Episode Twenty Two

August 2014

This month we went to Vietnam. Guangxi borders Vietnam and so we could take a bus there. We took the train back. The people were wonderful. We saw and did so much, flying between three cities. I’ll put the photos first and China Collage text after.

Let’s start with the journey across the border.

Our bus ticket included lunch at a local roadside restaurant in Vietnam.

Our first stop was Hanoi. It is a bustling city now with a vibrant energy. The city mixes the old and the new very well. The Vietnamese people will dodge around you as you cross the road, unlike most Chinese drivers.

With just two bills I became a millionaire. 500,000 Dong. We used $100 bills, but only the new design, to get money.

Sword Lake in Hanoi is home to giant turtles (see story below).

The Vietnamese bakers are excellent. I got to have my favorite sandwich for the first time in years – a club sandwich. You are required to take photos of your meals when traveling with Chinese people 😉

We then went to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon).

Talking about what you eat is also required. We found a Mexican restaurant, and I introduced Hong to burritos and tabasco.

We sampled local fruits from the fruit markets. We like to head to the nearest supermarket whenever we travel and find some local specialties.

We visited the local war museum and the former US consulate. The people treated us very well, and were always kind. Most everyone spoke English. Even the guards at the war museum spoke English.

We then went to Danang, the ancient My Son Ruins, and the old city of Hoi An. Our BnB host offered to be our driver for a small fee. Each morning we were there, they asked what we would like for breakfast and went to the market to get fresh ingredients. The city of Danang was wonderful. And the beach was empty and beautiful.

My adapter tree and our hosts’ kitchen .

I found a five-star seafood buffet for Hong. She loves seafood, as you can see. The restaurant also had several local specialties which they made fresh. Afterwards we took a long wander through the city.

Our host/driver shared a local food with us in the car. It was hard to get a good photo.

My Son was a Hindu holy site from the 4th to the 14th Century. It was part of the ancient Cham Empire. The area was bombed during the Vietnam War.

We enjoyed being able to see the countryside of Vietnam on the drive to HoiAn which is an old city established by Chinese to trade with Vietnam. It was a very Chinese place. We talked the owner of a restaurant who was fluent in Vietnamese, French, English and Chinese. But he didn’t know how to make her favorite breakfast – porridge.

Because it is so hot in the summer, people liked to sit outside under the highways.

The train station on the border at 3:00 AM. We all had to get off and wait to go through customs.

Dispatch from the Verge of Uncertainty

It is Schrödinger’s birthday who dealt with uncertainty. We are living in times of great uncertainty – a great deal of which is created by the men behind the curtains and water-glass-to-the-ear crowd. The media (by that I mean the clown car full of “journalists” and TV talking heads) creates the smoke and mirrors or at least are enablers of the grand delusion that passes for news. And Mommy Nature is just warming up (pun intended).

I am heading to Vietnam for a week visit. It is 6-8 hour bus trip to Hanoi. We are going to Hanoi, Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City) and DaNang area which was central to war-fighting. The planning is ongoing, and visa applied for. One of Hong’s characteristics (and perhaps the majority of Chinese) is the deep rooted desire to keep open all options until the last moment.

I am reminded of experiment to measure light as a wave or particle, until it is measured it is simultaneously both, just as Schrödinger’s infamous cat is both alive and death until the box is opened. She inevitably argues with me about whatever decision we make to set the first financial step onto the path of any travel, as I cannot stand the wait until the last second method of keeping everything up in the air. So the plans need to be firmed up, tickets purchased etc. One of the highlights for me will be when I cross the border, I will instantly become a millionaire –One American dollar is worth 21,105 Dong (Viet money), and so for 500 bucks, I immediately become a millionaire. Really, I am excited to have the chance to see the country. The Vietnamese I knew in the US and those I have met here are hardworking good-hearted people.

On the Lighter Side of Global Climate Change


Going from one socialist/communist country to another was somewhat surreal. I did research for days on several versions of our itinerary – my darling began her input the day before we left – so hotels, couple flights, booked night before leaving. She opens a guidebook; I didn’t know she had, on the bus to Vietnam. So I did what I do best, I improvised. Chinese side of border, sterile, efficient, orderly. Military in green won’t allow entry to restricted areas – always have nothing to claim at border. Vietnamese side, chaos, cramped dingy room full of anxious, somewhat seedy characters. Chairs thrown into room to fill space and not for comfort, like a renovated old bus stop waiting room in Tucumcari New Mexico filled with hard ass seats. Everyone hand their passport through window to the “who-gives-a-shit” looks of military in lime green – efficiency is not there specialty. Fifteen minutes later they start calling out names.

Odd for an American to cross into such a historic locale, parts of the route are along the former HoChiMinh Trail. Find out the Vietnamese speak very good English – which never really registered with Hong – who preferred to be the one talking to people. Hanoi was a good intro to Vietnam. We stayed in the Old Quarter. The streets are narrow and filled with motorcycles. The roads are named after ancient trades guilds, so the names changed frequently since the city organically grew out of the clustering of businesses and associations. The motorcycle riders are very good at avoiding collisions but, no sidewalks makes for numerous hairy encounters. First impressions – my math is lousy when it comes to calculating local currency. Vietnamese take US $100, but not the oldest (small portrait) bills. Food was great, and our hotel staff extra cooperative and genuinely nice.

The center of the city has some beautiful lakes. One is called Sword Lake. In the ancient past a king of an ancient kingdom tossed a magic sword into the lake to ask for protection from invaders. He was victorious so the lake now is a magic talisman for the city. Within the lake there were numerous giant turtles. This one is basically an ancient turtle god, on display – the surreal turtle taxidermy job was strange to my eyes – pretty sure turtles don’t smile naturally.

PS I translated the Dude Abides into Chinese and the words are too funny

Huāhuā gōngzǐ zūnshǒu (gonzo-esque)


The former president’s palace is now a museum and being a child of the 60s I remember well the fall of Saigon with two North Vietnamese Army Chinese-made tanks crashing through the front gates and ending the war. In the basement of the building you can see

the bunker where the puppetmasters plied their trade. The Military Museum is a time capsule of warfare and atrocity. The Agent Orange materials are hard to swallow, but the facts are there – stark and as real as the sky above. Military hardware and its effect

is on display everywhere. Many European tourists, including Russians, were being shown around. The war a pivotal time in America and there on display are the results of MyLai, napalm, psychological warfare and so much death and destruction. The use of the US Declaration of Independence was very poignant.

Finding a Mexican restaurant was a happy discovery Gato de Negro. It is just down the street from the American Consulate and a famous American nutrition store. Saigon offers an abundance of good food with delicious fruits and cafes everywhere.

From the waiting room of the whirling dervish ballet


pics from the southpole of memory

I had forgotten many details of the end of Vietnam War, but being there in Saigon, brought it all back to me. The tanks at the gate are the original ones that knocked down the palace gates and ended the war – the switch in perspective is mind twisting. I do feel like a cultural anthropologist sometimes, observing and trying to make note, mental if nothing else and maybe snap a photo. Going to Vietnam dredged up several memories of my youth also. I remember several of the kids in the neighborhood whose brothers were in Nam had silk jackets with dragons and DanNang, Saigon, DMZ sewed on the back with their units insignias. My cousin Jimmy was on the river patrol boats. I remember the older guys upon their return, the haunted look on so many of their faces.

Danang – the name itself summons up the headlines of the war with such terrible fighting occurring there. The city is pleasant and the people gregarious and kind. The beach is great and when we were there it was not crowded at all. We sat on the sand and stared at the stars talking of the infinite nature of the universe and the joy of living, until we were interrupted by six Chinese university student/tourists who had to choose a spot ten yards from us – the beach was deserted for a half mile in either direction – irritating. We found a fantastic seafood buffet – which is Hong’s favorite. Our hotel was small and the staff extremely nice – fifty-six bucks for three nights, and a twenty minute walk to the beach.

We also visited the ancient Champa Kingdom of MySon – dating back to the 7th – 15th Centuries. It was fantastic and surreal to see such temples amidst the mountain jungle. The sun felt like an X-Ray machine burrowing into my skull and I sweat from every pore and orifice. The temple complex is dedicated to Shiva and the Indian architectural

influence was obvious with an incredible display of Southeast Asian culture.

We also visited the old city of HoiAn. This was a trading center with the Chinese, so Chinese buildings dominated the architecture. The local indigenous people are fisherman who once worshipped a whale god who watches over the area. We met an interesting Chinese-Vietnamese guy over 60 who lived through the war and the French occupation. He was fluent in French, Chinese, English and Vietnamese and very entertaining. As we were sitting in his restaurant a disabled man, in his forties, maybe older, wheeled up and offered to sell me an English language newspaper. It was obvious he suffered from birth defects quiet possibly related to the defoliants etc. used during the war, but he was not begging simply offering a newspaper for sale. Of course I bought one and his hearty thanks were heart-rending.

The Vietnamese people were wonderful. The country is beautiful. Although we were cheated on a train ticket, this was done by only one business and does not reflect the spirit of the people. Hong and I took city bus after marching through a downpour. Once at the overnight train station, we waited for hours in the rundown station, no chance

for safe food nearby.

The Kafkaesque border crossing occurs at around 1:00 in the morning. You have to take everything off the train and hand over your passport for perusal. The guy in our compartment had his visa expire one hour earlier, but he slipped them 100,000 Dong and everything was fine. There is a luggage scanner, but it is unmanned. So you put suitcase in one end and walk around to the other to retrieve it – the absurdity of it all was compounded by the sleep deprivation. The faux French Colonial style added to the otherworldly feel of the stop. We were delayed by an oddball foreign traveler who neglected to hand in his passport. The Chinese inspection took place an hour later – several kilometers into China. The routine was efficient and we were put back on the train around 3:00 AM. I don’t recommend the train unless you enjoy tedium or want a Cold War experience.

From the darkness into the light,

surviving on caffeine and gumption

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