My travels have given me a new appreciation for everything that America is and isn’t. It is easy to be critical when it is all that you know. I am not saying that criticisms should stop, it is paramount to self-improvement, but I believe my perspective has become much more grounded. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been born here.
Strangely, the old palaces of Vietnam have different colored roof tiles with yellow symbolizing where only the royalty may reside, sit, and even enter. I began that sentence with ’strangely’ because the Thai King was born on a Monday, and Monday’s color is yellow, so nearly everyone in Thailand wears yellow on Mondays.
This is the presidential palace of Vietnam.
It’s my first free day in Hanoi, Vietnam (the GAP tour ended) and I strolled to the center of town to Hoan Kiem Lake. I found a cafe with outdoor seating and settle into a table for a late breakfast and ice-coffee with plenty of time to catch up writing in my journal. After a short while, I noticed a gathering of people at the lake’s edge. A man had just entered the water. He waded out while removing his shirt (I assumed for cleaning purposes). As you can tell from the picture above, the police soon take notice and arrest the man. When they walk him near my spot, I see a tired resigned face on the man.A few hours later that day, I pull out my camera for a good photo op. As I’m about to press the shutter button, I hear (and feel) one of the zippers on my day pack being opened. I spin around and grab a man by his arm as I say ‘what are you doing?!’ He shakes me loose and quickly walks away. I check my bag and the zippered pocket had been opened a good 6 inches, fortunately nothing had been removed. With my heart racing I attempt to follow the man as some other tourists ask if I’m OK. After 3 months of traveling, this is my first robbery experience and my nerves are rattled for several hours after.
Later that evening, the remaining members of the tour group gather for dinner and drinks. My friends Turk and Dorothy (and myself of course!) are the only ones up for ‘painting the town red’. After clubbing at I-Box, afterhours drinks at Le Pub and the Red Lounge, Turk (who’s been my roommate for the last 10 days) decides to return to the hotel. He finds a motorbike driver who makes a quick phone call. But, before Turk actually gets back to the hotel, there are two motorbikes, with guys driving and girls sitting behind, which pull up and flank Turk. Turk’s driver slows to a stop. The girls, attempting to be flirtatious, are grabbing at Turk (and his pockets). Turk yells for the driver to go, but he is unresponsive. Finally, when Turk notices the girls are trying to remove his day pouch (or fanny pack), he hits his driver in the arms telling him to move. The driver responds but quickly slows down to allow the other bikes to catch up. Turk jumps off, and finds a taxi for a ride the rest of the way. When I return to the room, he’s got a story to tell.
Then, the next morning, Dorothy emails me with an experience she had that night after I left. Her motorbike driver was pretending not to understand her concerning the agreed amount for the ride. She pulls out her wallet to show him, and he begins to grab at it. The wallet goes flying with money and credit cards spilling out. Both scramble to pick up the spilt items and Dorothy catches the driver pocketing several 100,000 Dong ($6/each). She demands that he give the money back to her, but he claims he doesn’t have any; finally he relents and gives her a 50,000 note. She ended up not taking the motorbike, but a taxi back to her hotel. After hearing Turk’s story, I immediately felt remorse at not making sure she made it back safely. I’m still in disbelief that all this happened on the same day as I had become quite accustomed to feeling secure.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. This area was perhaps the most beautiful sight I’ve seen in my travels… hundreds of cliff islands with a seemingly infinite number of path possibilities for our boat. We stayed one night on a junk boat and this view is from a massive cave I had just explored on one of the islands. Unfortunately, the water never appeared very clean, probably due to the heavy boat traffic and poor environmental standards of this developing country. For swimming, go to Thailand ;-(
I do think the Vietnamese aesthetics far surpass those of its Asian neighbors, far surpassing even the Thais. This picture is of a random gate within the Citadel located in Hue. The Citadel could best be described as Vietnam’s Kremlin with government offices and palaces surrounded by 3 rings of massive walls.
…the propaganda here, in Hue, Vietnam. Though there is only one party, a local ex-pat tells me that there are numerous representatives of the left and right within the party. A different form of representative government? Perhaps.
On a separate note, the propaganda of the Americans losing the war is well noted with pride. You can see an upwelling of nationalism when talking about the American, and previous French, wars. And, it was all due to the people’s effort, not the military commanders. After visiting several museums and historical sites, I do believe I have been severely influenced by the propaganda (I think the Vietnamese govt. has it right).
Some places in Vietnam (and every place in Cambodia), children are used by families to sell goods to tourists. We gave these girls the remains of a bunch of bananas we had just purchased (and eaten what we could). It was a little surprising to see how quickly they consumed the bananas as it seemed they were readily available on numerous trees. It really jostled my belief that food was easily acquired in these tropical climes as the trees always seem to be bearing fruit.
Hue is the ancient capital of Vietnam, located in the midpoint of the north-south stretch of territory. This picture is of the burial grounds for a king of the late 19th century. It was the best designed landscape I had seen in the entire country, I kept thinking “what a perfect setting for a golf course” ah, but it is for one man’s spirit alone to enjoy.
A family friend, Christina, happened to be in Kuala Lumpur for a few nights while I was in Malaysia. Unfortunately, she was working, but lucky me, she had an amazing hotel room. We stayed in the top floor of the Le Meridien Hotel. Not only did I enjoy the hot shower and complimentary soap and shampoo, but the view was amazing. Thanks Christina!