Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Come on Ho Chi Minh, let Saigons be Saigons. And Phnom(onal) Penh, Cambodia

(Please forgive the premature post)

There is more than the obvious pun there, really (which I must credit to Joel). Whoever gets the additional pun gets bonus points! We, by complete circumstance, ended up spending our first night in Saigon during the lunar new year's festivities. It was insane in the membrane. Saigon wins the number of Vespas award (and I use the term Vespa like we use 'Coke' or 'Kleenex').

Notable highlights of Saigon:
-The Bubble Tea (an Asian delicacy that perhaps some of you western folks 'taint privy to)
-My day with the girls at the spa, including the hot stone massage by the hot lil' Vietnamese girls
-Any street food you want for 5000 Dongs, take what though wilt!
-The vendors in Southern Vietnam do not try to charge a special foreigner price, though this was part of the fun of Hanoi for me, the challenge of the haggle.

We are now in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We toured the National Museum and the Royal Palace. Azure and I jammed some with the Cambodian percussion ensemble within the Palace grounds. It was epic.

Now! Onto Ankor Wat where I am hoping to ride an elephant!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oh, Danang it!

--I wrote the following in my journal just this morning--

I am writing this under the ledge of a tin shack where I have sought shelter from the rain. It is my third day in Danang where I came by my lonesome in the search for waves. However, the waves are small and too short lived these days to even ride them in on one's stomach.

Last night it began storming. This morning, just an hour ago it seemed that the storm had died to a slight drizzle. My plan was to walk down to the beach and see if the storm had translated into waves. Unfortunately, no significant waves were seen. As soon as I began heading back towards the hotel to get some breakfast and coffee, the rains picked-up full throttle. So here I am.

My time here in Danang though has not been a complete waste. Until now at last, the weather has been perfect save the lack of surfable waves.

-time passes-

I have now made it to a cafe. I was greeted warmly by a waiter with an umbrella as I approached.

Coffee here is a ritual. They bring out the implements to the table consisting of the can-like unit from which the coffee slowly drips into the cup which in turn sits in a bowl of hot water. One pours and stirs the hot water into the strong espresso like coffee once the drips have slowed to a halt. Traditionally, sweetened-condensed milk is added. I have found some coffee shops here not to use this but instead just make use of raw sugar as sweetener. Either way, the barrista/barristo will stir generously if you do not do so yourself.

(Wow, the rain is really coming down now.)

I like Vietnamese beans very much and Azure, former Starbucks barrista, feels the same. They, in themselves, have a sweetness to them as we had been told by Andrew, our Vietnam traveled friend. The addition of sweetener seems quite excessive and may even ruin the subtleties of the bean. I do believe that with this cup of coffee (now dripping) I will not permit them to add the sweetener despite their remonstrations at the irrational actions of this foreigner. Alongside the implements is also served some mild hot tea to enjoy during the long drip process.

-some time passes-

I was interrupted by Tom who saw me from the other side of the cafe. Tom is one of the few Americans I have met here, and all of these Americans are Vets. Tom is here for the whole winter and has expressed in conversation his plans to spend many future winters here in Vietnam. I don't know exactly what beckons him back. He was only here for one year during the war but speaking to him it is almost as if he has never left.

A few of the other characters that I have met here in Danang-

Timmy is a teenage Vietnamese-American who moved back with his family years ago. Timmy is a young fellow quite sure of himself. Raised in North Carolina where he learned to surf, he speaks both English and Vietnamese with native ability. He is the surf expert at the Pub and Surf shop I am patronizing. When speaking about music he schooled me on the intricate complexities of reggae that I am apparently just not hearing. He seemed confused at my response, a grin and a nod. We spoke about surfing together but unfortunately this was not to be, given the waves and weather.

Tune is a Vietnamese fellow who owns a coffee shop that appears to be more of a tent on the side of the road blasting loud dance music. Compared with the other locals and considering that he has never traveled to the West, his English is impressive. He learned it watching TV, which also broadcasts programming in Chinese, French, and Korean. So, we had fun trading some of our limited Korean. Tune helped me find sunscreen which was a long afternoon's struggle before meeting him. Unfortunately, said sunscreen seems to have been found in vain.

David is Vietnamese but has spent half of his life in California. He is a zealous Catholic back in Vietnam on a solo mission to help the Vietnamese discover the virgin Mary. David and I had a three hour conversation on the trinity over beers and some BBQ'd chicken wings at one of the many roadside feed shacks. A discussion I never anticipated taking place in Vietnam.


So, I just returned the surfboard and I am now going to get some pho at one of the feed shacks. I believe last night I spent the equivalent of about 65 cents on a full meal at one of these, which was quite tasty. I am meeting the rest of the crew tomorrow afternoon for a short flight to Saigon. I will check out the beach tomorrow morning again just in case, but otherwise the surfing vacation will wait for another time and perhaps another continent.

Oh, bad news. My camera is broken as of a few days ago. So, no pictures of Danang. Otherwise, we'll have plenty of trip pictures courtesy of the rest of the travel crew.

Stay tuned for Ho Chi Minh!

p.s. Oh yes! That reminds me - visit the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi. I will say no more, just visit. And when you're in town, see the water puppet show too.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hanoi and Halong Bay

The definitive characteristic of Hanoi, and perhaps other Vietnamese towns as we have yet to see, is the Vespa. 'Vespas as the sands of the sea' is proposed as the city slogan. Saigon claims more Vespas though this is a difficult claim to verify. Drivers of said Vespas are so pround that they can't help but to honk at all times. It is a sight to see them impressively swarming in myriad around cars and pedestrians.

Crossing the street here is not a matter of following the usual pragmatic steps: use the crosswalk, look both ways before crossing the street, etc. Rather it is a matter of faith, deliberately walk across and trust that this incomprehensible cloud will weave around you in classical symmetry.

Halong bay, is as a friend put it, "Water, and rocks sticking out of the water." It was nice, we slept on a boat with an unreliable power generator, kayaked, and did some hiking on Cat Bah island where we also stayed in a pretty nice hotel. On this island I can without reservation say that I had the best crab, and the worst Martini, of my life.

So far, we are the only Americans we have encountered. The great majority of tourists we have encountered so far are French followed by other Europeans.

The weather? Perfect, just a little overcast so as to make a sunburn unlikely.

Next! Danang for the surf.

(I'll add pictures when I can.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Leaving for Southeast Asia tomorrow

I've been busy, there is much to post about but little time to do so! Do not fret, I shall deliver.

This is just a short note that I'm leaving, with a couple of fellow American/Teacher/Witness friends (Joel and Azure) for a backpacking/train trip of Southeast Asia tomorrow for two and a half weeks. Starting in Vietnam where I will split off by myself in Hanoi to go down to Danang for 4-5 days of surfing. I will then meet up with J&A to go into Saigon (aka Ho Chi Min) and then into Cambodia. We will end the trip with a couple of days in Bangkok and a couple in Kuala Lumpur, Maylasia.

I do apologize for my perhaps bad spelling and the cursory informational nature of this entry. Hmmm. Perhaps I should put in a couple of pics from the last couple of months without any explanation? Ok..., here it goes.