9 - Monday - Off to JFK - Abandoned Art Project
10 - Tuesday - Arrive at JFK and minor chrisis
11 - Wednesday - Miss Oanh - Top of District 10
12 - Thursday - Day with Minh Ha and her sister and Brother-in-law
13 - Friday - Saigon and getting ready for Can Gio
14 - Saturday - Saigon to Can Gio
15 - Sunday -
16 - Monday - Oplets, Swimming and Snails
17 - Tuesday - Back to Saigon
18 - Wednesday - Phan Thiet
19 - Thursday - Phan Thiet and back to Saigon
20 - Friday - Hoa My and down to District 4
21 - Saturday - Changes, The Rex Hotel and the fountain
22 - Sunday - Tous Les Jours – Afternoon with Grandaughter Chau
23 - Monday - Miss Pull and Trinh Cung Cung Son
24 - Tuesday - Day of rest
25 - Wednesday -
26 - Thursday - Minh Ha’s House, Picasso, and a birthday surprise
27 - Friday - The Little Girl, Off to DaLat
28 - Saturday - Arrive in Dalat, at Miss Houng’s house and around town
29 - Sunday - French Influence and a visit to Bic C Supermarket
30 - Monday - I could not find this page to restore it
31 - Tuesday -
1 - Wednesday - Dalat to Nha Trang
2 - Thursday - Looking for a Hotel in Nha Trang
3 - Friday - Motor Bile – Martin Luther
4 - Saturday - South China Sea – Military Aircraft
5 - Sunday - Beautiful ride back to Dalat
6 - Monday -
7 - Tuesday - Motorbike day in Dalat
8 - Wednesday - Big C – Japanese restaurant
9 - Thursday - Walk to lake – meet people – Chan Sat in Market
10 - Friday -
11 - Saturday - Motorbike – nice people – palace – French Mansions - Monastery
12 - Sunday - Train to nowhere – So I thought
13 - Monday - Ana Mandara
14 - Tuesday - Elvis on the hill
15 - Wednesday - I cook tonight
16 - Thursday - I cooked lunch – the embroidery factory
17 - Friday - Wandering by the lake – Central Market
18 - Saturday - Monastery – Cam Ly Falls
19 - Sunday -
20 - Monday - Dalat to Hanoi – Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu
21 - Tuesday - Dien Bien Phu – tour 30 km North to Gen Giap HQ
22 - Wednesday - Victory Statue – Museum - Martyrs Cemetery – Hill A1
23 - Tuesday - Dien Bien Phu – Hanoi – Saigon – Home in time for dinner.
24 - Friday - My New Mattress
25 - Saturday - Tickets to Mui Ne – wandering center Saigon
26 - Sunday - Lunch with Minh Ha and Chau
27 - Monday - Thao and Thao – Dodge City – Dance Lessons
28 - Tuesday -
29 - Wednesday - Swimming at the Circle Sportif – A walk in Tao Dan Park
30 - Thursday - Trip to Mui Ne
1 - Friday - Lucy Resort – Fishermen – Autumn Leaves - Duyen Vu
2 - Saturday - flowers – Motorbike – Cham Ruins – French Ruins – Early Vietnamese Ruins
3 - Sunday - Back to Saigon
4 - Monday - Niece – Little Sister
5 - Tuesday - Thanh – Xuan Hai
6 - Wednesday - New Friend
7 - Thursday - National Military Cemetery
8 - Friday - Miss Oanh - Students
9 - Saturday - Swimming at Circle Sportif – Meeting Enrique
10 - Sunday - Rattlesnake
11 - Monday - Tan Dinh Market – Cloth - Church
12 - Tuesday - Circle Sportif - Tao Dan Park – Lotte Mart
13 - Wednesday - Can Gio – Beach – Local Market
14 - Thursday -
15 - Friday - Lunch at Carrot Restaurant – Dinner in room with Movie
16 - Saturday - Back to Saigon – Dinner with Thao and Thao
17 - Sunday - Dinner with Niece Cathy and her Brother
18 - Monday -
19 - Tuesday -
20 - Wednesday - Off to Dalat – Brown Edge Wafers – Arrive at Huong’s House
21 - Thursday -
22 - Friday - Flower Market – Night Market
23 - Saturday - Leaving Dalat – Dalat Palace – Big C Lunch – To the bus for Saigon
24 - Sunday - Center City – Saying good Bye – Meeting Chau
25 - Monday -
26 - Tuesday - Chau and planning more things to do together – Soui Tien
27 - Wednesday - Buffet in the Eden Building
28 - Tuesday - Swimming – Bob – Old Friends
29 - Friday - Warm Rolls and Butter – Zoo – Patriotic Rally
30 - Saturday - In Town – Eden Building – Ba Hai - Watermellon
31 - Sunday - To TSN with a stop to pick up something - Airport
1 - Monday - Taipei to JFK to Port Authority to Lahaska to Home
Off to JFK - Abandoned Art Project
Abanbdoned Art Project
On a ledge, in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC, we found this blue envelope with the cloth flower inside.
Our journey begins on a positive note. There is a bus that runs from Doylestown to JFK and it is fairly inexpensive, compared with other modes of transportation. Minh Ha, a friend from Vietnam, has been vising with us and is returning to Vietnam on the flight that I am. Actually it is no coincidence. I was very anxious to get back to Vietnam and wanted to go back as soon as she was leaving, and this saved an extra to the airport. Also it would be fun traveling together and I would not have to worry about her traveling alone.
The bus ride was nice although the transfer point was the Port Authority of New York Terminal in Manhattan. We went into a nether world of bus tunnels and caverns of people traveling to and from points all over New England, the East Coast and possibly the entire country. Our bus arrived and the driver was so helpful in move us and all of our luggage to the gate at which the bus we transfer to would arrive in 4 hours.
There is not much to see in the cavern so, we sat by our luggage in front of the gate and except for the occasional to the restroom, which we did in shifts, so as not to leave the luggage alone and unguarded. There was a great number of people coming and going and some that were just looking for a place to sleep for a while. A police man came and chased some away. As he chased one away another came to take his empty seat. One shuffled in with a gait of about 8 inches, looking a lot like one of the characters in the bath house in the movie “Spirited Away”, Although I assure you that if this character ever had experienced a bath it was long forgotten in his childhood. He took a seat, and although no one seemed to pay any attention they did all move away. So there he sat for the remainder of our stay like a giant anti air freshener filling our end of the cavern a most foul scent.
There was a bright side to this tedium. I noticed a light blue piece of paper sitting on top of a sign that I had not noticed before. I picked it up and the other side had a sticker that said “This is part of the Abandoned Art Project, Everyone should have a little art in their life”. Opening it I found a little pin made of ribbon or cloth and shaped liked a flower. It was an especially nice reminder that love and beauty exist in the world.
We counted down the hours and then the minutes and then, in an uneasy knowledge that something happened to the bus and it would not be coming we began to count the minutes which passed after the bus should have come. Not being one to panic I waited till it was 20 minutes and then I went the Trans Bridge office up in the next higher level of the cavern, where some light and a little fresher air existed. The Trans Bridge office was closed and covered with cardboard signs so no one could see inside. I then went back to the lower cavern and out into the bus tunnel where several Trans Bridge drivers conferred and decided that the bus must have come and gone and we were stuck there until another day when another bus would come, although they were not sure when that may be.
Still, not being one to panic, I went back up into the world of the living. I went to the NJTransit window and although we have heard of how inconsiderate New Yorkers are, this man told us about a bus called NYC Air Transporter that was out on the street and ran every half hour and that you could buy tickets there on the street. This really nice man, from NJTransit, even wrote down the number that we could call and they would send a porter to take our luggage out to where the bus would be. At the number someone said a man would come but they were backed up and it might be a little while. I went back to Minh Ha and gave her the good news. Expecting a wait I was surprised to have a man show up in minutes. He took us back up to the sunlight world of people and automobiles and buses and pointed out a man, in a blue jacket, and told us he sold the tickets. He did sell the tickets and as I purchased two there was a scuffle behind us and by the time I turned around a police officer had the man on the ground with his knee in the man’s back and 3 other officers came to help. In a matter of minutes the man was being lead off.
We have our tickets and a bus soon arrived. I am used to New York traffic and I feel a sense of relief that we are on our way to the airport. How many times have you thought “nothing can go wrong now”? We arrive at terminal 1 and stop triple parked. I ask Minh Ha to wait on the curb and I will bring the bags to her. It looks like we are missing one and one is in the bus. holding it up I ask Minh Ha, “is this yours”? She says no and I put it back in the bus. She was right it was not hers, it was mine. It was the carry on with my meds in it. Ironically the meds are for high blood pressure. The only reason my blood pressure was not high now was because we were still 6 hours early. It is always better to be early than late especially when airplanes are involved. As the bus disappeared from sight I turned around and there was a lady wearing a jacket that said NYC Airporter. I told her about the case and she radioed the bus which was now across the airport. She said the bag was taken off at terminal 5 and told me how to get there where a lady, from NYC Airporter, had my bag. After I got Minh Ha into the terminal and reassured her that I would be back soon I went across the road and up one flight and got on the AitTran which went to terminal 5. From the station it is one flight up to cross the Sky Bridge into the terminal and down one flight to where departures arrive at the airport. There was no one from NYC Airporter in sight so I asked someone from the airport where this person might be. They said down one flight. There I was told I would find the person upstairs where the next person sent me back down then back up and in one last surge of optimism I went back down and went to the farthest end of the area where a man said “the girl over there in the blue jacket” and as I saw her I saw my bag.
Now it was back up 2 flights, across the Sky Bridge, down 1 flight to the Air Tran, making sure to get on the other side from before so as not go out to flushing, around to terminal 1, down one more flight and across the road, into the terminal and as I approach Minh Ha from behind I know she is worried. I walk to her and she turns around and hugs me. Minh Ha is a very proper lady and I can tell, by the hug, that she was concerned.
We sit for a moment and share a coke and a cinnamon roll.
We go up to check in. I have found that Airlines seldom have check in opened so early. There, arranging the ropes is the man from Dalat who I met last trip Once again I and also Minh Ha are over the weight limit and have too many bags. As we talk to the young man at check in. All of our bags are on the way except for a few carry ons and we are off to the gate. Now, 3 hours early, we are sitting at the gate, sharing another Coke and a chicken salad sandwich and some of Minh Ha’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy/candy bars and at this point I am pretty sure nothing else can go wrong.
JFK to Taipei to Saigon
Day two begins as the day begins. Waiting at the gate we meet and talk with several fellow passengers, One group is from the Philippines, The girl is now married to an American who is from New Jersey. They live in Cherry Hill and I tell her that my wife is also a Jersey Girl. My wife grew up on a farm and milked cows and bailed hey. The girl is surprised which surprises me since there must be farms near Cherry Hill since New Jersey is the Garden State.
We board and find the first really comfortable seats we have had all day. The flight is around 7400 miles, now that we go up across the pole. It is a much faster trip than before. As I have always said, if the movies are good the flight is a breeze. Watch a movie, sleep, watch a movie, sleep, eat, sleep and watch another movie. The movies were very good this trip but the best had subtitles and it is easy to miss things.
The flight was uneventful. Once we were told there was some turbulence ahead but it was hardly noticeable.
The meals are very good. It surprises me that meals that are cooked many hours ahead are so tasty. All have meat, rice, vegetables and fruit, cake and yogurt. A late snack of a pastry filled with meat was served. There are always brinks of Apple, Orange, Tomato and water out with snacks.
Arriving in Taipei was nice. It was just that much closer to Saigon. I had hoped to lose weight and get my diet jump started on this vacation. A big part of that is to stop Coke even diet so, hopefully, I had my last coke in Taipei. I shared it with Minh Ha who is always telling me how bad it is for me, and she is correct.
Landing in Saigon I said to Minh Ha “Hon toi o Vietnam”, my soul lives in Vietnam, she was happy. Minh Ha’s daughter was waiting and helped us get a taxi first to drop me off at a friends who has an extra room.
I got all my things out of the taxi and went in to separate what went here and there. Minh Ha said she would be back for to pick me up for dinner at 5:00. I asked if she would bring her daughter since her daughter said she had bought me a gift. We went to Do Do which is a place we went to once on a previous trip. The gift her Daughter gave me was a book with many drawings and descriptions of the old buildings of Saigon and it was signed by the author. It is a very beautiful book.
I told her Daughter that Minh Ha’s English had deteriorated since her last visit because she does not practice. This is especially funny because Minh Ha was a teacher for so many years. I told her Daughter that it was good she came so we have a translator.
Just like Fowler said in the Quiet American, in the evening there is a breeze. There was one tonight and dinner was very pleasant.
After dinner we went to Minh Ha’s house. It is the house her parents lived in since she was 10 years old. In her room is a laptop sitting on the desk she used through high school and college. It is nice she has such memories around her.
On the way back to my quarters we rode past Nguyen Hue and Le Loi. A large stage is being put up for the upcoming birthday of Ho Chi Minh on May 19. It is easy for me to remember since it is also my Daughter’s birthday. The city seems quieter in the evening. People are out and about and much is going on. Main streets have many lights and decorations across the street. I will have to get there during the celebration.
Miss Oanh - Top of District 10
Monday begins with a search for internet access. I like being this far from city center that there are few tourists however there is some isolation. I can not get internet access. I went over to Tous Les Jours which is a really neat bakery with pastries from plain to entire meals in them. They have access but it is not working or maybe it is the laptop that is not working. We will see as the day goes on.
It rained while I was in the bakery but then stopped. Now it is just a little bit more humid.
I am still without a phone and things here work a little different from home. One buys a phone and a SIM Card then you purchase time as you need it.
I do not know what happened much this day since I am 2 days behind in doing this. I am now pretty well connected and in 2 days we are going to the beach in Can Gio.
Perhaps we lost a day crossing the international Boarder Date Line.
On past trips I would arrive in the morning refreshed, have a good day and sleep and be on schedule the next morning. This trip I keep sleeping in the day and being awake in the night. I hope I snap out of this but the humidity is not helping. Still I am here.
I am sorry this is short but I think I am combining two days due to the international date line.
I am out far enough that not much has changed. Some people remember me after an absence of almost 3 years.
Day with Minh Ha and her sister and Brother-in-law
The day began as yesterday with a trip across the street to Tous Les Jours for tea a roll and some internet.
After that I called Minh Ha and asked what we were doing today. Now that she is retired we have time to do things together. She said that she was taking the things we brought from my Niece to her Mother and Sister. I asked if we could go to Anh Linh School when she was finished. She had met my Granddaughters before and was happy to go. My last granddaughter remaining in school was Chau who was the first I met back in 2001 on my first trip when she was 7 years old and selling flowers in front of the Rex Hotel. Chau graduated a few weeks ago and left the school. She lives in District 4.
After Anh Linh we went to visit Minh Ha’s sister and her husband. They live in a beautiful house in Saigon South, an affluent area of single homes on tree lined streets, high rise apartments, and upscale shopping malls. The area was laid out with parks and lakes. Years ago this was all swampland.
I spoke with her brother-in-law for a time. He is an interesting man. His son graduated college in California with a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Business. He returned to Vietnam and now has his own business.
We spoke of many things about the US and Vietnam. We even touched on the war a little. He was with the VC and served in the tunnels at Cu Chi. He was captured and spent 5 years in Poulo Condor Prison on Con Son Island off the very Southernmost Eastern coast of Vietnam. Poulo Condor was infamous for the Tiger Cage cells and cruel treatment of prisoners. Now life is much better as it usually is for those on the winning side. I also talked to relatives who said he seldom mentions the war and then only bits and pieces. Another veteran.
We had a nice dinner there and there was a very light hearted spirit to the discussion which often centered my friend and how her English had deteriorated from lack of practice.
After dinner Minh Ha and I took a walk down to one of the lakes. I was already beginning to be sleepy and was afraid that if I rode home on the back of a motorbike I would doze off and fall off the bike. Minh Ma called a Taxi and I did in fact doze off.
After the nice nap in the taxi I arrived home and went to the corner where I liked to sit and watch humanity pass by. One soda and I was off to bed for the night. Children were playing a game with a plastic watter bottle. Two teams were lined up and a bottle was placed between them. One or more players would come to the bottles. The object was for one team to pick up the bottle and return to their line while the other team tried to tag the one with the bottle. If they tagged before the one with the bottle had picked the bottle up they lost. I think I am beginning to acclimate to the jet lag, which has never affected me before.
Now I am off to bed and I am sure I will sleep well.
Saigon and getting ready for Can Gio
I was already packed for our trip to Can Gio. It is a seaside resort on the opposite side of the Saigon Rive from Vung Ta. We will spend a few days there and hopefully I will finally wake up completely. I like the heat but the summer is a little extreme.
I took a cab down to the Hotel Thuan Duc. I hoped to see Miss Loan and get my favorite room reserved for July when I will be back in Saigon.
Two and a half years ago when I left there was a man named Peter sitting at a table at the little shop across the street, As I approached I noticed he was sitting there now.
I went into Tuan Duc only to find that Miss Loan and her children were no longer there. Her Daughter had long ago gone to South Africa where she works and her son was just finishing college after studying Banking. Her and her husband owned a hotel in Qui Nhon and maby they are both there now. This was a major disappointment because they were so nice and I could trust them completely, something you cannot do at just any small hotel in the back pack tourist area.
I left and chatted with Peter for a while. He is from England. He finds the Quality of life has diminished there and likes it here better. We chatted for some time about England, the United States, Vietnam, the people, country, the Government and excepting for the Government how beautiful Vietnam is and has been.
I do not know where I will find a hotel for July, however there is plenty of Time and I can stay with the Church Lady although she drives me a little crazy by coming into my room for snap inspections and noticing a bit of lint or a few drops of water and getting, down on her hands and knees and polishing the floor with a dry rag then complaining about her bad back. She needs back rubs and tells me I do it so well. I also bring her supplements from the USA and insists on Kirkland brand (COSTCO). It is a small price to pay for free room and board and she insists on paying for everything I bring her.
Back to Pham Ngu Lao Street and a taxi to Minh Ha’s house. Her daughter May is home as she teaches in the afternoon class. Minh Ha, HER Daughter Mai and her daughter’s boyfriend Tung are all so nice and a joy o talk to.
Minh Ha is doing her packing and I have finished here so I am off to bed, or rather the sofa downstairs. I am up to date except the missing day which I will try to reconstruct.
Saigon to Can Gio
Can Gio Restaurant
The Carrot Restaurant is across the pool from our rooms
Minh Ha decided that she did not want to take the bus to Can Gio so she hired a car. It was a lot more comfortable that the bus and did not make stops in every town. The scenery going down was wonderful.
We went south from Saigon to the Saigon River. The ferry ride was nice and the river beautiful.
On the other side of the river the road was almost empty. There were few motorbikes, fewer cars and only the occasional bus. Down here the ground is flat and covered with lush green vegetation. Right off the ferry I noticed the 90 bus that we took down last trip. The trip on the 2 busses and the ferry was only a little over 1.00. If you are in country and want a quick easy break this is it. In the off season, which it is now, the place is almost empty.
As we drove the road was. in most places. Four lanes divided by a median which was about 4 foot wide and contained, alternately, 3 flowering bushes then 3 small coniferous trees pruned in the shape of large Hershey Kisses on a stick. We crosses waterway after waterway. Each with many small boats and people going up and down fishing or carrying something to somewhere.
We pass a house built by a waterway that is shaped like a large boat, There are many large ponds where something is being raised. The trip is very relaxing and I know I will get caught up on my journal and maybe my sleep as well.
As we get closer to Can Gio and I know where we are and which turns we will make to be at the resort. Everything looks so familiar. The buildings are much as buildings when the French were here. The reception area has only 2 walls and is otherwise open. Several pools with fish surround the building. We are in the same building we were in last trip except now we are downstairs. The rooms are much like an American Motel or resort with a bath in each. There are no carpets which makes it feel much cleaner than an American motel. The pool is very large and the beach is 200 feet away. You can hear it constantly but you can not see it through the vegetation.
We arrive and check in and I go to my room and lay down on the bed and was awakened by a knock on the door hours later. Minh Ha was ready for dinner. On the way across the street to a small local mall of restaurants I remind Minh Ha that one of my goals this trip is to eat less and jump start my diet again so she is to order what she wants and not order for me. She agrees but I think she ordered a little extra because she asks if we can share. This is ok since I will only eat a little and dinning is a very social thing in Vietnam.
After dinner we come to our rooms and change and take a dip in the pool. The water is warm from a hot day of sunshine and it is very relaxing. Minh Ha swims like a fish It is a joy to watcher her.
Back to our rooms and before we say goodnight we agree to swim first thing in the morning so it will not be so hot and, of course, less sunshine. In Vietnam there is no such thing as a nice tan on a woman. Women cover up, wear broad brim hats and often carry a parasol. Beauty here is in fair skin.
A very nice day.
Oplets, Swimming and Snails
Can Gio Market
All manner of seafood. Most is live in tubs which have air flowing them in to keep them fresh.
I do not know who was up first today but it seemed that as soon as I was up and ready to go Minh Ha was at the door. We have a complimentary breakfast so we eat at the resort restaurant. It is a beautiful building by the pool with no walls except around the kitchen at one end.
Minh Ha has Pho, the national dish. Breakfast, lunch and dinner have little difference here. What you like is what you have three times a day. I have the oplet, not a spelling error. It seems that where ever you go an omlet is on the menu for the westerners. However someone at some time mistakenly called it an oplet and now, as in this morning, I asked for an omelet and Minh Ha and the waitress looked at me strangely. I remembered and corrected myself and said oplet. Minh Ha and the waitress both smiled and the waitress was off to the kitchen for a bowl of Pho and an oplet.
Minh Ha said “the sun is looking at me”. I took this to mean that it was shining in her eyes so I said “Perhaps it likes you” and suggested she put on her hat with the wide floppy brim. That seemed to do the trick for even though the sun was still looking at her she was paying it no attention and hopefully the sun was not too offended because it was already quite hot.
The oplet arrived with the usual hard roll, tomatoes and lettuce, a great combination and I really do like it. I also have coffee which comes with a cup and saucer with a metal saucer, which is perforated, above the cup, a metal cup and a metal lid. In the metal cup is coffee and a weight. It is filed with hot water which drips through and fills the cup below. I asked for milk and sugar which comes as condensed milk that sits in the bottom of the bottom cup and is heavy enough that it must be stirred to get it to blend with the coffee that has dripped down. I was a little leery of this as I thought it would be heavy, bitter coffee but it is not and I have come to like it a lot.
We have a leisurely breakfast and I can almost get the feel of being a wealthy planter of about 100 years ago. There is a slight breeze and as we eat there is a young man vacuuming the pool which is quite large so his vacuum has a 25 foot handle. A nice looking young lady is sweeping and I am thinking, I hope she is happy even though she is not smiling but then she is probably not in line for the next management position but she does have a job and that is something these days
We wore our bathing suits so we could swim right after breakfast however Minh Ha insists we go back to our respective rooms and wash our hands because we must use soap and water. Maybe she is afraid we will leave a greasy slick on the pool. Even though she cannot see if I actually used soap and water I do just because she might pop in and check. She was a teacher and sometimes she checks up on me so much I just say “thank you Mom”. Minh Ha’s daughter finds this particularly amusing.
The pool is still a little warm from yesterday but refreshing. We swim and take a few hundred photos to be sure that we got every flower that was in bloom today. We also walk to the beach for the first time this trip. Just as before the beach is so flat. With the exception of a lot of trash it would be perfect for little kids because at high tide it is knee deep for about a half a mile. Something new is being constructed. A large area has been filled with rocks and walled in with Jersey Barriers. Later we will see what the signs say down at the road where it meets the construction.
On the beach is a large Buoy that had broken free during a storm and washed ashore.
We have lunch at the local market across the street. The lunch is noodles, vegetables and shrimp and is quite good. We look at the shops selling many souvenirs. Some of the shells are $50 each.
We rest for a couple of hours and then dinner. I was afraid of a crowd and possibly no room so I wanted to come Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but Minh Ha was sure that it was not yet the season and we would be ok. Besides there were more snails on the weekend, I have come to like snails. They once again prove what I always said “if the sauce is good shoe leather will be delicious” and though I never tried shoe leather in any kind of sauce the mouse, last trip, was also good.
Before dinner we walk around the shops of the little market across the street and find a dozen ladies selling fish, crabs, snails and all manner of shrimp and Lobster like crustaceans. All are alive and swimming in pans each with a hose pumping air into the pans. Some pans are filled with snails and a few are making a break for freedom. Over the edge and on to the floor in a futile bid to be free.
Dinner is a variety of snails with a box of rice from the resort restaurant. We take this back to my room because we cannot take outside food into the restaurant of the resort. We have dinner in my room and watch National Geographic nature shows on TV.
And now I am up to date on my journal so I am off to bed.
Back to Saigon
Today began early when I woke around 3 and could not get back to sleep so I decided to take a swim in the pool. At this hour in the morning the pool had cooled off a little but it was still warm as a bath tub. The water felt really good and relaxing and I wish I could sleep there in the shallow end.
On my way back to the room I realized that the key had come off the keychain that the hotel provided with the room number on it. I knew that it was around the pool or along the path somewhere but in the dark and without my glasses every leaf looked like it might be a key.
I went to reception and woke the night person to borrow a flashlight and followed my steps back to the room and there was the key.
Later around 6:00 I started trying to wake Minh Ha without waking the entire building. In a stone building with tile floors and hardwood doors knocking can sound very loud. She said the breakfast was between 6:30 and 9:00 and today is the complementary buffet. By time she came out it was about 7:00 and the buffet was great. All manner of Asian things. Soups and pork meatballs rice in different styles of cooking. Many types of noodles and one called spaghetti. Lettuce and other greens and the ever present tomatoes and cucumbers. Pancakes which were batter but thin and fries crisp which Minh Ha wrapped in lettuce and leafy things. Rolls and butter from New Zealand with a nice but slightly different taste. Fried eggs and oplets.
Today is check out so we take a walk down by the beach and to look at the area being constructed on the beach. From up on the road along the beach we can look through the fence and see that it is not just a walk out into the ocean but a filled in area that goes for a long way down the beach. A sign shows us that there will be a development with many buildings.
At Can Gio the beach is not the most special area. It is nice and fascinating because it is so shallow so far out. However the pool is so large and beautiful and the grounds so lush and planted with so many flowers. It is very relaxing and that was one of my goals here this trip.
Coming down to Can Gio Minh Ha wanted to take a car and not the bus. I told her it would be expensive but she insisted it would not be much and she would pay for it. I tried to dissuade her but she really wanted it so we took it. The car turned out to be $45. On the way home I said we should take the bus. Minh Ha said it would be hot, I told her we can open a window, and so we took the bus. The trip home cost 75 cents each and we did open the window and it was quite nice.
At Minh Ha’s house she insisted that we had lunch and it was very nice. I told her a number of times I wanted to stop drinking Coke, of any kind, and eat less. She has not done well in ordering extra so we can split it but she has been really good in insisting “No Coke”. In fact she was doing well before we left home. The first day on the trip however, when we finally arrived at the airport, I said “I need a Coke” and she said she would also like a little.
Back from Can Gio and although I had hoped another friend would forget going anywhere she wanted to go to the shore. Wanting to get this over I agreed and said “let’s go now”. It was almost 9:00 and we got a cab to Pham Ngu Lao and booked a bus that went to Phan Thiet.
The busses that run at night are mostly the sleepers. They have three rows of bed like seats. If you have to ride one of these and are over 5 foot 6 you should book early and get one of the 6 seats in front. All the way back the legs of one are under the upper portion of the one ahead. The 6 seats in front do not have that place so your feet are uncovered and more comfortable and less claustrophobic. Also on the top you can put your feet over the end, if you need, and they stick out where they do not bother anyone.
I twisted around and did actually sleep for most of the trip.
Phan Thiet Peoples Committee Headquarters
This was just across and down from our hotel in Phan Thiet. Our hotel was owned by the committee
So at 3:00 AM we end up getting off the bus in Phan Thiet. Standing on a dark street, in a town I had been to before and only having a general which the beach is we walk to a taxi.
There is a good reason why we do not ask taxi drivers to take you to a good hotel. It is because they get a commission from the more expensive hotels to drop people off there. However we have little choice so I ask to be taken to a nice little hotel on the beach. The driver wants to take us to the beach in Mui Ne. A much better fare however I insist and he appeals to my friend being, to him, people like us and tries to convince her Mui Ne.
Finally we arrive at Hotel Binh Minh, which is owned and operated by the Peoples Committee of Phan Thiet. As it turns out it is a nice hotel, $25 with a free breakfast buffet and it is just across the street from the South China Sea.
We are up early and go to the breakfast buffet. It is not the buffet at Can Gio but it is a very nice one. Fried eggs and many Asian dishes some of which are imitations of western dishes. Everything is good.
After breakfast we are off to see the South China Sea. The morning is a little cloudy and dull. The beach and water look very nice but the ribbon of park between the street and the beach is dirty, and needs some work. This is a little surprising since the Peoples Committee of Phan Thiet is in charge here. We walk for a while but my back is still bothering me so we sit and watch then back to the hotel. My friend is talking with one of the girls who cleans rooms and finds the name of a seafood restaurant which is inexpensive and close. My friend invites the girl and we will have lunch at 4:00.
The sun is coming out and it looks nice out. My friend wants something to eat and I remind her that she arranged to have lunch at 4:00 with a young lady who works in the restaurant in the hotel. She says she needs a little snack.
We go down and the room is half filled with men who are mostly older and I think we have stumbled in on a get together of the peoples Committee. Soon the wives come and all sit at the other side of the room. It turns out that it is a tour from up North. I notice one man sitting alone. He is fascinating but when we make eye contact I feel like he is working at not noticing me. We continue our meal and I notice that he has come over and is talking to my friend. He is interested in talking with me but he must get on the bus which is going to their next stop which is Nha Trang. He said he has never been to the south and I notice that my friend is mentioning places I have been. I wish he had the time. He seemed very interesting.
In the restaurant is a young lady that I noticed before. Her face is almost stylized like the ancient Chinese paintings. Even her hair looks very properly arranged. She has a beautiful smile.
4:00 arrives and so does the young lady that my friend has befriended. She takes us to a restaurant that sells Banh Xeo. This contains a shrimp, a piece of squid, a little slice of pork and bean sprouts. The lady has 3 clay pots about 18 inches in diameter, filled with charcoal, with 7 holes in the top and a clay dish like insert in each hole. She than adds a little oil to each and then a light batter. She covers each with a lid. There are only lids for one of the 3 pots and she moves the lids from one that is closer to being done to one that is newly prepared. She tends to them all sometimes checking them and sliding them around like pizzas in an oven. When they are done she folds them in Half and puts them on a plate. 4 on a plate is enough and they are taken to a table which wants more. Also she puts 4 in a box for the take out crowd. She never seems rushed but moves quickly with a very practiced precision. The meal, with 2 servings of greens, a bowl of sauce and tea for all was $7.00.
The name and address for the restaurant.
40 Tuyen Quang
After dinner we walk back to the hotel. On the way back my hip is bothering me so I sit down from time to time. My friend and her new friend walks ahead. A lady who is deaf comes and sits by me and in a home made sign language asks is my friend in my wife and her friend is my daughter. Since the girl looks like she is 12 and to avoid a lengthy conversation I just shake my head yes. Both my friend and her new friend are amused by this.
Back at the hotel the girl offers my friend a ride to the bus terminal where she buys tickets for the return to Saigon. The tourist season is fast approaching so it is good to buy tickets ahead to avoid sleeping in bus stations.
My friend returns with tickets in hand. I had hoped for a regular bus but got a sleeper instead. Still we have a ride back to Saigon in time for Ho Chi Minh’s birthday tomorrow. I think there may be much celebration. There was a lot a few weeks ago to celebrate independence day. Many billboards and posters are around with stylized paintings of the tank coming through the gate of the palace and a young boy and girl soldier with their guns raised in victory.
Back to Saigon
Beach in Phan Thiet
The beach across the street from our hotel
Second complimentary breakfast buffet. A few changes and a whole different group. The bus tour is gone and there are fewer people here today. The food is really good. Fried eggs and a roll, the little meat balls that taste like sausage, Juice and coffee. There are some new things. Something green that looks like a sponge that is tasty. Fried Tofu squares with a delicious topping and today there is fish.
There were no westerners again today. There was a little boy who was looking at me and pointing. His grandmother was talking to him and pushing his hand down. I can imagine her telling him it is not polite to point. She looked at me and smiled. I smiled at her and she had such a nice smile and I thought it would be very interesting to talk to her. I am sure she is near my age and has lived her whole life in Vietnam. The things she must have seen and the experiences she must have had. I just wonder.
I would love to have a Vietnamese restaurant in the US and the only change I would make is to remove gristle, large amounts of fat and small bones and bone fragments from fish and meat. The flavors are wonderful and most is fresh and not preserved. Most is not from a can or frozen but really fresh.
We finish breakfast and wander around taking photos. My internet and computer are both really bad and I will try to replace the computer today. Yahoo keeps making me prove I am me but has trouble with resetting. I am ok with Facebook and my website though.
Not much happened today except for the bus. Yesterday I wanted to get tickets to come back to Saigon so we would be sure we had a seat and if it was a sleeper bus the first row which is brighter and with less obstacles. My friend booked the seats but could not explain much because her speaking skills far outdistance her listening skills. As they say, if you want anything done right. . .
I looked at the tickets and we are in seats A18 and A19 and it is a sleeper bus. I enter and move back, back, back, looking at the seat numbers and wondering if the seats A18 and A19 are on this bus at all. Finally I reach a small dark cavern at the very back. My shoulders are wider than the aisle so I have to turn a little sideways, lower myself and slide in till my head is inches from the ceiling. The word coffin comes to mind again and again. We are on top of the engine so the space is smaller than any other seat on the bus. My friend smiled and said “Isn’t this good we can stretch out more”. My fault, I had not mentioned the claustrophobia, and it is not really that bad, at least it is not really that bad now that I am out of the bus and here in my room.
To make matters worse, between the seats is a board to keep everyone separate and a little more alone and confined. I am clinging to the board between my friend and I. Not to be closer to her but to have the extra space behind me and since I cannot see the space I can imagine it to be much bigger than it is. As the bus pulls out the lights go out and I hope to sleep most of the way.
The scenery is nice but since I do not have a window it is hard to see. The sun is on that side of the bus and the young man in that seat is sleeping. After a while he wakes and opens the curtain. We are traveling through an open area south of Phan Thiet on a new super highway. Time passes quickly and it is now only two hours to Saigon. We are passing mile after mile of Rubber Plantations. Trees in even rows going off into the distance. Vegetation cleared between the rows. The trees are cut or marked for taping but no cups to catch the sap. I want to come here and ride around one day in July when I have time.
Saigon is in sight but this used to be an hour trip from the North of Saigon to Pham Ngu Lao Street. Now we skirt the city coming in through district 2 and the tunnel under the Saigon river. A lot faster.
The bus turns on to streetDe Tham and stops in front of Phuong Trang Bus Company. We emerge and the city air is so good to take in. We are at Pham Ngu Lao street which is alive almost all night, at least till the bars close. I am so happy to be out of that bus.
Going back to the house I am so happy to be checking the email and look forward to writing what had happened all day.
Chau has written and also Tram. Both have left school and both need money. Not good situations either one.
Hoa My and down to District 4
After the cryptic and confusing messages I received from Chau and Tram last night I called Hoa My and arranged to meet at Tous Les Jours this morning. Hoa My is a fascinating young lady. It seems like only the other day that she was one of the kids selling post cards in the park across from the Rex Hotel. That is how I came to meet her. I saw her a few times each visit and I am not sure how it happened but she became the one I could always trust to distribute Red Pockets at Tet. A Red Pocket is lucky money for children. I tried mailing them once but the ones that did arrive were empty. And so it was that I came to send, by Western Union, the few hundred dollars, to distribute to the children including my Granddaughters at Anh Linh School. She even came up with the Idea of taking them shopping since at least one of them wasted money. This way they got things they needed and also got a little spending money. She also gave a little too a few adults who are all younger than I just for luck.
The girls are all finished with. One dropped out to get married however being 16 she is too young to legally marry. The second graduated 9th grade and dropped out to pursue a career with pays well but she will not discuss the work with the sisters. The third and most hopeful graduated 12th grade and is under employed but working hard to earn an honest living.
I hope to see the third for dinner one day this week. The other two are far an elusive. We will see.
Finished with that, in as much as it can be finished for now, I go to visit Minh Ha and have dinner with her and her daughter.
I arrive at lunch time and one of the things is a watermelon that we started in Can Gio. The watermelon here are smaller but much more red and very sweet.
We had a short nap and I woke and came to sit on the steps to the balcony garden. Minh Ha loves plants of all kinds. She is a retired Science teacher and while at our house in the last few months she took 3,000 photos of trees and flowers all over the property. She has many plants in the garden, even a banana tree that grows up through the security bars that surround the balcony. In a corner of the garden is a jar with cuttings from her favorite Willow tree, from our house, which she watched come back from a stump after it tilted in a storm and had to be cut up. They are not doing as well as we had hoped but they may root. Next year we will try something else.
Dinner is beef and peppers and a wonderful sauce. Most of my friends make really great sauces, working mostly with Soy and fish sauce and adding bits of shallot and pepper. The peppers are cooked like most vegetables here, just a little and maintaining a little crunch.
I did not sleep well last night so I am turning in early. See you in the morning.
Changes, The Rex Hotel and the fountain
The morning began when Minh Ha came in to my room and said she was going to the market for breakfast. I find that I have to be careful saying that anything is good or that I like something. This morning shrimp is for breakfast. This is an unexpected treat. We also have watermelon once a day.
Meal time is a lot of fun at Minh Ha’s house. Her daughter, Mai, has very good English and we can all discuss many things, sometimes very silly things. The only part of the shell we remove from the shrimp is the shell over the head which is quite sharp. As I remove one shell I say, in a little voice, OH, don’t pull on that, it is not a hat. Mai laughs and translates for Minh Ha. It is amazing how some very little things are taken to be so funny.
May teaches an afternoon class so her mornings are free. She has lunch with us and most times dinner. Her boyfriend also joins us some times. He is an architect and I hope to talk to him more about his work and the changing face of the old section of Saigon which is changing all too fast for my taste.
My back has been hurting and I mention that I wish there was a Chiropractor in Saigon. Neither Minh Ha nor Mai understand Chiropractor so I write it on a piece of paper and May is off to her laptop. Moments later May returns and talks to Minh Ha. They are both unhappy with the idea of a Chiropractor because they do not take x-rays or prescribe drugs. Still May has found me 2 in Saigon and has addresses, phone numbers and fees. She also prefers one, so I thank her and will call the one she prefers. Like Minh Ha, May is also a teacher and they both research and explore all aspects of things.
This morning Minh Ha has received a call that packages that her sister sent from USA have arrived and will be delivered in 30 minutes.
The packages arrive and there is excitement. We open the boxes and Minh Ha and Mai look through everything inside. There is clothing and a pair of shoes that is too big for me even. Minh Ha explains they are for her brother in Saigon South. There are cheese crackers and snacks that Minh Ha likes. There is a harness for the dog but no photo or instruction on how to put it on the dog. We have a lot of fun trying to get it on till the dog is tired of the attention and wants to just lay down and forget it.
I have been talking about the changes to the center of town, which I consider to be the intersection of Nguyen Hue and Le Loi. In fact I consider this to be the center of the universe.
Most noticeable is that the fountain is gone in the intersection of Nguyen Hue and Le Loi. I was counting on having my ashes put there but now that is off. The fountain has been replaced by squares of dancing fountains which bubble up from the pavement which people were walking across moments ago. I do not know if there is some kind of warning like maybe they trickle before going full blast. They and the plaza are very nice but the fountain was there so long.
The change is everywhere. Nguyen Hue is, in the canter a broad walkway from the Rex Hotel to the river. The driving lanes on each side have been widened to 3 lanes to make up for the 4 center lanes that are gone. The center is block on the ground and there are subway entrances going down along the boulevard. However we are told that a train in the subway is at least 5 years away.
In all fairness the boulevard actually was two roads on either side of a park that ran from City Hall down to the river. There were small shops n the park and a few breaks for traffic to move from one side to the other.
For some time now the Rex Hotel and The Eden building have undergone major changes. They only have very high end shops like Rolex, Cartier and their ilk. The real beauty of this colonial city is in the people and the architecture but many of the small vendors and children selling post cards and fans are gone. The few that remain are occasionally chased and their goods confiscated.
I have come to see Hoa My and her Mother. Hoa My arrives and we have a nice chat. I remember when she was a child selling postcards and now her sons are in school, one is finishing 2nd grade. Time flies.
After talking with Hoa My we go to the square between the Rex and the Eden building. The beautiful statue of Ho Chi Minh sitting in front of City Hall surrounded by children is gone. Replaced by a statue of Bac Ho standing with his back to City Hall and looking down Nguyen Hue. There is something a little ironic about uncle Ho with his back to City Hall as I think he would not be pleased at the way the country is going and how so many are being left out, how many children will not go to school.
The area where Uncle Ho stands is almost as wide as the park and a little longer. The area is guarded by soldiers whit automatic side arms. It is so rare to see a gun in Vietnam. The soldiers chase anyone who walks on the platform holding the statue. I guess it is sacred ground now.
I suggest that we go for tea at the Rex. Minh Ha and Mai both say “tea?”. I tell them or anything they want. We go to the 5th floor and out to the restaurant on the roof. It is outdoors and the changes are immediately noticeable. Part of the outside restaurant which is not under the roof has a step down. This area was covered with small wooden squares about 18 inches square, which are now gone.
Minh Ha orders a soda with lime and sugar, I order a chocolate milk shake and May orders a water. I think she was intimidated by the prices
We walk around the Eden building and notice that the ice cream parlor is not in the new building. More changed. If you saw “The Quiet American” this was where Phuong went with her friends on hot afternoons. We walk down to the Lucky Plaza and look around but my back is bothering me so I go back to 3/2 street and call the American Chiropractic Clinic. I am so surprised that after asking to see the doctor I am asked “can you come in tomorrow at 9:30”. I am amazed and say yes at once.
That done I read some email and start this entry. However I am tired and the entry waits till tomorrow to be finished and posted.
Tous Les Jours – Afternoon with Grandaughter Chau
Six AM and I am looking across the street at Tous Les Jours waiting for signs of life. By 7:00 people were milling about and I was off. A small pastry, a cup of yogurt and an “American” coffee and I am ready to begin yesterday’s journal. People are so interesting and I like to watch them as they go about their everyday chores.
A security man out front spends his day parking motorbikes in a neat row in front of the shop. Weather there is 1 or 20. He opens the door. He does not look happy or sad, he is just there.
The girls in the shop work well together. They are filling the shelves, placing pastries on trays that come from the back, some are wrapped, others go in little paper trays and others are just piled neatly in rows.
Customers come and go, a Western man, individuals and small groups. The small groups often have an obvious leader and may be a manager and group brainstorming the days work. Or maybe a study group before school.
Out in the street people go past. A man on a motorbike pulling a hand truck with a 60 pound gas cylinder. I wondwe if there is a limit to what can be carried on a motorbike. I have seen small refrigerators and large sheets of glass. A man rides by with a 20 foot section of pipe. It goes out before him over the heads of other riders and out behind him where I hope people are paying attention.
There is a side street by the shop and several trucks wait to come out. As they begin to move a car seizes the opportunity to pull in to position to enter the street anticipating the truck eventually moving out into traffic. A second car moves next to the first and they both look as though they are parked, nose in, to the shop. The first truck moves and a second pulls up. Neither car can go and they are both blocking traffic but no one seems concerned. The second truck moves out into traffic and the first car goes behind it into the side street where the truck had been, followed by the second car. Now both cars are going the wrong way up a narrow one way street.
I have been watching things and people long enough the it is time to go to the American Chiropractic Clinic (ACC). ACC has been in Saigon since 2007.
The ride is only about 15 minutes. We stop at a light. A lady on the back of a motorbike and wearing the mask, worn by most women, looks over. Even with the mask I can tell she is not smiling. We look at ech other for a while having really good eye contact and just as the light is about to change she smiles and is gone off into the traffic ahead.
I arrive at ACC and I am only about 15 minutes early. There are a few questions and I am called in to wait for the doctor. The Doctor is Bob and we chat as he looks me over. I get on his table which feels really nice even though it looks rather flat. I had seen one of those pogo stick devices on the desk and asked if he uses that or his hands. He said his hands and I said good, I don’t like those things. He said neither do I. So right away I feel good about this.
After his manipulation I go to get some electric mussel stimulation, heat and massage. I leave and though the pain is not completely gone I do feel a lot better and I am hopeful that I will get over this quickly. Nha Trang will be good because I plan to sit on the beach a lot and swim.
I stop by Hoa My’s mother’s stand to give a little money to Hoa My to send to Tram and her baby. As I sit and wait an Australian comes by. He is from a cruise ship that has docked just across the Ben Nghi Canal at what used to be “K” Docks in 1968. He had been to Pennsylvania a short time ago and remembered being in Intercourse PA.
A phone call to Chau and I am off to her address. The address is the beginning of an alley and we go down the alley to another alley, to another alley and so on until we are finally come to the house where she lives. It is not her stepfather’s house. We walk through the alleys to her stepfather’s house we stop and see the shoe factory where she works. Along the way many people are in front of their house stitching shoes. Anyone wishing to work gets a supply of shoe parts and stitches shoes which are collected and paid for.
Solutions for problems are found everywhere. A house is being built back in this maze. Out on a larger street a cement mixer waits as a small 3 wheel truck brings the concrete back the alley where the large truck cannot fit. When the 3 wheel truck can no longer fit it pours out it’s load and the load is shoveled into buckets and is carried to the site.
Sitting at Chau’s stepfather’s house I can see she is uneasy and I ask her if there is somewhere we can go to get coffee and talk. I follower her to the main street where we get a taxi and go to a large mall which has a food court, many shops and a movie theater. We have coffee and I ask Chau what is wrong. She says “Nothing” and I tell her I know something is wrong. I see it in her eyes. There is sadness and she says “yes”. I tell her that there is also a little anger and she smiles and says “yes”.
She is angry that the school said they would try to get her an ID card but they did not. I remind her that they tried. She says she understands but is still angry. I remind her that school is safe and she is fed, cared for and educated.
She asks “what do you think of me”. I tell her she is pretty, intelligent, gentle, kind and Stubborn. She reacts to stubborn with a little pride.
We go to the movie theater but the show she wants to see is sold out till later. We drive back and I tell her we can go to a water park when I return to Saigon in July. Also we will have dinner. I drop her off and return to Minh Ha’s house.
Miss Pull and Trinh Cung Cung Son
Minh Ha's House
Home away from home
Today I am off to meet Pull and her family. I met Pull’s Mother some years ago through my website and I follow her daughter’s videos. There were videos of Pull Dancing at home and playing the piano. Pull wanted to play video games so her parents bought a piano and now she plays very well. I think Pull has very good parents and she will do very well in life.
I arrived at the apartment this morning and Pull was at her ballet lessons. It is nice to meet her father who is a lecturer at a university. We have a nice time to chat and lunch. Everything is so good.
Then pull arrives and I am a little surprised that she is a little shy. Her Mother says she is a around new people till she gets to know them. In her videos she is full of confidence. Pull is a nick name, which they call a house name here. In school she has chosen Sophia as her nick name. She is so full of energy and such a beautiful child.
Minh Ha told me, earlier, that her friend got tickets to the Trinh Cong Son concert. Son died in 2001 and each year they have a memorial concert. Minh Ha tells me that since I am in Saigon South I should just go to the concert and they will meet me there. The chances of meeting there are pretty bad so I decide to leave Pull’s family and go to Minh Ha so we can all go together.
I arrive early and we all take a nap. This is my big mistake of the evening. It seems that as long as I sit my back feels better and better, but if I lay down it hurts more. Then Minh Ha comes into the room and begins saying, quite loud and panicked, “WAKE UP MY FRIEND IS HERE AND THE TAXI IS ON THE WAY”. I get up and come down as best as I can. I meet Minh Ha’s friend. I have seen her in photos. I explain to May that it would be better if her mother wakes people with a gentle shake and telling them they need to be up in minutes. She says her Mother always does that. She translate and Minh Ha says she is sorry and laughs
The Taxi is called and we go out to wait. It is about 15 minutes to Crescent Mall. Crescent Mall is in Saigon South, District 7. In 1968 and well beyond the end of the war this area was a swamp with some canals and a wandering river. There were a few buildings along the road that went South out of Saigon center and some shacks. Now it is where the wealthy, near wealthy and party connected live. There are many high rise apartment buildings and streets lined houses that have yards and garages and one even had a swimming pool.
We walk through the Mall building then around the mall outside. There is a mall much like any mall in the USA then it is part of a larger mall that is a crescent of apartment buildings with shops on the first floor. These buildings curve around a lake. There is a bridge that crosses from the mall into a park and it is here where a stage has been erected for tonight’s concert.
The bridge is lighted and changes color. As we walk across the bridge we see that the surface has lights in the walkway that look like stars in the sky.
As we were coming in we were given samples of Pepsi, 7UP, CC, a lemon drink and TEA+, the sponsors. We arrive at our seats and find we are in the front row. Advertising is on an arrangement of screens. All the advertisements are very upbeat and fast paced.
Trinh Cong Son was a fascinating man. He was born as WWII was beginning. He lived through the French return after WWII and then the invasion of the US. He wrote mostly love songs but many songs protesting the war. Because of this he fell into disfavor with the government.
There are stories of how he would sing at universities and the police would come. The crowd would close in to slow the police while opening another way for him to escape. When the American war ended he was put in a reeducation camp because of his anti-war songs which the North took to be anti-government songs. He was soon release however he received criticism for not writing songs against the wrongs of the new government.
His music is beautiful and his love songs usually sad, laments about loss. From the little I know it is sometimes hard to tell is a song is a love song or a pretest. One song is A Mother’s lament for the loss of her soldier son. Only Ho Chi Min had a larger funeral and I suspect it was well planned and organized. Trinh’s funeral was more spontaneous and a concert broke out during it. He was very well loved and respected but not really happy. He was a chain smoker and drank too much. It is a shame that those who can see the most beauty also have to see the most ugliness and those who feel the most love have to feel the most emptiness.
The concert begins and has some of the top names in entertainment. Hong Nguyen, who was a close friend of Trinh’s, sings. Children from a school for the blind sing. I do not know the words but the music is really good. There are many white and red balloons for decoration. One escapes and drifts up into the night sky. Minh Ha points it out. I tell her that, like Trinh Cong Son, the balloon is now free. The last song has everyone who sang on stage. The balloons have been distributed to the crowd. As the song ends all the balloons go up at once. Lights are flashing and a boom camera is moving just over our heads. A great end to a great show.
A cab ride and we are home.
Day of rest
Some meals are so much like home
Sunday is a day of rest and so I did. My back needed it and there was not much going on.
The concert last night ran late and combined with the heat I just do not feel like doing anything.
Dinner and conversation
Another day of rest and I have time to notice some of the little things. Traveling abroad you find some interesting food and customs. This evening we had the meal above which looked like something Mom might have cooked. There was soup in a light broth with carrots, beets, onion, potatoes and some beef. There is also some beef that is fried and has string beans in with it. All very tasty
Along with dinner we have a lot of interesting conversation. May teaches in the evening but is home for a late dinner. We have a lot of fun discussing words, pronunciation and inflection, both Vietnamese and English. There are sounds that do not occur in Vietnamese that are in English, and also the other way as well. Many Vietnamese have trouble with the “th” sound and when teaching I get them to put their tongue behind their top teeth and make a sound like a bee for a while.
We have a little fun at Minh Ha’s expense. Her English was much better 2 years ago when she came to visit than it is now. Her daughter May has very good English. I told her that when I tell Minh Ha something and she just looks at me then says “yes” I know she did not understand. She tells Minh Ha this and she makes a huffing sound and puts. If I talk and she does not understand I just say “khong hieu” or “not understand”. I suggest that they have one day a week when they speak only English. I tell May that if her mother cannot say it in English May does not have to pay attention to it. This gets mixed reactions.
It was while discussing the beet in the soup that May used her translator and found that it was in fact a beet. I thought it smelled like a beet and it tasted like a beet and it had the texture but I did not see it whole and I have been wrong before in guessing.
My back feels better every day and I have another Chiropractor appointment Wednesday before I go to DaLat. From DaLat a friend and I will go to Nha Trang where I plan to spend a lot of time on the beach and in the water. That reminds me to get suntan lotion.
Minh Ha’s House, Picasso, and a birthday surprise
May, Minh Ha and I having My Birthday Dinner with Cake
I woke and went downstairs his morning to find Minh Ha cleaning. She is always busy cleaning, preparing food, cooking or cleaning up after a meal, or washing clothes. I think her real break is when she is on her balcony garden. It is only about 15 by 7 feet but is covered with plants. There is a banana tree that her sister gave her from her garden when it was 2 feet high. Now it goes out through the top of the security bars. There are ferns, flowers and vines. There are the cuttings from the Willow Tree at our home in Pipersville. When I gave them to her she was so excited and put them in water. They looked very dry and I thought the trip had killed them. Just yesterday she showed me some new little buds and roots going out. She plans to raise them as Bonsai.
Minh Ha’s house is small by western standards but there are two bedrooms and a small common area upstairs. Downstairs is a living room, an eat in kitchen and a bathroom.
Like almost all my friends here they have everything they need but no extravagances. Her exception would be some Picasso Prints. She likes Picasso. I learn something new each time we talk. She has everything to cook with, including some things she picked up while visiting with us. She has no Tupperware or Corning storage dishes. She has a few jars that something or other came in and often she covers serving dishes with plastic wrap and puts it in the refrigerator. She is cleaning and wearing Playtex gloves. They are probably size small however they are big on her and come up to her elbows. One is pink and one is lavender. She seems to pay no attention to the difference and it is so beautiful that she does not worry over such small things.
My Granddaughter, who left the school and married someone in Tay Nihn needs money for the new baby. The way to send money here is to deposit it in the bank account of the person whom you wish to send it to. Their account is with Agribank. So this morning Minh Ha decided that I should take her motorbike and May and go to the bank. Driving the bike is simple. Handling Saigon traffic is something else. People come at you from all directions. Some seem to be paying no attention at all. It is worse than driving in New York City. People on your left will slow, put their hand out and turn in front of you. People will stop for no apparent reason then go.
We arrived at the bank and everyone was so helpful. I deposited the money in my granddaughter’s account. There was a (15,000) VND, around 8 cents, fee for making a deposit, which I found interesting.
We made it back home and no one was injured and the motorbike is still intact so we will call it a successful trip.
We have lunch and then a nap.
We were going to a park that is very famous but Minh Ha determines that it is too hot. It turns out the park is 23 September park which is where I like to hang out when I stay at Hotel Thuan Duc.
Speaking about Hotel Thuan Duc. I sent a letter to Loan at the last email I had and was automatically sent a message about how to get in contact with the new management. Just yesterday I got an email from her and she is in Saigon but not running a hotel. I was so happy to hear from her. She remembered me and addressed me as the Big Flower. She gave me that name because I attracted butterflies. Vietnamese for girls of questionable character. I would not give them money which would be taken from them by some man so if they said they were hungry I would buy them a meal in a small restaurant down the alley from the hotel.
At this point I expected to go down to dinner and that would be the end of the day.
Instead Minh Ha came into my room in a panicked state and said “HURRY AND GET DRESSED AND COME DOWN STAIRS”. Around the house I wear my bathing suit because I do not have pajamas to wander around the house like everyone else. I hurry and change and go downstairs. Mai and her boyfriend are there and Minh Ha is singing Happy Birthday to you. She is so adorable and so excited. There is a cake with candles and my name is written in chicken strips. One dish as rose blooms in it and there are roses and wine.
The candles are lit and I blow them out, as best I can. I watched as one came back on. We took a lot of pictures and had a wonderful meal. Then we went to the park that is just West of the Golden Dragon Theater, where the water puppets are. We walked around the park which is very nice. The trees are very tall and large in diameter. There is a pagoda, lily ponds, some gardens, play areas for children and exercise equipment all around aa section of the park.
We walked over to the section of the park where the Golden Dragon Theater is and looked around. I have not been here for years, since I took Chau and Tram to see the water puppets years ago. I remembered going to the section that was the Labor Cultural Center and hearing traditional music. Behind the Golden Dragon are many tennis courts and a swimming pool. The courts are from the French when this was the Circle Sportif, a very exclusive club for the upper class. The swimming pool was added when the Americans took over and it remained a very exclusive club. The Circle Sportif was mentioned in the song “Saigon Commando”.
On the way home we stopped at Swensen’s Ice Cream shop and had some ice cream. And finally back home.
At home there is one surprise left. I had asked Minh Ha if they sell the back packs like her daughters at the school. Her back pack has a school emblem on it and I had said I liked it. May came in and said that she had a present. She showed me three back packs. A new one, the one with her school emblem on it and one like an attaché case. She asked which one I liked and I picked the older one with the school emblem from the school where she and her mother went to High School.
I did thank everyone for the beautiful Birthday party. And so, at long last it is time for bed. It is 10:30 and I fall asleep quickly.
Chiropractor, The Little Girl, Off to DaLat
I wake early and go to the laptop to finish last night fun and excitement. Behind the Lap top are the roses from last night. Also, in the two wine glasses from last night are the two rose blossoms which are just beginning to open.
Finishing my journal it is time for the appointment with American Chiropractic Clinic. I am still a little sore and this is my follow up. The exam table is great to lay face down on. It feels good already. The doctor does an adjustment and then it is off to physical therapy. Some electro stimulation, with heat, followed by ultrasound and finally a wonderful machine that vibrates and does real nice massage.
The clinic is in an area where there is some mid size new construction but not the whole block high rise buildings of downtown or Saigon South. Many old French buildings including residences so large they are now corporate offices or international organizations.
Also in this area is Saigon Children’s Charities, where I like to buy my Christmas Cards. I expect to see the director, Paul Finnis, who I met before but he went back to Brittan. I hoped to see a young Vietnamese lady I met there before. I talked to her for a while and told her that her English was very good, she had no trace of an accent. She said that it was because she grew up in Chicago. She gave me he3r card which read Kimberly Brennan. I thought a fine name for a young Irish girl. She was in Vietnam to get in touch with her heritage. However I was told she was no longer with SCC but she was in Saigon and they see her from time to time. The lady Ngan I also met there but she is now in Korea. I miss a year here and everyone is scattered to the winds.
My doctor told me once that Tylenol was good but if you have Tylenol once then next dose take ibuprofen and alternate them that the effect was better. On the way back from SCC I stopped off at Pham Ngu Lao. I wandered around there but most of the regulars were not around. I stopped at the Pharmacy and got the ibuprofen. I also stopped at ABC Bakery and had a coffee and pastry and bought some of those really great cookies to share back at the house.
I sat there at Pham Ngu Lao and De Tham and just watched people go by. Some of the new tourists are very different and I wonder why they come all the way to Vietnam just to be strange. Some are so arrogant and some so unconcerned with the culture and customs that I wonder why they also come all the way here just to be ignorant. Some show so much disrespect to people. This is one reason I like to get away from the tourist areas. Vietnamese are so easy going and friendly. It is so easy to get along with almost all Vietnamese. The few who have AK 47’s can be little cranky. But all in all this is why I told Susan that if anything happens to her I am selling everything and moving here.
Tonight is my trip to DaLat so we spend the afternoon transferring photos and talking about them. One of the things I like to do is take photos of people and then on the next trip I return to give last years photo to the person in the photo. It is a neat way to start conversation and build a connection. Often I do not know the people and some are so happy to get the photo since, especially in rural areas, many do not have photos of them self.
I took 3 photos in the West of DaLat each of a girl. Last trip I returned two and started another. Each was happy to get the photo. However I could not find one little girl. I was telling May that there are many French Mansions in DaLat. Many have been turned into hotels and resorts. However in one street there are 8 or 10 mansions that sit empty. All the windows, doors, sinks and toilets, and even the flooring have long ago been stripped away and the shells of the homes have been left standing but unused. I asked someone why this was so and they told me the area was haunted.
Then I showed May the photo of the little girl. Since the houses were all abandoned I went through each and took Photographs. Around one house I would see the little girl, only for a moment and she would disappear around a corner. In one house I met the little girl. She was so beautiful. She lived in the house with her mother. I took the photo and a year later I went back and gave everyone their photos but I could not find the little girl. I showed the photo to all the neighbors across the street and in the surrounding area but no one knew her. They told me that no one had lived in any of the houses for many years. I asked May if it was possible that the little girl was a ghost. May did gasp, just a little. And who knows perhaps she was responsible for all that was going on in the haunted homes.
Everyone was tired and we took a nap. Around 9:00 we got up and had dinner. I had two slices of bread and a few cookies. Before a long bus trip I am very careful. I bought my ticket a few days ago because I wanted to make sure that I got a front row seat. This is a Sleeper Bus. A3 is the best because it is like the other 6 seats in the front row but it also has a small area in front to put something little.
10:00 has come and gone so I remind that we need to call a taxi. This is the second time that May has ordered me a taxi and said that she already paid. I asked if this was Uber and May said “Yes” and Minh Ha looked perplexed. Uber is here in Saigon.
I arrived at Pham Ngu Lao an hour early. People were boarding the buses that came and went at 10 minute intervals. I watched the people and the traffic until my bus arrived. I settle into A1 and plan to sleep when I can to have the 7 hour journey pass as quickly as was possible. In the dark it is not even possible to enjoy the scenery. I would really like to ride a motor bike up here and be able to stop at every interesting place and really see what the tourists do not get to see. 11:50 and we pull out 10 minutes late. Not bad.
Arrive in Dalat, at Miss Houng’s house and around town
The day begins on the road to Dalat. It is night so there is really nothing to see. As we head North towards Long Binh and Bien Hoa I notice the road is 8 lanes. In the center are Jersey Barriers and two lanes for trucks then Jersey barriers and two lanes for everyone else. As the trip progresses I also notice toll booths. There had been one just north of the Newport Bridge but now there are more.
I am in the front row so all is well except it is not really comfortable. I can sleep easier in a slightly reclined seat than in this so called bed. Still I guess I am not the average traveler. I sleep and wake, getting about an hour sleep at a time. The seat hinges to tilt back or forward and where it hinges there is a little Lumbar ridge. I am not sure if it is intentional or just something they could not flatten out but if you slink down just so it feels kind of nice.
One thing that keeps me from sleeping straight through is the bus horn. It is quite loud and used with little discretion.
Two and a half hours into the trip. We stop for our first rest stop. I have been at this rest stop before but we must have stopped other places in subsequent trips. I go into the restroom and there are many sinks for both genders. Then on to the men’s room with lines of toilets in stalls. Finally we arrive at, what must be the “Uninarium”. It is a room that is one large urinal. It has a cut around the floor so as to form a foot wide, foot deep troth and a wall of stainless steel. Water is running down the wall and in this 20 by 30 foot room a hundred men at a time can relieve themselves simultaneously in complete primal manliness. Just sense the Testosterone in the air. No dividers just man in his basic elements. It makes you want to pound your chest and give a Tarzan call.
Refreshed and back on the bus DaLat is now four and a half hours away. As the dawn begins to show it’s self we can see villages that have grown into towns then cities that sprawl. We are in the Central Highlands and soon we are in the outskirts of DaLat. Somone’s timing is off. It is just 5 hours since we pulled out of Saigon and we are at the terminal. I see 30 Phuong Tang orange busses and 15 others.
Ten years ago the busses, which were much smaller, came into town stopping only feet from my friend’s door. Now we are on the outskirts. However there is nothing to fear. Our $15 ticket includes a van taking us to the door of our hotel or in my case Huong’s house.
I get off the bus and show the address. The man recognizes it as being the street of the old terminal and points to a waiting. We drop off one person and then we are almost there. I am on the street I have walked many times. And Huong’s street is just ahead. The van stops and I get out and get my suitcase. I walk down to the end of the street, by the canal and since it is 6:00 AM I just sit outside the door and wait till someone comes out and unlocks the gate.
As it turns Huong’s sister walks down the street and she is also coming home from Saigon. She calls in for someone to open the gate. Huong comes out and is a little surprised to see me. I sent a message but we have not been in contact much since we have both had computer problems and now I am here and do not have Skype on my lap top.
The first order of business, with Huong, is of course to get a haircut. All my curls are gone. They were one of the things think made me beautiful. In a country of people who have straight hair the curls are an oddity. Even gray receding curls. I will take what complements I can get. The last time I was beautiful I was 6 years old. Life can be cruel.
On the way back from the barber shop we stop and Huong buys shrimp. At the house Huong insists that I go up and rest after the bus ride during which I mostly slept.
I wake and come down and we are having lunch. Shrimp battered and fried, a salad and something she cannot explain and I do not recognize the drawing she has made on the board. When she puts it on my plate I recognize it is Cuttlefish. They are stuffed with pork and very good. Cuttlefish like Squid and octopus, when cooked properly have a nice texture but only the taste of what is added to them.
Later we talk a walk around town and get some purple rice. The lady takes a roll like a donut and adds purple rice which is purple because of something it is cooked with. Then she adds a spoon of coconut, some kind of cream, sugar and a few other things. It is sweet and very filling. We bring them home for later.
We walk through the new section of the mall and I am pleasantly surprised to find that it is not Rolex Watches and Hugo Boss Suits but rather much like the old market with stalls and goods that most average people would like and can afford. DaLat has long been a tourist town and a place to honeymoon. We often see Brides and Grooms being photographed all over DaLat. As we walk we pass the Hotel Thanh Binh which is my favorite. It is right next to the main market and if you like the sounds of the street Room 195 is a good one as it faces the market on one side and the main square on the other. The square is packed with people until late in the evening.
Along Street we stop for my once in a great while coke and watch people pass and enjoy a nice evening in one of four buildings built by the French Long before even the market was built. These buildings remain much as they were then. It is nice to see.
We walk back to the house, I finish my journal and I will be off to a shower and sleep.
This morning I woke and felt a chill. It is much cooler up here in the Central Highlands. This is why the French built so many mansions here. They could come here and avoid the summer heat in Saigon. The hills are covered with the French presence.
In one place there is a hill covered with French Mansions which are now a hotel. Ana Mandara was built during the Second World War when some wealthy Frenchmen thought the Germans would win the war. For this reason they built Ana Mandara. Unfortunately the French did not know that soon the Japanese would take Indochine away from them. To this day so many homes, stores, offices, warehouses and even the station still exist. There is a copy of the Eiffel tower across the valley from the market and hotel Thanh Binh. Some of the buildings have fallen into disrepair and I worry for their future and some have been divided into apartments and given to the semi-privileged, Police of lesser rank and minor officials.
This morning we are having bread and cheese. Huong likes cheese so I bring some from home each year. This year I brought a cooler for one friend so I put the cheese and other perishables in the cooler with a few icepacks and everything arrived fresh. In the past I brought Cheddar, Munster, Brie, Swiss and this year I added Mozzarella and Pepper Jack. Huong now has a better selection than the cheese shop in Saigon which usually has 4 varieties and not much of any. Cheese is not really big here. The larger western stores and shops in the backpack tourist areas have the boxes of processed cheese in 6 wedges. It is Laughing Cow here just like at home but the cheese here comes from Morocco and not the USA.
Today it is raining so I did not get to go anywhere however I did notice that across the street is an Easy Rider Vietnam café and they rent motorbikes. I will have to check the prices tomorrow.
In the early evening Huong suggests a walk. We walk about a block and she stops a taxi. She says we are going to Big C. Big C is a large supermarket with many shops and restaurants around it. One is at Long Binh and covers most of the Southwest corner of what was once Long Binh Post. Tom, who came with me in 2003 was stationed right where Big C is now.
We ride to the South side of the lake here in DaLat. As we get out there is a large flat area and grandstands of marble. Through the grandstands are entrances to the Big C. It is all under and behind the grandstand and you would not know it was there. Big C is actually a mall. We go to the market section and Huong and her son Louis do their shopping. I wander around and notice how similar the store is to a supermarket back home and yet how different it is. In the snack aisle are many chips and other things full of air just like at home however the major flavoring is shrimp. There are Oreo cookies and you have a choice of Heinz or Hunts ketchup. Little of our condiments but a lot of hot sauces.
I wait at the front of the store for them to finish and watch as the security girl pats down an employee leaving the market section.
When we are finished we go out to the grandstand and watch the people gathered for the evening. Most are children on in-line skates. They are really big here. One group has setup 20 small cones about 24 inches apart and skate in and around them. Some are really quite good. The central area is polished paving stones. At each end is an area of grass with polished paving stones crossing the area. When someone falls it sounds loud but I have not seen anyone hurt and they get back up and continue.
Two electric go carts show up, then half a dozen of those plastic, battery powered cars appear. It is a large area. Huong says it used to be a football (soccer) field.
The grandstand looks across the field to the lake. The lights from the other side shine across the lake. In the past we have walked around the lake on occasion.
We start noticing many other things. A girl is standing on a wheel that has foot pegs at the axel and a handle with a speed control. She is zipping around the grounds. Two boys have devices like the South African Olympic runner. They walk with a bounce and run with speed and a certain gracefulness.
The time has come and Huong calls her son and her nephew who were catching crickets. We head for the street to get a cab home. Here we open all the packages and Huong explains some of the things. Ice Cream goes into the freezer and other things to the refrigerator. We have bread and pate for dinner.
That was pretty
I could not find this page to restore it
French Influence and a visit to Bic C Supermarket
I finally got Huong up and moving. I asked her if we could go to the place in the photos she had sent some time ago. She agreed and we were off to Lang Biang. This is not the same one we went to last trip. That was to the North and this one was to the Southeast.
It is reached by motorbike but since we had too many we took a taxi. Lang Biang is a play land for children. The features of the land is mountainous and as we walk down the small canyons they are filled with things made of concrete but made to blend in as if they were carved out of the rock.
In one valley is a locomotive and two passenger cars. Several valleys have towns and two churches and a temple. Next to the temple is a 12 foot high gong. There is a mother ant about 5 feet long being followed by her babies. Another place is a mother turtle.
A creek flows through one valley and it comes from a pool under a waterfall. A giant lizard is climbing out of the pool and a snake winds along one edge.
The most amazing thing here is that there is nowhere that kids cannot climb. There are no railings and it appears that if your kids are too young to climb high you should be watching them.
Kids climb everywhere and everywhere are people with cameras, parents, friends, everyone is taking photos. A pretty young lady is taking selfies with her girlfriends and she sees me and asks something I do not understand. I think she wants me to take a photo so her and her friends can get in it. Instead she wants a selfie with me. I love this country.
There are restaurants and gift shops. Near the exit is a shop where you can get a photo at any point in the park and they out it on a coffee cup or place or sheet of stone and some others.
In the taxi we are on our way back home and we turn right where I know we should turn left. Apparently one of the kids and since no one contradicted him we were off. We pass places that we passed on a walk last trip.
Finally we arrive at the Truc Lam Monastery. I have been here on several trips. It is a large Monastery with many gardens. A monk enters and sees me. As he does he puts his hands together and bows. He has a wonderful smile. Another Monk rings the gong 3 times for each person who comes in and prays. I ask if I am approached and a monk puts his hands together and bows, is it appropriate for me, a non-Buddhist, to do the same in response. He replies that it is. As you shake hands in the West, Buddhists greet in this fashion. I told him that I heard that the gong is rung 3 times. Not one or two. He says he rings it each time a person bows, which is usually 3 times. 3 is a special number in Buddhism. There are the three poisons, or evils, Craving, Anger, and Ignorance. Sometimes the gong is rung a different number of times.
It is a joy talking to the Monk who is young but has a wise presence. His English is very good, probably because he grew up and went to High school and college in Virginia. He moved back to Vietnam 2 years ago to join the Monastery.
We discuss the similarities of religions. I ask his name and he says, what name, I said that would be my second question. He said my name is now Bon Hoi. It was given to him by the master.
We discuss many things. Often the Buddhist way is found also in the bible. We discuss meditation and finding ones Buddha self. I ask how one knows they have found this and he says when it happens you will know and no one needs to tell you or test you for it. We discuss what is self since all we are is transitory. What is the tree? It began as a seed and was nurtured and fed, had sunlight and grew to the tree. It is not just the tree but it is a tree because of a number of things that happened before. I said that is very Gestalt. He smiles as if waiting for me to say that and replies. Yes, except Gestalt is psychology and we accept this as a law of nature.
My phone rings and I say I think they are looking for me. He asks if I am on a tour group. I tell him I am not that I just come here for the therapy. The VA wants me to take drugs so I will not care but I find it better to be here where it happened. He agrees but warns that in looking at the past we must look at it like a river and not try to participate in it or we just hold on to the past. We must look at it and let it go. I remember telling this to a friend who appreciated it, however telling it to myself is another thing.
Huong has found me despite my having turned my cell phone off. I tell him I must go. I place my hands together and bow. He replies in kind. There are some interesting people all over.
Just when I thought the day was over I decided to go to the corner and get a watermelon. Walking down the side street it was packed with motorcycles. Hey were diverting from the main street where a parade was coming. People lined the streets, most of them on motorbikes which makes getting through the crowd a little harder. There were many Buddhist flags and several characters from Buddhist stories. My favorite Float was a truck full of young ladies in white Ao Dai throwing flower petals on the crowd. The crowd was in a very happy mood.
Dalat to Nha Trang
Today is the day that we go to Nha Trang. It started out as Huong and I going and ended with a family vacation. Tis would not be so bad however a week ago I pointed out to Huong that it is vacation time and we need a reservation. I find a nice place on the beach for $12 but she insists that we stay at Hotel Anh Ngoc. I ask her repeatedly if she has made a reservation and she says it is ok. I do not know what that means however today we are off to Nha Trang.
The day begins grey and rapidly deteriorates. By time we get to the pick-up point for the bus it is raining. Soon it is pouring. The rain is hitting the roof like a thousand jack hammers. The water is backing up from the street towards us as we sit against the building as we wait. The shuttle comes in the nick of time. We pile into the van through the back hatch to avoid the lake that is now forming in the area under cover, which is usually dry.
At the bus terminal the first thing you do is to go to a window and find what your bus number is and, of course no one out there knows the number until it arrives. Finally a man comes and tells us the bus is here and we head for the loading area. Now on the bus everyone is picking and I am trying to explain that the seats are assigned and each ticket has a seat number. In cases like this I mention that something is wrong twice then if no one wishes to see I let it go. As Colonel Potter once said to Hawkeye, “There is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things and the wrong way is to go around making everyone do things the right way.” I remember from buying the tickets that our seats are on the driver’s side in the middle third of the bus. Taking my seat the driver’s assistant finally comes to see what all the fuss is and finds everyone boarding is complaining that their seat is occupied. Everyone is in their seat now and we are on our way.
The drive down from DaLat to Nha Trang is a beautiful one. We travel through the Southeast side of DaLat through so many old French homes then out into the farming area. In this area there are greenhouse after greenhouse. In places there are hillsides terraced in greenhouses. Even greenhouses covering entire valleys. Eventually the greenhouses are gone and farming is coffee up and down the hillsides then only small patches of farms.
Finally we are in dense jungle. I can imagine during the war men in the field and Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols moving through areas like this and not knowing what was 100 feet ahead.
These jungle areas are so beautiful. So many varieties of plant and tree. Stone mountainsides where the overburden has completely slid away. Waterfalls that come from way above and disappear into the jungle below. Some pour down and others trickle slowly. I want to rent a motorbike one trip and ride up so I can stop and take photos. Photos through a rainy bus window do not make it.
The mountains themselves are also so beautiful. On this rainy day the clouds hide some of the mountain and others have clouds around them. Still others have clouds that appear to be coming from the mountains themselves with a puff of cloud coming here and there.
We come into Nha Trang and it is a big city. I keep thinking we are almost there but we drive on and on. At last we pull into the familiar bus terminal and a van is waiting to take us to the hotel, but what hotel is the questions. The first one is not near the beach and no one likes it except me and I like it because it is clean and I can get a shower and some sleep. I figure we can look again in the morning. The group, which I cannot communicate with, except through Huong, wants to press on and so it is back into the taxi.
The taxi driver is driving in circles slowing at hotels, saying something and driving on. Now we are below the old US airfield and he turns away from the beach. About 10 blocks in he stops and we get out. There is a hotel, a good distance from the beach and more expensive but everyone wants it. I think they are tired of wandering.
It is agreed and everyone is given a room. Five are in one room and two of us are in another. It makes sense to them. I get a shower and they are off to eat. Eating just before bedtime is a habit here. Unfortunately it Is a bad one for me. I take a diazepam and go to bed. I probably would have had a good night’s sleep except Huong returned a few hours later and woke me to give me two bowls of Chao. I had said I did not want anything but she thought I was hungry. I explained that if I am asleep I cannot possible be hungry. Now I am so awake and she wants the light out because she cannot sleep.
And guess what it is already tomorrow.
Looking for a Hotel in Nha Trang
Sunrise in a hotel picked by the taxi driver. It probably belongs to his brother in law. We are about 1 kilometer from the beach and the beach here is a staging area for construction supplies and equipment for Vinapearl. Vinepearl is an expensive resort on an island off Nha Trang.
I take the initiative to go and find a hotel closer to the beach. No one in the group speaks English so they do not think one way or another about this decision. Except my friend Huong who’s English has deteriorated over the last two years. She thinks that since my bag is packed, actually not unpacked from last night, that I am planning on abandoning the group to find my own hotel. A little non understanding goes a long way.
I say look down the street, you cannot even see the beach. She insists the beach is the other way. I tell her I have been in this part of town several times before. Finally her brother-in-law comes by and I ask her to ask him which way the beach is. After several proddings she asks and he points in the direction I said. This clams her down. I take a cab to the place we stayed at last trip. It was so nice and the manager and staff were also so nice and helpful. It was in an alley just off the main road along the beach. I find the alley by a wall along the beach side which separates Ana Mandara from us peasants. As I walk down the alley everything has changed. The south side of the alley for a hundred feet is a new 25 story hotel. Where our hotel was now another large hotel. Our old hotel was a newer building surrounded by small houses, shops and hotels. Ours was gone, a victim of profit and greed.
Looking for a $13 hotel in the beginning of the tourist season is not such an easy thing. Finally I come to Hotel Binh Minh at 98B/2 Tran Phu, which is the main street along the beach. In a stroke of luck they have some rooms at $13. I look at the rooms and they are very nice so I take the rooms, make a deposit and go tell the others.
Back at the other hotel I pack our things and check out. Houng and her family are at the beach just across from the hotel and I tell her they must go and check out and move to the new hotel. I think they are happy to be closer because they not had to walk to the beach but all the way down to where we are now to find an accessible beach.
The beach is clean here. Cleaner than New Jersey. The water is so clear that I swim out and look at the bottom seeing fish and some long marks in the sand which look like snakes. At the head of each, looking much like a snake head is a snail which was making the tracks. The water is so clear that I am soon in 10 feet of water and still looking at the bottom clearly. I notice the depth when I dive down and cannot reach something I am looking at and then know the depth.
If you come here or anywhere bring a snorkel and goggles. It is worth it just to see the beauty under the surface. I did not bring them this trip but found a set at a toy store on the street for $6 USD. Great investment.
We are next to Ana Mandara and the beach is crowded here and much less so there. Nha Trang is very Russian. Many businesses have signs in Vietnamese and Russian. Ana Mandara seems to attract Russians. It is interesting how many older ladies wear bikinis. I notice two young ladies with very light skin and slender bodies standing at the water’s edge. They stand and pose the entire time we are there. Hands behind head and elbows out. One leg forward then back flexing their little mussels. As we are leaving they take their towels and hold them out to wave in the breeze then place them on their shoulders as a cape and go off.
The water drops quickly to about 18 inches then in 20 foot it is chest deep, about 5 feet. The waves are about a foot high and it is very pleasant.
After a day in the water I walk along the main street. All the new hotels are elevated half a story to the lobby or in some a restaurant and down half a story is a supermarket. A very small supermarket and occasionally one has a gift shop. The Supermarkets all have the same thing. Candy, soda, and liquor.
I buy a watermelon on the street and take it back to the room. Going into the manager sees me and hands me a tray and asks if I need a knife. Very nice people. I have a sleeve of Ritz crackers and some cheese and meat for snacks.
The TV gas a Russian channel and a few in English. Disney channel is here and Kung Fu Panda is on this evening.
Motor Bile – Martin Luther
Whenever I am in a place I do not get to regularly or someplace new I like to rent a motorbike and get out to see things. A Taxi for the day would be very expensive but a motorbike is now up to $7. This one came empty but with a map of where the gas station is. Unfortunately the gas station had no electricity. I look down into the tank and it is dry. I shake the bike and a little gas splashes up from the front which is a little lower.
There are no stations back towards the hotel so I press on down the coast road. We are out of the hotel district and I am hoping that there will be another station. At last there is one and I pull in. The man says “full?” and I say “yes lam on”. Never hurts to say please. He fills the tank and it is just under $4. Now I press the button and turn the accelerator, and nothing. I try a few times and a man comes over. My hand is on the accelerator and he pushes the break towards my hand and I realize you have to hold the break for the engine to start. Holding the break in I press the button and turn the accelerator and it starts. I smile and the man smiles and I say Cam on, Thank you, and we smile and I am off. It is so nice that people just step up and help when they see something wrong.
Yesterday I received an attachment of Martin Luther who will be used in the Vacation Bible School. Pastor wanted the photo to be used in photos of many places. I was uncertain how well my camera would photograph the paper and the background and keep them both in focus. My first stop was to get the attachment printed. The man at the hotel had drawn a map with the gas station and the photo shop so I had no trouble finding the shop. Two very friendly young ladies were able to figure what I wanted and showed me different sizes of paper. I took the largest and had them make 2 copies, just in case.
Nha Trang is divided by a river inlet where many of the fishing boats come in to rest. South of the river is mostly western type hotels and north is mostly Vietnamese. I stayed at the northern most block of the north end and paid $8 in season for a room one flight up and facing the ocean. The north end is getting some larger hotels and a few Vietnamese hotels still exist in the south of Nha Trang. Our hotel is $13 per night and is in the beach block. It is nice and clean and the man and girl who are here day and night are very nice and pleasant people. Very helpful as well.
Driving up to the north end I cross a bridge over the river and on the ocean side is a small island about 500 feet out. There is a building on it and a Vietnamese flag flies over it. There are some very large boulders in the ocean and also in the inlet on the landward side of the bridge. The boulders are as large as a 2 story building and just occur here and there.
On the other end of the bridge the land juts out into the ocean. Here the land is surrounded by large boulders and I turn up onto the road which goes past a replica of a very old house. There is art on display and for sale. Artists are working and there is a snack bar. It is a beautiful building. I follow the road and it curves back over the coast road and up onto a hill on the landward side of the highway. I have never been up there so I go and find a Military compound and some apartments.
Back on the coast road I head north. For a long stretch the beach is gone and there is a sea wall with no beach. There is a shelf near water lever and swimming is almost like taking a dip in a swimming pool. At the far north end there is a small sandy beach. Unfortunately the water has a lot of trash in it. The water is clear but just a lot of floating trash.
Next we see a few amusements. They are small like one used to see at local fire companies. Each could be carried on a small trailer. They are rusty and neglected and I wonder if they are still in use in this small clearing in an overgrown area. It has a sad abandoned look.
The road now turns East and the land goes out inti the sea forming the north end of the bay. As it curves the land has been cleared of old houses and streets with no houses show where it was planned for those with money could buy a vacation home. Perhaps it was when the market went bad. Perhaps it will be completed one day.
Farther out is a future site of a marina. The wall around the construction site shows many apartments, cottages and yachts at docks that will be there one day.
Farther along is a very nice hotel and marina called the Light House. It sits on the rocks at the edge of the ocean and is a very nice looking place.
Beyond that is a place called Amiana which also looks very nice.
Out where the road comes to an end is a ghost town. A long section of coast with many buildings in various stages of completion. The buildings are concrete but the roofs are in the style of ancient structures with thatch roofs that go up 20 or 30 feet. Some roofs are on and others are not. There is a very large building that is only a concrete skeleton. It probably would have been something really nice but it did not make it for some reason. Another sad place.
Coming back I pay more attention to the landward side of the highway. There are some buildings that I am sure were from the French. Several large churches. One looks very traditional and would fit in Philadelphia quite easily. The other did have a cross on the steeple but other than that it looked much like a Buddhist temple.
I was back in the city, away from the ocean and looking for a large market that I remember from a previous trip. At one point I cross a railroad and at first think it is abandoned but instead this is the Nha Trang railroad station. Taking a train from Saigon up to Nha Trang you end up in the middle of town. If you fly in you land at Cam Ranh Bay then get a cab up which is quite a distance and more than the room rent. Riding in town is fun and you get to meet people. You may have seen photos of the traffic in Vietnam and it looks like chaos but there is a method and if you learn it you are ok.
At the big store I found what I needed for my Luther project and I was off. As I passed the café on the coast a girl was riding next to me. She kept smiling and pointed back at the café. I like meeting people like this and we have coffee or a coke and chat. She turned around and I turned around we headed back to the café but she passed it and turned down a side street to a small hotel and drove in behind the half closed security door. She reemerged smiling and waved me in. As she pointed upstairs I realized that she did not want coffee and a chat. I told her no thank you and left. Later she rode by and smiled and waived. She did have nice eyes.
A place that I like very much in Vietnam is anywhere I am not supposed to be seeing anything I am not supposed to see. The Airfield, here at Nha Trang, is one of those places. Once again I circled the airbase. At the first gate I was met by a frowning man with an AK47. At the second gate there seemed to be no one at all. At the third gate was a man who smiled and seemed very pleasant. The land around the base has been given over to private use. I go into a hotel and say “can I go up on the roof to take photos of the airbase” and as long as I point up and towards the airbase and show a camera I am allowed to go up and take photos. At another place the wall of the airbase has a gate that is open and inside is a place where heavy equipment is stored along with sand and gravel. Going in the gate to the yard there is nothing between me and the airbase. Walking through some small bushes I am on the perimeter road. It is funny how important the military thinks this place is but no one cares that all the buildings around the base do not know it is secret. At the last gate is a soldier and when I show my camera and point he goes to open the gate. I do not want to get either of us in trouble so I motion no and take a few photos of the old buildings right in front of the gate. I wave and smile, he waves and smiles, international understanding and cooperation.
I must get a selfie pole so I can more easily get photos over walls and through holes in doors and windows. There is an area at the back of the base that I am sure was US warehouses. It is now divided into homes.
Close to the front of the airbase is an area where many planes are displayed, Russian and a Huey. I took photos through the fence and no one seemed to care. They are not being preserved except they are up on blocks.
Back at the room I get to work on the Luther project. The image of Luther sent to me is printed on the largest paper they had. He is about 16 inches tall. I cut him out and cut a piece of cardboard to fit behind him and taped him to it for strength. Tomorrow I will take him to the beach and take some photos. The project is for Vacation Bible School which starts in July so I will also get Luther in DaLat, Hopefully in Dien Bien Phu and in Saigon, Mui Ne and Can Gio.
South China Sea – Military Aircraft
We start with a dip in the beautiful South China Sea. It is hot but the water is cool. Huong’s nephew loves the water. He has those little air bags on his arms and swims and swims. He is so happy and I think I can communicate with him best.
There is a swimming area outlined with buoys. I swim out until I am in about 20 feet of water. The rope holding the buoys goes down to something which might have been put there to hold them but it looks like something else. Maybe something abandoned in the war or something that just fell overboard. I know that up in Qui Nhon there is a tank that was left on the beach and eventually sank till the turret and the cannon, pointing out to sea was all that is now visible.
As I float there I hear an airplane. This is unusual in Vietnam but especially in Nha Trang. The airfield here is not in good repair and there is a power line running across part of the landing strip. First a small corporate jet comes in. Then a fighter and after it lands we hear a roar. Soon another fighter is coming in. Later I notice that the fighter comes in, takes off, flies around and comes in again. I do not know what is up but it continues all morning with the fighter coming in again and again.
Around noon I go back to the room and get a cold shower. After that I dress and take Martin Luther to the beach and take a photo. I was afraid that Luther and the back ground would not both come out in focus. It worked very good. The back ground is a little fuzzy but you can see the distant mountains and the hotel but they are a little fuzzy. Even the beach chairs are a little fuzzy but I think they are pretty good. Luther looks good on the beach but he does not have a bathing suit and he looks a little hot in those robes.
Beautiful ride back to Dalat
Nha Trang to DaLat
This is our last day in Nha Trang and the person buying the tickets bought them for 10:00 AM. I would have bought them for 2:00 or 4:00 PM and enjoyed another day on the beach but there it is. We are up and packed. I go down and pay the rest of the bill. The man and the girl who work in the hotel day and night have been so pleasant and helpful that they made our stay so much more fun.
I probably mentioned it but the hotel is Binh Minh Hotel which is at 98B/Tran Phu in Nha Trang. Tran Phu is the main street along the beach and the hotel is in an alley about 50 feet from the street. Directly across the street is easy access to the end of the usable beach. Below this is Ana Mandara and there is no access through that hotel except for gusts. South of that is an area used by Vinepearl. Once you are on the beach many walk along in front of Ana Mandara and I did not see anyone chased away
We are at the beginning of the season so reservations are really a good idea. Binh Minh Hotel has a room with one bed for 250,000 which is right around $12.50 USD. They found me the motorbike I rented and were helpful with directions and a hand drawn map of places I wanted to see.
We are up and packed and waiting for the shuttle to the bus terminal. We arrive a little early and sit in the waiting area. Our bus is called and we board. In Vietnam seats on the bus are assigned and cannot be changed. I have been on busses where the first 3 rows of seats are filled and no one is allowed to move back to have a seat of their own and stretch out.
Nha Trang is a large city and we drive for a while in the city. I recognize streets I was on with the motorbike. Soon we are out of the city and passing rice paddies and farm fields. Soon we are climbing into the hills of the Central Highlands. Therre is so much to see and photograph but the battery in my camers dies. I dforgot to charge it last night. I prefer the cameras that yake the AA batteries since I can cary a four pack and just change them when one set dies.
The population is spreading out and all of a sudden I see a dirt path to a clearing and a Badminton net in a clearing surrounded by scrub brush. There are no houses that I can see but the path continues out of sight into the scrub brush.
So many churches, pagodas and Temples have sprung lately. On the way to Dalat we pass the concrete skeleton of a new church. On the top is a large concrete cross.
One of the most fascinating things I noticed was when we were far past any city of any account there were huts, some wood and some thatch and on the roof was a dish antennas. It is fascinating that there are grandparents who had not been exposed to much outside their limited area and their grandchildren can check on the new exhibit at the Louvre.
Climbing into the mountains we were exposed to some magnificent vistas. Waterfalls way above us and as we got closer they fell along the road, under the road and on down the mountainside. On my next trip I will definitely get a motorbike and ride from Saigon up to Dalat. It will take a week or two since it is longer than Nha Trang to Dalat but besides all these wonderful vistas there are also the Rubber Plantations and I hope to see one with the old French Mansion House and the old factory even if it is being used for something else now.
Way in the hills the houses are few and far between and there are roads, some of which are paved and occasionally one in concrete that have a sign to a place that I never heard of and they wind off up or down a vale and disappear in the dense jungle. I think I will plan a little more and cut the time down to two months just to make Susan happy and I will do it in the area of August, September and October so she will not have to mow the lawn. However I did buy her a new mower deck for the John Deere so I am not completely thoughtless.
On the way we see 3 fires and I cannot imagine anyone doing slash and burn on such steep mountainsides. Soon we notice that the peaks are shrouded in clouds and as we approach DaLat it begins to rain. And then it begins to pour. The beautiful waterfalls turn an orange/brown from the clay and come cascading down often hitting a rock and shooting out towards the road like a fire hose.
We are now in the clouds and as we look down into the valley we see a few close trees and then some faint trees and then it might as well be the edge of the earth. Everything disappears into the mist just like Brigadoon.
Coming into DaLat the rain tapers off a little. We pass the Ford dealer. If you noticed the popularity, lately, in the US, of 4 door pickups it is also a trend here.
Into the terminal we pull and right up to a dock. The journey over, we transfer to the van for the ride to the house. Everyone goes in and to nap and I take the opportunity to get today’s trip down and on the site.
Yesterday and the day before are just going up now as the internet was down at the hotel. So there is still dinner to look forward to but this hopefully small and uneventful today.
Motorbike day in Dalat
Today I got a motorbike and set out for a lot of fun things. I first got the Luther print and set out to find where I could take him for his photos. Luther has incurred a slight bend to the nose. Fortunately I have a second print for just such an event. Luther really does not travel well on a motorbike. I first went to the lake and took his phot by the lake with the radio tower that is meant to represent the Eiffel tower.
As I took Luther’s photo by the lake a young man, with perfect English, asked who he was so I told him about Luther the Catholic Priest who wanted to change the Catholic and in the process started the Lutheran Church. He was interested and we talked for a while. We said our good byes and I was off to other adventures.
I did not really plan where I was going as I generally like to go in a direction I have not gone before so I just headed East and a little South. The first thing I hit was Emperor Bao Dai’s second palace in Dalat. Almost everywhere I go I find that Bao Dai has three palaces. His main purpose in life seems to have been building himself palaces, stockpiling gold and doing the naughty thing. Probably why his wife slept in a separate room. I wonder whose idea that was. The second Palace is a nice new building, but I like the Colonial look of the first palace. I think the third palace, which is open to the public is modern for the sake of being modern. The second palace is now a hotel. There are rooms in the guest buildings and you can also stay in the palace. There is a restaurant there also in what was probably a banquet hall in Bao Dai’s day.
I went up to the front and there at the main entrance was a rose garden and roses were Martin Luther’s favorite flower so I took a photo of Luther in front of the palace looking at the rose garden.
I take some nice photos down the drive which is lined with some beautiful red flowers. Each building is beautiful, works of art. I must say that if your country has to be occupied hope it is the French who do it. The French architecture here is so beautiful. At the former gate house I stop for a brochure about the palace hotel.
One of the things I like to do is take photos of people I do not know and next trip bring the photo and take another one. At the gate of the palace I realize that I am very close to two girls I took photos of in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and I hoped to see again this trip. In 2009 I was walking and the first girl came out of her house in a school uniform and said hello. I held up my camera and she ran in the house then came out having cleaned her face. I took her photo and in 2011, took another one and took that back in 2012She was very excited about it. Unfortunately when I got the store it was gone along with the whole block of stores.
The second girl was only 100 feet away and as I walked by in 2011, after delivering the first photo and taking a new one, came running out and smiled and waived so I also took her photo. Now I am back at her store and I go in and show the photo to the lady behind the counter. She became excited and came out and tells me in Vietnamese that the girl is her daughter. I tell her I wanted to give her the photo and take another one. She says her daughter is in Nha Trang and I ask her to give the photo to her daughter and I leave my email address. Fascinating that everyone knows what an email address is. I also show her the other photo and she says “Phuong” and points this way then that and I realize that the girl is in the maze of buildings and I could not find it without and exact address, which she does not know. She talks to a neighbor who sticks her 15 year old daughter on my motorbike and sends us off. We do find the house but this girl is somewhere else. Her mother is excited and invites us in and we chat for a while. She has no English and I have little Vietnamese. Vietnamese is complicated by the tones which can drastically change the meaning of a word. However I have found most Vietnamese will work hard to figure what you are talking about and do appreciate the effort to know their language. Once again I leave the photo and my email address. I will be here another two weeks and I hope to take another photo of each to continue this.
I should have taken the photo of the girl who helped me find the first girl.
Leaving that area I am near the train station and I think it is another photo op for Luther. I have a photo of him at the station and I go in and look around. So many things are being cleaned up and displays added. In an office is a group of railway lanterns. There is seating in the terminal and there is an area of seating that is separated by a small wall and the seats are nicer. I wonder who got those seats and why. The railroad used to run down to Nha Trang bt so much of it was lost and more is probably roadway now that I do not think it will ever go far again. The railroad does run a ways and back and this is something else we can do one day. There is a steam engine on display and there is a box car that is part of the restaurant. The tracks come in on both sides of a platform and there is a third track that indicates there may have been a second platform. A forth and possible fifth come on each side of a building that was for cargo coming and going. This used to be for storage but is now cleaned out and the landscaping is very nice. Twelve years ago this was mud on the railroad side and on the parking lot side.
Next for the University of DaLat. A lot of very French buildings here and I love French architecture here in Vietnam and here in DaLat. I ride up to the front gate where I have been turned away for years. I have finally I got in last trip because a friend attended the University for her first degree and she told them I was her husband and she wanted me to see her university. This year I just drove through the gate and a security yells stop. It was worth a try. He pointed to an area on the West side of the administration building and I saw a motorbike park. I smiled and thanked him and I was in. I first took a photo of Luther by the main classroom which is a beautiful four story building that curves to match the curve of the hill. The photo is good and I go on to photo everything in sight. The buildings are kept well except a few and I wonder they have been allowed to fall into such disrepair. I am all the way to the back of the university and a lady comes to tell me I cannot be in this section. Probably something to do with it being girls dormitories. I guess that is what the large iron gate was for.
After the university I am near an old French hotel by the lake. Last time I checked the rooms were $12 and I would like to stay there next trip. I stop in to get a brochure but no one is at the desk. In fact the desk is not there. As I am coming out a guard approached and I shrugged. He pointed to where the new desk is. It looks like he means around back but I do not see it. He is following me and points behind the next building. There is a new building and I get my card with email for next trip. I also take a few photos of the old French section which is where I want to stay. As I stop to take a photo the guard is there and he says Phap (French) and I say Dep Qua (very beautiful). He smiles and I think he has a soft spot in his heart for the French. So many pleasant people here.
Behind the lake is a beautiful Pagoda so I make my last photo of Luther at the pagoda since I think he would enjoy a chat with a Monk. I know I did. It was a beautiful afternoon.
Now the fun part. I go a short distance to the haunted houses. As I go down the street I am looking for the little snack shop of a lady I met last trip. She did not have any English but we chatted anyway until her husband came home and he did not have any English either, however they wanted me to stay as their daughter came home and she spoke English. It was from them that I learned that the empty homes down the road were haunted. They also looked at the photo of the little girl and they told me they did not recognize her and no one lived in any of the homes for a long time. We had a nice talk and a delicious meal. This time she was not there, her shop was not there and the building her shop was in was not there and as I drove down the road the haunted houses were not there. I knew that they were n this road and I passed them twice before I noticed that what I had thought was a security fence that so many wealth have was, in fact, around the haunted houses. On the North side of the street five of the larger homes including the little girl’s home had been bulldozed. On the South side two were bulldozed. Either someone thought the spirits would leave if they had no roof over their heads or the property was now more valuable for development then the fear of bad spirits. I personally do not think bulldozing the houses would really make the spirits any happier.
I sat in front of where the house had been where the little girl lived and I now wished I had picked up every scrap of paper from her room when I could not find her or her mother last trip and hope someone could find a name or address or some clue as to who she was. I realized now that I would never find her. I started my motorbike and as I pulled away I heard a little girl scream. I am sure it came from another house where some little girl would not eat what she was given or would not take a nap. Well, relatively sure.
On the South side of the road 4 of the haunted houses were cleaned up a little. Trash was removed from the yards and the weeds and scrub bushes were cleared. The 4 houses had the same sign advertising them for long term rent. Stating they would be good for caphes, restaurants or private homes. Even here in DaLat, a very populous city, often as not, café is spelled caphe because there is no “f” in the Vietnamese alphabet.
As I came back to the main street there was a 4 story building that was to be a hotel and restaurant. Two years ago it was a concrete frame. Now it is little more. Downstairs some windows and doors are in but upstairs is still a skeleton. The landscaping is beautiful and the front is a stockpile of potted bushes flowers and trees. It looks like a secondary purpose for the failed hotel and restaurant.
I forgot to take notes today so I went from memory and tried to keep things in order. If I repeated please excuse.
Big C – Japanese restaurant
I woke late today and did not have any real plan for the day. We had fried eggs on a roll for breakfast and then went to find a razor. My other one is back in Saigon in my other bag and I let it go too long to use my electric razor. As we walked to where Huong said I could get a razor we came by one of those really interesting things that can only happen here. The side walk is about 4 foot wide. Except for one place where it becomes 3 feet wide because an alley goes down 2 floors at an almost 45 degree angle. For some reason it was deemed necessary to begin the ramp 1 foot into the sidewalk. A person not paying attention could step into the ramp and careen down the ramp/steps. Two feet on the ramp are a ramp for motorbikes and 2 feet are steps for people who would have a hard time walking up such a steep ramp especially if carrying anything.
At the Big C is a food court. One restaurant is something I had only seen on TV when Andrew Zimmer was in Japan. You sit and a counter and dishes move past you on a conveyor which goes up one aisle and down another. The color of the plate tells you the price and when you are done they add up the plates and you pay accordingly. It is a really interesting.
Walk t0 lake – meet people – Chan Sat in Market
In the back of the Theater in DaLat is a room where there was an exhibit of Children's Art this week
I had nothing really planed so walked down towards the lake. On my way I stopped and met a man who is 72. His English is very good and we talked for a while. He has a green card and had lived in Texas for years with his daughter. She married and he decided to retire and come back to DaLat.
We talked about the changes in DaLat. I remember how the town has changed in just 15 years and he, of course, remembered so much more of how DaLat was. I will have to pass that way again to see what her remembers of the French.
I arrived by the lake and sat for a while. A monk was approaching. He took one slow step then a second and paused. It seemed to take forever for him to pass the place where I sat, but then, he had time on his side and purpose.
I looked across the street and saw a row of old French homes, quite large. One had been expanded into a hotel and a second was a café. At street level the one which was now a hotel had a long garage which was cut into the hill. The garage would hold 8 cars and I do not know if it dates to the house. On top is a patio a short flight of stairs below the door to the house. I can picture the owner and his family and guests sitting and enjoying the breeze off the lake and perhaps some strawberries and cream. Friends in Saigon have said they love strawberries when I mention going to DaLat.
Walking back up the main street to the market I pass rows of motorbikes for rent and a place that has 30, very old, bicycles for two for rent. I have only seen one of these on the streets and it was being pushed up a long hill.
The Canh Sat(CSGT), Traffic Police, were busy in the market. Apparently the parking patterns change as the use of the market changes. In the morning the market portion which is in the street outside the market building is food. Meat, vegetables, poultry and even some processed foods. Near noon it is almost all flowers. In the evening it is mostly clothing and novelties for the children. Last trip I saw the Canh Sat impound a motorbike while the owner was in the market and must have dallied too long. She told me it would cost her 1,000,000 VND ($5.00) to get it back.
The Canh Sat had arrived in a CJ2 or CJ3 which was in very good condition. Some of the newer police vehicles are marked with “POLICE” and have no Vietnamese writing on them.
Up the grand stairs to the street above where the movie theater is and I walk down the hill towards where I am staying on Le Que Don street across from the old Phuong Trang Bus Terminal. On my way I am looking for a single edge razor to cut out cardboard for another Luther backboard and another pen. I have been losing pens a lot lately. In one shop I talk to the people and try to explain a single razor. They call over an older man. He has very good English and tells me they do not have it but where to find one. We talk for a while and I find he is 83. He speaks his native Vietnamese, but also English, French and German. He studied in France when he was young. He asked if I knew French and I said only what has crept into the American lexicon.
For quite some time I have been wanting to get up to Dien Bien Phu which is a very historical place for the Vietnamese. I had wanted to go there then come back through Kontum and Pleiku which I think was a little too ambitious considering all the other places I like to go. This trip I decided to just go to DBP. I come to a travel agent and she has photos of airplanes and I go in and ask for a price for air fare from DaLat to DBP and DBP to Saigon. As it turns out you can only fly to DBP from Hanoi. Now I have a price for DaLat to Hanoi to DBP and DBP to Hanoi to Saigon unfortunately she cannot book a hotel. I do not want to get off the plane and find the hotels booked.
I hurry home and get on the internet and book a room for two at the Ruby hotel which looks nice and is $20. I book a room for two because even though am one I do not want to accidentally get into a Dormitory and everywhere I have been a room for two is the same price as a room for one.
Back to the travel agent and I have my tickets in no time. I AM SET! I am going to Dien Bien Phu!
I committed a cardinal sin today. Meals are a social thing. I had an upset stomach and I did not want any lunch. Huong had made soup for lunch and it was very good but all I wanted was to sip on a Coca Cola with a lot of ice. She pouted around and when I asked her what was wrong and she would say “you did not eat the lunch I made for you”. I told her over and over that I eat every meal that she cooks and they are delicious but I was sick. She half way accepted that but it was not until dinner when she was thing what to cook that I suggested the soup that was left from lunch. She perked up a little and by the end of dinner I think I was forgiven.
After dinner we went for a long walk. We sat in front of a hotel and watched people go buy. We walked up to the market and looked at the shops. I have been trying to find an exacto knife to cut out my backup Luther and having no luck. As I passed another Pharmacy I wrote scalpel and showed it to the girl and she looked it up and understood but did not have one. The second Pharmacy did and they put the blade and handle together and put it back in the wrapper so I would not stick myself. Since this was medical and the blade was in a sterile wrapper and the handle was stainless I was concerned about the price. It came to an even dollar. Now all I need is some cardboard and I can get that at the recyclers around the corner.
Here in DaLat at the back of the Movie theater is a gallery which displays many different things. This evening we went in and there were drawings done by many school children, Mostly 8 to 11 years old. They all had that beautiful innocence about them.
All in all a good day.
Billies Ice Cream
Great Ice Cream near Crazy House
Motorbike – nice people – palace – French Mansions - Monastery
Church is part of the abandoned Francisco Monastery, Church and School
Another motorbike day. At $5.00 per day it cannot be beat. I start out heading Southeast and soon find myself near the large building I saw yesterday. It is one of the most unattractive buildings I have ever seen and so big. As I come around the South side I realize why it is so without imagination. It is an office of the party in Dalat. Socialist architecture like socialist art is big bold and devoid of any gentility or fine detail at all. Even colors are drab.
I soon find myself up behind Bao Dai’s Second Palace in Dalat. As I am going up the road a young man riding towards me smiles and points down. I look and my kick stand is down. I put it up smile and wave. It is so nice that strangers take the time and effort to be helpful and friendly. I try to do the same and it is always appreciated like yesterday as we walked past the local recyclers and they were pouring aluminum cans into a larger container and one bounced out into the street I picked it up and tossed it into the container and they all smiled, waived and said “cam on” (Thank you). Now each day when I pass they smile and wave. It is really nice.
All of Bao Dai’s Palaces I have seen are on the high ground and as I ride East I pass a row of French Mansions. I have passed them before and photograph them a number of times. Today I go in and find that six in a row on the South side of the street and some on the other side are a hotel. The one at the East end is now a restaurant. I go in and photograph each one from all sides then around to all the details. The beautiful gardens, a few statues and some interesting architectural details. The Easternmost house is three stories and on the crest of the hill. As you look at it from the road it says that the owner is a very important person. One Mansion is painted green and blends in with nature more. All the homes have many tall trees all over the property.
The mansion which is now a restaurant is the one of largest and as I walk around it I see a large building behind it which is being used as a small lounge. Closer I see it was the carriage house with a second floor that was probably for staff. There is a large patio and in the center is a flight going down to the restrooms. I walk through a small room and on to another patio not meant for guests. I am now in the canter of the kitchen. There is a small room towards the mansion where dishes silverware and pots and pans are all being washed. A young lady is inside and as she looks out she smiles and goes back to washing. All the time she is singing. On the side away from the Mansion is a large kitchen. I stop to take a photo and as always I wait to see if anyone objects. Just as I take the photo an older woman waves to say no but it is too late.
Heading East I decide to see how far I can follow the railroad. It used to go all the way to Nha Trang but it now only goes a short way and I do not know it is a commercial venture or just a tourist thing. It makes five trips and leaves every two hours. Since there is one track there is probably one train and it only goes one hour and then back.
I now find myself at Bao Dai’s first palace in DaLat. I try to get in but the guard is not there. Just a man frowning and saying “NO”. I take a few photos from the gate and drive back to the main road by a winding back road.
All of a sudden I am looking down the hill at a large Church and School complex that appears to be abandoned. After taking a few photos from the hill I find a winding gravel path that goes down in front of the Church and a building that may have housed the priests and sisters. The grounds are all weeds and the path uncared for. The first building has laundry hanging from some of the balconies but I do not see any people. Next the Church is also in need of repair and a shed is built on one side. The door is open and I accept this as an invitation to enter. Inside three men are sitting and one is looking over papers. The pews are all removed but the alter is built in and still there. The room is filled with stacks of boxes and it appears to be a warehouse or distribution center.
I walk in smiling and look around. I ask if the Church is no longer here. An obvious question but a conversation starter if anyone has any English. Apparently no one does so I take a photo and say thank you and leave. The sanctuary is beautiful and I can picture it filled on a Sunday morning.
The Church and the first building are connected by a section that probably has a walk on top and below is a set of arched double doors. There is no lock. I go and pull the door a little. As I gat ready to put my camera through the crack in the doors a pair of hands opens the lock inside and opens the door. A lady smiles and gestures me in. She seems very pleasant and as I look around the room I see a bed, personal belongings and cook ware. She asks if I speak Vietnamese and I say “mot chut” (a little). She smiles and I add “khong kha lam” (not very well) and she smiles a little more. I should have worked more at it since she was so accommodating.
Riding around back I see so much more beauty and also the signs of abandonment. Weeds everywhere, broken glass, trash and the dingy look of abandonment. There is ornamentation on the one building. Over each opening are two concrete bars that have one cocked slightly to the opposite side from the previous one. This probably looked nice when it was built but now contributes to the run down look. The back of the Church and the first building have some nice surprises. The Church basement has arched windows with decorative bars. I put my camera in and survey. Later I look and find statues and other things that almost certainly belonged in the church.
The connection, where the lady lives in, from the back reveals arched windows upstairs and steps up over her room.
The first buildings back is curved with small windows on the second floor. The first floor has arched double doors. Several of the rooms have people living in them. One is open but I do not see anyone inside. One has a motorbike out front but the doors are closed. One is open and empty and I see it is a small room. There is a covered walkway between the first building and the third and fourth.
The third looks like a dormitory or possibly classrooms. This may have been a boarding school. On the back side of this building people are also living on the lower level.
Building four is definitely classrooms. In the basement are rooms and cans of paint and I wonder if any of these are or will be fixed up and why.
I am later told that this was a Franciscan Monastery. Building 4 looks so much like classrooms that I feel the Franciscans must have run a school.
One of the many fascinating places that one stumbles across when wandering off the beaten path.
I put all my photos on www.henrybechtold.phanfare.com in date order, however I am having trouble in Dalat with upload speed so it may not be until I am back in Saigon, in July, until I get them all put up.
Train to nowhere
Train to Trai Mat
The train l;eaves DaLat and runs down to Trai Mat. It used to run all the way down to Nha Trang
Today is the day for the train ride. I do not know if it was in operation 14 years ago when I first returned but in recent years I have heard it was running. It is something I really wanted to experience.
I go out and get a taxi. I tell the driver “Railroad Station”. His look tells me he is not sure. He says “choo choo wooooo” and smiles. I tell him that is it and add Hai Qua (very good). This is a phrase I remember well because every time I say something in Vietnamese and I am even close my friend Minh Ha always says “Hai qua”. He smiles even mpre and we are off to the station.
As we pull up in front of the station I am paying the driver when a man comes up and says “Are you Russian”. I say “No American”. I ask him if he is Russian and he laughs and says no I am Chinese. I pay and get out and tell him “It is all yours”. I pass people sometimes that I would live to chat with and unfortunately we are going in opposite directions.
I had remembered the train times in even hours 7, 9, 11 but I had rounded way down. The train I wanted was 11 but it is 11:55 so I am very early. It is ok there are people to watch. DaLat is the Niagara Falls of Vietnam. Honeymooners are everywhere. Everywhere you go you will see a Bride, Groom and their photographer at any historic place, Pagoda or place of natural beauty. As it turns out there are three couples at the train station. They are posing around the building, platform and the old Steam Engine. It is a beautiful little engine but I do not think it has run for some time.
The train arrives and pulls into the station but stops at the far end of the platform. The engine uncouples and comes to the station. Then a young lady in uniform gets off the engine unlocks the switch mechanism and throws the switch. The engine moves to the second. By this time the young lady has thrown the switch back, placed the lock back and climbed back on the engine which is now passing the passenger cars. After this the procedure is reversed and the engine is now on the same rack as the passenger cars and comes to hook up. Now it pushes the cars to the station end of the platform.
The engine is a small one but it is a shirt relatively flat trip. The four cars look much like Anne and Clarabelle from Thomas the Tank Engine. At each end is a pair of sliding doors. Everything is hardwood which may be why the lasted so long. The wood work is beautiful.
We board the train and I notice we are all tourists and there is no one with any kind of freight. Most of the tourists are Vietnamese. After a long horn blast we pull out of the station. People are on all the platforms and taking photos out of window. Soon the station is out of sight. In Vietnam vegetation grows unchecked but climate or rain and there is certainly plenty of rain and sun. At places we go through corridors that have been trimmed by the train and I am sure if the train stopped running they would close over completely. Even the tracks have grass growing just as high as the front of the engine.
We are passing houses that we could reach out and touch. The train slows for unattended crossings and I see one has a steep hill coming down to the tracks and if you were going a little fast you had best be listening for the train’s horn.
We leave the city and travel through hills and valleys covered with greenhouses. Inside girls are picking flowers and planting others. In some places the entire hill and valley is greenhouses.
The trip is about 25 minutes and we now find ourselves at the end of the line in Trai Mat. The train empties and goes off to see a Pagoda there. I wander ahead down the tracks to see where they come to an end. It is not far that there is a bumper. The tracks continue on until, in 50 feet, there is the wall of a building. One day I hope to trace the rout which used to go down to Nha Trang.
I can imagine the French riding up to their weekend place or maybe a family coming for the summer. There may have been produce and other goods going up and down the railroad. In the station is a waiting room with seating and an area that is walled off perhaps for the more important travelers so they could sit and talk away from the lesser passenger.
It is a shame that the right of way was not maintained. I think the railroad would be a financial success now when I see all the trucks and busses traveling up and down the road. At Nha Trang the railroad from Saigon to China is still running. I have not heard of it going below Saigon but I will have to check.
In Trai Mat the process is repeated and the engine is now at the front of the cars but it is backwards. I am sure this has no effect on the safe operation but it does aim the horn into the coach.
The trip finished and I take a few moments to sit and watch. I notice a lot of people taking photos of the restrooms. I wonder if they know what it is they are photographing.
On the way back to the house I stop at the Big C market. It is very western. You even have your choice of Hunts or Heinz ketchup. I get some watermelon and cheese and head back.
The complex of the French Mansiona at Ana Mandara is not a Hotel
Last night Huong asked if I wanted to go to Ana Mandara in the morning. Since she has been so slow to go anywhere I jumped at the opportunity. It is not that far but we took a taxi.
In DaLat there are probably 100 old French Mansions and another 200 old French homes all of which are very stylish. Beyond that there are another few hundred stores, cafes, markets, public buildings and warehouses. The French architecture is so beautiful.
Ana Mandara is a group of Mansions on a hill Northwest of city center in DaLat. The homes were built by Frenchmen of means who were afraid that Germany would win the first world war so they built here and planned to move their families if the worst happened.
I have been here a number of times but I never tire of the houses and the grounds which are planted and maintained so beautifully. There is so much more green here than any other color and it is amazing how many shades of green and textures there are here all blending together.
One of the larger homes has been turned into a restaurant. The garages are a gift shop. We walk around and the number of tables surprises me. There is a poster of Chef Huong and no sooner do I read it than ZI run into Chef Huong. He is a very personable man and we talk for a while. He says that the government will not allow anything to be changed because of it’s historic significance. This surprises me since the French were Colonial Rulers and were the cause of both French Indochinese wars. Still I am so happy this will be preserved. So many old French buildings have been torn down to make room for a big square block of a building. Others have been altered into an unrecognizable state. I had also noticed that one building of Ana Mandara, at the very top of the hill is not part of the resort and no one seems to know who is there but I am sure the owner is highly connected in the party. Chef Huong invites to stop in for dinner or lunch one day and that ay be my splurge for DaLat.
Another home is now the Gym and Spa. I wandered through this house and I think of the French having all the convenience of France here in the colony. This house is large and has some beautiful rooms. One room is curved on the outside wall and has windows all around and a great view of the valley. In front of the house is a room that is about 20 by 50 feet. It has hard wood floors and roof. Also the walls all around are all 8 light doors so they can be opened and a breeze will move through the entire room. I imagine many a party was held here.
There is a pool made of stone which looks much like a pond. Even the stairs down into the water are stone. There is a small building with a restroom and a station for the attendant to keep refreshments for the guests.
Villas at Ana Mandara include Breakfast and either lunch or dinner, use of the Gym and the pool, a butler and WIFI in all rooms and throughout Ana Mandara. The price, depending on the villa, begins at 2,790,000 VND per day, which is well under $150 USD.
Ana Mandara has a website at www.anamandara-resort.com
Elvis on the hill
You may have noticed some empty days in my journal. Today I slept late and just wandered around till I had to be back at 3:00. Huong wanted me to meet a friend named Quy. Quy is a teacher who recently retired. Quy’s husband is Brent, a Canadian expat. I am not sure way wanting to live abroad makes you an expat but it is what people say. Brent says he is about ready to go back to Canada because of all the bureaucratic nonsense here. I said it is everywhere. He said it is not as bad as it is here. I have seen a lot of corruption here but it is almost funny because it is so open and you can often see it and no one seems to care.
We sit around and have a bowl of steamed clams with butter. Butter is something you do not see here and most restaurants do not even have it if you ask for it except the larger western hotel restaurant. There are a lot of things that you cannot get here. Cheese is another thing that you have to look long and hard to find here. The Big C is a large supermarket that has much but only 6 foot of shelf is cheese and it is a limited selection.
Brent shows me his pantry where he stockpiles western goods. My friend Huong loved cheese so I bring a selection for her each trip.
Brent suggests that e go out to dinner at “Elvis on the hill”. It is a long taxi ride out of town but it is worth the trip. It is run by Bob who is fascinating himself. Bob is Australian but went to Texas long ago to become a Champion Rodeo Rider. After a successful career he ended up in Vietnam where he has a factory where he makes Western Wear and, of all things, Handbags. There is a display of his products in the restaurant.
Elvis on the hill does sit on a hill. As you arrive there are little cabins each wired with WIFI and people often have karaoke parties in them. There is also a restaurant and as you enter you feel like you could be in a Country Western restaurant anywhere in the USA. Willy Nelson is playing and a big screen TV is showing a Rodeo from December of 2013.
Huong and Quy order a salad and I order the Hamburger which comes with fries. Brent asks if I ever had anything better on this side of the ocean? I said that it is as good as anything on he other side as well. If you are in Vietnam for any length of time Elvis on the hill is worth a visit.
Brent has ordered the rack of ribs and when it comes it is little, thin slices of pork. It smells very good but it is not a rack of ribs and the picture does show a rack of ribs. Brent sends it back. The waitress stos at the bar where Bob is sitting. She says something and Bob says to her “Kill the cook”. She goes to the kitchen and comes back with the same dish. Brent says he wants the hamburger instead.
Bob brings out a big basket of fries because Brent has had to wait. Bob sits and talks with us for a while and watches the rodeo. They switch to Bull Riding. I asked Bob if he ever rode Bulls and he said yes. I said the horse can throw you but the bulls come back and want more of you. He said yes, he was hurt really bad by bulls a few times. Brent says to Bob I’ll bet you’re glad you’re not doing that anymore. With a sparkle in his eye and a little smile Bob says no, sometimes I miss it.
I really like Vietnamese food but this was really nice for a chance and a little home. At the end of the meal Bon asked if we would like to try the guacamole and I did. He brought a big bowl and a plate of still warm, fresh chips. It was the best I have ever had. This is not a day that I
I cook tonight
I woke up late and spent some time writing my journal entry for yesterday. Then I find that my index is badly corrupted. I do not touch the index while updating my daily journal so I cannot imagine what happened. I took me a while but it is all back in place now and my page for my journal was not affected so all is well.
I went to the Big C market which is very western to get some chicken breasts and salmon. I am cooking dinner tonight and tomorrow. I wanted chicken and fish without bones. While I was there I bought some hot sauce. They have Tabasco from the USA which is quite but it is $4 USD and I will only use it once so I bought the local brand and ended up using the entire to get warm. It should be called warm sauce and not hot sauce.
When the children were little and when the grandchildren come over one of the things they love and is easy is something we named chef’s surprise. It was named one night when I did not know what I was going to make and the name stuck. It is so easy. A 16 oz can of tomato sauce and a small can of tomato paste to thicken then add cut up chicken breasts and some tabasco sauce. It is a lot like buffalo wings but without the fat and bones. I worried about that when the children were little.
I made it tonight and everyone liked it. Tomorrow is Salmon fried in a little butter and they will taste fish without fish sauce. I like fish sauce but I never understood the purpose of putting fish sauce on fish.
We will see how that goes over.
I cooked lunch – the embroidery factory
I was kept awake last night by someone who kept knocking on the metal door and wanting to talk because she could not sleep. So 10:00 rolled around and I woke and dragged myself down to the shower and enjoyed the refreshing warm water. For a time I just let it run down my back and it felt so good. My back had been bothering me but it is better now.
It is almost 11:00 by now and the one who kept me awake all night finally came down and since it was too late for her to go to market I offered to cook the Salmon which I was going to cook for dinner and she could cook dinner.
I got a fry pan and put some butter in. Huong looked at the butter in a pan which was going to cook fish as if it were very strange. Several times she offered salt, Soy Sauce and Fish Sauce. Each time I politely said no. I like fish with a little butter and nothing else and if you want salt then you can add it after it is served, and she did add a small spoonful of salt after it was served. The diet of my friends is heavy in salt. Not just table salt but Fish Sauce and Soy Sauce are heavy in salt.
After lunch we went out and up near the market to a friend of Huong’s who would print out her digital photos for her to put in an album. I transferred all the photos from Nha Trang to a flash drive I had given her long ago. We entered the shop and she went with her friend to select the photos she wanted. While the photos were being printed we went across the street to a coffee shop and had a coffee for me and a milk and lemon for her.
We have so much fun with languages. Because of her father’s involvement with the French her first language was French. When she went out to play with other children she picked up Vietnamese. To this day she talks with her sisters in French and when we are out she has been complimented for her Vietnamese by Vietnamese who hear her accent and are convinced that she grew up in France even though she has never been out of Vietnam.
Unfortunately she has no one who she can talk to in English. I suggested she find a friend who she can pick a day and just talk English to keep in practice. It is not just for me but English is the language of business and many tourists speak English even if they are from a non-English speaking country. A Chinese pilot landing a Chinese airliner in Beijing talks to the tower in English.
As we wait in the shop she wants to play Paper, Rock, Scissors to decide who pays for the coffee and who pays for the prints. I won but since the difference is only $1.00 I will not feel too guilty about it.
We go back to the shop and as Huong waits for her photos I look around and see some photos from around DaLat in the 50’s and 60’s. They are about 18 by 24 and beautiful. Some are so beautiful for the background which is bushes and trees and not filled with hotels. They are asking $6.00 each and I will get some next trip but I want to save my money in case there is anything like this in Dien Bien Phu, which I do not expect every trip.
Her photos are finished and a real bargain. 24 photos printed 5 by 7 for $3.00 and a photo holder is thrown in. So if you want prints of any photos have them done here. I am also told that blow ups are also very cheap though I have not had them done.
Photos in hand we are off to the market as Huong wants a better album for her photos. She finds one and as we are leaving I remember that there is a place on top of the market which makes art that is sewn with colored thread. We look through the showroom and there are dresses, material and the sewing art. Most os on a white background but some is on a translucent and mounted so it can be seen from either side and the picture is the same but backwards and you cannot see any of the thread ends. They are so carefully hidden. A few years ago we saw one that on one side was a Vietnamese girl with her hands on the table and her head in her hands, looking at the artist. On the back was the back of her head with her long flowing hair. The prices were as low as $75 and a few were $2,000 and $3,000. They were from small to very large.
I went towards a door on the south side of the showroom that led to the shop and we were told we could not go there. So we thanked the lady and went out the door on the north side and around to the shop. No one seemed to pay much attention to us being there. Just inside the door was an artist drawing an outline on a large piece of cloth. There were scores of girls working on pieces. Some girls worked alone and others worked in groups on a large piece. One girl fascinated me. She was had a cloth with an outline and a photo, for color, but she was working upside down and backwards. I walked and her work was beautiful. I took a few photos and some of the girls giggled and blushed but I think they did like having their photos taken.
You can also take a photo in and they will make it in sewn thread.
It was near time to go to market so we walked back. We did stop along the way and have a coke in a small restaurant with those little tables and tiny stools.
As we entered our street Huong went off to the market to get what she needed for dinner. I stopped at a small machine shop. The building was approximately 12 by 20 feet but is had almost all the equipment any machine shop would have. In front is a concrete block 39 inches high and about 18 inches by 6 feet with 2 large vises on it. The man is always facing the street and working on something. A week or so ago he was cutting a lot of angle iron. In a few days it was a tower about 18 by 18 inches and 6 feet tall. Yjen a base that turned appeared on one side then some shafts and pulleys. Then it was painted blue and today there was a large stone bowl and something that he showed me was a mortar and pestle on a grand scale. I could not help but show my enthusiasm about it and the more I smiled the more he smiled. I got out my camera and he stepped away from it. I motioned him back and I have a great of a man very happy with his work.
At the house dinner is ready. It is duck. For weeks I have been noticing a man on a side street just around the corner from us starting charcoal, putting the ducks on skewers and adjusting the speed of the drive chain. I always stop to watch him and if he is shuffling the charcoal and misses a piece I point it out. It is really nothing but it generates smiles and when you do not have a common language that goes a long way. It turns out that Huong’s Nephew is a partner with the chef in the restaurant.
Now dinner is done and I am caught up on my journal to the minute so I am off to bed.
Wandering by the lake – Central Market
I woke a little late and I walked down to the lake to see who I might run onto. A few days ago I ran into a young man who had very good English and I hoped to run into him again as I have come up with so many more questions pop up since then.
Two shoe shine boys came along and wanted to polish my sneakers. Sneakers used to stop them in their tracks but now they carry a little bottle so they can glue any little piece of rubber, real or imagined, back into place for you. They tried to get my shoes off so they could work on them nut I held my ground and my toes curled in my sneakers.
A young man came buy with a case of water selling individual bottles. I watched him as he offered his water to people and he was gone. I really like this kind of initiative and I wish I had bought a bottle.
A lady came by, and I see this everywhere. She has one of those yolks with a basket on each end that are so common here. The basket to the rear has a 5 gallon Styrofoam container of broth. A man stops her and she gets a bowl from a box on the from basket. She puts a ladle of broth in the bowl and the man asks something. She throws the broth from the bowl off to one side and puts another ladle of broth in the bowl then throws that. Finally she puts a ladle full into the bowl and apparently it looks clean now so she fills the bowl and turns to the box on the front basket. She ppulled out a small teapoy and poured something into the bowl and then a scoop of something. The man took the bowl and went and sat down. to enjoy his soup. When he was finished he returned the bowl and spoon, which were wiped out and returned to the box. The man paid and went his way. She probably works all day and spends the early morning preparing the broth and other ingredients. So many like her working and working.
I walked up to the market and looked around. The front section has not changed in years, at least. Many booths all selling the same DaLat coffee and DaLat candied fruit and jelly. I wonder how so many can sell the same products and still pay the rent and make a profit.
The center section of the market is mostly vegetables, loose spices, noodles and rice. It is interesting how many kinds of rive there are and the price goes from 13,000 to 36,000 VND, $.65 to $1.80 per kilogram. The very back of the second section is lined with housewares. Dished, pots and pans, brooms, and the knives and cleavers. The knives and cleavers are made from scrap metal with hand carved handles pounded together with rivets. They are really unique, handmade but I imagine if not completely dried would rust. There are large chopsticks for cooking and spatulas curved for a wok.
Behind the market used to be a series of sheds going up the hillside where the meat and fish all resides. Up the hillside farther were the cages of live chickens, ducks and all other manner of birds. The alleged pandemic of avian flue put an end to the live birds. However they have returned to the market and no one has done anything to get rid of them. All of the meat fish and live birds are now it the new section in back. It is filled with tiled counters and everyone has water and electric and it is much cleaner. Many fish, crabs and frogs are are live and in water that is airyated.
Some products appear outside their area but not many. There is a beautiful girl selling produce in the meat area and she cannot stop smiling. The more I look at her the more she smiles. I ask to take her photo and without stopping her smile she shakes her head “no” so I resort to begging, “pleeeeease” and she gives in. It is a beautiful photo.
The upper floors of the back section are all new, shiny booths with all sorts of products from local wine to fruit from individual farms and clothing and toys.
The second floor of the middle section is restaurants and the second floor of the front section is clothing, artwork and some more modern housewares and toys.
And now the hidden gem of the market is on the roof of the first section. A showroom of art including dresses, material and the artwork sewn into fine silk. I mentioned this on another day I was there so I do not need to say much bit be sure you go to the back where the factory is on top of the middle section. The girls have an outline and a collection of thread and use it like a palette.
I walk up to the church that is called the Chicken Church. There is a large chicken sitting on top of the cross atop the steeple. I am told that the French were very fond of Chickens but to put it above the cross is a little extreme.
I am summonsed home to lunch.
After nightfall I walk down to the market which is now circus of vendors selling everything a tourist could want. A lady s selling crocheted key chains and not only selling but crocheting as she sells. All manner things that spin, flash or shoot up into the air. Food is everywhere, strawberries especially.
Monastery – Cam Ly Falls
It was a wonderful day. I like to wander and just see what I find and who will stop and talk. I also like the museums and places on all the tours. Today was a day to wander with a motor bike and a translator. I asked Huong to come along and to my surprise she happily agreed. Maybe it is because I have only two days in DaLat before Dien Bien Phu but she came. She does not like riding on the back of my motorbike and probably not anyone’s probably because she never learned to ride. She walks everywhere and if she really needs she calls a taxi. But there she was with a raincoat in hand and we were off.
I had a very ulterior motive for her coming today. I had been in contact with Brother Bruce of the Franciscan order to get more information about the abandoned Monastery. He is assigned to Albuquerque NM and comes to DaLat in January thru March to teach English. He did not know about the Monastery but told me of the Church of St Joseph which was a Franciscan Church.
We first went to the Church and found it closed and the gates locked. Several churches in Dalat are closed up and one opens for tour groups only, except for Sunday when they are open all day. From the road near the church we could see the monastery very well. I got a really nice long shot of it surrounded by the trees. From this side it looked beautiful and from the distance you could not see any of the brokenness of it or any of the emptiness of it.
Huong asked where next and of course it was back to the Monastery. There was a lady who was so nice that I thought I might talk to her with Huong as a translator. As a back-up I was going to take my laptop however Google translate is very bad with Vietnamese. The men who were working in the church last time were gone and the Church was locked. The doors where the lady was were also locked. I asked Huong to wait and if anyone came please tell them I want information about the monastery. I found a way into a part of the complex that I had not found before so I went in and took more photos. I met a few people who lived there but none knew more than Hello.
Building number one looked large from the outside but inside was a large courtyard and the rooms only partially surrounded it. Every part of this building is beautiful. As I came out Huong had found a young man who was living in a nook of the building. Through her he told me the school next door had allowed him to live there since he had no home. However he was told that the buildings were to be renovated so when that happened he may have to move. There3 are rooms empty that have bathroom and shower so I hope he can stay. He seemed like such a nice young man. The really great news was that the buildings were to be renovated in the exact same style and with the same materials. An added surprise is that even the church will be renovated as a church. The two large buildings are classrooms and will be used by the school next door. I am so happy with this. The buildings will survive and the beautiful French architecture will remain.
I studied Architectural Drafting in High School and attended Temple night school for over a year as I saved to Attend full time. Unfortunately just as I began I was drafted and that was that. I still have a great interest in Architecture and I fell in love with the Architecture of French Colonial Indochine. I have always said, if your country has to be occupied by anyone hope it is the French because they leave such beautiful buildings behind.
After such wonderful news, and for all her help I ask Huong where she wants to go. She says the chicken Village. I am pretty sure that it is to the south of town but she insists it is “this way”. So off we go north. We pass the nuclear reactor and she realizes that we are going the wrong direction. She says we should go left. Once you are out of large cities there are roads that seem to go forever then just stop. This is one of them. We go back past the reactor and she says go to the University of DaLat so off I go and she asks why we are going this way I tell her it is the way to the University of DaLat and she insists it is not until I pull in the gate and it is the University of DaLat. She asks why I am here and I point out this is where you wanted to be. She says no she wanted to nein the center of town, go that way. I point out that this is not going to the center of town but out to the West of town. Every time she makes a wrong direction she laughs. She is used to telling a taxi driver to go here and he gets her there. I am happy that she is so happy and we just wander aimlessly. Finally we pass Ans Mandara and she remembers the lady telling her this is the way to Cam Ly falls. I suggest that we go on the road down the valley but she wants to go this way. We go out of Ana Mandara the way the lady said and every time she sees someone she asks is this the way to Cam Ly Falls someone will point ahead.
We have long ago left paved roads behind. Now we are on dirt roads. The soil in most of Vietnam is sandy clay which makes a nice hard surface, except when it is wet then clay is slippery, real slippery. We are going up and down steep roads and the hand break is not very well adjusted and just barely slows us down. Sometimes it gets so narrow and bumpy she gets off and suggests I drive a way then she will walk and get on again. I just look at her. Still she is laughing and having such fun that I am happy to risk life and limb to keep her laughing. At last we are on paved road and in minutes we are at Cam Ly Falls. The storm drain that runs through the town empties in a really nice waterfall here and we sit and have tea while overlooking the falls.
The ground at Cam Ly Falls is hilly and many boulders. It is beautifully landscaped with flowers everywhere. There are some beautiful ponds and bridges to an island. It is very nice. I suggest a western lunch at Lotteria. We are off and arrive in the center of town near the market at the Lotteria. It is a lot like any US fast food shop except there is very little beef. A lot of chicken, Shrimp burgers and Fish Sandwiches. I have fish and French Fries and Huong has a hot dog. After that we have the ice cream. Ice cream has gotten a lot better in the last few years. As good as anything you would find in the USA.
We stop at Big C to get some cheese. Some things surprise me here. They have Walkers Shortbread at $5 for a 5.3 ounce box. I bought a bag of M&M’s and they were 75 cents which is much like home except a long amount of shipping.
On the way back we pass an excavation site. It was digging through that sandy clay when they hit 3 large round boulders. They did not move them or blast then. Instead some men were cutting them into paving/building bocks.
Back to the house and leftovers. I have a watermelon which is really nice. They are so sweet here, A little small but very sweet.
Now to bed and tomorrow is my last day in DaLat.
Dalat to Hanoi – Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu
My last day in DaLat. The sky is gray and a light rain is falling. Huong is very emotional. I love the time we can spend together, but the time comes to leave again. Huong has a degree in teaching and teaches French. She has a Masters in fine art and paints and writes Zen poetry. She is Vietnamese but her Fathers involvement with the French made her first language French. To this day, when we are out, Vietnamese people compliment her on her Vietnamese. She tells them she has lived in Vietnam all her life but they do not believe her because of her strong French accent. She also speaks English with a strong French accent which sometimes causes misunderstandings but we work on that.
Huong wanted to come to the airport but as we approached the taxi she changed her mind. She said goodbye and went back home. I watched as she walked away and felt sad.
The ride was a long one. It is quite a distance from DaLat city. The sky was cloudy and some of the mountain tops were hidden in clouds. I had one of those apprehensive feelings that I get once in a while but never when I am off to an adventure and that is just where I am going. I have wanted to see Dien Bien Phu for a long time.
I arrive at the DaLat airport and find a flight at my time and destination but not the same flight number. It is the kind of thing that happens here so I went up and showed my passport and sure enough it was my flight to HaNoi. About the only place you can fly to Dien Bien Phu from is HaNoi. I am early and hungry but do not want to eat anything. Our plane is here and we board. We go down stairs and walk to the plane which has the truck mounted ramps from the old days. Wee parked a way out and it becomes clear why. There are no tow motors to push the plane back so we go towards the terminal and turn in front of another plane. Our plane is an Airbus 320 with Jet Star Pacific. I am used to bigger planes and the Airbus seems small by comparison. The seating is 3 on each side. There is not a lot of legroom but it is only a two hour flight. We are sold drinks, even soda.
We take off and go up through the clouds. The gray day becomes bright and sunny. The sky is bright blue and the clouds are bright white. They look so much different from up here. Some look like they are sailing across a blue ocean and others look like icebergs. Some look like land masses at the edge of a blue ocean.
We come down through the clouds to land at HaNoi’s new airport. There is a slight rain falling and our plane is way out there so a bus takes us to the terminal. I collect my bag and go to check in for Dien Bien Phu. Everyone is so polite and helpful. At check in I find a flight going to Dien Bien Phu with my flight time but 2 hours later so once again I go to the window and it is my plane. I have half an orange drink from the previous flight so I get a small sandwich and sit in the restaurant. As I open my laptop I notice all the westerners have lap tops and all the non-westerners have smart phones. Cultural differences.
I am in the waiting area for what seems like forever. Finally we are called and we go to the gate. Down a few flights of stairs and onto a bus that drives away from the terminal and all the planes until we are at our plane. It is a ATR 72 which is an Italian French Turbo Prop which seats 68 people. We do not even have a truck mounted stairs here as the door folds down to form the stairs. The plane is not full and the seating is 2 on one side and 2 on the other. It is comfortable and this is a one hour flight.
We land at what was the French airfield for the French. Early in the two month siege the Viet Minh understood the importance of the airport for resupply and shelled it until it was of no use. Get my bag and out to a taxi. When you get in a cab here always make sure the meter is cleared from the last trip and look at it when you arrive. I did not and paid 50,000 VND for a trip that even in Saigon would be less than 20,000. I was just too excited about being here.
At the hotel I am expected and the room is very nice. $20.00 is a little more than I like to pay but I have wanted to be here for so long. I have reserved a motorbike for tomorrow, bought a map and researched some places to see. If I find a member of Easy Rider Vietnam I may use the guide on Monday. There is a tourist office and I hope they speak English. I did not see any westerners on the flight. This is a sacred place for the Vietnamese and so much is preserved or reconstructed. There is also a museum.
So, finished with my journal, I am off to bed and an exc
Dien Bien Phu – tour 30 km North to Gen Giap HQ
I set my alarm for 7:30 to be up and out by 8:00. I had asked for a motorbike and said I wanted it by then. I went down at 8:00 and there was a motorbike and tour guide. We talked about where I wanted to go and I said out to where the Viet Minh guns were.
The French had built a base at Dien Bien Phu to control traffic from Laos and China into Vietnam. The French built 7 fire bases each named for one of Colonel Castries mistresses. On one map there is an 8th named area to the far North of the others.
The French held the valley, all low ground except for a few small hills which the French used for observation. They controlled the passes and they knew that the Viet Minh could not pull cannons over the mountains. This is what we call false knowledge. I had heard that General Giap had cleared trails and pulled his cannons up the back of the mountains. He did not place them on top but rather kept them just below the ridge so when they opened fire the French could not even see where the fire was coming from. These positions are what I hoped to see. Unfortunately all the guns were brought down after the battle and the serviceable ones were taken south and what remains in Dien Bien Phu are all the badly damaged tanks, cannons and vehicles.
My guide is a teacher in Dien Bien Phu. Our First stop was the bunker of General Castries who lead the French in Dien Bien Phu. At some point he was promoted from Colonel to Brigadier General.
Then he said he would take me to a place where the top officers ran the battle from. It was 40 km through some of the most beautiful scenery you have ever seen. As we go Northeast from the city the buildings are just like the Hmong in SaPa up on stilts with the livestock below. The mountains are so beautiful and often the tops are hidden by clouds. The bottom land is mostly in rice paddies but on the slopes are many crops. Corn, bananas and many other things which show up in the local market. The women are dressed in the same outfits as the Hmong but the children are not.
We travel 40 km but I will have to look at a map because I am sure we will travel half of that winding along mountain sides. Finally we arrive in a small town, 30 km out and we turn into the market which is a side street. Now go a distance then curve back south and finally west back towards where we came from. A last turn south and we soon arrive. There is a building where we stop to buy a ticket, My guide does not need one.
In DaLat I sometimes drive for hours just to see what is out beyond the tourists but riding on the back is not so easy. Nothing to hold on to and only a few inches to move to change position. Now we have a path that goes up many steps then up and down the hills. After a while we are going on path with no steps and we begin to see reconstructed huts w2here the officers that ran the battle stayed. They are separated for safety in case of shelling or bombing and many of the huts have tunnels that go into the hill and back out to where another officer is staying.
One officer is the Chinese Military Advisor. Another is the Vice-Chairman of politics for the People’s Army and Chairman of politics for the People’s Army Campaign at Dien Bien Phu. Also was the quarters of General Vo Nguyen Giap. A very interesting person. There is a dining tent and set away from the others is a kitchen. The cooking is done on a stove that has a fire beneath a hole where a pot sits. The chimney that goes in several channels which flow a distance and then come up. This way the smoke does not rise in a column pointing at it’s point of origin but rather sends smoke to be disbursed.
We are now so far from the small city of Dien Bien Phu that I wonder how people can find it. There are few signs and my guide who has been here before had to stop and ask a few times. In the area between the site, which is sacred to Vietnamese, and the main road are many small villages or clusters of houses all up on stilts, all with animals below and all looking similar, except that some look like polished hardwood and others like they were made from wood that had been cut many years ago and had been in other structures.
In most homes we could look through one side and out the other and see people eating and cooking or just going about everyday life. Most of the homes were clumped together on the small hills leaving the bottom land for farming. The rice was being harvested by cutting the top 6 to 8 inches off and laying it on the stalk in neat little piles for someone else to gather. The stalk was left to grow and later harvested for feed for animals.
Some mechanical equipment was used. A plow in a rice paddy was a walk behind tractor with paddles that moved it as it turned the mud over. Another piece of equipment was a motorized that people put the stalk in and it shredded them. The shredded stalks were piled like hay in the field. Here they would go in a silo but that is something they do not have.
The mountains, paddies, fields and the houses were so beautiful and we were so far from a big city and I only saw three Western tourist.
Still off the main road we stopped at a large monument to the people who worked for the victory. It was so large and a large area of nicely planted and maintained gardens.
Back on the main road was another monument to the people who pulled the canons over the mountain. The statue showed 20 or 30 men pulling ropes to move the cannon up the hill. Another man would slide a chuck up against the wheel each time the cannon moved a little. Another man had a flag to signal to pull. Ahead of the men and cannon others were clearing a path by cutting trees and brush and moving and breaking stones. The monument sits on a hillside across a small valley from the main road. There are many steps up to it.
After babying my back and leg for a while I felt really good. Maybe it was sleeping in a bed with a real mattress
Victory Statue – Museum - Martyrs Cemetery – Hill A1
Another day that I wake before the 7:00 alarm. I feel great. It must be the mountain air. I will start with the Victory Statue which is only a few blocks away. I am at Hotel Ruby which is a very nice hotel and in the middle of things. In fact it is in the western edge of what was Fire Base Eliane. I walk a few blocks, pay my 75 cents and start up the steps to the statue on the hill. Every once in a while I stop and turn to take a photo of something. At the plateau of 320 steps I look up at the Statue for a photo from this angle and the battery is dead.
This is why I like cameras that have AA batteries. I carry extra and when a set is dead I just put in a new one. So I take the opportunity to walk around and see the monument. I notice that there is a road up the back to the refreshment and souvenir stands. I walk back down the 320 steps. I have gotten behind in my journal so I take the opportunity to write yesterday’s journal as the battery charges.
The battery has had over an hour to charge so now it is back to the Victory Monument. This time I pay a man on a motorbike to drive me around and up the road to the top. I did climb it once so I do not think this is cheating.
The Statue is about 20 or 25 high but I am not sure what it is made of. It is gold and could be painted metal but has some little cracks in the paint which make me think it is concrete. It is a soldier waving a Vietnamese Flag. A second soldier is behind and facing the other way and he is holding his rifle at the hip and keeping guard for the other two. The third is facing forward and is holding up a little girl who is holding up a bouquet of flowers. They stand on a platform which is tiered and each tier is planted with flowers. All of this sits on a very large platform. Walking around the larger platform I see entrance doors on either side of the steps in front and windows that are too high to see in. I need one of those selfie sticks to see in windows that are too high and over walls and fences and through small openings in gates.
The entire at the top is beautifully landscaped with many trees and flowers everywhere. I am a little surprised that on a weekend in the tourist season there are so few people here and most look like locals than tourists. Off to one side are a few stalls that sell souvenirs. As at all historic places there are small busts of Uncle Ho and plates with his likeness. Here however there are plates of many others, most of whom I cannot recognize their name. General Vo Nguyen Gaip I do recognize.
Next I walk down the street towards the Martyrs Cemetery. On one side of the street is a large building which is almost certainly a party building. It is quite formidable and has a very large square in front that covers a city block.
Beyond that are two blocks each with a large old fashioned building on each and in front was a large pond like the ones in front of the Noon Gate in the Imperial City in Hue. For such a small city it does have a number of public buildings that are quite large.
Next stop is the Museum. It is a large lamp shade shaped building that seems large enough to hold many displays. Once again I pay my 75 cents and go in. enter the dome and it is empty except for a few gift shops and some workmen. I go upstairs into the larger part of the dome and it is also under construction. I am a little puzzled but I follow a small group of army ladies up a flight of stairs and one has enough to understand that I do not know where the displays are. She takes me back downstairs and shows me a stairway next to the entrance. Outside the dome is a building that circles around the outside of the dome. This building does have many displays of weapons and equipment. There are dioramas and paintings of the battle. Still no tourists.
After the Museum there is the Martyrs cemetery. There is a large plaza in front with trees at the corners of 10 foot squares. There is a long wall with a central set of three gates. Inside there is an area behind the exterior wall with the names of many and some inscriptions. As you walk through the graves are all nicely maintained. A center path leads up to a monument which is a triangle with the emblem of Vietnam on top. There is a building in one corner where ladies are making wreaths of flowers.
Next I stumble on a walled in place and behind I can see tanks and cannons. Following the wall around to a gate where I pay my 75 cents and as I enter I find I am on hill A1. The hill is one of those spots important to the revolution where the French held out against an army only slightly and much less supplied and trained but they now held the high ground just beyond the ridge of the surrounding mountains and were in position to fire on the French without the French even knowing where they were. The hill is a series of trenches and bunkers. They have all been reinforced with concrete and two have been sealed off with locking gates. As you walk around the hill you can see the view the French had from March through 7 May. Of course as 7 May approached the view became bleaker and bleaker.
Next trip I will come here again. I will rent a motorbike and ride to each of the four firebases that are out of town including Isabella which is the farthest south and was the last to fall. I also hope to locate a hill called D3 or D4 which I was told might be interesting.
Dien Bien Phu – Hanoi – Saigon – Home in time for dinner.
My last day in Dien Bien Phu for this trip. My plane leaves at noon and I have to be there early so there is mot much to do. I chat with Huong for a while and do my email. I pack and go to the airport. I just finish some email and notice that the plane boards in 15 minutes and it is not here yet. Just as I walk to the window it comes rolling down he runway. As we take off I am noticing the mountains here in Dien Bien Phu. They are so beautiful. Not just one peak but smaller that go up to a larger and a larger and up to the top in layers. The clouds add to the effect as the green of the mountains is darker under the clouds and lighter in the sunshine giving a beautiful mix of shades and textures.
At HaNoi I am through luggage and up to my next flight. I stop in a café and have fried sausage (sliced hot dog), French fries, soda and a small dish of Chocolate ice cream. As I eat I upload my photos to Phanfare so they cannot get lost.
The next plane is called and we board. Off on our way to Saigon. We get the safety briefing and since I am the only non-Vietnamese and happen to be sitting bby an emergency exit the young man by our section asks me to read the English instructions for opening the emergency door. I do and notice the instructions printed on the door are in English and Russian. Interesting.
The crew starts selling drinks and the pilot tells us we are going through a storm and it may get rough. Please put up our seats, fasten our seat belts and give back the drinks. Although I did not see any refunds.
The storm was not bad at all but it was very nice to get such a close up look at the clouds. By time we were coming down into Saigon the storm was well behind us and we were above the clouds. The clouds look completely different from above. Below is the darkness and above they are fluffy white and so soft looking.
As we descend the clouds flow over the he wings and engines. We break through the bottom and we are looking down at beautiful Saigon, Pearl of the Orient or Paris of the Orient which ever you choose. We are on the ground.
I get a motorbike and in a short time I am at Minh Ha’s house and dinner is waiting.
Minh Ha’s daughter May is there. Remembering back to the story of the little Girl of DaLat I tell them I have more news. The house that the little Girl lived in, which everyone around it says is haunted is demolished and I knew that I would never know what happened to the little girl and as I started my motorbike I heard a little girl scream. Before Minh Ha thought it all a lot of nonsense and May was the one to gasp but now it is May who takes it all with a grain of salt and says I am a good story teller and Minh Ha does not like to hear about it. Minh Ha did not want to see the photo. I put on the shelf so she can not see it and I say to the photo “excuse me” and turn her around. If Minh Ha comes upstairs and sees it she says turn it over but she will not touch it.
I lay down for a few minutes and the next thing I know it is morning.
My New Mattress
Back in Saigon and back to sleeping on the floor. One night of this I need some help. I suggested some shopping and Minh Ha, May and I are off to Lotte Mart. One of the many businesses that slipped into Vietnam from Korea, China and Russia.
Downstairs is a large supermarket. We get some Salmon and fruit juices, without sugar. We get yogurt and apples and oranges and one little package of M&Ms. Next is upstairs to the housewares department. Last trip I bought one in Dalat that was 4 inches thick and covered in plastic. It folded in 3 sections for easy storage. I cannot find one like it here but I do find some, Made in America, that are hard and I wonder why you would buy one if it is not much different than sleeping on the floor.
I do find a one and a half inch mattress that is covered in plastic and it is on sale for 360,000 VND so I get 3. Minh Ha and May think it is terrible to pay almost 1,000,000 VND for a mattress but I point out that it is less than one visit to the chiropractor so it is a bargain.
I remember in the service I would often climb on my trailer and sleep on shipping crates but that was almost half a century ago.
The three cost less than $50 USD but Minh Ha thinks it is extravagant and suggests that I take it home. I explain that it will cost more in extra baggage charges than it costs. I ask Minh Ha if she liked sleeping on the mattress when she visited us and a smile came over her face. I told her that she and May can each try one and they can fight over the extra. They laugh.
We try some of the things that we bought. They like the apples and the orange juice. Minh Ha remembers the Salmon since her visit here. She said she will make chau which is a creamy soup with fish and greens and some onion and Green Bell Pepper. It was really good.
I decided to test the new mattress and I woke up next morning feeling good and refreshed.
Tickets to Mui Ne – wandering center Saigon
The rainy season is upon us. I wake early and get my shower and I feel great, ready for another day of finding new things and meeting new people. Then it rains, and it pours.
By 11:00 or so it is mostly cleared and for the rest of the day there may be a light shower at best. It is interesting weather and it does cool things down a little.
Today I wanted to get the bus tickets for Mui Ne because it is a sleeper bus and it is in season and I want A2 and A3, front center and front passengers side. Unfortunately it is not early enough and we get beds half way back.
For the return trip we are in time and I get A2 and A3. That is a better ride than going up so I am happy about small victories.
Then Minh Ha suggest she would like to walk around Nguyen Hue. Nguyen Hue is the main street from City Hall down to the river. It is now a grand promenade and though the fountain which has been there since before the 60’s is gone there are several fountains at different points along the way that come up out of the pavement where people were walking moments ago. There are colored lights which make a very nice effect and the children like getting close to the water.
Just as in DaLat there are people selling things that light up and fly, or spin, or bounce up and down. This year the big thing is bubbles. Everyone I took bubbles to last trip loved them and wanted more this year. Now there are bubbles all over the way from Uncle Ho to the river.
We arrived just 15 minutes too late for the 5:00 fountain performance. So we go to get ice cream in the new Eden Building. The food court is 3 levels below the street. There is a 4th level which is parking garage. We find a Japanese Desert Restaurant which has ice cream and we all share the two favorite choices.
Back out on the street in time to see the fountain show. It ends and as we walk down towards we are in time for the fountain show down farther. It has cooled and there is a breeze and we have fun. We call a taxi and head for home.
Lunch with Minh Ha and CHau
I woke and showered and waited for the rain to slow down. This is getting repetitive.
Today I am to meet my Granddaughter who dropped out of school and went to live in District 12 so we as far apart as you can get and still be in Saigon.`
The taxi driver was just about to stop and ask directions when there was a tap at the window. It was Chau so we knew we were here. Minh Ha came with me because the address was hard to understand and she thought it was best.
I knew to use the bus for a long trip but I did not see one near where we had to go and I did not want to be late so I just got a cab and $15 later we were there. I was a little impatient because all indicators point to her going off track. She did not talk much but did talk to Minh Ha which was a help. Chau really did not have much to say but was keeping in touch and that was the only slim connection she and I have so I do not want to break it. She had said that I believed what others had said about her and I told her I always listen to her no matter what happens. Still she did not have much to say.
Minh Ha had gone next door and found us a place for lunch. The food was good but the conversation did not go anywhere so I let it go that we would see each other again and I will send a message and ask if she wants to Dam Sen Water park or Soui Tien amusement park.
If she is involved in something she should not be I hope she will talk before it is too late.
The pressure off for the moment we walk a couple of blocks and get the 65 bus for Ben Thanh and are almost home in 50 cents. Minh Ha decides to walk the last two Kilometers and I agree. I am so happy that my back and legs feel so much better. Along the way we stop and get a watermelon and some bread. The watermelon here are smaller but so sweet. I think most produce is much fresher and riper here since it is what people buy and if you want to sell you stock what people want.
So, we are home and I finish my journal. Tomorrow I am going out to see a very historic Boeing 707 if I can get there before it is all gone.
Thao and Thao – Dodge City – Dance Lessons
Today I have lunch with another Granddaughter who I sponsored at Anh Linh School. Thao Ly graduated from Anh Linh and attended a school which teaches clothing design and manufacture.
We messaged each and found a good date and I asked her where she would like to meet. She selected the Tokyo Deli, a Susie Restaurant, which is neat Phaam Ngu Lao and De Tham Streets in the back pack tourist area. She asked if she could bring a friend and I said yes. It was good I did since Thao Ly’s English was not as good as I had thought. I was happy the friend was female and happy that she could translate.
Thao Ly and her friend are both so happy and working on their future. Their dresses are similar and I ask if Thao ly made the dresses. They talk about designing clothing. They had photos of things they had made. Thao Ly’s friend is Thu Thao and I suggested a name for their clothing of “Thao Thao”. I think it would work here or in New York. I can see Thao Thao on 5th ave. They are happy and we soon have plates of Sushi to work on.
It is a delightful time and we laugh and talk about many things. School is now finished and Thao Ly will return to her home in the Delta where she lives with her Grandmother. I suggest that we have dinner before she leaves and after I get back from Mui Ne.
We say our goodbyes and they are off on their motorbike. I am so happy that she is happy and her friend is so nice.
When I came home from Dien Bien Phu I heard that the historic Boeing 707 that had sat for so many years, out at Tan Son Nhat, was to be demolished and hauled off as scrap. A day later there were photos on line of the plane being cut up. Since nothing moves fast in Vietnam I went today hoping to see its demise and maybe find a scrap of metal as a souvenir.
I took the 152 bus to Tan Son Nhat and walked the 4 or 5 blocks to Dodge City. Dodge City was a Bachelor Enlisted Quarters (BEQ). It is a three story building with a steel frame, concrete floors and corrugated roof and sides. It sits across the street from the 707, or rather sits across from where the aircraft was.
The 707 is historic for several reasons. It was the first commercially successful passenger aircraft and is credited with ushering in the Jet Age. This particular aircraft also had a history in Vietnam. It was given to the South Vietnamese government but as the end of the war was near Pan Am seized the plane for debts owed.
When the US wanted to fly across Vietnam’s closed airspace a deal was struck which included sending the Pan Am 707 back to Vietnam. Once back the identification was changed to VN – A304. A Vietnamese pilot was assigned to fly it and he made several trips between HaNoi to SaiGon each day. And so Vietnam’s fledgling airline ended up with the state of the art aircraft of its time.
After years of service the plane came to the point that maintaining it was not worth the cost and so it was retired. It had its engines and instrumentation removed, for training purposes, to the Vietnam Airlines Flight School. The plane became a tourist attraction and a café. I was too late to see it once again. All that was left were the plastic and foam interior which were not recyclable.
Since I was right there I went over to Dodge City to look around.
About 4 years ago I managed to get into the courtyard and take a few photos. This was only because a lady security was on duty and I explained that this was history. She let me and Andreas in and we got a few photos and left. Women are so much easier to talk to than men. She told us it was a warehouse for Vietnam Airlines. The building was in pretty bad shape and she told us it would be torn down within a year. As it turns out it was not torn down and still stands although it is not a warehouse for Vietnam Airlines anymore.
This year I saw an open door at the Northern end of the building and went in and walked up a flight of stairs. The first 40 feet were open to the elements due to missing windows. After that the room was partitioned into large offices. One was a board room or lunch room. Another was filled with PC’s and I met a young man who worked there and he told me that it was an American company who was involved in outsourcing. He was very much interested in the history before 1975 and I was very much interested in what had been going on since 1975. He did not know that the park across the street had once been a golf course. He also knew little about the 707 that had been parked across the street from his office for many years. A block away is the former MACV Swimming pool and he did not know that was there. It is now open to the public.
Up another floor the stairway ends with a rusty security gate. Several places are rusted away just enough for my camera to fit in and see that the third floor is all but empty except one area where some men are working. Looking down the front it is empty to a wall about halfway down.
Right next to Dodge City was a building that was one of the many MACV Annexes around Tan Son Nhat. For years I have seen it in various stages of renovation but now half of it has been torn down and in place of the other half is a hotel either renovated and with floors added or just built on the site of the old building.
I had planned to walk the few blocks and take the bus back but then it began to rain. As I headed for the Lotte Mart at Tan Son Nhat it began to pour. I walked through the store to come out on the side of the approach road to Ta Son Nhat. I hoped I could see the bus stop and Make a dash for it and I would be ok. The bus stop was not in sight and the rain did not subside.
A taxi pulled up and as the passengers got out I got in. I said “Golden Dragon Theater” which he did not understand. I said “Water Puppets” which he also did not understand. Finally I pointed South and said there. That he understood and we were off. The bus goes past the Golden Dragon and that is where we are having our dance lesson. Minh Ha asked if I wanted to learn and I said yes.
The taxi passed in front of independence hall and I told the driver turn here and pointed right. In two blocks another right and in a block the last right and we are in front of the Labor Culture Palace. This also contains the Golden Dragon Theater which houses the Water Puppets and the cultural center. Years ago I heard traditional singing and looked in. I was invited in and sat and enjoyed the music.
The building the Labor Culture Palace was once known as the Circle Sportif Saigonnais. Started as a place or the wealthy French to engage in sports and recreation the building now in use was built in 1926 and a swimming pool was built in 1933. In the American War it was used by the Americans much as an exclusive club. After 1975 it became the Labor Cultural Palace and is now open to all.
Now I am here for dancing. It is waltz so I am ok with that. We are level 1. There is a level 2 off in one wing and 3 in another wing. Right next to us is level 4. Then for the surprise, Minh Ha has been practicing. I am the only person in the room who has no idea what he is doing and this soon becomes apparent. It is also apparent that this I not the waltz but rather the Rumba. The instructor was teaching us 3 steps. I have one down well and I told Minh Ha that if she does not practice with me I am not going back. I am hoping she will help.
We are above center city and must go South through the city and on into District 4 and then to the bottom of that. People are everywhere and there is a breeze. The city is so beautiful.
Swimming at the Circle Sportif – A walk in Tao Dan Park
We were talking about swimming at the dance lessons the other night and I mentioned the pool at the Labor Cultured Palace, formerly the Circle Sportif and before that the Circle Sportif Saigonnais. I had thought the pool was added by the Americans but I find it is a concrete piece of art built by the French in 1933.
In the 20’s and 30’s one had to be wealthy and accepted by Indochine society to go to the Circle Sportif Saigonnais. In the 30’s the tickets for the Spring Ball were in great demand.
Now it belongs to the people and it cost 80 cents to swim all day and a nice lunch for two can be had for $3.00 USD. The Café sign on the wall is Café Cercle. Everyone was so nice and friendly.
The sun was shining and the water was cool. In the shallow end a pipe ran out over the water quite high and sent a stream of water down like a cool rain. Two of the children who came over and said hello were Hai and his sister Loan. Later at lunch we met them again and Hai invited us back. I told him we were going to Mui Ne tomorrow but we would be back and I hope we would be back in the pool.
We spent hours there and enjoyed it so much. The pool is large and the deep end is deep. At the deep end is a concrete tower with two diving boards about 2 meters up and a platform at about 4 meters. On either side of the tower was a diving board on the deck but only one remains. Behind columns is a children’s pool which is about two feet deep all around and off in a corner is a smaller pool for younger kids. It is shaped like an 8 and has a bridge across the center.
Under the pool is a men’s and lady’s changing room. As you walk down the curving stairs from the pool to the changing room you pass under a shower that once poured water down on everyone who entered from the pool upstairs. Everything below is tiled and in pretty good shape considering it is over 80 years old. It could use a good power washing like most things in Vietnam that are damp.
After lunch Minh Ha suggested a walk in the park to the West of the pool. It is Tao Dan Park and is such a beautiful park. There are many very old trees, very tall and this shades much of the park. There are lawns and many gardens within the park. Some with flowers and many with leafy plants. Red leaves, purple leaves, purple and green variegated, Orange leaves and so many shades of green from the very lightest to a very dark. Leaved as delicate and a small fern to large plants with leaves 5 feet long.
There is a small model of a Cham Temple built of thin bricks. A sculptor of rock looking like a mountain with little temples and animals and people on it. There is a Temple in the park which is very colorful. Also there is a cactus garden that has such a variety. The park contains some exercise equipment and Minh Ha enjoys it almost as much as having her photo taken.
We walk back to 23 September Park and wait for the 64 bus which comes very near to Minh Ha’s house at the top of district 4.
She is off to yoga class and I am writing the day and soon I will finish packing so we can be off to Mui Ne in the morning bright and early.
Trip to Mui Ne
The day began with Minh Ha sitting by my bed, gently shaking my shoulder and softly saying “It is time to get up”. This was very nice. Last time we had to go somewhere she ran into the room and yelled “GET UP THE TAXI IS ON THE WAY”. I was awake that time also and my heart was racing. I got up then dressed and went downstairs and told May that her mother needs to work on how she wakes people up. She told her mother and I could see a slight look of embarrassment on her mother’s face. May laughed and said “Mother always does that”. This time was much better.
An Uber Taxi is called and in no time we are at the office of Phuong Trang Bus Company on De Tham Street. Unfortunately it is a sleeper bus but with Mui Ne at the other end it is worth it. There is much to see as we head North. After we pass Bien Hoa we begin to see rubber trees. Row after row, mile after mile. I definitely want to get a motorbike and ride up here. Every once in a while there is a large new factory in the midst of the rubber trees. In the 60’s this used to be very open with a house by the road every so often. Now the houses are right next each other all the way through Dong Ngai Provence.
There was a time not that long ago when I had to take a little bus and no one even the driver did not speak English and I had to write a note to show where I was going to show to the driver and people along the way who always tried to help and usually were successful. Now it is the big busses and no animals and no cargo on the roof. Still for all the convenience I miss some of those old trips. One trip to DaLat no one spoke English however there was a minister on the bus so I started singing church Hymns and he would hear a tune he recognized and soon the bus was singing in Vietnamese and I in English. It was fun.
Two hours into the trip we have a 15 minute stop to buy snacks and use the facilities. We were told this was a seven hour journey however 4 hours into the trip we have a 20 minute rest stop so we figure we are ahead of schedule. We are now in open space and making time when the driver see the Canh Sat (Police) Jeep too late and is pulled over. I have no idea what was wrong or of it was a checkpoint. As we wait for our driver to come back 4 more busses pull over. Our driver and the others are all smiling so I think it was a checkpoint or the bribe was small and we are on our way again.
There is building everywhere and not all successful. Close to Phan Thiet is an amusement park that was begun and is now sitting and being overgrown by weeds and trees. Next to it is a 4 story hotel that is finished in the framing but sits an empty skeleton with a beautiful fountain in front whit statues of six wild horses running through it.
As we near Phan Thiet we notice a trucking yard for Schneider. All the trucks orange with the familiar name Schneider On the air deflector
I think I mentioned on the way to DaLat but the bus takes you to the depot then a van takes you the rest of the way. And so we end up at Lucy Resort in no time. Unfortunately I booked through Agoda and there was a mix up. Our reservation was for a resort 2 km south. We were about to get a cab when the receptionist asks if we would like to stay here. I said yes, we had been here before and were very happy. In a few minutes we were here and in our room.
For dinner we go next door op a little restaurant we liked so much last trip. I had spring rolls and Minh Ha had Pho. She is really predictable. The meal was really good and after a short walk on the beach Minh Ha went to bed and I went to sit on the beach in the beautiful moonlight. The sounds, smells, motion of the waves and the full moon were beautiful.
Across the horizon were the lights of fishing boats.
Lucy Resort – Fishermen – Autumn Leaves - Duyen Vu
We are staying at Lucy Resort where we have stayed before and liked it very much. We have bungalows that have thatched roofs. They look so nice however mine does not seem to have a controller for the air conditioner. I ask Minh Ha if hers has a controller and she goes next door and brings hers. Now I know what I am looking for and I start as she points to the door jam where it is hanging in a little plastic holder of the same color. As my father would have said “If it had teeth it would have bitten you.
The bungalows run from the office down to the beach on each side of a setting like a park. Towering Palms with coconuts in clusters at the top. We walk down to the beach and the tide is out enough that we find some shells. Over the three days we find many shells of different sizes, shapes and colors. Some are very bright yellow, purple and red. Others are quite intricate in their shape.
We meet a man and woman who are picking up snail shells with snails in them for the market. We are looking for empties and finding some interesting ones. There are little round boats on the beach. The fishermen use them to put out their traps or nets. Family holds one end of the net and the man in the boat rows out feeding the net our as he goes. When the net is all out he takes the other end of the net and rows back to shore where other family begin to pull it in in unison with the first group. Soon the net is on the beach with the days catch on the sand being sorted bu the older members. In the past we have helped pull the net in and they thought it was interesting and funny for us to want to help. The boats used to be woven from palm leaves and coated with tar to make them waterproof but now they are all fiberglass. One woven boat sits on the beach badly deteriorated and being used for storage. This year we have not seen anyone using nets but still there are many of the little round boats.
We swim in the sea for a while. The waves are nice and as we get out they can push us back with some force. Then to the pool. The water has cleared since Minh Ha told them it needed chlorine.
For lunch we go to the little restaurant, Restaurant Sky, that is just next door to Lucy Resort. I know why they could give us a room at the last moment during the in season. We are the only ones here. The two best rooms are down on the deck of the pool and the last on each has windows that look out on the sea. For some reason one has cleaning supplies and the other is being used by one of the staff. It makes no sense to me but then so much here does not make sense to me but I just play along.
After lunch Minh Ha takes a nap. When she visited us two years ago she wanted to see the trees turn colors and the leaves fall. She retired as a science teacher and loves all of nature. She had to leave before any of the leaves turned. After thanks giving a store was selling silk leaves that were orange, yellow and red. I kept them for two years until today and I snuck in to her bungalow without waking her and dropped them all over her as she slept. I went out and looked in the window. As the fan moved the leaves and they hit her face she would brush them away as if they were just the blanket. I went back to my bungalow and sat on the porch writing into my Journal. She came up behind me and touched my shoulder. She showed me a few of the leaves. I asked her where they came from and she said they were all over her when she woke up. I asked where they came from and she said she did not know, with a knowing smile. I told her that since she could not see the trees turn and drop their leaves I would bring Autumn to her in Vietnam. She was very happy.
We went to the beach to walk and splash around and then in the pool for a while. I went to my room and got my camera for the obligatory photos.
I suggest Duyen Vu, across the street and north 3 doors. I have the grilled Shrimp. Each is skewered and all have their little heads on and are grilled with some sauce that is really tasty and they are just delicious. Dinner here is not just sitting at the same table and eating but rather everyone orders and the dishes are set out and everyone shares everything. Most of my friends want me to eat what they eat, sharing. I want to finish with the shrimp so I have some of her rice and the spinach soup. The rice and the spinach soup are both really good but I am trying to eat less and I want the shrimp last.
flowers – Motorbike – Cham Ruins – French Ruins – Early Vietnamese Ruins
I woke around 6:30 today. I peeked in and Minh Ha was still asleep. She loves flowers and often picks up fallen ones and even picks them, sometimes picks them live like in the restaurant last night. There are trees in the courtyard of the hotel and flowers fall from them through the day. She often picks them up and puts them in her hair. This morning I went out and picked up about 50 of them and spread them over her and snuck back out but this time she caught me. She played with the flowers and fell back to sleep so I left her to sleep.
I sat on my porch and two ladies are sweeping the walkways and lawn. Sweeping of lawns is very common here. Also lawns, even at the Palaces of Bao Dai are mowed by weed wackers and I have only seen one, homemade, lawn mower, which was a platform on wheels and an electric motor mounted on top and the blade exposed on the bottom, and that was at the Catholic Seminary in Saigon where our friend attends.
I went to the beach again but the tide is all the way in and so it is not very good for seashells. It is still beautiful. When I returned I sat on my porch, and continued working on my journal. Soon Minh Ha was standing behind me, dressed and ready for breakfast.
The grounds here at Lucy Resort have so many flowers and trees that we have to stop every few feet to take another photo.
The complimentary breakfast I like is bread and egg with juice, fruit and coffee. Minh Ha generally likes Pho. The restaurant here is thatch like the roofs of the bungalows. It is open all around except for a half wall and we have a beautiful view of the grounds. It is a very relaxed meal.
After this we go get our bathing suits and go to the beach. The tide is still in and the waves are up to 4 feet, which is high for most of Vietnam. We go out a ways, farther than Minh Ha has been, or would go, without someone to hold on to. She is having so much fun.
Sometimes I look at her and I see a beautiful, educated, sensuous woman, a retired Science teacher, very proper and with a very strong moral compass. There are other times I look at her and I see a 12 year old girl who loves to have her photo taken, wear flowers in her hair, and dance in the waves, laughing when a wave catches her and knocks her off her feet. Her innocence if so beautiful.
After the sea we take a dip in the pool and she talks with a member of the staff. The young girl leaves and Minh Ha continues doing laps. She swims like a fish. Soon the girl comes back with a tray and some dishes. Minh Ha lights up. The girl brings some Banh Beo. A dish made all over Vietnam but a little different in each area. In Mui Ne and Qui Nhon they do not use Mung Bean Paste but in Saigon they do. In Qui Nhon each little cup of steamed rice contains all the ingredients but here in Mui Ne the cups are cut up and all the ingredients are spread over them all. It is good everywhere.
Having finished the snack we are showered and dressed. I want to rent a motorbike and see the ham ruins, even the one on the hill that I have never been to and I want to go to the Fish Sauce Factory. I try to convince Minh Ha to come because someone Vietnamese may get me in if there is trouble. I know this because I tried to get into the French Infantry Barracks with no success for years. My Niece, Uyen, was with me once and I told her I could not get in and we walked in. A guard stopped us and she talked to him and we went in and I wandered around without a problem. I took many photos. However on this day she did not want to go.
I went across the street and rented the first and closest motorbike I saw. It was $7.50 but that was not so bad. I rode south first towards Phan Thiet. On the way is a Cham temple on the hill. I have wanted to see this for years. It sits up the hill near a Buddhist Temple so II rode up the hill to the Temple. On arrival I went to an area near the kitchen where a monk and some young monks and children were making kites. Instead of going to the store and buying a kite the monk was shaving strips of wood very thin to be light weight and cutting plastic bags that were throwaways. From the balcony where the children are flying th eir kits I can see that the hill across the road is covered with a cemetery with so many beautiful grave sites beautifully colored. I walked around the temple and could see the Cham ruins rising behind the perimeter wall of the compound. The walls were painted with a peaceful landscape. I pointed to the Cham ruins and a young man gestured a large loop that would take me back out to the main road and around to the Cham ruins.
After a few wrong turns I come to a road which has photos of the Cham ruins. Going up the road I come to a small office which has a sign saying STOP. A young lady charges me 12,000VND (55 cents) to enter and park my motorbike.
Walking up a long path I come to the first building. They are made of brick like all Cham buildings I have seen. A little farther the hill Were two more Cham Buildings. The smaller was to the God of Fire and the larger was to Shiva. Both had alters with offerings and fresh flowers. This second site had foundation evidence that there were more buildings
As I continued up the hill I could see the tower that I had thought was Cham but instead I find that it is a French Tower at the top of the hill. There is a sign that in 1947 the Vietnamese defeated the French who were holding this hill as a way of observing the road from Mui Ne down to Phan Thiet. Also keeping watch on Phan Thiet itself. Getting closer to the top I see concrete bunkers before the tower. In among the bunkers are markers telling that before that this was the palace of a prince of an older dynasty. No evidence of the palace remains unless it was within a brick foundation which was rather small. A lot of layers of history on this one hill.
Going South into Phan Thiet is the Fish Sauce Factory. You can tell you are from outside what they make here. I drive in and look around unfortunately they do not let stay and there is no talk of a tour. Outside is a building where they sell their product and many other things. There is a back door that opens into the yard of the factory. I take a few photos through the door but cannot see anything inside and the process is what I really wanted to see. The buildings are very old and very French. Next year I will have to use the email and see what we can arrange.
Returning to Lucy resort I pass a field of a hundred acres or so. It is surrounded by a wall with many photos of the development scheme for the area. There are condominiums shopping centers, Individual homes and more. Some of the signs remain telling us of better times for the developer but many signs are gone and even a few panels in the wall are broken or have the posters torn or missing.
Another place sits on a high hill overlooking the sea and street after street of skeletons of homes stand with the concrete frame done but the houses unfinished. Grass and weeds are taking over the site and this sits in front of homes that were complete before what ever happened.
Coming up here I left my hat on the bus so I stopped at the Phuong Trang office and was going to ask if it was turned in. As I was going into the office Minh Ha came up behind me. She had rested and gone to lunch which she was having across the street from Phuong Trang. She asked and I joined her in the small restaurant for lunch.
After lunch Minh Ha rides back to Lucy resort but says she is too tired to ride around Mui Ne. I dropped her off and she went in for a nap. I rode North into the small town of Mui Ne. The first thing I noticed was the old French Movie Theater was gone. In it’s place was an ugly new building that had something to do with the party or the Mui Ne Peoples Committee.
Other than that the town looked the same. The beach at the town center is beautiful white sand and it goes out so gently that it is great for kids and there were plenty of kids. The only problem here is one prevalent in Vietnam. Trash is dropped where people ae done with it. There are containers to put trash in. Trash and garbage from houses is put in a small plastic bag from the store, tied and set outside. Garbage is often torn apart but dogs and cats and often it washes down storm drains or streets until it is on the beach. Here on this beautiful beach the children play in the water and on the beautiful sand but must first climb over the smelly garbage to get to it.
In the town of Mui Ne the road splits and I just went East to the beach. I now return to the traffic circle and head out to a place on the tip of North Mui Ne where there was the poorer travelers resort. The road simply ends on the beach and there were a few small restaurants and some bath houses. The back side of this area was a beautiful crystal clear bay with only a few homes. Now the road ends well short of the beach and the back side is all 4 story condos. Each gated with a guard to chase the less affluent away.
After she woke I was sitting on my porch and she came over and was standing behind me with a flower. We went to the beach and looked for shells, Swam for a while and then went to the pool. Minh Ha likes doing laps in the pool. She does the breast stroke and is very good at it.
I suggest Duyen Vu, the place we had dinner at last night, but tonight I have the hamburger. The burger was a little smaller than the roll would imply but it was good and had tomato, lettuce, onion and green bell pepper. I also have some rice and soup just to maintain protocol.
After dinner we walk up and down the street. We look in the shops but they all have the same items. There is a lot of Russian alcohol. A lot of Russian signs and a lot of Russian jeeps and trucks left over from the war. Years ago there were Minsk motorcycles all over the place and one hotel had a Russian limousine like Khrushchev used to ride in and it looked like a rounded off Tank that was a block long but I do not know where it went.
After that we decided on a walk on the beach. The moon was about 10 degrees above the horizon and was covered with a thin layer of clouds. The tide was way out and the beach was flat and we could see well. Minh Ha saw a form out about 200 feet in 10 inches of water. She wanted to go see who it was and what they were up to. As we got closer we saw it was a lady but I could not see her face because it was too dark and she had a floppy hat on. She was pulling something that was close to her and the handle was 2 feet taller than her. Minh Ha spoke to her and I could barely hear her talk. I could feel that she was very gentle. I could not see an expression or her features but I think she was very beautiful. She handed something to Minh Ha who looked at it and gave it back. I sked what it was and she handed me a clam about 2 inches across. Just perfect for steaming. Minh Ha said she was poor and came to the beach as the tide was going out. Today it was 2:00 and she was still here at 7:00. I do not know how long she was planning to stay but Minh Ha said she got about 2 Kilos a day which she sold in the market for 80,000 VND which is $4.00 for how many hours of work on he beach and in the market. She did not have her hand out and was not waiting for someone to give her something. She had what she needed to work and was doing just that. As we walked away I was happy that she could take care of herself and a little sad that some have to do with so little. I think this was the high point of the trip.
Back to Saigon
We woke and went to breakfast and then to the beach for a last look and some photos. A change of outfits was necessary to finish the photo op.
We are packed and Minh Ha makes a last sweep to make sure that nothing was left behind. Then she makes a last sweep of my room which I had already made a last sweep of but I did not want to make her upset so I opened my door and she swept.
It was about lunch time. Checkout was 12:00 and the bus to Saigon leaves at 2:00. We check out just before 12:00 and go next door to the Restaurant Sky for lunch and eat and wait. At 1:50 the van from the bus company comes and picks us up and we are off to the terminal.
I have the first row on the door side and I am happy as I can be on a sleeper bus. We have one 20 minute stop and we are in the rubber plantations. I watch the addresses on the businesses and we are in Xuan Loc. A place I had not been since 1967 except to pass through on the way to other places now.
Back on Pham Ngu Lao and I am anxious to be away from the tourists so we grab a taxi and head for district 4. I manage to get my things upstairs and as Minh Ha is unpacking I fall asleep.
Pham Ngu Lao – Some Shopping
This morning all I have to do is go into town and give a little money to help a friend whose husband had been sick and out of work to help with her sons tuition. They are both in grade school and she is doing a wonderful job as a mother.
She was selling post cards as a little girl when I first met her. We talked about that today and though it was 15 years ago I still have those post cards. There have been times when I needed to get a little money to someone like the Red Pockets (lucky money) to the children at Tet. I can always send her money and it will get where I want it to go. She has a very good family and has never complained about anything. I have always been very happy for her and happy to have her as a friend. This was the first time that I have been able to do anything for her.
I got up and caught the bus to Pham Ngu Lao. Busses are great, 6,000 instead of 50,000. My bus is the replacement of the Lambretta, which was outlawed in Saigon a few years ago. It is not much bigger and has a cab like a miniature truck and a back like a Lambretta only a little wider and a little longer.
Having ridden this one in particular the drivers now know when I am where I am going and ask if I want to get out. It is really nice. I get out at Pham Ngu Lao and get a little money out of the bank and walk to Nguyen Hue. My friend’s mother is selling soda and snacks there at a construction site of the new Metro. She gives me a cold water and calls my friend.
I really love cold water and I sit in the shade until my friend arrives. I give her the money and we talk for a while. Her husband is feeling better and the doctor allowed him to go back to work. In a few weeks they will be in good shape again. It is nice to see how well her family all work together.
Coming back I stop at Lucky Plaza on Nguyen Hue and get some orange juice and cheese and more strawberry Yogurt.
I stop in to see my Little Sister. I met her a few years ago when I was staying at the Hotel Thuan Duc and she was staying with a friend down the alley from the hotel. As I walked by one day she said hello and we talked. In 1968 when I was working in Long Binh she was also working at Long Binh. Now we chat sometimes. Today I was hoping she would know about the rubber plantations north of Bien Hoa and if any of the old French plantation houses and factories still exist. I am hoping she will want to go out to Bien Hoa and ride a motorbike around to see what we can find. I think I have her a little interested. She does have friends in Thu Duc she would like to see and that is half way to Bien Hoa.
On the way back to the house I stop and get a watermelon.
The only thing missing is that there is no sign of the 4th of July. No one is having a picnic, no fireworks, nothing.
There is a vendor who is selling knockwurst almost like the old Dietz and Watson when they came strung together. I will settle for that and the Watermelon.
Niece – Little Sister
This is the day that I see Thanh. I have known her for many years. We have not seen each other for a few years and I think she is upset about something but will not talk about it. We planned to meet a few times but she did not show up.
Today I asked if she would like to meet at Highland Coffee on Pham Ngu Lao. She wanted to meet at Dam Sen Water Park and we could swim. The only problem with this is that there are no interpreters at Dam Sen. She agreed and I went to Highland and waited.
While waiting I met an interesting young man. He was in College and working on his final project in his final year of studying Physics and Electronics. He was working on a GPS system which he felt could be made very cheaply.
At 8:30 on the dot Thanh came in. I was surprised that she showed up at all but to be on time could have meant that she really did want to talk. We had a mutual friend who, as it turned out, was not a friend. She had pretended to be a friend because she wanted me to sponsor her to come to the USA. This is something like cosigning a loan that you should never ever do. When I told this person I could not sponsor her she became angry and took it out on Thanh, telling her things that were not true like I did not want to be her friend.
Thanh has little English so I asked a friend to interpret. My friend did talk to Thanh but did not translate to me. So I excused myself and went down the street and found an interpreter who we went to and did talk about things. Unfortunately the interpreter thought this was a lover’s spat and did not realize we were friends and wanted to understand each other. Still we got some things answered from one to another and a friend of ours is coming to Saigon on the 18th who knows both of us and we will get the last of what we wanted to understand about each other known. This friend is studying to be a priest at the Catholic Seminary.
The world would work much better if we could all speak a common language.
I get the bus home and have a nice dinner of things that I am told are good for me and my heart. Sometimes, at dinner especially, I feel like Minh Ha is my mother.
National Military Cemetery
There are a number of people who I have wanted to meet and one of those just became more urgent. I was in Maui Ne and she said that I should call her on the 6th after I return because she was leaving for Brussels on the 7th. She has a sister living there and will be staying with her for a while.
I met her on Facebook because of a mutual Facebook friend. Like most of my friends she is also a retired teacher. Her subject was Biology but now she is free to travel and she likes Belgium.
After a few miss directions I found her house in the Eastern part of Saigon. She took me to a restaurant that she likes where I had a hamburger, my second in Vietnam. It is interesting that I ordered the hamburger and it came with a fried egg on it.
We began writing because almost all of her Facebook photos were her and her friends singing at karaoke which is so big here. Even in a remote are where I found myself one year there was no public phone in town but there was a karaoke place and a pool table, which is also big here.
She said she was afraid that her English was not good enough but it is half he fun to not have a common language. It makes things very interesting. We were able to talk about many things and had a really good time laughing at the things we could not understand. Like most of my friends her written and reading of English. I should have thought of bringing a large notebook but I did have my pocket notebook and we used it to get over some of the more difficult things. Just meeting people is so interesting.
We agreed to keep writing on Facebook and we will meet again next year.
She offered to ride me home but I just said I wanted to be dropped off in the park. In all the time I had been here his trip I did not get to 23 September Park on Pham Ngu Lao. I was almost through the park when I met Yen’s Father. Yen is the little girl who I met some years ago who wanted to go to school and a friend and I got her in but her Father took her out so she could beg to give him food and gambling money. I was sitting using my phone and he came and sat down and told me he had a daughter who needed food and could I give him some money. I asked him where Yen was and he told me but I did not recognize the place so I just left. He is just not a nice person.
I came back to the house to write my journal but fell asleep before I could do it. Before I could finish it I met Huong online and we chatted. I told her that I wanted to go out to the National Military Cemetery and she offered her Nephew who lives with his parents to drive me out. So that is where tomorrow will begin. Then I find everyone here wants to go also so it will be a group outing. Minh Ha wants to go to protect me from whatever spirits might be lurking in the Cemetery which has had an interesting history.
Now my journal is done for the day and I’m caught up.
National Military Cemetery
It has been a few years since I have been out to the National Military Cemetery and I am not sure what it is called now. It was the National Military Cemetery of the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Viet Nam). I think it was to be their Arlington. Instead in 1975 it was made a place you could not visit.
I like going out there because it is history that is all but forgotten. Everyone I go there with is surprised to see it. Some had heard rumors that it existed but they did not know where it was and did not know anyone who actually saw it.
I will now have to update the directions to it since the roadway of Rt 1 has changed. My friend in DaLat has a sister in Saigon and my friend volunteered her Nephew to drive me to Thu Duc to see it. He had no idea that it existed and was surprised to hear the history. In 2018 it will be 50 years old. The unknown Soldier was buried in June of 1968. Just about that time we were parking our tractor trailers at the base of the South side of the hill when we staged for convoys going west.
Six years ago it was so overgrown that it was hard to see much except the tops of the larger Gravestones. Today we see it is cleared to a great extent. Many new grave stones. A shop is set up to cut marble to repair many of the grave stones. The man who was here 6 years ago is gone replaced by two soldiers who are very friendly. We are asked for identification and he accepts my driver’s license and fills out a form that is a full page in a binder. It does not look many come here. The soldier talked to the young man who brought me and the young man pointed at me a few times and I think the soldier was a little surprised that a westerner was interested in the Cemetery.
Inside we wandered and met an older woman who was also very friendly. She took us to the row of the generals. Each of their Graves was surrounded by a low wall. Just like 2009 she said that three were more Generals but families removed them leaving only the two.
I asked him to ask her where the Unknown Soldier was because I knew it was in the general area. She led us to him and suggested a tip so I gave her 50,000 which is only $2.50 but it made her very happy.
After that we walked up to the Monument. Something new has been added. An alter outside the monument but up on the plateau that the monument sat on. Inside the monument is a tower that had a door which went in but there were no stairs or ladder just a room about 5 stories high. The door is now cemented over. Weeds also grew in here but now it is nicely landscaped around the tower in the circle of the monument. There also used to be a small building whose purpose was unclear. The concrete of the monument is showing a lot of deterioration and some reinforcing is showing and rusting.
Walking back down the main road that comes up to the monument we see many or the gravestones that are repaired and cleaned up. It is nice to see that it is being looked after now.
Nem and I came back to the part off the city that he lives in and have lunch. Then it is off to the main road and I wait for the bus back to Ben Thanh Terminal.
I arrive back at the house in time for a little nap and I am ready to go to dance class. I like the dance class a lot. I am actually learning something and the other students are all friendly and helpful and pretty.
I still have to fix the directions to the National Military Cemetery but I am caught up, other than that.
Miss Oanh - Students
Miss Oanh had asked me to come up as there was something that she wanted to talk to me about something. She had asked me to go to the US Consulate with her as she has applied for a visa to visit her sister in California 6 times at $160 USD and when she was asked why she wanted to come to the US she said that she wanted to visit her family and friends and even though she had come here before she is now told that visiting is not a good reason and she is handed her papers and told no visa. I had only agreed to go to se eif I notice something she is doing wrong and tell her so maybe she can have a more successful interview next time. The same man interviews her each time and I am a little surprised the Consulate is not a little more helpful in it’s response to denying a visa.
While I was there I helped her fix some problems with her computer. When it comes to fixing PC’s this is like the blind leading the blind however we do get things working.
Back on Pham Ngu Lao I am heading for the 46 bus to get back to the house when a group of students passing by invite me to dinner. Since I am no longer living on Pham Ngu Lao I do not get to the park to talk to the students as often as I used to and it is so much fun. Most often they ask about English and the War. Most think the history they were taught was not honest. Although the history I was taught was also not completely honest I happened to live through the history they ask about most.
We go down an alley that I have not been in much and to a restaurant. I ask everyone to write their name in order around and they are later surprised that I remember everyone’s name and I explain that is why I asked everyone to write their name down in order.
We talk for a long while and well past the last bus. I walk out of the back pack tourist area to where I can get a motor bike cheaper than in the area.
Remembering that it is important to eat together I get to the house in time to find Minh Ha gone. I wory that I have missed the last dance class and when she arrives I find it is Yoga night so I am home. She ate before she went to Yoga so I suggest watermelon and she likes the idea. So we have a late desert and I finish my Journal.
The students invited me to their school which is halfway to Cu Chi on Sunday and I will write and accept the invitation as soon as I am sure Sunday is not committed.
Swimming at Circle Sportif – Meeting Enrique
This morning Minh Ha asked if I wanted to go to the pool again. I said yes and she said we will go to the pool neat her house. We Walked since it was not too far however when we arrived we found that it does not open until 4:00 and it is only 1:00 now so we decide to go to the Pool at the Circle Sportif instead.
We walk to the bus stop and wait for bus 46. Bus 46 is only a bus in the academic sense. It is the replacement of the Lambretta which was a motor bike with two rear wheels and was so very common in Vietnam during the war. Bus 46 has a small cab like a truck and a back like a Labbretta which is only a little wider and longer than a Lambretta was. You climb in through the back and pass your money through the back window of the cab to the driver who makes change and passes you a ticket. Bus 46 goes to Pham Ngu Lao. From there we walk the 10 blocks up to the Circle Sportif.
We swim in the pool for hours. Minh Ha and May spend time teaching some young ladies how to swim. It is so nice that they do this. Minh Ha and May swim the breast stroke and both swim very well.
After a time we get out, shower and dress and meet up on the deck of the pool at the Café Cercle. As we have lunch we are sitting by the pool watching a man teach a group of young boys how to swim. They come near us, at the deep end, and one at a time they jump in and push their hands down to stay on the surface while they turn and swim down the pool. Some are doing the breast stroke and some are learning the stroke that I think of as swimming but I do not know the name. He has them hold a kick board and while kicking they roll on their left side and make an exaggerated stroke with their right hand while taking an exaggerated breath. It is so much fun to watch them. At times they look like so many little frogs. They all seem to enjoy it and though the man does not smile at them he is very patient and if one hesitates to jump in he touches their head and says a few words and they jump in and swim.
We walk back to Pham Ngu Lao and take bus 46 back home. I check my phone and there is a message from Enrique. I meet him through my website and we have been playing phone tag for two months. His work takes him all over. When I arrived he was off to Myanmar. He returned and I was off to DaLat then Dien Bien Phu and Mui Ne. Now he writes and asks if today at 3:00 would be ok to meet. I sent a quick message “Yes”. Then another quick message saying I just realized it is already 4, can we meet at 4:30? He asks where and I suggest the Highland Coffee HoOuse at De Tham and Pham Ngu Lao.
At last we meet. I was hoping to talk to him because of out many differences and our interest in Vietnam. Enrique is a geologist from Venezuela
Wife joined us who has been living and working in Vietnam. He is interested in history and especially in the National Military Cemetery. If he has free time we will go out there again as I like seeing it and maybe we will look at some mysterious buildings in Tnu Duc.
We talked for hours and finally his wife called and asked where he was. He told her and she soon arrived. He introduced her and added that she was a dance instructor. I can believe this as she is very graceful.
They invite me to dinner and ask what I like and as usually I say anything you like. This way I get to try new things. They pick Spanish and I am so glad I told them whatever you want. We arrive at Ole which is at 129B le Thanh Ton, District 1 in Saigon. If you are in Saigon this is a must visit. One of the great beauties of Saigon and maybe the rest of the world is that here a Spanish restaurant serves Spanish food as you would get in the regions of Spain and not something made to the American palate which is a modified meal to make you think it is Spanish. Enrique and his wife have been here before and we are ushered in as family. After greetings we are seated and I am shown a menu but I ask them to order.
The meal is fantastic. A basket of bread arrives with a dish of a creamy sauce with lots of garlic in it. On the bread it is wonderful and I can see it being nice on many other things. Then comes Potatoes that are baked and in a seafood sauce. Followed by a wooden plate of Octopus cooked in olive oil and spices. The Octopus is delicious. It is not easy to cook because if not cooked for the right time it is like chewing on rubber bands. This Octopus is perfect. Then comes the main course which is Paella. A combination of seafood and rice with tomato and spices. On top is a shrimp with it’s head on. I love shrimp with their head on but most take it off. They had Sangria however anything with alcohol makes me fall asleep so I had a soda. We talked during dinner and had a nice time. The Chef came down from the kitchen and introduced himself to me. They knew him. He was so friendly and I told him how much I enjoyed everything and he thanked me and was so happy. Everyone who came and went seemed like family.
I was quite late getting home so I called and Minh Ha said it was ok and that she and May were watching TV. She had called me earlier and said that she and May were not going to dance class and I was happy that I did not have to run off. Enrique is so interesting, his wife so engaging and dinner was something really special. I will Take Minh Ha and May there.
I did not do anything today except go to the store which was a fair walk and nap. I was just lazy today.
In the evening, though, Minh Ha, May and I sat around and talked. We sat in a circle just like around a campfire, legs crossed and I told them the legend of rattlesnake which is a story I heard from a Lenni Lenape whose tribe is in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The story was told by an elder to the young in the tribe so they may learn valuable lessons in life. May translated for Minh Ha so she would not miss even a small detail. I reached for a bottle of asprin I had in the shelves and shook it. You need a rattle to really make the story come alive. The story goes….
A young man in the tribe was at the age he should become a brave, but first he had to go on a vision quest where he would find his skill which will help the village. He went to the top of a high hill, spread his blanket and sat, looking out over the valley. He sat all day and night. The next day he was sitting and looking out when he saw his uncle coming home with a deer to feed the village. He saw many animals in the forest. He then knew his good vision would help his people. He could see animals far away and tell the hunters where to go. He could see strangers a far way off and give warning. He picked up his blanket and started down the hill. Then he saw Rattlesnake in the path. (It is important to shake the rattle each time rattlesnakes name is mentioned). Rattlesnake said “I am so cold, please carry me down the hill”. The boy said “No you will bite me and I will die”. But rattlesnake appealed to the boy and said “I will die up here, please carry me down the hill where it is warmer”. Still the boy said “No, you lie, you will bite me”. Rattlesnake said “we were both created by the great spirit. Please do not let me die”. The boy picked up rattlesnake, wrapped him in his blanket and carried him down the hill. At the bottom of the hill the boy put the blanket down and unwrapped rattlesnake and rattlesnake slithered out of the blanket. Rattlesnake then turned and bit the boy. The boy fell and said to rattlesnake, “I carried you down the mountain, I saved your life, you said you would not bite me”. “Why did you bite me?”. And rattlesnake said “You knew what I was when you picked me up”.
Rattlesnake comes in many disguises. He may even look like a friend but you must be aware. You know what is right and what is wrong. You must choose wisely in life. May was on the edge of her seat, so to speak. Minh Ha liked the story but is a little more reserved.
Tonight I had a question answered. I told them that my friend in DaLat remembers the day after April 1975 when the police came and took all her books away. I wondered if there were warehouses filled with books around Vietnam or were the books destroyed. Minh Ha did not wait for the translation she looked angry and spoke to her daughter who told me that Mother said she watched as they took the books to the canal across the street and threw them in the water. There was no attempt to find which were acceptable and which were not. All were destroyed. It is a Socialist Government and free thought is an enemy of Socialism.
Our next subject was my friend whose name is not important. At this point I must point out that my friends are all teachers, students and a few in business. However there is a friend who at an early age was sent to be a prostitute by her family. Almost everyone I know dislikes her because of her profession. However it was not her choice and there is much to be said for her and the little girl I see in her who was never allowed to be a little girl. She has a gentleness to her and the poem I wrote “The Girl in the Park” is about her. I wrote much about her and a publisher told me he would like to publish stories that I wrote in his magazine, then he disappeared. I did not hear from him for a while so on my next trip to Vietnam I went to Pasture street, to the alley where he lived, walked to the end and turned right expecting to see his garden and house but the garden and house were gone. People wrote to me and said they had not heard from him for a while and did I know what happened but I did not. He had published a magazine of stories in 3 columns. One Vietnamese, one French, and one English. Someone told me that the French and English columns were not exact translations and were often critical of the Government.
Back to my friend who is not a teacher or a student. We discussed things like, “Judge not lest ye be judged” and “forgiver us our trespasses as we forgive others” and my favorite in this situation the story from the Bible that ended with “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. May is so much fun to discuss things with. Like her mother she is also a science teacher. Her English is very good while Minh Ha has very good writing and reading English but she is having trouble with hearing and speaking.
We have chances to discuss things often and it is always fun.
Tan Dinh Market – Cloth - Church
Today we are going shopping. We take our ever trusty bus number 46 to Pham Ngu Lao and then another to Market Tan Dinh. Minh Ha wanted to buy some material to have Ao Dais made for her sister in Cali, which is Vietnamese for California. Every time someone here talks about family in California they say Cali.
The Market Tan Dinh is a traditional market here. A large concrete structure divided into stalls where merchants sell everything from cloth to household goods, toys to clothing. The market is surrounded by food stalls and across the street are merchants. One side of the market and across the street are fabric stores. Susan would like these. They have such a variety though largely silk and some suit material.
After he market we were walking to the bus station when Minh Ha asked if I would like to see the church. It stood out since it was very tall and bright pink. We went in and it was so beautiful. Minh Ha prayed she is so serious about nightly prayers and church. It is one of the beautiful things about her. I went around and took photos. The Church is Cruciform and has a canter aisle with benches on each side. Then a row of benches on the other side of the columns of the buttress. Many beautiful statues of saints and of more recent priests. The building is beautiful.
Back on the bus and back to Pham Ngu Lao where we are in time for a 46 bus and back to the house. Dinner and I did not realize it but it is dance night. May and Tung are not going tonight so we will take the motor bike. Minh Ha’s arm has been bothering her so she lets me drive and she rides on the back. My driving makes her nervous because I look from side to side when I change lanes or turn corners. I point out that when I got tested for my CDL the tester was happy with the way I checked my mirrors to see what was beside me and also behind me. None of this applies in Vietnam. Here we drive with an entirely different mentality. We look straight and do not pay any attention to anyone around us. If we want to move over we just move over, sometimes making a small gesture that we are coming over, not asking permission just look out here we come. This causes people to have to lock up their breaks and many have 4 or 5 people on the bike including a baby, usually held by mom with no restraint and infants are not required to have helmets since they do not make small enough helmets. The whole point of driving here is to not hit anyone. If you hit someone you are in trouble. I watch as people come out of a side street or off a sidewalk without looking at all and those on the road must slow down to avoid hitting them because it is not important how well you drive or weather you cut people off it is only important that you not hit anyone. It is fascinating.
Back to the house and to bed.
Circle Sportif - Tao Dan Park – Lotte Mart
It was a surprise when Minh Ha so eagerly agreed to go swimming again. I ask May if she wants to go and she says she would love to but she teaches this morning. Since there are only two of us it will be easier to take the motorbike and since Minh Ha can not drive witn me on the back I get to drive again. I pretend to be excited and tell May “Mom is letting me drive the motorbike” May thinks this is funny and translates for Minh Ha. Minh Ha got the general idea and was smiling already.
We go back to the Circle Sportif. Just being there helps me understand how it felt for the French a hundred years ago. In the 1900 – 1920 period the library already had 5,000 books and all the most current newspapers and magazines from France.
The water is cool and the people are friendly. One little girl names Mai keeps swimming into me and always says “I’m Sorry” and I always tell her it’s ok. To enter the pool she just runs across the deck and jumps out about 6 feet and is swimming when she hits the water.
We go back to get the motorbike and Minh Ha wants to go to Tao Dan Park, which is in the next block from the Circle Sportif, for a short exercise. I also want to go to the fountains. They run down the center of two long pools that go from the street to the temple. Today they are going up about 15 feet, which is much higher than I have seen them before. After some exercise we walk down and I take a few photos. When I am done the fountains shut off. They had been going so high that the gentle breeze was pushing them to rain down on the sidewalk along the fountains. We should have left our bathing suits on.
As we head Back to the motorbike Minh Ha gets a call from the fabric company and a piece that we wanted is in. We are only a short distance from Tan Dinh Market so we check our money and we have enough to buy the material. We arrive and with the new information we gathered we pick out the two pieces which come to $30 each and find we are a few dollars short. The young man talks to the lady there and since it is our third purchase in two days she takes the money we had and gives us the purchase.
We are back at the house and refinanced and we go to the large market in District one. Like the Big C it is a much more western market and everything is marked so there is no haggling on prices and I do not have to pay more because I am western. We stock up on yogurt and orange, and, for the trip to Can Gio some cheese and other niceties. Can Gio is a little isolated. I am sure we are not too far by taxi from a large market but there is little here.
Back at the house we pack for tomorrow and we are off to sleep.
I am hoping Enrique will have a day off to go to Tnu Duc National Military Cemetery and suspicious buildings.
Can Gio – Beach – Local Market
I just wrote and told my wife that I wish we could take vacations like this at home. A beautiful hotel, lovely landscaped gardens, a great pool and seafood, all for $30 a day including all meals and transportation. The hotel is a little over $20 including breakfast and there are small booths across the street that have all manner of seafood and the two busses and ferry down is $1.50 round trip. It was alittle more for us since we needed 2 rooms but that brought the room price down to about $18 each.
Can Gio Resort is beautiful but the beach is dirty and when the tide is out it goes out half a mile leaving a sand/mud flat. In some places the mud is more than the sand and your feet sink in a few inches to a creamy paste. If you are not careful you sink up to your knees and have to crawl out. I am not sure how deep you can sink but out farther people are looking for clams and riding motorbikes on the dry ocean bed.
The new jetty we noticed last trip is filled in for new resort however it does not look like there has been work on it for a while.
While Minh Ha rested I walked around. The tide is out. Many people clamming. One interesting man has a small sieve and a plate with sloped edges and he is panning for gold. I am watching and there is something remaining in the pan but I do not know what it is.
After the beach I went to the small market to see all the variety of shellfish and interesting sea creatures they have and also to look for a watermelon. On the way back I ran into Minh Ha who awakened and was on her way to the market for a few groceries. Since she speaks Vietnamese I got my watermelon.
Tonight we have dinner here in the room since we brought some things. Dinner is sardine sandwiches and strawberry yogurt.
After dinner we watched stupid television from America. I turned on the Animal Planet Chanel thinking it would be better than most and was surprised to find the non-reality American River Renegades. A group of idiots who are a danger to themselves and others. I cautioned Minh Ha that the shows called reality are not real and that most Americans are not that stupid. In thinking about it maybe I just hope most Americans are not that stupid.
Minh Ha likes this and there is some beautiful scenery but I can only stand stupid TV for so long and by the end of the credits I was well past my limit so I went back to my room and went to bed.
Lunch at Carrot Restaurant – Dinner in room with Movie
I got a few days behind and nothing much really happened in Can Gio this trip. It was a rest time. Minh Ha had been worried about family things and spent much of the trip in her room sleeping. This was good because tomorrow, our last day, we must leave early to get home early so Minh Ha can get ready and go to teach. She has taken a part time teaching job and teaches one day a week.
I did get her up and out for a walk through the market next door and along the beach. While at the beach we saw a group pulling up the vines that grow along the sand. Minh Ha sked why they were doing this and the lady told her that they pull up the vines and cut off all the leaves and sell the vines to the maker of medicine.
After a rest I suggest we go to the market and have an early dinner since last night when we went late many of the sellers were gone and the selection was small. As we left the building we were in it was raining slightly. As we walked across the grounds it began to pour. We were close to the Carrot Restaurant which is part of Can Gio Resort so we decide to go in and eat there.
On the menu were shrimp that are sold by the kilogram. I ordered half a Kilogram which is 1.1 pounds and they were so good. They were in a light sauce and cooked with onions and garlic.
We sat in my room on the floor and watched TV. In the past she said she does not like movies however she watched a few here. Maybe it was part of the resting and taking her mind off other things.
Most of the TV that Vietnam gets from the USA is the dreadful “reality” shows and violent movies that flopped here. This trip we were treated to some good TV from the USA. Tonight we watched “The last Samurai”. Minh Ha liked that although she did cringe at the graphic violence. The story however was very good, we thought.
After that some light snacks and we were both ready for sleep.
Back to Saigon – Dinner with Thao and Thao
Our last day in Can Gio and we are up early. Minh Ha checks to see that I am up and packing and goes back to her room and her packing. I pack much faster. I just pick up everything that is mine in the room and put it in my suitcase. I am done and ready for breakfast. I go next door and Minh Ha is sitting among her bags moving things back and forth, wrapping and re wrapping things to make sure everything is where it belongs.
Over to breakfast and my usual eggs and bread and coffee. I am getting used to this coffee which is dark and strong and with enough sugar and milk to be not so bitter it tastes almost like cocoa.
We have our bags and we checkout. I had forgotten the shirts which hung in the closet and the maid brings them to me. Everything is done and we get two motorbikes to take us out to where the number 90 bus will pick us up and take us to Binh Khanh where we cross the river to Nha Be and get the number 20 bus from Nha Be up to Pham Ngu Lao and our little 64 bus back to the house.
We have a short rest and Minh Ha is off to teach and when May is ready to go to teach I am off to run a few errands and meet Thao and Thao for dinner. They have selected the Buffet Hana BBQ and Hot Pot at 45A Mac Dinh Chi Street in District 1. I take the bus to Pham Ngu Lao and decide to walk. The restaurant is a few blocks behind Notre Dame. It is a nice walk through the park and up to the restaurant. I am about 5 minutes late and Thao calls and asks where I am. I tell her I am here and she says she sees me. We go in and order and talk as we wait. The selections come raw and there is a charcoal fire in the center of the table. Our server cooks everything in front of us. The girls order more and two salads are also brought. I am amazed how much they can eat except the Octopus is too spicy, it is rather but it is not so spicy that I cannot eat it. Everything is finished even the second salad which Thao has finished except for the onion rings. It is a very nice restaurant and we have a good time. We have a lot of fun talking after and Thao mentions the difference in our hand size and our arms. She wants to arm wrestle. It is a little bit of a struggle but she puts my hand down on the table. I never could beat her at arm wrestling.
Walking home I meet two groups of students and we talk for a while. Later I meet the old lady who is always in the park selling those things that you kick back and forth. She was a big help in keeping track of Yen and her father as we got Yen into school and even after Yen’s father took her out to earn money for him. Not a nice man.
Another day done. Tomorrow I get to meet Cathy, the second person I met in Vietnam 15 years ago. I have not seen her for a while as she went to work in Singapore and has not been in Vietnam when I am. She said she has not been back in a while. She was just out of High school when we met in 2001. It will be good to see her.
Dinner with Niece Cathy and her Brother
This morning I caught up on two of the last three days in Can Gio. I goofed off around the house and waited for dinner with my Niece Cathy.
Cathy is the second person I met in Saigon on my first trip back in 2001. We met and had a nice time then. I had written to tell her I was coming to Vietnam and just the other day she said she waded through her email and found me email. She said she would be in Vietnam in a few days and asked if we could have dinner. We agreed on the Friday the 17th and here we are. She picked Marina Ngoc Suong at 172 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street in District.
At 4:30 everyone here was going out and I did not want to be last and have to lock up. So as Minh Ha was getting ready for Yoga I got ready and left also. I drove Minh Ha to Pham Ngu Lao and she went on to Yoga and I picked up some things that I wanted there on PNL. From there I took a taxi to the restaurant and arrived half an hour early so I looked around the area. I am only a few blocks from where Minh Ha is taking Yoga at the Circle Sportif.
It is almost time and Kathy and her brother arrive. Her brother is now working in IT for an American firm based in Thailand. Cathy is always so happy and it is so good to see her again. I think we keep in touch every year or so but I always tell her when I will be in Vietnam just in case she is here also. She has been working in Singapore for some years for Expedia doing translating work. Her English is very good.
She likes Singapore and her work. She tells me much about Singapore which is 72% Chinese 23% Malay and 5% everything else. She says Singapore is mostly city and suburbs with little undeveloped areas. Singapore has a varied cultural and religious population but everyone gets along very well.
I remember Miss Yen, her mother’s friend who is now retired and caring for her grown son. Miss Yen had such a beautiful smile and a pleasant nature. I ran into her rears ago when she was working but she has no English and I had even less Vietnamese than I do now.
Cathy’s father and mother are both well and her father is still doing the cooking and caring for the plants and birds in the house. I remember that her father likes Yan Can Cook on TV.
The meal is fantastic. We have grilled shrimp, grilled octopus, Fried soft shell crabs, a fish salad and snails in a sauce with green bell peppers and onions. Everything is delicious.
As it turns out Cathy is only here for a three day weekend because of a holiday in Singapore. I am glad we had a chance to get together and talk for a while.
Back at the house May is watching “Once upon a time” which is also a favorite of my wife. This is my fourth night in a row of dining out and it is taking it’s tole. I go up and fall asleep quickly.
off to Dalat – Brown Edge Wafers – Arrive at Huong’s House
When I was young I liked Nabisco Brown Edge Wafers. Unfortunately Nabisco stopped making them and I missed them. This morning at 2:15 in a bust stop somewhere between SaiGon and DaLat I got off the bus and looked for a snack. Something small and light for the next three hours to DaLat. As I looked through the aisles there was a bag of brown edge wafers. They were about 1 inch wide and elongated to about 3 inches but they looked like Brown Edge Wafers. I bought a bag and they were Brown Edge Wafers though a friend told me they were called Cat Tongues in Vietnam.
Arriving in DaLat I get off the bus and tell the man that I need to go to Le Quy Don Street. He points me to a van and I put in my suitcase and get in. As we pull out the driver asks me where I am going and I reply Le Que Don street. He is puzzled so the lady next tome says Le Que Don Street, pronouncing the don correctly and the driver says ok and I thank the nice lady for making the effort to understand me and getting the address straight.
I arrive on Le Que Don street and walk to Huong’s house. It is 5:30 AM so I phone and walk around the building across the street and sit on the back step looking at the canal and having some Cat Tongues and soda. Soon Huong comes to meet me and we go to the house. Back at the house I get a short nap and so does Huong.
When we wake we talk a little. She said she was not sleeping and has not slept for a while. She has also lost weight and when you are 98 pounds weight loss is not good. She has not been eating and her stomach is upset. She does not know why and I ask her if it is stress and she seems to have known the answer to that before I asked.
I had reserved a room in the center of town so she could sleep and also when she was awake we could talk. It is away from her family. She has been down in the dumps lately and a large part of the problem is a family member who causes her much stress.
We get to the room and almost as soon as we check in and go to the room she is asleep. I leave her and go to the lake to sit and look at the water. I give her a few hours and go back to the room. She is about awake and we go to a late lunch or early dinner.
After dinner we take a walk by the lake and stop at the Big C supermarket for some Orange Juice, Cheese and Bread. We walk back and talk for a while then she falls asleep again so I let her go for the night and watch TV for a while before hitting my own bed.
Flower Market – Night Market
Today we begin the day in center city DaLat for breakfast. There is a little restaurant behind the theater where Huong gets soup and next to it on the street is a lady making fried eggs on a roll.
Our first visit this morning is the Flower Park. By the north end of the lake it is entered though a large arch of flowers. The arch is a metal frame with many wire loops each of which holds a flower pot which allows the pots to be changed if a pot it is needed to change the design or replace a flower that is not doing well.
We enter a large courtyard with a row of fountains down the center. On each side are gardens and beyond them more gardens. In the back is a lake and refreshments and also a Bonsai forest. So many Bonsai trees and a few are a grove of trees in one basin. There is a walk around the lake and up on the hill Are greenhouses. One filled with roses another many mixed plants and a final is a showroom of plants for sale.
After this I take a walk along the lake. There are some nice photos along the lake looking at the University of DaLat on the hill with the tower of the largest building standing above everything. The old French hotel at the elbow of the lake and across the south end of the lake is the DaLat Palace Hotel.
In 1893 Alexandre Yersin came to Dalat and realized that this was an ideal climate for good health. The Dalat Palace Hotel was built in 1922 in the Art Deco Style. DaLat was thought to be the site of the capitol of French Indochine. Dalat has so many French villas, homes and buildings because of this and the climate. The Hotel is built on a hill overlooking the manmade lake and across from the land set aside for the hotels golf club.
I went there today and was met by the most friendly staff. From the front gate to reception to staff inside I met people who were happy to show me around and tell me the history. One man showed me the library and a few books that were spared the confiscation of books that occurred in 1975 after the fall of the republic. The first floor is almost completely dining room with many small dining rooms for groups. The architecture is magnificent. So much wood and all in beautiful shape after the refurbishment of 1993 – 1995. The government had decided to do the work and to keep the hotel in the original condition. I am happy that here in Dalat at least so much reconstruction and preservation is being done. I am told that the average room is $130 USD per night.
Huong remembers her family coming to the large front lawn that goes from the hotel down to the lake and having picnic lunches. All that ended in 1975 as the new regime tightened it’s grip on everything. Fortunately the building survived till there was an appreciation. In Dalat much has been preserved and even reconditioned with period material and craftsmanship.
At night the street in the center of town is packed with people and a new market comes alive. The streets are filled with stalls of merchants selling clothing and toys. A dozen artists are sketching people on paper or wood. Ladies selling all manner of crocheted things from hats with faces on them to keychains with crocheted strawberries on them sit behind their display crocheting more inventory. Always toys with lights that bounce or roll themselves or are fired into the night air to fall back spinning and flashing. Cars move through the crowd in the main street and in the street around the market motor bikes vie with shoppers for space. The main stairway up from the market is filled with people and food vendors. At the base are food carts.
Everything is neatly ordered. On the east side of the street are the food vendors and on the west and around the market are the clothing vendors. On the steps and at the base are the food vendors and with them are grouped the kinds of food. On the steps are the seafood peddlers and at the base a group of carts with charcoal pits selling anything on a stick which is cooked and served.
On Le Dia Hanh, which parallels the main street from the lake up to the movie theater, there are half a dozen coffee shops where you can get coffee, ice cream or a meal. These buildings were all here before the market and are all French but I have not yet found their original purpose.
Leaving Dalat – Dalat Palace – Big C Lunch – To the bus for Saigon
The last morning in DaLat again. Everything is ok now and there is much to be done in SaiGon. I get up and Huong is here so we go to the DaLat Palace Hotel. I took many photos there yesterday but as I left I wanted some photos looking up from the lawn and I got to take those today.
After taking the photos we walk down the lawn just as so many French Aristocracy had done in the early days. We walk along the lake for a short distance and go into Big C. Big C is part of a mall underground and under the bleachers of the former football field. I have my passport on me now so I go in and get my Big C Loyal Customer Card. At home I am annoyed that I need a different card for each store and some will not give a discount without the card, but here it is different and it is just a fun thing to do.
We go up to the next level and get lunch at the food court. We have pasta with a red seafood sauce. There are shrimp and octopus in the sauce and we share the dish. We have a nice time to talk and then it is time to go to the bus terminal.
Going to the window I get my bus number and we go to wait. It is time and the bus opens and starts loading the luggage and freight. Huong and I say good bye and I get on the bus. She disappears. She told me later that she did not get a taxi but walked home. She is happy and that makes me happy.
I am leaving at 2:00 which allows me to see the sights on the way down. It is usually a 6 hour drive but today we are taking many people who will get on and off at some of the small towns so we cannot use any of the bypasses and this makes the trip 8 hours. And, of course, it is a sleeper bus so I cannot sit and look out the window I have to lay or sit hunched over because I am too tall to sit straight up.
We pass many landmarks that I remember including a mountain with a huge rock coming out of the top and curving. It looks much like a whale breaching and it always catches my eye even on moon lit evenings. Many Temples and Pagodas and many Catholic Churches.
After a while we are into Dong Nai Province and there are rubber trees mile after mile. We pass through Bien Hoa and next is Long Binh and the remnants of Long Binh Post. Our company area (572Trans) is now covered by a single building of a meat packing company.
Crossing the Cogido river we approach the National Military Cemetery but it is now dark and I can see very little of it.
I call and keep Minh Ha updated. At last we are on Pham Ngu Lao and I get off and collect my suitcase and as I am about to call Minh Ha she is here. When she anticipates me or wipes my face during dinner I always say “Thanks Mom”. She laughs and so does her daughter when she is home.
Back home dinner is waiting and I must have something but only a little and then to bed. I do not get rested on a sleeper bus.
Center City – Saying good Bye – Meeting Chau
I have people to meet today but I was up till 2:30 this morning looking at photos with Minh Ha so I got started late.
First I wandered into center city and was looking for envelopes for Red Pockets. These are to put lucky money in for children. I took the 46 bus to Pham Ngu Lao and walked into Nguyen Hue and Le Loi. Along the way I was looking for the Red Pocket Envelopes and a note pad for later.
The book stores along Le Loi are now gone. So much is changing and then there is the mess created by the construction of the Metro, a train which will start at the Opera House and go underground past Ben Thanh Market, up through 23 September Park and come up out of center city and run out to Thu Duc with the3 last stop at Soui Tien amusement park.
As I walk I met a German man who is here for a few weeks then on to Singapore and other wonderful places. He will soon be in Las Vagas and has been to many US cities. As he talked of all these places I said, “and they pay you for this?”. He laughed and said yes. I have met some people who had the most terrific bennies to their job. We arrive at the Eden Building and this is where I come to meet Hoa My and her Mother. We say goodbye.
Hoa My has helped me so many times and is someone I can always count on to get things done. Her mother is also such a beautiful gentle person. Every time I go by she gives me a bottle of cold water. I can always use some cold water especially in this summer heat. The block of buildings that made up the Eden Building was torn down to make this new Eden Building which looks much like the old one but is all high end shops. We were in the Eden Building a few weeks ago and went to the food court three floors down to have ice cream. We looked at the Buffet and decided we needed to come here for dinner one night. As we talk I find that the Eden building is to be turned into a hotel. The entire building is gutted. All the shops are gone, all the walls are gone, all the plumbing and heating is gone. I can look from one end to the other inside and it is one big empty. I hope the hotel puts the ice cream parlor back in the corner by the Opera House where Phuong and her friends went for ice cream in the Quiet American.
On the mall two Civil Engineers are surveying the mall and take time to smile as I take their photo.
On the all is also a Photographer and his assistances. They are taking wedding photos. The bride and groom are standing in the mall and one assistant is holding a umbrella over the Bride so she will not get dark from the sun. Two other assistants are holding the Bride’s gown out in front of her. At his command the girl with the parasol steps aside and the other two release the gown which falls gently and the photographer gets his shot.
Next is time to go see Miss Oanh who has visited the USA before but is now being denied a VISA. I arrive and we chat. After six $160 interviews where she is asked why you want to come to the USA and her saying to visit family and friends she is refused because it is not a good reason. Now a person who does not do the interviews tells her it is because she only visits the USA so it is suggested that next year she take a vacation to Korea and then she will get her visa the year after. It is a really stupid policy but it could be since the Government is doing really stupid things lately. We have time to chat and it is getting close to the time I agreed to meet a student to practice English.
I get a ride on a motorbike. He starts asking for 60 and I offer 30. He says ok 50 and I say 30, he says ok 40 and I say 30. He laughs and says ok 30. Off we go and as we pass some of his friends he says something and all I can make out is 30 so I don’t what that was about but he is laughing so it is ok.
We arrive at ABC Bakery and I am an hour early so I wait for half an hour in the park. An old lady who I have known for years comes and we talk. She was helpful when we got Yen into school and also helpful when her father took her out again. She sells those little kick things that you see in the park here so often. It seems to be the leading sport in the park followed by badminton. Both games here are played to return the shuttle to the other side and not to slam them so as to make the other side miss them. We talk and she has not seen Yen for sometime. This probably means she is working somewhere out of sight.
It is 7:15 so I go in and get a drink and some cookies and wait upstairs. Chau calls and says that she is on Nguyen Hue and wants to come over. She arrives and it is good she came because the student has very little English and Chau is a help. The time comes for the student to go and Chau and I can talk. She says she will return to school but she will live off campus since she already has a house.
It is getting late and we talk about how to get home and she suggests that we walk. It is a few miles to the bottom of district 4 but if she is up to it so am I. We walk down De Tham and towards the bridge from district 1 to district 4. I have noticed people sitting on the bridge looking rather shabby and I wondered what they were doing here. Tonight we are walking and I notice that some of the people who are IV Drug user. Injecting on the bridge and obstructing foot traffic. They are so obvious that I wonder why the police do not notice and gather them up and off the street. Maybe it is not in their interest.
We have a nice time. We talk and joke and plan our meeting time for our trip to Suoi Tien water and amusement park. Chau remembers when she and my other granddaughters fed the crocodiles there. We come to an intersection and she goes left and I go right. We will meet at 9:00 at the bus station at Ben Thanh on Sunday.
Chau and planning more things to do together – Soui Tien
It was a beautiful day today. My Granddaughter, Chau, told me I did not have time for her. She said she wanted to go to Vung Tau. The water there is not as clean as I would like and she does not have an ID card so we could not take the hydrofoil so it would be a long bus trip and she has motion sickness so I suggested Suoi Tien or Dam Sen. Both are amusement parks with water parks and a wave pool and lots of fun ways to keep wet. She asked if another granddaughter could come and I said OK but I really wanted to spend time with Chau alone, or as alone as you can be in a swimming pool with 300 other people.
It was a rough start. She said we will meet at 23/9 at 9:00. 23/9 is 23 September park and it is a large park in which people could spend hours looking for one another so I said “where the 46 bus stops?” and she said “yes”. So an hour early I was at the 46 bus stop on Pham Ngu Lao in 23 September Park. Little did I know the 46 bus stops several places around the park and I forgot my phone so we were not in touch. I thought that when she did not see me she would come around the park and we would meet. At 10:00 I went home and found the message. “I waited for you 30 minutes and I thought you went to Soui Tien so I went to meet you. So, back on the 46 to 23 September Park and over to the terminal and the 19 bus to Soui Tien.
The bus was interesting today. A man sat next to me and talked and talked to me in Vietnamese which I do not know much, dispite many years of wanting to learn. He would reach over me aand make a motion of pushing the seat and pushing my leg. Finally we changes places but he kept pushing at my leg and the seat and looking as it he could not understand why I did not understand him. I kept checking my pockets. A lady walked up the aisle to get off the bus and as she stood next to me she said “Watch your pockets”. I said “Thank you” even though I had been doing just that. I am always happy when someone wants to look out for my best interest. Eventually he got off the bus and I still had everything I got on the bus with so all is well.
The entrance to Soui Tien is huge and I worried about finding one another. I got off the bus and started to call when I heard “Grandad”. So in we went. Soui Tien is a great place to take kids. It is huge and it is $4.50 to get in and $4.00 to get in the Water Park has 5 pools. First in the center is a pool 18 inches at it’s deepest. It is filled with slides and things to climb on and water shoots or pours out of many places. Where it shoots out it is a massage to stand at the end and let it hit you on the back of the neck and shoulders. Fountains shoot up from the edges.
The second in the center is a pool about 3 feet deep with a 40 foot wide area to slide down into the first pool. Beyond that is a 4 foot deep pool that has a 40 foot wide slide into the second pool. It also has some floating platforms which you try to walk in to the center of the pool. A rope runs through the center of each float so they stay together but they can also turn over if you do not step dead center. Chau made it 4 floats and I did not try.
On the left is a wave pool which is a lot of fun and at the end away from the wave machine there were many slides and water shooting out everywhere. Around the sides were 4 very large bull frogs. You go out of the pool and climb through the back to slide down into the pool.
On the right is a 4 foot deep pool. The pool and the 3rd pool back in the center have a water slide that comes down into them. The one on the right is the best. We tried the one in the center but half way down there was a raft stuck. We slammed into it and dislodged it but then we were stuck until the next raft hit us and set us free. We went back to the far right which we liked best although this is not to be considered to be a political position. We went down over and over and it was so much fun. We stopped to have lunch and it was back in the pool. After a while Chau wanted to go to the Crocodiles.
On the way we stopped at the pool filled with fish that are billed as a foot massage. A river around in a circle is filled with little and not so little fish that like to nibble dead skin off your feet. It is 75 cents for 15 minutes. After our 15 minutes we looked for the Crocodiles. The place has grown and improved so much. The little roller coaster now had a big brother. The little Ferris Wheel is replaced by a large one. The zoo is expanded.
At last we come to the Crocodiles. Here nothing has changed. An elevated walk way takes you about 2 feet above the water and the Crocodiles so you get to see them up close. Two men are in with the crocodiles. One is sweeping and the second is watching and tapping each Crocodile who approaches on the head. A gentle tap sends them back into the water. I wondered if they were constantly hiring for this position, “New openings weekly.”
We arrive at the place that sells the meat for the Crocodiles. There are poles with a string and an attendant is tying a piece of meat on each. You rent the pole for 15 cents and take it and dangle the meat in front of the Crocodiles. The kids are usually very surprised when the Crocodiles grab the meat so fast. I got a few good photos and videos there.
There is a zoo which is mostly porcupines, turtles and monkeys and there used to be a large aquarium but we did not see it. There is a building with a dalphin and sea lion show. A car on a rail takes you around the amusements and Crocodiles. There was one section that sold all kinds of fruit, healthy snacks. We had ice cream and walked till it was time to leave.
A theme Park that is not too expensive and is lots of fun for everyone.
Back on the 19 bus to Saigon. Chau was concerned that I would be tired but on the way she was the one to fall asleep with her head on my shoulder. Everyone was watching a man in the seat behind the door. He was sleeping and sliding down in the seat. Finally his leg was half way across the steps to the door and people were stepping over him. Finally the conductor took a photo of him. When we arrived at the terminal everyone stepped over him and got of the bus.
Instead of the 46 bus we walk to district 4 as we usually do. Almost home and we stop at a children’s park and have noodles. Then we go our separate ways. At home I text her and tell her “Thank you for a beautiful day”. She texts back a thank you very much. It was a good day.
Buffet in the Eden Building
First of all the Eden Building is not entirely to become a Hotel. I looked in the South entrance and saw up to about mid-block and it was gutted. The South end will become a luxury hotel but the four basements and the North end of the building looks like it will stay stores and restaurants.
This is where we looked around a few weeks ago and thought we would like the buffet in the food court three levels down. I was told that we were going to a buffet but I was not told where. It was to be a surprise and it was a surprise because I did not know the food court still existed.
We entered and were seated. As we got up to wander around we found so many foods everywhere. Almost everything is Vietnamese and there are so many to choose from. My friend had given me fertile duck eggs before and I wanted to try them again now that the initial aversion had worn off. They taste almost like hard boiled eggs and there is no texture of feathers, bill of bones. Everything is soft. Many kinds of fish, soup, Pho and vegetables, some things are a little strong others a little salty but so much interesting. Minh Ha went down to the far end of the room where she found a man grilling Shrimp and Oysters. She went down and filled up several times and we all cleaned them up each time she brought another plate back. The ice tea was mild and did not need any sugar for me. The deserts were gelatin and many fruits and cakes. There was Banh Beo which was a little different from what I have had but it does differ from region to region and even from chef to chef.
After lunch May had located where the old statue of Ho Chi Minh, seated with the children had been taken after the new one of him, standing, had been put in front of City Hall. It is now at the Children’s House of Ho Chi Minh City which is at the intersection of Nam Ky Khoa Nghia and Tu Xuong Streets. The building is an pld French home which is quite large and the statue fits well in it’s surroundings well. I took a few photos and we returned to Pam Ngu Lai where May was waiting at the 46 bus stop. I am still not sure why she did not ride with her brother since there was an empty seat but there she decided to take the 46 bus home.
Returning to the house we took a nap and then Minh Ha announced she was off to Yoga. This gave me the opportunity to go down the street and look for the cherries I saw yesterday when it was getting dark and I did not know if I could pick out the best ones in the waning light. I found them and they were 300,000 per kilo. This is $3.50 for 2.2 pounds of cherries which are all nice and dark and not a squishy one in the bunch. Minh Ha likes Cherries very much. When she was in Pipersville she took about 4 pounds and packed them in her suitcase before she left. They did make is in good shape. I took the cherries to the house and washed them and put them in a bowl in the refrigerator and she was pleased and surprised when she came home and found them there.
I was also a little surprised when she had warm rolls just baked and they were a little more dense than the regular rolls we get here. I actually have come to like the light ones more but once in a while I do like the denser ones, especially warm and especially when I have butter in the fridge. Everyone did like the buttered rolls. Then we had beef or Sardines to put on our roll and I chose the sardines. I am not allowed to eat sardines at home unless I take them outside and over the trash can where I have to open them and eat them with a plastic fork so I can drop everything in the trash and wash my hands outside before coming back into the house. Some of us like sardines and others don’t.
Dinner time here is almost always interesting and entertaining. Now to my journal and to bed. I had no trouble convincing Minh Ha to go swimming tomorrow at the Circle Sportif.
Swimming – Bob – Old Friends
Today we went swimming at the Circle Sportif again. Mom ( Minh Ha) allowed me to drive again although she is a back seat driver. We arrived at the club and went to the pool. The pool and locker rooms are from 1934 and have some interesting features to them. Coming down the stairs after swimming there is a large shower that rains down on everyone across the entire bottom of the stairway when turned on. Everything is tile up to shoulder height then painted concrete. The tile needs power washing really bad and I was thinking that someone could make some money selling power washing equipment here.
Swimming is fun. Minh Ha has fun helping a lady learn to swim and a long chat with a man who has arthritis rather badly and suggests to Minh Ha that swimming is good exercise for the joints.
Minh Ha wants a nap and I want to walk around Pham Ngu Lao and 23 September Park so I stop and she drives herself home. On Pham Ngu Lao a man calls out hello and I recognize Bob who I had not seen this entire trip. Bob has a motorbike and drives people around for a living. He is with his daughter who is growing so fast. Bob used to wait at the end of the alley and hide and jump out at me when I was staying at Hotel Thuan Duc.
Another man who I had not seen this trip is the security guard who was across the street from Phuong Trang Bus Lines when they were over there. He has no English and I do not know his name but we always recognize one another and say hello. Some people just recognize one another even after a year or two even though there was not much to their initial meeting.
There is an older lady who has been in the park forever. She was very helpful when friend and I were getting a little girl, Yen, into Anh Linh School and she was also helpful when Yen’s father took her out of school so she could earn money for him to gamble and eat. That was a real shame because Yen wanted to be n school so much. In the park she would find a piece of chalk and write on the sidewalk. It was a heartbreaker when the father took her out. The lady had not seen her for a long time. Last I say she was with an Aunt and was going to public school and we hope the father is not an influence but we do not know.
After a few hours I take the 46 bus back to the house. Minh Ha is awake from her nap and I go to write. Dinner time comes and I go and sit at the table and Minh Ha has a bowl of large white eggs. She says “Duck Eggs” and I know they are Fertile Duck Eggs. I know this because at the buffet yesterday I had one. I had it because I had one on a previous occasion and I wanted to see if they were not so bad when I was not in a position where I had to eat it.
My introduction to Fertile Duck Eggs was years ago when my friend Thanh took me to Qui Nhon to meet her family. I was sitting in her Aunt’s house when Thanh came in with a bowl of eggs and a great smile. She said “look whatg I have, I love these so much”. Some people like white eggs and some brown and my Grand Parents liked double yolk eggs but no one gets so excited about eggs this much unless there is something different about them. I was right and I watched as Thanh cracked the top off and drank off the fluid. I had no choice but to eat the egg. I usually like trying different things but this was something I might have left untried except that Thanh was so excited about them. I cracked the top open and drained the fluid so no one would notice. I ate the little duck and was surprised that it tasted so much like and egg. Therfe was no rubbery little bill or crunchy bones or fluffy feathers. None of that ad developed yet. At the buffet they were surprised that I took one.
At the buffet I took one just to find out how I would like one when not under pressure to eat one without flinching. Still I drained off the fluid and it was not a bad taste and the texture was just as I remembered.
Tonight I was given a little cup like Granny had for hard boiled eggs. I cracked around the top and drank the fluid. It was clear and had the slight taste of egg. Minh Ha and her daughter May laughed and said I ate like a Vietnamese. I always like to try to fit in with custom and culture. I also found that a little salt and it was a rather nice taste.
After that I finished the sardines with a sardine sandwich and some Strawberry yogurt. I wish I had thought to experiment long ago but tonight I got out some small tubes of 3 in 1 coffee which is instant coffee with creamer and sugar. The coffee is so strong that I made the coffee and put in an equal measure of milk. I mixed the powdered ingredients and put in three dippers of hot water from the eggs. Minh Ha shrieked and said “NO”. It was ok the eggs had not broken but she still thinks there are ways to do things and ways not to do them. On my next trip I will bring a coffee maker and ground coffee although the coffee here is much stronger and can be lessened with more milk. I always put in an inch at Wawa so maybe I like coffee flavored milk and not really coffee. I guess you might have to ask someone who likes it black for a real subjective opinion.
Dinner over and we sit and chat. I really like these times at the table or sitting around the room. It is so nice to be with a family and not alone in a hotel room. Minh Ha is delightful and her daughter May is also. May has very good English and sometimes translates for Minh Ha whose written and reading English is really good but her hearing and speaking is less. One of the things we discussed was practice which should have occurred to her since she is a retired teacher. May and I joke that she does not practice or do her homework well. May is also a teacher. One of our topics tonight is genetically altered food. Minh Ha is a retired science teacher and May teaches science and we have some wonderful discussions.
After dinner we are all in separate places but still talking and popping into each others room when the discussion picks up.
And now all that is done and my Journal is up to date and I am off to bed.
Warm Rolls and Butter – Zoo – Patriotic Rally
This morning I got up and Minh Ha had already cleaned the house and told me she was off to buy hot bread. There is a place in the north of district 1 that bakes it and you can stand in line to get the bread hot from the oven. Once again I said I like something and now it is her mission to drive from the south of district 4 to upper district 1 to get me bread fresh from the oven. I must learn to be careful about saying what I like or at least be a little less excited about saying “I like”. This bread is a little more dense than the usual rolls we get here and though I like those a lot these are just great with butter.
She returns and we have hot bread and butter. I take two rolls and cut them in half and butter them. The three of us have some them Minh Ha gets out the fixings and we have sardine sandwiches and meat sandwiches and since the Salon had been taken out of the freezer a few days ago I cooked it so it would not go bad and we had salmon sandwiches and of course strawberry yogurt and cucumbers.
I said that we had not gone to the zoo this trip and so it was planned for today. We also needed some more orange juice and yogurt and cheese.
We finish breakfast and are off to the market under Crescent Mall which we had never been to. It is a big one and we find everything we need quickly and head home.
Mom let me drive again and I am still amazed that no one looks before pulling out and those in the way slow or go around them and very few people hit one another.
At home we put everything in the fridge and are off to the Zoo. 10 years ago the zoo was a mess. Cages were dirty and many animals were not looking well. I remember the otters were in a concrete pit and the water there was filthy. Drug addicts were occupying the south end of the zoo and no one maintained that part. Now it is so much cleaner and the animals look so much better.
The grounds are nicely landscaped and the zoo is clean. We go around and see almost everything. On the grounds of the zoo is a Pagoda which I have not been in but I will have to visit next trip. Also on the grounds is the History Museum. I have been to this many times and some exhibits change and some remain the same. The had some of the china from the Hoi An collection that was found off Cham Island some years ago. I was lucky enough to get a few cups from this 500 year old find.
After the zoo we go to the Young Peoples Union. Minh Ha has a Yoga class and Tung, May’s friend, is at his martial arts class. I had wanted to see this as Tung has won a Gold Medal and is a Yellow belt in this Vietnamese Martial Arts. There are several classes practicing at the same time. The Young Peoples Union is very busy.
Minh Ha is finished and comes out to where I am watching the classes. She is calling to May to find out where we will have dinner. As she is talking I hear singing from inside the auditorium. The auditorium is large and the music is very amplified. Boys and Girls in traditional costume are singing and dancing. A young lady comes out and walks across the stage and back with a large Vietnamese Flag. I do not understand it all but it is easy to see it is very political. The music and the energy were very exciting. During a second song there slides on the background of the ethnic minorities. I am not sure what it was all about. Soon the songs stopped and the speech began and went on and on. Understanding the language might have made it interesting but political droning on and on has a tone to it and we left. Minh Ha and May had plans for dinner.
Dinner was in a building whose name escapes me now but it was in the third basement down in an underground city of restaurants. Several buildings have a place like this. One level below is the parking garage which now has room for cars which are becoming more and more popular.
When we returned to the house we had time to sit and chat. May fixed my scarf which the students had given me. To stop it from unraveling she lit a candle and melted the ends of the polyester strings to fasten them together.
One day left and it is over for another year. So many things to put on the list
In Town – Eden Building – Ba Hai - Watermellon
Today Minh Ha had to work from noon till 5:00 so we got up early and split a fried egg sandwich, without the yolks, of course. Around 9:00 I went to Pham Ngu Lao. I like to sit in the park and wait for the students to gather and talk. They are all so fascinating. I did not get to do a lot of that this trip and I miss it. Today I had to go to meet Hoa My and her mother. I like to stop by and see them from time to time. Hoa’s Mother sells drinks and cigarettes in front of the Eden building. Hoa had called and said she had a gift for Susan, my wife.
Hoa says that all of the Eden Building will be a hotel and the last shop will move out in October. Most of the big hotels had some shops and I do not know what the hotel could do with the 3 basements if the shops are moved out so I guess we will have to wait and see. I told them that I hope they put the ice cream shop back in the corner where it was in the “Quiet American” and where I remember having ice cream in years past.
I walk back to the park and chat with some of the people I have known over the years who are still in the park selling or exercising. Today I ran into Be Hai who had Cerebral Palsy, I think. A few years ago I noticed her teeth getting bad so I took her to the dentist and got her a teeth cleaning, x-rays and check-up. The Dentist said it would cost $500 USD to fix her teeth so I told the receptionist that I did not have that much on me but I would send $100 each month and they could call her and she would come and get some more work done. The office staff was so happy with this arrangement and with her getting the work done. Unfortunately she showed up for treatment and said she did not want the treatment, instead she wanted the money. They emailed me and asked if they should give it to her as they did not think it was a good idea. I said they were right and I sent Miss Loan from the hotel to get it and use it for something worthwhile. She used it to have a nephew’s teeth worked on so that was good.
Meanwhile Be Hai’s teeth were looking very bad and I could only imagine them getting worse. Today she showed me her teeth and they looked much better including her two front teeth on a partial. She thanked me for sending the money however I did not send more than the first day and one treatment so I wonder if the doctor heard the story and did the work free. I think if someone else took her she would have known who it was. I will have to try to contact them to find out what happened. I like to think the ladies in the office had the doctor do the work for her free or maybe they just fixed it in auditing the books. Be Hai is not happy and I hope brushing her teeth regularly.
Living with a family is nice for another reason. I get to hear what is happening around the neighborhood. Tonight I find that the neighbor across the street who was in his 30’s was preforming his husbandly duties when he collapsed and died. Talk about anticlimactic.
Back at the house I arrive at 5:00 on the dot since Minh Ha said she would be back from teaching at 5:00 and I like to be there in case she is planning something special and she was. She made Chau which is a small rice cooked so as to leave it starchy and adding things to it like greens and salmon or in the case of tonight clams. It was very good. For desert we had watermelon. I arrived home and she said she bought one for me and I said I bought one for you. So we have plenty of watermelon in stock and she likes that. I also left the refrigerator stocked with strawberry yogurt and juice, They both like that.
Tomorrow is the day. I cannot believe 13 weeks have come and gone and there are still things to do. That will be another trip.
To TSN with a stop to pick up something - Airport
Last night I could not sleep. At some point after 1:30 I did fall asleep however I was awake before 6:00. Nervous upset stomach I really do not look forward to the last leg of the journey from JFK to Pipersville.
For breakfast I have strawberry yogurt. I am all packed except a few things and Minh Ha is checking that I have everything including a piece of cheese for the trip. She is also consolidating everything to be efficient. May is calling Uber so the trip to the airport is $2 instead of $6 to $8 in a Taxi.
Our first stop is Parkson Center just across the street from Tan Son Nhat Airport for a few things that my Niece wants in New York and a friend has left with the receptionist at JetStar Air offices on the 9th floor. We arrive and go to the receptionist only to find she went on vacation. We are in luck a young man makes a call and locates the package. We take it and thank him. Back downstairs we are in another cab and over to the airport.
Everyone has come to say good bye. Minh Ha, her daughter May and her son Luan and May’s boyfriend Tung. At the Airport I go in and check my bags and get an aisle seat to Taipei and the emergency row sear from Taipei to JFK.
After checking in I return to everyone and we sit and wait and watch people come an go. I had wanted a Coke to settle my stomach but the Pepsi people goy here first with the most and so there is only Pepsi in the airport. Minh Ha and May have been telling me I should not drink Coke because it is bad for me and I drank only a little while here but each time I did they reminded me. I said once in jest “we all have to die sometime”. May said I should live to 100 and come back often and she and Minh Ha are two of the most beautiful, sweet, gentle, innocent, pure people I know and I realized I should have not joked about it. Tung is a former student of Minh Ha’s and has graduated university and is an Architect. As for Luan we continue to pray he will find work and also find the beauty and satisfaction of helping around the house. In the airport May gave me a real nice card from her and Minh Ha which said, in part, I should not drink coke and I should live to be 100 and return often. It was such a beautiful card.
Tung showed up and to my surprise he had a Coke. I had told May that I only needed it to settle my stomach. We all sat and talked then went to the entrance where I had to go in and the rest cannot go. Minh Ha is very emotional. I told them it was nice to have met all of them and it was so nice to stay with a family rather than a hotel although I did miss Miss Loan and Hotel Thuan Duc. We hug and I go in. I stop to wave a few times and then I am inside and they go.
Our flight is delayed about half an hour with only a minor attempt at explaining why and thanking us for our cooperation. I wish it could be delayed 8 hours then I would arrive in New York to get the busses I need to get home without spending the night alone in the airport in New York which I am sure is better than spending the night in the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
We board and I am sitting next to a nice lady who is wearing a tan jacket and slacks. She has a look of gentleness and innocence. Adding to the innocent look is a little round sticker on her jacket that says EVA AIR. It is a sticker that is usually worn my children traveling alone and is a signal for EVA personal to check if this person needs anything and that they know where they are going when it is time to move.
The lady taps my arm, she is having trouble with her seatbelt. She has it on but it is too loose so I tighten it for her. She has a pleasant smile and seems to be somewhere around 40 or 50. After the light goes out she cannot get it off so I take it off for her. She needs help with the video screen and the fold out tray. She has apparently not flown before. We have not spoken at all but she has made the flight most enjoyable.
In Taipei I go first to the currency exchange so I can get something on these layovers which are usually around two hours and usually occur while the exchange are not open. There is an internet access and I go to my email to let Susan, Minh Ha and Huong know where I am. By time I finish my email it is time to board but I do have the Taipei currency for future trips.
Taipei to JFK to Port Authority to Lahaska to Home
The trip from Taipei to JFK is a nice one and everything goes well. Unfortunately there are no good movies. Everything is drab and depressing or Violent. There are a few good Asian movies but I find that the subtitles are putting me to sleep.
The light over me is on and I cannot find a place to turn it off. While I am fumbling with it the man behind me comes around and says “it is on the screen”. He presses to get the menu and shows me how it works. It is true no kindness ever goes unrewarded. Just another of the pleasant things that happen when you travel if you leave yourself open to it. Helping and being helped.
The screen has been so much improved now. The controller which used to be next to your leg and could be activated if you turn in just right direction without your wish to use it is now in the screes. Everything that used to be in the arm or overhead is now on the screen.
Even without the good movies I did get to sleep and the trip went fast. There is one stewardess which has the most beautiful eyes. I find myself looking at her and she comes over and asks if there is something I need and I say no which causes her to smile a beautiful smile.
Before we know it we touchdown at JFK. Off to Customs which goes quickly and easily. I bought some bulbs to try to grow here and I hoped they would not take them, they did not. It is now more computerized in Customs and we check ourselves in at a scan of our passports and answer some Customs questions. On to collect my baggage which has survived the journey in good condition which is something I worry about. So many things that others ask me to bring to someone here and I really don’t want any of those things to be lost or damaged.
I now need to get NYCAirporter over to the Ney York Port Authority Buss Terminal but since my bus does not leave until 9:00 AM I think I will stay here at JFK rather than the bus terminal. Next trip I will bring my cell phone which will not work in Vietnam just to have contact when I get back.
I sit in JFK waiting for morning and after my flight has all gone their separate ways the building is so empty. People working to clean and security but very few passengers. They are here and there waiting to be picked up or waiting for a flight and arrived early. I love airports, I used to go to Philadelphia International and sit on the roof back when you were allowed to go out and watch the planes. There was a box and if you put a nickel in you could listen to the pilots talking to the tower.
5:00 AM arrives and the NYC Airporter should begin running any minute now. I go out to the sidewalk outside of terminal 1 and a man, who is sweeping says “it is over t5here”. I said “what is over there” and he said “the express bus”. I looked and there was a sign that said “NYC Transporter pick=up location”. I have no idea why he thought I was looking for that since it had not begun to run yet and all other pick-up passed through there. I said “thank you” and went to wait for the bus.
Shortly we are in Manhattan at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in plenty of time for the 9:15 Transbridge Bus. Another 3 hours to wait but at this time of the morning and in a few minutes the bus will arrive. I read the schedule wrong and the 9:15 only goes to Lahaska but that is as close as Doylestown and I can probably get a taxi from there and I will be home.
The bus stopped at Lahaska in the middle of Peddlers Village and I walked up the hill dragging my suitcases and thought I would go to the Cock and Bull Restaurant and call a taxi for the last little leg of the trip. As I got to the door I thought I heard someone call “Henry”. I looked around and did not see anyone. As I was about to open the door to the Cock and Bull I heard it again and there was Ron Haskell. We were both very surprised to see one another and Ron asked me if I needed a ride. I was so happy that the end of the trip was at hand.
Ron drove me to my door and I was home. No more connections, no more waiting, I was home.