and it was wonderful to encounter smiling waving people who don’t appear to encounter many strangers.  The kids were sweet, hamming it up for the camera.  

Kengakids2_WEB.jpg (125848 bytes)  Jakenga_WEB.jpg (80893 bytes)  Kengakids_WEB.jpg (113864 bytes)  Kengawork2_WEB.jpg (69721 bytes)  

Kids9_WEB.jpg (24081 bytes)  Kidssewing_WEB.jpg (31047 bytes)  Kidsmile_WEB.jpg (31723 bytes)  Kids6_WEB.jpg (30022 bytes)  

On the boat, we talked to our guide, Ning, about the future of Vietnam.  He sees it as improving, but it still very rough on those who cannot find work.  Like most people we have met, he said there is no longer any resentment toward Americans.  On the way back, I finished The Sorrow of War.

“My memories of war are always close by, easily provoked by random moments”


“A human being’s duty on this earth is to live, not to kill”


“No – the ones who loved war were not the young men, but the others.  Like the politicians, middle-aged men with fat bellies and short legs.  Not the ordinary people.  The recent years of war had brought enough suffering and pain to last them a thousand years.”


“We were trapped in murderous firefights, in fighting so horrible that everyone involved prays to heaven they’ll never have to experience any such terror again.  Where death lay in wait, then hunted and ambushed them.  Dying and surviving were separated by a thin line.”


“Why did people claim that life was always better than death? It wasn’t so.”


“As we had won, he thought then that meant justice had won, that had been some consolation, or had it?  Think carefully; look at your own existence.  Look carefully at the peace we have, painful bitter, and sad.  And look at who won the war”


“Why heaven allowed him to live he would never understand”


“But then again, even if I do bathe, even if I peel my entire skin away, I’ll be just as unclean.”



Day 252, Thurs., Jan 11, 2001 – We check out of Anh Dao for our next excursion in tour bus heaven.  They told us to be at Helen’s hotel, but a guy came running over saying we were supposed to be at the office and the bus was leaving now.  It’s funny how the guides freak out and rush us when we’re 5 minutes behind after they had us waiting 8 hours and responded with a simple “no problem”.  Anyway, the sky was gray and dreary the whole way out to the coast as we headed to Halong Bay – the dramatic coastal waters of the South China Sea inhabited by thousands of craggy limestone peaks and islands.  On the bus we read, finishing A Season in Heaven about Nepal (2 months too late), and at Halong City all 20 of us were crowded into the tiny basement of a small restaurant for a set meal of fish, chicken, salad and fries (we think).  Our group included two Danish women, an Australian family with a precocious 10-year old, two Boat5_WEB.jpg (80718 bytes)Russians with local whores, and a few Americans.  We started a tour of the Bay, passing hundreds of fishing vessels and houseboats.  We immediately realized why HalongBoats4_WEB.jpg (103863 bytes) means “where the dragon descends into the sea” by the sight of the many humps and crags poking from the water like multiple crocodile tails.  In 1994, the natural wonder was named Vietnam’s second UNESCO World Heritage site.  We tried to stay up top to watch the rock formations come out of the fog, but it was too cold most of the time (funny that didn’t stop us from drinking ice cold beers). 

Boat14_WEB.jpg (115962 bytes)  Bay12_WEB.jpg (40323 bytes)  Boat2_WEB.jpg (93888 bytes)  Bay15_WEB.jpg (81417 bytes)   

boat_web.jpg (60750 bytes)  Bay19_WEB.jpg (79352 bytes)  Boat13_WEB.jpg (84243 bytes)  Boat9_WEB.jpg (73385 bytes) 

Ivanboat_WEB.jpg (93657 bytes)  Jaboat_WEB.jpg (74312 bytes)  bay_web.jpg (38902 bytes)  Jaomisleep_WEB.jpg (65247 bytes)

Our first stop was a huge cave with mineral deposit formations all around.  The inside was lit with decidedly unnatural green, red, blue and yellow lights creating an eerie, otherworldly atmosphere. Outside the weather was clearing a little, but still too gray for any decent photos – just milky white sky backing the craggy limestone cliffs. We arrived at Cat Ba Island, had the pre-arranged dinner at Thang Long  hotel, then had a walk around the small town.  It is very laid-back, probably the smallest town we’ve visited in the country.   Most people earn a living from the sea, although the majority of the island’s fishing fleet was lost during the exodus of “boat people” after the communists won the war.  Ivan got a fifty cent shave, but I wasn’t going near the place – something about a rusty straight edge razor and an 18 year old girl just doesn’t instill complete confidence – there’s a reason they called the other type of razors “safety ” when they were invented.  Naomi continues to get the questioning stares from locals and accusatory stares from tourists – the Russians with hired help on their arms didn’t help matters much.  She often feels like the Elephant Man -  tempted to scream “I am not a whore!  I am an American Tourist!”


Day 253, Fri, Jan 12, 2001 – Today we finally got a chance to ride in one of those monstrous soviet-era truck/bus things we’ve seen all over Vietnam (especially in the North).  It was another organizational riot as they stuffed 30 tourists from three different tour groups into 20 seats or so.  The terrain is hilly on the way to Cat Ba National Park, so the driver climbed hills with much grinding effort, then coasted down the back side laying on the horn the entire way.  His constant blaring was not so much for “pardon me, may I pass” as it was “if you want to live, get the hell out of the way!”  After a half hour girl_web.jpg (82226 bytes)we arrived at a huge natural cave in the limestone mountains that was converted into a field hospital during the American War.  Apparently, Cat Ba held significant strategic importance as a foothold on the coast region and a base to control the Halong Bay region and the adjoining Tonkin Gulf.  Tonkin was where the infamous “incident” took place that Lyndon Johnson used as an excuse to escalate US involvement (historians still debate the circumstances of the incidents, and according to Lonely Planet, the resolution Johnson had drafted for congress approval was written before the incidents took place).    Inside the cave, a 300-bed hospital was unknown to the Americans and was only opened up last year as a tourist sight.  The caretaker inside is a hilarious 70-year old former gunner who defended the hospital from aerial bombardment.  He seemed to enjoy his new job as guide and raconteur although we think he didn’t receive the memo from his boss on the new “friendship” with America since heMotherbaby_WEB.jpg (88017 bytes) seemed to have great pride in having shot down numerous American aircraft “by his own hand”.  He said Vietnam must be a rich and important country because they kept getting invaded by the Chinese, French, American, Cambodian, and then Chinese again.  He did allow however “although Vietnam is a small country, it has a big heart, and all is forgiven - everyone is a friend now”.  He demonstrated his gunning technique by yelling a thunderous “Boom!” which echoed through the caverns and a karate chop showing the descent of the stricken enemy plane.  All of this was more interesting because we heard it first in Vietnamese, then translated to English by the bus guide.  He finished with a rousing revolutionary song and energetic rendition of the National Anthem – with everyone clapping along to “Viet-nam, Ho-Chi-Minh, Viet-nam, Ho-Chi-Minh!”.  It was like a flashback to the old vaudeville days - he shook everyone’s hands on the way out.

Family2_WEB.jpg (42713 bytes)  Flagscicle_WEB.jpg (14171 bytes)  Owfsticker_WEB.jpg (84701 bytes)  Longhung_WEB.jpg (41677 bytes)    

The bus carried on to the national park itself and we started a long (12-KM) hike through the craggy misty green mountains, past tiny villages with thatch houses and villagers carrying goods and tending buffalos.  The hike was not that arduous, but a little tiring for our group.  It went up and down a lot, over 6 small mountain peaks with moreTree2_WEB.jpg (138237 bytes) rocks and tree trunks than paths and steps.  Whenever we headed up again, we had harrowing flashbacks of the torture in Nepal.  Thankfully, we were at lunch within a few hours, then continued on flat ground through a small Ivanswim2_WEB.jpg (24162 bytes)village waving and playing with some kids, and into a perilously overcrowded wicker boat that had to be baled for the entire 15-minute journey to a bigger boat.  Ivan accepted the offer of a beer if he tested the waters and froze his ass off after jumping in the lake.  The combination of ice water and icy beer probably added to his illness today. 

Boatcrowd3_WEB.jpg (89424 bytes)  Hike4_WEB.jpg (103552 bytes)  House_WEB.jpg (142590 bytes)  Womenloads_WEB.jpg (22123 bytes)  Buffalo_WEB.jpg (132621 bytes)  

Unfortunately, the weather was still gray and gloomy on the 90-minute boat trip back to the main town.  We had a spring roll, pork, vegetable and rice dinner at the hotel before heading out for massages to ease the pain of the day-long hike.  We picked a place across from Ivan’s barber and negotiated for 5 people at once.  The place must have been looking for clients all day since the girls abandoned their hairstyling and nail work and came out of the woodwork when we walked up.  We went upstairs past the kitchen and into the owner’s bedroom, which also serves as a mass massage room.  I lay on a bed between Naomi and Ivan while Helen and Eva (from Denmark) laid on two others.  The others got female masseuses, but I was the only client to get a guy because I was the biggest one.  Having a guy masseuse made for a little rougher, but pretty good massage, with cracks all over my spine and neck – I’m not sure my chiropractor in LA would approve, but it felt pretty good nonetheless.  We spoke no Vietnamese and the masseuses no English, so the best we had was “Shen-hao” (hello) and the National Anthem.  We surprised them with that one and they burst out laughing.  We also tried to sing some Beatles, but the best entertainment was to listen to Ivan alternating rapidly between laughter from being tickled and screams of agony from having his nose and ears yanked off – exclaiming “what was that for? I thought massages were for pleasure not pain!”.  Somehow, we suspect he was thinking of another type of massage.  We had to have beers afterward to chill out, so we stopped at the Flightless Bird pub, run by a Kiwi (of course).  He had many NZ travel brochures around and gave us advice for our upcoming trip there.  You know a country like Vietnam is really on the way to open markets and tourism when the Aussies and Kiwis can open pubs freely, especially on this island.


Day 254, Sat, Jan 13, 2001 – Unfortunately, another gloomy gray day, denying us any sunny views of the bay.  Started after a lame hotel breakfast.  Ivan finally got a hot shower in a different room.  On these types of tours, there’s no one to complain to since we keep getting handed off from booking agent to tour operator to bus driver to boat driver to hotel operator, etc. etc.  We would’ve rather done this tour ourselves, but we didn’t have the energy.  Besides you meet more people this way – Scots, Danes, Aussies, etc. on this tour – even one guy who fancies himself a James Bond, keeping to himself and taking plenty of photos with a fancy miniature camera.  I stayed on top the boat to take in the views as we glided past the limestone monoliths with only the sound ofBoatvendor4_WEB.jpg (53937 bytes) the engines and water lapping the rocks.  The milky white sky cloaked many of the rocks in a haze, making them appear as ghosts in the distance.  The shapes went from faint outline to gray lump, to craggy green rocks as our boat approached, then passed.  Every turn in the bay revealed a new set of shapes, sometimes, you could see through the caves and grottoes carved under the rocks by thousands of years of wind and waves. After a while it got a bit breezy so I moved back down where Naomi was napping.  We bought some snacks from a boat that came out of the mist like a pirate ship and tied a rope to our boat.   It was a family of vendors, with the little kid laughing and dancing in the front of the boat.  

Boatvendor2_WEB.jpg (111622 bytes)  Boatvendor3_WEB.jpg (80924 bytes)  Womanbanana_WEB.jpg (25155 bytes)  Catbahouse_WEB.jpg (92444 bytes)    

Bay37_WEB.jpg (42543 bytes)  Boat18_WEB.jpg (53318 bytes)  Halongjunk_WEB.jpg (41830 bytes)  Halongview2_WEB.jpg (23298 bytes) 

In three hours we had rounded Cat Ba Island and arrived at Halong City for lunch.  kid2_web.jpg (108445 bytes)The Mombaby_WEB.jpg (72839 bytes)food was incredibly greasy, deep fried stuff, not up to usual Vietnam standard, so we held off.  We had to wait for our bus in a small street which provided wonderful people-watching as life carried on around us.  Two motos had smashed together and several cops and witnesses were standing around the wreckage chatting about it - they seemed fairly nonchalant as the crowd gathered around.  A working crew was tying bamboo logs to a rope to be pulled to the third floor of a hotel which was adding a floor.  We couldn’t help being reminded of the recent nightclub fire Motowreck4_WEB.jpg (98685 bytes)in China that killed dozens due to inadequate building and safety standards.  Another guy was slamming a sledgehammerGirls8_WEB.jpg (83188 bytes) into a metal wedge held by a partner against a steel cable – much sweat in place of a metal saw.  A woman in conical hat and face scarf was shoveling sand against a screen to sift it.  The work being done reminded us that we have a dozen tools for everything in the West, but here they find a dozen uses for each tool.  While waiting and watching we had some ice cream and chatted with the numerous postcard and book vendors, most of whom were kids.  One beautiful teenage girl in a floppy hot approached me.

"You buy postcard"
"No, thank you"
"You need souvenir"
"I’m sorry, I have some"
"You buy book – American Book"
"I’m sorry, I read it already" (It was The Quiet American by Graham Greene – which you see everywhere in "Vietnam)
"You buy this one – Vietnam Book"
"I read that too – very good book" (The Sorrow of War)
"Yes, I know – American War"
"It was very sad"
"Yes – Americans make sad"
"I know, I’m sorry.  I hate war."

She just frowned and walked away.  For some reason I was reminded of the kids who shot me with the fake gun and the woman who yelled “f--k you!” in Hoi An.  I imagine the feelings are even stronger amongst those who were around 25 years ago.

The bus finally came and we were on our way back to Hanoi through the rice fields and paddies.  Halfway there we stopped for a toilet and snack break at a crafts factory that supports handicapped people.  We bought some stuff and played with the kids from the neighborhood across the street.  At first they were reluctant to hand over their ball, until I Kids2_WEB.jpg (128923 bytes)headed it back to them like a soccer ball, then they realized Jakids_WEB.jpg (115735 bytes)I wasn’t going to run away with it.  When we got out the camera the reaction was just like the kids in Africa – pandemonium.  They loved to see their faces reflected in the screen, laughing, making faces and sticking out their tongues.  They were adorable.  In some shots, you can see us reflected in the kid's eyes.

Kidface11_WEB.jpg (35879 bytes)  Kidface18_WEB.jpg (25946 bytes)  Kidface2_WEB.jpg (26597 bytes)  Kidface27_WEB.jpg (24156 bytes)   

Back in Hanoi, we checked back in to the Anh Dao, where the construction continued – paint smell, dust and all.  The wonderful staff welcomed us with smiles. We had one of our best Vietnamese dinners at Soho Café and then took in the famous water puppets show.  This type of puppetry was created in the 11th century by farmers to entertain the King during the rainy season.  The puppets are made of wood and painted in glossy vegetable-based colors and controlled underwater with sticks from behind an elaborate bamboo façade.  It is really an amazing and funny show with fire-breathing dragons chasing a ball, kids swimming, fishermen pulling in a big fish, a hunter chasing a leopard up a tree, a royal procession on horseback, boat races, a rice harvest, and even mating swans that produce a baby chick.  It was all very cute, accompanied by live music of flutes, gongs, drums, xylophones, and the amazing one-stringed dan bau, which twangs and hums different notes as the player adjusts the tension on the string   We even got a hand fan and a cassette of the music for the $3 entrance fee.

Puppet12_WEB.jpg (87861 bytes)  Puppet7_WEB.jpg (96337 bytes)  Puppetbirds3_WEB.jpg (30535 bytes)  Puppetboatsmoke_WEB.jpg (22967 bytes)  Puppetmusic_WEB.jpg (83319 bytes) 

Ivantvman_WEB.jpg (99788 bytes)On the way back home, we passed a small shop with the unmistakable sounds of football (soccer to you Americans) blaring from a TV.  It was turned up all the way because the guy watching must have been 80 years old and stone deaf.  He smiled to us when we leaned in his doorway and Ivan wound up watching the rest of the game with him, cheering together into the night  in two different languages.  I thought football mania it was just an English character tick, but apparently not.


Day 255, Sun, Jan 14, 2001 – Since we had spent the holidays in Vietnam, Naomi and I were feeling a bit guilty that we did not have our traditional Christmas party in which we collect toys for needy kids.  It’s the first time in 6 years we didn’t do it.  Of course, the kids here are more needy than those in Los Angeles, so we decided to go shopping for gifts and look for an orphanage to give them to.  The hotel helped us find a place and Helen and Naomi Puppies_WEB.jpg (83599 bytes)led the shopping charge.  You should have seen the face on the cyclo drivers and people on the street as we progressed across town with three huge plastic bags of toys and gifts.  We found the home, but it was closed (oops, it’s Sunday, huh?).  Fortunately, one of the kids saw us from an upstairs window and a teenage kid came to let us in.  Girls_WEB.jpg (89238 bytes)According to Nguyen, 20 kids aged 4-18 live there because they have no parents.  As we came inside and they realized what we were there for, the kids started appearing out of nowhere.  Nguyen couldn’t speak much English, so he gave us the name of the adult in charge who will be back tomorrow and we left the gifts to hearty (although confused) smiles all around. 

We walked back toward home and stumbled upon a Western-style grocery store.  It was really amazing; having seen the poverty we’ve seen around here – they had Starbucks Frappucino, Hellmann's fat-free mayonnaise, Dr. Pepper, Hagen Dazs ice cream, Chips Ahoy cookies and the English equivalent McVities Boasters.  We hadn’t indulged in so much chocolate decadence since the Hob Nob jamboree in Katmandu.  We felt guilty due to the disparity, but on the way back the mood was lightened somewhat when a little kid relieved himself on Ivan’s leg. 

We continued home to take a break, write and download before going out for Helen and Ivan’s last night celebration.  We hooked up for dinner with them and with another couple, Keith and Gail from England.  They all had a blast bashing George Bush as a complete incompetent and I told them not to hold it against all of us since most people voted for somebody else.  We had dinner then headed to the Spotted Cow bar where we met some guys from Ohio and Notre Dame.  Afterward we headed to Polite Pub, a small American-style bar owned by a guy who had a barbershop in Arlington, Virginia managed by his brother.  We played foosball and shot pool with some Australians and English folks.   We somehow got an interview out of Ivan before things got out of hand:

Ivanint2_WEB.jpg (22059 bytes) "Happiness.  Being honest.  Finding someone special to share your life with.  Also, as I've seen here in Vietnam - a country at war for hundreds of years - their ability to forgive and smile and get on with life is amazing.  I think that's the same for everyone."

We had been hungering for some good loud Rock n’ Roll, and got a fare dose of James Ivanmongoose_WEB.jpg (77482 bytes) Brown, Stones, Cream and a new English group called Morcheeba.  The bartender even let us behind theNabar2_WEB.jpg (77693 bytes) bar to peruse his CD collection.  This resulted in Doors and Pink Floyd (by way of Ivan) and Beatles and Don McLean (by way of Naomi).  We had somehow resisted karaoke thus far throughout Asia, but in recognition of Helen and Ivan’s last night in Vietnam, we finally succumbed to a rousing sing-along.  Unfortunately, it was the legendary opus that strikes fear in the hearts of bartenders and waitresses worldwide – the full 8-minute version of “American Pie”.  Although the alcohol made our decision to sing a lot easier, it didn’t help with our memory.  We slogged along with everyone looking Barcrowd2_WEB.jpg (80113 bytes) at us like we were crazy, which we obviously were.  What really amazed us was that most of the English and Aussies knew just as many of theHelenivancyclo2_WEB.jpg (63730 bytes) words than we did.  Music is truly one of the great unifiers (as is alcohol).  We had a crazy cyclo ride back at 3:00 through eerily deserted streets in the pouring rain.  It was an odd feeling after the crowds during the day, but it was freezing.  Our driver mistook our frightened screams for squeals of joy and swerved even more, creating a bumpy circus ride all the way home.


Day 256, Mon, Jan. 15, 2001 – We really paid the price this morning as the day’s blaring wake-up Jahangover3_WEB.jpg (74910 bytes)  Nahangover_WEB.jpg (58239 bytes) party speech was augmented by construction noises at the hotel – all happening inside our heads.  This isn't the first time on the trip we were reminded that we aren't as young and resilient as we once were.  We needed aspirin, coffee and a heavy Italian brunch to line our stomachs.  The museums are closed on Mondays, so we hung around our neighborhood taking in the scene.  It was still cold and drizzly for the 8th day in a row.  The markets have changed a little since we got here, getting more lively with traditional decorations in shops and kumquat trees on the backs of motos.  We did our last minute shopping before leaving tomorrow – I couldn’t resist getting some more pirated CD copies.  I suppose my love of music pre-dates and trumps my job with largest intellectual property company in the world.  Hey, I quit anyway.  I also made a final search for DVDs of movies about the war, but saw nothing good – just silly Rambo and Chuck Norris crap.  We’ll have to watch Platoon and Apocalypse Now again when we get back home.  We wanted to talk to some people, so we asked the travel consultant at the hotel, Nguyen Van Bien to help us.  To date, we’ve had great difficulty finding strangers who spoke English (and there are unfortunately no Servas contacts in Vietnam). 

Interv4_WEB.jpg (17467 bytes)Nguyen Van Bien: "You must have good friends and relations with the world.  And you must have a good job.  You must work hard and try your best.  You should also travel, if you can to see the different people and culture and see how beautiful is the world you live in."

During the interview, we discovered we have the same birthday, although he is eleven years younger.  That makes three people with odd connections:  the Romanian gypsy boy with Indiana sweatpants, the Mauritian celebrating his birthday also named Jamie, and Bien.  He agreed to help translate for us and we headed outside to talk to people in the street.  For these, I also wanted to ask whether there was any anger or animosity left towards Americans.

Interv5_WEB.jpg (41984 bytes)
Tran Van Hao: "Having good feelings and relationships with people, my family, and my work.  In the past I hated Americans, but when the relationship was made normal, it is OK with me - they are welcome."

Interv6_WEB.jpg (38846 bytes)Nguyen Thang Duong: "My family - to have good relations with my grandparents and parents and children, and good relations wit the neighbors and community.  Money is important, but it is not everything.  The war caused much sadness, but it is in the past.  Now we don't care where someone is from.

Interv8_WEB.jpg (36155 bytes)
 "Most important is relationships with everyone - family, friends, neighbors.  After that, money is important to live on.  We should forget the past"


Interv10_WEB.jpg (37515 bytes) 
"Most important is good feelings of people around the world, and second is job for money.  The past is the past.  We should forget it and welcome everyone."

 Interv11_WEB.jpg (28999 bytes)

 "People need to have good relationships with others because if we do not, than we are like animals.  Also success in my job is important."  


Interv12_WEB.jpg (21764 bytes) 
"Happiness and my family is very important.  I want human happiness for everybody."

Interv13_WEB.jpg (18072 bytes)"There are many things, but in my opinions it is my family.  I live far away, but I must work here in Hanoi.  Vietnamese people are very friendly - we want to make friends with everyone.  We don't care much about the past.  There was bad consequence from the war, but now we look to the future to go forward"


Interv17_WEB.jpg (31927 bytes) "My job because it is my future.  I want to get a good education to help my mother and father and young brother.  I was born after the war, so I don't want to think about the past"


Interv20_WEB.jpg (18126 bytes)
"A job is important because many people have no job and are very poor.  But I also like experience, because it will help me in the future."


There was an uncanny Stepford-like unity to what everyone said.   No one would say anything negative about Americans, even when I assured them I wanted the truth.  As Ivan said, the ability to forgive and forget is astounding.  They each had a similar take on the relationships between people, as if they took a peek at our mission statement (or more likely the influence of Buddhism).   This, just 30 years after US Secretary of Defense wrote to President Johnson: "There may be a limit beyond which many Americans and much of the world will not permit the U.S. to go...The picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1,0000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission on an issue whose merits are hotly disputed is not a pretty one" .

Visiting here has been an incredible whirlwind of ghosts and smiles - a bag of emerald fields, Kidface12_WEB.jpg (29772 bytes)misty mountains and mixed feelings.  It is sometimes hard to believe what happened here just one generation ago.  Political reforms continue to trickle from the old timers in government at the glacial pace, but the younger folks, who are in the majority,  keep pushing to the future as fast as they can.  Within a couple generations, returning war veterans may not recognize the place - locals may not either.


If you would like to follow our adventure to Laos, please click here: Photojournal January 16 - 24, 2001

If you have any comments, suggestions, or other feedback, please see our contact information and send us a note.

Thanks for your support!