Hoi An and Back


Hello All, Well the highlight of the last few days was talking to my family on the holidays. Technology is amazing. These emails alone are cool, but being able to talk through the internet (for less than $1USD for five minutes) was quite a treat. Fortunately I awoke early on the 26th and was able to place calls beginning at 7:00 am...2pm USA west coast time. I was on my third and final call, when two minutes into talking to my dad the power went out in the little coastal town of Hoian. I learned technology doesn't hold a candle to the third world...er...at least can only hold a candle to it. The power and internet was off for about ten hours so I had to complete the call at what was one in the morning in California...Sorry Dad...Merry belated Christmas.

At first I thought it was my fault, as the moment he got on the phone and said "ching chow chang" I responded with the one lengthy Vietnamese sentence I have mastered..."Toi la qui Xa tang"...(I am Satan). No sooner had i uttered the last syllable when POOF...no power. I guess that showed me. Time to learn a new sentence. LOL

So I learned these emails have garnished quite a following, as my friends and family have forwarded them to other friends and family as well as new friends I have yet to personally meet. AWESOME. welcome to Vicariously Vietnam...I'm so glad to share this experience. When I transfer my photos from the digital camera I'll be sure to send some follow-up emails.

So what have I been up to the last couple of days besides blacking out the central coast of Vietnam? We decided to pay a few extra bucks and take a plane from Hoian back to Hanoi instead of taking a train. The train would have taken 16 hours while the plane was a little more than an hour. Considering the limited time I have in Vietnam, every hour is precious. With the extra time, we decided to extend our stay in Hoian.

As I mentioned before, Hoian is mostly a tourist beach community. It is very slow paced, especially when compared to the hectic chaos of Hanoi. In some parts of Hoian, motorbikes cars and even bicycles are not permitted on the streets, and people walk along the narrow streets enjoying the restaurants, art galleries, and zillions of tailor shops. For the last few days, we were those people. After the Christmas Eve party, Chris and I enjoyed a night's rest...(as we needed it!) We piddled around, ate, and picked up our clothes.

I am so excited about the new wardrobe, although considering how much I have been eating, I'll be lucky to fit in the specially tailored clothes. Extra girth aside, the tailor did a phenomenal job. Crazy to think shirts and pants made to order were completed in less than 15 hours and priced at under $10 USD each. My favorite additions ar the sportscoats...Hopefully I'll fit in them in 2006.

So...how's the food in Vietnam? Pretty darn good. I am travelling with a Vegetarian, so at times we go meatless, which is equally delectable. Since Vietnam is largely buddhist...especially in Hue and Hoian, there are a lot of vegetarian restaurants that have mastered the art of vegetarian cuisine. Many of them make meat-like products which you would swear are the real thing. Mind you, I am a reformed vegetarian who would tell you if it tastes like funk...but they really could fool you. I have eaten feaux rabbit, pork, chicken, and beef. The beef is a little iffy, but the rest of it is so good. Part of our vegetarian cuisine has also been at Indian restaurants so if you like saucy food dipped in flat bread or curry, you'd be in heaven.

As a lover of meat...especially pork ribs and shellfish, I have opted to taste all Vietnam has to offer. Their soups are available with or without meat, and are similar to soups I have eaten at specialty/chinese restaurants in the USA. The meat dishes are excellent, although they are often served on the bone (even when chopped in small pieces) so meat must be carefully eaten. I've enjoyed sauteed calamari and sweet and sour pork, both served on banana leaves. One of my favorite dishes was served in a claypot, allowing the pork, onions, and peppers to simmer, similar to a fajita style but with Asian flavoring. The seafood is flawless...some of the best I've eaten (go figure.) Because of bird flu, all the chickens were slaughtered. While we are starting to see them around the countryside, it is almost impossible to get chicken in restaurants. I have had eggs a few times though.

A downside to the cooking is the prevalence of MSG in the food (especially in the hole in the wall places). And when I say hole in the wall, it really is a hole in the wall-- a curbside "diner" with kindergarten size plastic stools and an old lady using a wok on a little stove built into the side of a wall. These are often the fronts of houses or alley ways. The food is good, and often vegetarian...dirt cheap, authentic, and highly chemical. Those of you who aren't aware, I have problems with MSG and nitrates. A few hours afrer eating it, my eyes redden, swell shut and I am down for the count. One of the places we stopped for "brunch" on Christmas was super good...so good, I had three helpings. Three helpings of MSG packed soup and rice with Vemsggies. After I picked up my wardrobe, I was in bed by 5 pm and was asleep until after 6 am the next day. I awoke with my eyes swollen shut and feeling a bit groggy.

It actually worked out for me because I was able to wake up very rested on the 26th (very confused as to the date and time) but in time to make my Christmas calls (mentioned earlier in the email). Before the calls, however, I went to see the Hoian marketplace which bustles between 5 and 7 am. In the morning, the fishing boats arrive with their catch and the locals gather to set up their daily shops and buy the fresh catch. Before you actually see the throng, you can hear the chatter of close to two-hundred, mostly women, buyers and sellers. When you see it, it is a sea of connicle reed hats carrying baskets. I was delighted to be a giant in this land of four-and-a-half foot tall Lillaputians. It was also cool to see them unload freshly caught shark, swordfish and eels.

The rest of the time in Hoian was very slow paced, kick back and relaxing. We ate a lot of good food and walked around town. At one point we rented Bicycles and rode down to the beach. upon our bicycle trek back, we made some perfectly right wrong turns and chanced upon more villages and locals...similar to our motorbike expedition in Hue. It was great. Once again, the people were sweet...especially the kids who loved to give five and say hello as we drove by.

This morning, Dec. 27th, we caught a plane and were back in Hanoi (home for Chris) by noon. We mapped out the rest of my vacation, as there is very little time, with still much to do. Today was museum day. we went to Hoa Lo...known to most Westerners as the Hanoi Hilton. Most of the prison had been torn down, but there was still an elaborate museum and many cells/exhibits. Much of it focused on how the prison was used in the late 1800s/early 1900s for Vietnamese revolutionaries oppressed by the French, Chinese, and Japanese occupation. I was mostly interested however, in how it was used during the Vietnam Conflict. It was interesting to see a perspective other than what I have seen on the American big screen. There were mostly pictures and articles highlighting the humane treatment of American POWs, right until their return to the U.S. Government. Included in the exhibit was the flight suit of Senator John McCain, as well as photographs of his detention. This stimulated a zillion questions in my head, making me want to read McCain's book about his imprisonment (as I'm sure he's written one.) What was his experience? Has he been back? How does he feel about having his flight suit on display?

We then went to the Vietnamese Museum of revolution which was mostly a collection of photographs and some memorabilia about a century of foreign occupation in Vietnam. Once again, I was mostly enthralled with their perspective on American involvement from 1950s through the 1970s. The pictures were extremely graphic of the carnage of Vietnamese villages caused by American bombs and soldiers. There were a lot more objects on display, such as weapons, and everyday items destroyed by bombs. Opposition to North Vietnam and "Uncle Ho" Chi Minh's Communist forces was constantly referred to as the "American-led puppet government. "Interesting to say the least-- Especially for this American History teacher.

So were museumed out for the day. Tomorrow we have plans to visit the Mausoleum of "Uncle Ho" were his body is on display, as well as surrounding structures. We also plan to rent motorbikes and see some mummefied monks. On the 29th...my final day, we will take a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda which is a temple in a cave. Afterwards, it's onto snake village for some snake snacks and then off to the airport. If time permits, I'll send a final email...if not, It'll be sent from the USA. I hope all is well and your Christmas/Hannukah was all you hoped it would be.

Lots of love (yeu...in vietnamese).

Source: Travelblog



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