Visions of Vietnam

Multiple shades of green. Deep verdant greens, luminescent greens, dull dirty greens. The grass, the fields, the trees, the rice paddies, the water, the reeds. My lip balm container.

Incessant buzzing of motorbikes, honking of squeaky little horns. Every so often a loud, penetrating blast announces the uncommon passing of a truck or bus. Old people, young people, entire families squeezed onto tiny mopeds, weaving through the crowded streets, somehow managing to remain courteous while paying no attention to what Westerners consider to be standard rules of the road. Occasionally this controlled mayhem is thrown into disarray by a tourist carelessly using his (gasp!) signal light.

Nature and Religion

“Hello! Moto?”
“Hello! You come look?”
“Hello! You want eat?”
“Hello! You want drink?”
“Hello! Excuse me, free to look!”
“Hello! You buy!”
….accepting rejection with a smile a hundred times a day. A smile that demonstrates the supreme gift of unbelievable patience they possess that allows them to exude confidence that they will eventually wear down our weak Capitalist will power. Right out of the Colonel’s textbook, him and his wee beady eyes.

Tall, ridiculously narrow cement buildings with front sides painted and decorated in all sorts of bright, garish colours. The sides and back remain a dull, unfinished-looking gray with rough edges and corners that make it appear as though half the building was recently torn away by some gigantic, rammy child. Maybe Liam.

Small determined women in pajamas and large, conical bamboo hats (possibly the most practical invention of all time) tending fields, transporting immense loads of produce through heavy traffic on rickety old one-speed bicycles, maneuvering twice their weight through the crowds using bamboo baskets tied to the end of a stick draped over their bony little shoulders. Large groups of men enjoying tea, noodles and camaraderie at the local cafe.

A different way of getting there

Day to day items and services so cheap you almost feel guilty, the thought of bargaining ludicrous.

Daily motorbike rental = $8
Rent two bicycles and pay a guy to watch them while you are at the beach = $2.
1.5L bottle of water = $0.30
Umbrella rental = $0.30
Internet = $0.30/hr
Confused, frightened looks when I try speaking Vietnamese = priceless

Overwhelming heat, an oppressive, draining humidity that slows time and saps your energy so effectively you can actually watch your body wilting with every step further from the fans and air-conditioned comfort of the hotel. And no reason to even discuss how often we need to wash underwear.

At least the water feels nice

Floating along beautiful Tam Coc river, passing through magnificent limestone formations, under grottoes low enough to have to duck, sliding past solitary fishermen quietly pulling their nets up from the reeds, me protecting us from the sun with a rented purple umbrella like a stubbly Mary Poppins. The only sounds emanate from our tireless chauffeurs, a younger woman in the back paddling smoothly using only her feet, and her old, wizened counterpart next to Laynni poking at the water from time to time with a tiny paddle about the length of her arm. Our speed remains strangely constant even when she takes a break to sell us on the merits of her mediocre collection of embroidered napkins, doilies and tableclothes. A satisfied smile from one, a disgruntled exclamation from the other when the younger woman receives double the tip. Dean and Laynni: Global Purveyors of Justice.

Cruising quiet back roads around Ninh Binh, two to a motorbike, surrounded by lush rice paddies, lazy streams and green hills, water buffalo wallowing in muddy ponds while groups of jubilant kids play soccer in a dusty field. Rejoining the main highway into town, chaotic crush of motos and bikes, trucks honking loudly, inches from our back tire, exhaust choking and blinding.

Backroads of Ninh Binh

Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam’s illustrious past, the massive Citadel, imposing towers overlooking thick gates and a thirty metre wide moat, the majestic Imperial Palace, numerous temples, pagodas and luxurious villas. We shuffle from one to the next, staring intently, hoping through the force of our gaze we can miraculously develop a new appreciation for history, culture and tradition. We settle for “Cool buildings…I’m hot, you hot? Ready to head back? Yeah, I’ll have some of that water, too.”

Wandering the streets and alleys of central Hoi An, one of the few places that escaped the bombs of the American War, a sense of peace and permanence is created by the old French buildings, the weathered dock, the battered fishing boats, the ancient market where generation after generation has sold the same fruit/fish/baskets/bread/rope/hats/bowls out of exactly the same stall. One hundred metres away Rihanna belts out her latest tune in a crowded bar, a big screen TV is surrounded by Europeans watching Liverpool upset Man U and one of the hundreds of local tailors tries to entice tourists in to have clothing custom-made, existing clothes replicated or celebrity wardrobes copied to fit their own unique dimensions. I’m told it may take an extra day to properly recreate the tied-up tank top and tight denim cut-off ensemble of Lt. Jim Dangle of Reno 911. Apparently if not cut precisely the all-important ball-hugging qualities of the shorts can result in permanent damage while performing the Vietnamese jogger warmup.

Hoi An market

 

Cycling steadily along the narrow shoulder, single file, both perched upright, asses comfortably poised on the wide, padded granny seats, jaunty baskets proudly leading the way, weaving in and out of the large groups of uniformed school girls on bikes talking, laughing and texting as they meander all over the road. Occasional trucks honk in frustration, attempting to part the sea of white ao dai, black hair and obliviousness.

Leaned back on elbows in the sand, waves lapping at the beach, clouds drifting overhead, palm trees waving lazily in the breeze. A diminutive woman wearing jeans, a hat, flannel jacket, face mask and wool gloves approaches directly across the sand like a little Arrow of Destiny.

“Hello! No mad, be glad! Have a look, no money to look. Cheap, very cheap. Hello, don’t be lazy, be crazy!”

She takes several “No, thank you”s as an invitation to sit down and join us. The waiting game begins. She looks at me, I look at her, she looks at me, I look at the ocean, she looks at me, I look at my book, she looks at me, I sneak a glance at her, she’s still looking at me, I quickly look away, I turn back, she holds out a packet of postcards…I look at the sand. Several minutes pass, she suddenly rises, gathering all her baskets in one easy motion, trotting off with a smile.

“I come back later”

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