Friday, February 08, 2008

A Great Leader

As our adventure winds down we begin to reflect on what we have seen and experienced. I cannot say enough the impact this trip has had on me and find it difficult to express. While conveying my feelings gives you an idea one must really discover for themselves. A big part of seeing Vietnam is emotion and the daily interaction with the people and that is difficult to explain in a blog. I hope this has given a small glimps and the pictures an understanding.

We walked around the city more today and visited a few important spots in Hanoi, one being the Ho Chi Mihn Mausoleum. A very powerful and emotional setting, guarded by white coats and surrounded by beautiful landscapes. While Ho Chi Mihn himself wanted to be cremated and his ashes spread throughout Vietnam, it was decided to preserve him forever so generations to come can see the man who shaped Vietnam and was so well revered.

While temples and Pagodas are commonplace there is one that stands out. This is the One Pillar Pagoda. This lotus shaped Pagoda stands in the same complex as the mausoleum and the museum. This was a great sight to see.

One activity that a visitor to Hanoi must do is the Water Puppet Theater. During this show you are presented with traditional music and a story of dance and imagery. The wood puppets move through a pool of water in front of a temple set. Absolutely stunning and well worth the visit. I have put up a couple movies showing this.

Today is relax and packup day. We might head out and do some last minute shopping around the city but for the most part we will get ready for our departure tomorrow. Until then take care.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A New Year

We are forutnate enough to be visiting Vietnam during Tet. Tet is a time when a new year is celebrated and this year it happens to be the Year of the Rat (both Jessica and I were born under the Year of the Rat). The traditional meaning for these celebrations is to actually spend your time with family eating throughout the designated days. Tet started Thursday and ends next Tuesday. Those most important to you are invited and food is eaten continuously. This is also a time where gratitude and appreciation are expressed, you avoid confrontation and negativity as this will bring a years bad luck to anyone you express these feelings too. All smiles today.

Because of the first day of Tet most shops are closed so this gave us an opportunity to walk around Hanoi in a much less crowded time. We were able to walk the streets and watch the local families gather and spend time together. Many had their shop doors open and you can watch as they sit around in their eating areas and express joy and happiness.

The rest of the day/night we relaxed in our hotel and prepared for today as we plan to travel to some outskirt areas and also visit a mausoleum. Until then take care.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

Throughout ones life there are times when one must put their fate in another's hands such as a cardiovascular surgeon or a brain surgeon or a Vietnamese bus driver. The harrowing experience one has when driving in Vietnam gives a new appreciation to traffic control.

Yesterday was our trip to Ha Long Bay, an area east of Vietnam taking about 3 hours to drive. Great this gives a wonderful opportunity to see the lands and get outside of the city limits. While d Ha Long Bay is quite beautiful, the drive to and from almost overshadowed the whole day. About 15 unsuspecting souls entered the bus and were greeted by a friendly guide named Dang who explained the days activities and introduced us to the bus driver, Bing. Off we go.

Traveling in excess of 80 miles an hour through traffic thick with other buses and thousands of scooters you start counting the times the bus missed a scooter by an inch, and that's being generous. It is very difficult to put into words the emotions you go through traveling at this insane speed for 3 hours. I honestly think you end up being a tad loony.

Now for the trip back. Yes this trip should take about 3 hours. We made it in 2 hours 15 minutes, in the dark. There was this passenger who probably exemplified what the locals probably think how all Americans are; Dressed well, Sunglasses, over-confident and boisterous. I think he was calling mommy during that trip and the seat back in front of him now has permanent claw marks. The very nice Australian summed it up nicely; "Well that was a nice death trip". Dang thanked all of us and appreciated choosing his business. "Please remember me next time". Yes...we will remember.

Some of the scenary on the way to Ha Long Bay was both stunning and shocking for me. The majestic rice fields, the sharp jagged mountains, the beautiful architecture; contradicted with the over commercialized areas with incomplete buildings, the very crowed small providences, and the seemingly rundown villages. But even with these hardships life goes on and you really being to appreciate what you have, and feel somewhat ashamed that you complain because you didn't get enough caramel in your mocha. Perspective.

Ha Long Bay is a very beautiful place. It is very awe inspiring and overwhelming. Fortunately we were able to get a close view of some of the environment as we boarded a boat and traveled slowly through the Bay. I hope you can get a sense of that in today photos.

It was unfortunate we had such of tough drive as the real purpose was to experience as much of Vietnam as we can. I am very glad we had the opportunity to go to Ha Long Bay and will not only have a fun story to tell, but have lasting memories of the culture.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

These Shoes Were Made for Walking

As we prepare for our whirlwind tour of Halong Bay tomorrow we planned to take a more casual plan of action today. Well sometimes plans just don't work out the way you want. Don't get me wrong our experiences today were just as awe inspiring as yesterday, there is a lot to take in and see in Hanoi.

I'm continually amazed at the different feeling you get from traveling throughout Hanoi compared to a large city in America. Very little need to overwhelm ones senses with bright lights, invasive advertising, or big store presence; in Hanoi you are thrust into a culture where your neighbor street vendor is not your fierce competitor but a respected trades-person. Quite different from the multitude of coffee shops or large department stores causing the smaller mom and pop shops to close. I asked Jessica how vendors that are right next to each other selling almost the same things survive. She pointed out that many times, especially for a tourist, you make an effort to spread the wealth amongst them all. Even if a vendor begins to experience hardship those around will extend a helping hand to make sure they all can survive. And this type of attitude is the norm, not the exception. Quite a powerful experience.

Today we got the experience the more authentic street vendors; those that are really selling to the native population rather than the tourist; of course they still welcome the tourist with open arms. Yet another eye opening experience and I wonder if I could get the same feeling going to more open markets in Portland. Seeing the food prepared as you walk buy, such as meat being cut, vegetables being prepared, etc. probably would not happen as our heath codes probably would restrict someone from cutting a full carcase in the middle of an open market.

I was fortunate today to visit a Budhist temple and see first hand some of the rituals that are done daily. While there was not an actually ceremony taking place within the temple there were those that placed burning incense outside. Inside the temple there were great shrines with extremely intricate carvings throughout. I have seen this before but within the actual setting you just get a powerful, unique and real experience. Quite wonderful.

More shopping was done today and I was able to find a few things that hopefully will give those that stayed behind a taste of Hanoi. After carrying everything I think the shopping experiences are done for this trip. Packing should be interesting. UPS anywhere?

Closing out I have to mention a treat we had today; Vietnamese Coffee. I feel as though I am a pretty good judge on coffee and this I feel was probably the best coffee I have had anywhere. Perhaps it was the use of condensed milk or the environment that added to the euphoric experience, but the actual flavor of the coffee itself was bold yet smooth. Just a treasure.

Tomorrows tour will start early and end late. It should be an experience of a lifetime.

Hanoi Day 3 pictures posted:

Monday, February 04, 2008

Quick Update

Sorry to those that couldn't leave comments, I have opened the permissions up so everyone should be able to leave them if they so choose.

The Local Experience

We started off today pretty early still adjusting to the time changes and the early turn in from the Jet lag. Fortunately we were able to see how Hanoi wakes up. Going to the lobby that early (it was about 7am when we went downstairs) my mom and I were surprised to see a group of people just waking up. Bewildered we went back upstairs to confer with Jessica on what we should do, truck on through their makeshift sleeping areas or wait. She told us it is very common for people to sleep in the lobbies for protection and that we can just go on through as the time was relatively late to go see the morning rituals of the area.

Empowered with our new found knowledge we went back downstairs only to meet the men trucking their mattresses back upstairs. Oh well maybe next time we can rumble through their area and greet them with a morning gesture. Your really did get a sense that "family" is very evident within the culture.

We headed to the lake that was a couple blocks away to see the locals undertaking Thai chi and to fill our senses with the morning sounds and smells. At this stage in the morning the street vendors are busy setting up for the days trade which gave us an opportunity to eat some very tasty rice, or sticky rice. Then vendor of choice was a small woman who setup on the corning with plastic covered paper and a larger round container that was filled with multiple layers of different styles of sticky rice. We had the red rice that had a sweet taste, the peanut rice covered with a very finely shredded meat (not sure what), and a rice with corn also covered in the meat. All were warm and VERY delicious. There is just something about starting the morning with local food prepared as you walk. Just beautiful.

After eating and watching some Tai Chi and badminton (I love it) we decided to head to a cafe and get breakfast (the sticky rice was a morning starter). I had Pho Gha (a wonderful chicken broth soup with shredded chicken, local greens (cilantro (a few varieties), green onion, bok choi and rice noodles) and a Chocolate Croissant. If you are wondering why there is French pastries in Vietnam the French occupied this area for over a 100 years. This is very evident in some of the architecture, the width of the streets (as compared to old downtown), and the large churches.

For most of the day we walked around the streets of Hanoi learning about the culture from Jessica and shopping in many of the shops. We had a really great time. One really special event was the lunch we had. There is a small restaurant (a families home) that served only 1 item and that was fried fish. You are served a few bowls of fresh greens (onions, bok choi, cilantro, etc), a couple bowls of sauce, a bowl of rice noodle, and peanuts. They then deliver in a small fry pan a sizzling pan of cut up fried fish in an oil sauce. This comes on a special stand that has hot coals to keep the food sizzling. Add some of the greens to cook up and serve over the rice noodles you end up with a fantastic meal. Just wonderful and unique to Hanoi.

After almost 9 hours roaming around we headed back to relax and call it a day. For dinner we ended up having some local food delivered to the hotel and again it was outstanding. That just seems to be a common experience around here!

Looking forward to another day tomorrow! Until then take care and don't forget to check the photos (Hanoi Day 2 updated with many more pictures.)

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Web Albums

If you want to keep tabs on all the photos take a look at my web albums, I will be filling them up each day. have fun!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Adventures Begin!

After more than 23 hour we have arrived at our hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam. I will be the first to admit I am very naive about other cultures and how they live their everyday lives.

Culture shock is a good term I can use now. It is quite amazing the drastic differences there are. I really can understand why the world considers us a privileged culture, and yes I am full aware there are the same types of cultural "elitists", but really the way of life compared to North America is very eye opening.

The flights were surprisingly comfortable for someone 6'3". Our first plane out of Portland to Seattle was a smaller prop commuter so not much to expect from that trip. 3 hours later we boarded an EVA 777 to Taipei, Taiwan which flew us over the pacific for 14 hours. Very nice plane and good roomy seats, even with individual monitors!

Entertainment for the whole trip!

I would recommend EVA for international trips (I fully realize that I have no other experience to compare but my sister feels the same way and shes logged 100's of thousand miles!) After yet another 3 hour layover we boarded and headed for Hanoi.

Well that about covers the flying as the next adventure was getting to the hotel. Let's just say that it is poetry in motion, scooter vs car vs bike vs pedestrian. Traffic lights? why bother. Crosswalks? Another unnecessary inconvenience. Traffic lanes? Hah! Another when it fits to do so kind of thing. Really 1000s of scooters zigzagging in and out and really the only actual use of any type of traffic control was ones own horn. In your way? Pound the horn. Need to warn someone not to get in your way? Pound the horn. Someone going to slow? Pound the horn. Coming up to actual traffic crossings is quite amazing, it all just flows even though no one bothers to stop.

I have to say I am a bit overwhelmed by what I saw on the drive to the hotel. Just a really amazing experience. Emotional and sensory overload. I think I may sleep well tonight.

Well its the first day (or 2nd or 3rd, cant really get a straight answer) of the Chinese New Year, so I am sure we will be able to partake in the celebration tonight. Something I am very much looking forward too. Report on that tomorrow.

Well more later, going to go walk the streets for awhile.

Take Care