16 - Tuesday - On the way
17 - Wednesday - Arriving in Saigon
18 - Thursday - First full day in Saigon
19 - Friday - Miss Oanh - Ba Hai
20 - Saturday - Circle Sportif - Banh Mi Tuoi
21 - Sunday - Arriving on Con Dao Island
22 - Monday - Poulo Condor Prison
23 - Tuesday - Cemeteries - Vo Thi Sau
24 - Wednesday - Leave Con Dao - Arrive Phu Quoc
25 - Thursday - Swimming and the Night Market
26 - Friday - Touring Phu Quoc Island
27 - Saturday - Sunset Phu Quoc
28 - Sunday - Phu Quoc Prison - Motorbike Day
29 - Monday - Rainy Day - Phu Quoc
30 - Tuesday - Phu Quoc - Burger King
31 - Wednesday - Miss Oanh - Army of the Anamites
1 - Thursday - AIA insurance - Bitexco Tower - Dinner at Opium Factory with Martin and Thao
2 - Friday - Lunch with Niece Hoa My - Dinner with Khuong and Family
3 - Saturday - Housework - Lunch with Granddaughter Tram and son Thu
4 - Sunday - Movie - Lunch at Hoang Ty - Dinner in
5 - Monday - Anh Ling School - Emaciated Lady
6 - Tuesday - Movie - Lunch Out - Dinner at home
7 - Wednesday - Leaving Saigon and arriving in DaLat
8 - Thursday - Train to Trai Mai - The Man with the Excavator
9 - Friday - DaLat - Monastery - Cam Ly Airfield
10 - Saturday - Flower Park
11 - Sunday - Ngoc Bich - Family and Dinner
12 - Monday - Rainy Day - Old Photographs - Purple rice
13 - Tuesday - Crazy House - Chicken Church - Bun Bo Hue
14 - Wednesday - Rooster - Easy Rider - Banh Beo, Banh Xeo
15 - Thursday - Silk Factory - Weasel Coffee Farm - Mushroom Farm - Flower Farm
16 - Friday - Around DaLat
17 - Saturday - Silk Factory - Weasel Coffee Farm - Mushroom Farm - Flower Farm again
18 - Sunday - Madam Ngu's House - Historic Wood Block Collection
19 - Monday - Leaving DaLat - The Frenchman's Pantaloons
20 - Tuesday - DaLat to SaiGon and Minh Ha's home cooking
21 - Wednesday - Bus to Vinh Long - Lunch and dinner on the river
22 - Thursday - Boat Tour Dinner in town
23 - Friday - Vinh Long - Pagpda - Museum - The trip back to Saigon
24 - Saturday - Resting up - De Tham Street
25 - Sunday - Hanging out and going up to Miss Oanh's House for the trip to Phan Rang tonight
26 - Monday - Arriving at Phan Rang - exploring the hotel and beach - the Musicians
27 - Tuesday - Motorbike - Church - Around Phan Rang - WIFI - Dinner of Squid
28 - Wednesday - Swimming in the Pool and Beach - The Fishermen
29 - Tuesday - Exploring the resort - Catching up - Dinner
30 - Friday - Staff says goodbye - Bus to Saigon - Huge windmills - Power generating stations - Parallel Railroad
1 - Saturday - Back to Minh Ha's - A visit to Chau - Dinner and a Movie
2 - Sunday - Resting and a movie - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
3 - Monday - Plans for Vung Tau - Cô Hầu Gái - Buzza Pizza
4 - Tuesday - Market
5 - Wednesday - Wandering around SaiGon
6 - Thursday - Chau - Miss Peregrine’s home for Peculiar Children (Again) - Wandering with Chau and back home to find Minh Ha Sewing
7 - Friday - Fabric District in District 10 - Taylor - Chinese M&Ms
8 - Saturday - To Vung Tau - Ocean - Pool - Dinner on the pavilion
9 - Sunday - Buffet Breakfast - Bao Dai's Palace - Catholic Church Bai Dau Maria - Dinner at the Night Market
10 - Monday - Pagoda - Jesus - Swimming - Ride back to Saigon
11 - Tuesday - arrangements - CO-UP
12 - Wednesday - Dinner with CHau - Hard Rock Cafe
13 - Thursday - Concert Canceled - Ice Cream - Corn Bread
14 - Friday - Miss Oanh - Miss Bay - Spaghetti
15 - Saturday - Vinh Kim - Miss Oanh's Mother's Celebration - Return to Saigon - Home
16 - Sunday - Lang Nuong Nam Bo - Elephant Fish - too Much Food
17 - Monday - Chau - Hospital - Microwave
18 - Tuesday - Chau - Meeting new people - Another Concert Canceled
19 - Wednesday - Museums - Dinner with Pull and Family
20 - Thursday - Catching up
21 - Friday - The Play Guang Huong
22 - Saturday - Trip to Can Gio - First Day
23 - Sunday - Buffet Breakfast - Pool - Lunch in my room - Exploring - Dinner in the Market
24 - Monday - Exploring - Carrot restaurant - Seafood to take home - Ride home
25 - Tuesday - Sudden Illness
26 - Wednesday - Still Ill - Doctors Minh Ha and May are caring for me - I am in good hands
27 - Thursday - Goodbyes - The Trip Home
On EVA Airlines a "Sky Compass" is one of the options on your screen. It tells the time at origin and destination, the distance to and from, the air speed, altitude and outside temperature and shows us a map of the trip and where we are.
Off to a good start. Susan took me to 6th and Washington ave. in Philadelphia and I got the free bus, provided by our travel agent and the trip to JFK was smooth. A great improvement over last year’s trip. I have had luck in that I met a man a few years ago who asked if I was going to Saigon and I said “yes, but after that I am going up to DaLat for a month”. He said “I am from DaLat” and told the girl to pass my overweight bags through. He was there last year also when a friend and I also had overweight bags but this year I did not see him until after I paid $155 for an extra bag. I had the option to rearrange my bags so my carry on could still be carried on but since one of the bags had all the refrigerated things I just paid and that was the worst of the day but that was not at all bad.
There were several good movies so the flight went fast and we arrived in Taipei on schedule.
A very quiet beginning to what promises to be a busy trip.
Arriving in Saigon
The 17th was almost a day that wasn’t. It was the day I crossed the international date line traveling East to West so the day is lost except that I was still in transit so I observed it till I arrived in Saigon and went to bed.
This fragment of a day got me into SaiGon from Taipei.
I was concerned that my baggage which was all in cargo would arrive safely. The pop up handle on one would not pop back down and I had to sign a paper stating that I knew it may be damaged in shipping.
To my amazement I was watching for my luggage on the carousel when out came my bag with it’s little handle sticking out 18 inches to one side.
The bags have been gone through thoroughly. It looked like someone had dumped them out and poured the contents back in. In the past I often wondered if anyone had looked at them at all since everything was so neat. Still nothing was missing or broken so I was happy.
I was through customs and out to find Minh Ha, May and Tung waiting and they called an Uber cab and we were out of the airport and driving through the city. I was singing what I knew of a Vietnamese Song which gave the driver a chuckle. It was so good to be back in the city.
At the house I get my 3 bags upstairs and look at what is inside. I have something for everyone. May had ordered some things and had them delivered to my house and I gave her those things. I had towels for Minh Ha which had been embroidered with “Table, Floor, hands, faces and dishes”. Last year Minh Ha had told me I was using the wrong towel for whatever I was drying. After giving out everything I sort what I must deliver to others.
Now I am sitting at my familiar desk looking out the window at the Balcony Garden and noticing the smell of the city. It is like Fowler said, in the Quiet American, “The smell: that’s the first thing that hits you, promising everything in exchange for your soul.”
Time for bed.
First Full day in Saigon
My desk, looking out the window on to the Balcony Garden
I slept in till almost 9:00. Jet lag has never affected me before bit I think it is now, a little.
I was hoping to get my Vietnamese driver’s license however after having told me she would help me get it Minh Ha, this morning. told me she did not know where to go. Everyone tells me that I do not need one because my Pennsylvania one is ok, but I want one anyhow.
About all I did in the morning was finish sorting things out and found that I only needed one bag for my things however it was good to have the three because I will need them to bring things home. As we speak Ky’s sister and sister-in-law are baking hundreds, maybe thousands of Moon Pies.
The evening was different. Since I am off to Con Dao Island to see the remains of Poulo Condor Prison and the infamous Tiger Cages. Knowing this Minh Ha asked her Brother-in-law, Khuong, if I could talk to him about the prison since he was there for 7 years as a prisoner of the Republic of South Vietnam/America during the last days of the American War.
I had met Khuong last trip and we had a nice talk however we did not talk much about the war, His English is much better than my Vietnamese but May helped us from time to time. This time I got more than I could have hoped for. Khuong and his son Bien Cuong took me to meet a friend of khuong’s who was also in Puolor Condor and spent years in the Tiger Cages. Khuong’s friend wrote a book about the prison with many documents and photographs. For the book he received the title, certificate and metal of Hero of the Revolution. It is fascinating to talk to Khuong and his friend since the history we hear is so one sided and usually looked at as dismissing of them and supportive of us. It is also fascinating to meet someone who was “the enemy”, and now is a man like most who had worked for his country’s independence and reunification, much as our own Revolution and Civil war at once. In the service we were cautioned against calling it a Civil War as it was us helping the South to fight the spread of Communism and free the oppressed people of South Vietnam. Of course if you were there for a week and had your eyes open you would have seen that was never true.
Khuong’s friend wanted to give me a copy of his book but only had one left and it was now long out of print. Khuong’s friend, Mr. Bui, is very knowledgeable from his experience and his research. He knows about the US Freedom of Information Act and has received help from Americans in his search for documentation of the time in the prison for which the US was responsible.
I just love history, US, Vietnamese, anybody’s history.
Miss Oanh - Ba Hai
This morning I gathered up all the things I brought for Oanh. So many things sold in Vietnam which are labeled Made in USA, Made in France or Made in Japan are really made in China. Oanh wants real Made in America products so she usually tells me the vitamins and the supplements she wants. One year I brought her so little I told her I did not keep track of the cost. Last trip before I left she gave me 3 clean new $100 dollar bills so I would not forget the price. This year she also needed 4 perfumes, lipstick and just for fun I also bought her the Ball Park Hot Dogs she likes, with rolls and some relish and the big bag of M&M’s. I also brought her Baked Beans and told her that we often have them with Hot Dogs. She remembered them from when she was in California. As she sat in front of all the things she was like a child at Christmas. She is so grateful and all I did was spend her money and throw a few extra things in the bag.
After that we went next door and got an orange juice at her friend’s restaurant. Her friend was very pleasant. Her son stopped with his girlfriend and they had lunch. We were asked to join them but I am doing much better, here 4 days and not one Coke, not even a diet Coke. After chatting for a while we went back to Oanh’s house and Oanh told me her friend had a problem of a personal nature and I said there is a remedy at the pharmacy to which Oanh said she did not think it was sold in Vietnam so I walked down to the Pharmacy and asked and they did, in fact, carry it. Since it was of a personal nature I came back and gave it to Oanh so she could give it to her friend in private. Her friend walked in the door and I turned and Oanh Gave her friend the bag and said, “Henry bought it for you”. I sensed an embarrassing situation so I was ready to say goodbye when her friend turned with the product in her hand smiling and pointed to the product, me and her in what I took to mean “Did you buy this for me?” I nodded yes and she said CAM ON, CAM ON, CAM ON (Thank You). She had such a beautiful smile it made me happy. However in a country where, especially older men and women, still do not touch, even to shake hands unless a woman first puts her hand out, other things just seem to not be socially incorrect.
There is a little girl in the park, named Ba Hai, who I think has Cerebral Palsy. I have known her for a very long time and a few years ago I noticed her teeth getting bad. I took her to the dentist at the top of 23 September Park and he cleaned and x-rayed her teeth and said she needed a lot of work. The girls in the office said it would cost $500. I told them that I did not have that much money on me as it was near the end of my vacation so I gave them $100 and told them I would send $100 each month and they can call her and do some more work. The girls in the office thought this was so nice so I made arrangements with one of the girls that I would Western Union $100 and she could pick it up and take it to the office. It sounded so easy. After I got home I sent the next $100 and got an email that Ba Hai had come in and said that she did not want the work done but wanted the money. The girl from the office e-mailed me and told me they said no and asked what I wanted done with the money. I told them I would send someone to decide what to do with it. I emailed Miss Loan who ran Hotel Thuan Duc and she went and used the money to help a nephew get dental work he needed and I thought that was that. Then on the last day of my trip last year I saw Ba Hai in the park. She ran over and said “THANK YOU”, she stuck her face out and smiled to show me all her beautiful teeth. She even took out her plate to show me her two front teeth close up. I had no idea who had paid for the work since if someone else did I am sure she would have known who it was. I should have gone to the clinic that moment because when I got home I could not find the girl from the office’s email. I have her photo after her baby was born so today I went to the clinic to see who I owed $400 to. The old name is off the building and the office is closed. I will have to go after we get back from Phu Quoc and hope someone still works there who knows the girl so I can ask her what happened that Ba Hai got her work done.
For a while I wandered around the area of Hotel Thuan Duc to see who was still there. I came back home and got ready for dinner.
We have been invited to dinner by Minh Ha’s brother-in-law Khuong. We meet in a very nice restaurant named Hum Vegetarian. We ordered individually but the meal came, as is traditional, served family style with each individual choice coming in two portions so they were spread around the table. The restaurant has 2 locations in Saigon. We were at the one on Thi Sach Street down by the river and across from what was the old night market where fishing boats brought in their catch and sold to the markets and restaurants.
The food was delicious and healthful and so beautiful. Having spent time with Khuong and his friend the night before I could not help but think of the time he spent in the Tiger Cage eating only rice and food that had spoiled so the captors could not use it. Now his children can go to college and have good jobs and his little granddaughter can take ballet lessons and live in peace and security. Still Khuong seems very peaceful and smiles when he talks about his sons and his granddaughters.
I drove to and from dinner and Minh Ha had to admit that I was a safe driver. This made May smile. I had told May that I drove to the store and back earlier and her Mother and I still had all our fingers and toes and none of our arms or legs were broken.
Tomorrow is the pool.
Circle Sportif - Banh Mi Tuoi
Swimming pool from 1930's but there are those who want it torn Down.
We had not been to the pool yet and it has been hot and humid. There is a pool that is close but has short hours so we go to the pool at the Cercle Sportif at the 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St. This is the Culture House of Labor which also houses the Golden Dragon Theater, home of the Water Puppet Show, which is a must see in Saigon or in Hanoi. The building also houses many shows such as traditional music and dance lessons. Built by the French in the early 1900’s it had the largest library in Indochine and was very exclusive. It was known as the Cercle Sportif. Until last year you could see the name Café Cercle in a circle painted above the café at pool side but it has been covered by a new sigh. Behind the building are tennis courts and the pool which was built in the 1933, well after the building because at the time the building was built they did not have a sufficient source of clean water to fill the pool. We had a wonderful time. There is a unique water return to the pool. The water returns by a PVC pipe 10 feet above the water and gives a wonderful massage feeling as the water drops.
Today we did not eat at the pool side Café Cercle. We went a few blocks to Banh Mi Tuoi, the place Minh Ha had purchased the hot rolls last year. There is a restaurant and they sell many baked goods including the wonderful rolls which are baked continuously through the day. Last year I bought butter at the Lotte Mart and we had fresh warm rolls and butter. Now Minh Ha keeps butter and I do not feel guilty at having introduced the element to their diet since Minh Ha and May are slim and do not have to worry about a few extra pounds or Cholesterol, not that they use the butter all that much.
In the evening we have a great meal of Summer Rolls with beef stuffed Betel leaves which I find have nothing to do with the infamous Betel Nuts. Betel Nuts are the seeds of the Areca Palm and give a burst of adrenaline when chewed. Something done throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands. It is now found to cause Cancer in the mouth.
After dinner we sit in Minh Ha’s room with the air conditioner and chat. Minh Ha and May are very interesting and we have a good time talking.
Arriving on Con Dao Island
Con Dao Harbor
Across the street from Hotel Phi Yen
Today we are off to Con Dao Island for 2 full days of exploring the remains of the infamous Poulor Condore Prison. Our flight is at 12.30 so there is no rush. I push all my belongings into a suitcase zip it up and I am ready. Minh Ha is packing everything including food. I told her there are restaurants there but she thinks they will be too expensive. I do not argue except to mention that the bread will get squashed and make a crushing motion with my fingers. Minh Ha watches at the motion and crushes the bread and pushes it into the suitcase. Also I mentioned it the Orange Juice or Soya Milk leaks it will be a mess. Minh Ha, not being one to be deterred, places each carton of Orange Juice and each 4 pack of Soya Milk into a Zip Loc bag and puts them in the suitcase. She also pulls the adapter, which allows you to plug a three prong plug into a two prong outlet, out of the wall and packs it. Her suitcase is overflowing into mine and I did say no to the gallon coffee pot which she says we will need to boil water before drinking.
We have a leisurely breakfast and May calls the Uber cab to take us to the airport.
The driver asks which terminal. I do not know and since it is nowhere on the ticket the driver keeps rolling until we are at the end of the building and he stops. We go in and as luck would have it our gate is there in front of us.
Minh Ha remembers the year we took the city bus to Nha Be then the ferry and the local bus all the way to Can Gio and as we went to check in the lady said “your passport” and as Minh Ha and I looked at one another I said it is in my hotel in Saigon. Minh Ha asked if we would have to return to Saigon, it is a 3 hour trip. I said “No, your room is ready and you have your ID Card so you stay, get your room and go to the pool and I will return and get my passport”. I love traveling alone on local transportation with no one who speaks English. This was a little different since an airline trip is involved so in the terminal Minh Ha ended every sentence with “Passport?” at which point I was required to show my Passport.
Our trip was uneventful. Our departure time was changed 50 minutes earlier and since I like to always be early, especially at airports, this only made our wait shorter. We flew Vietnam Airlines in an ATR 72 which is a 72 passenger Turbo Prop airplane used by Vietnam Airlines for short hop routes. The plane was roomier than the 777s or Airbuses.
We descended till we were close to the water and began seeing the outer islands and finally Con Dao Island. We continue descending till it looks like we will be landing on a beach. There is water down there then beach, a bulkhead, a runway and our wheels are on the ground. As we turn towards the terminal we look down the runway which ends where the other beach must be because all we can see it water. Reminds me of the old airport on Grenada, in the early 70’s.
Minh Ha asks a man behind a desk how we get to the Hotel and he calls the hotel and takes Minh Ha and I out to a Mercedes van, which is pretty much the van used in Vietnam. The model of most is the sprinter which is what they are called here.
The ride is so beautiful, through lush vegetation and finally along the ocean. It is so beautiful in bright shades of blue and green telling us every deep and shallow place. Finally into town and already we are seeing remnants of the old days.
Arriving at our hotel it is sitting across the street from a dock and beach. Minh Ha is tired and wants a nap so we check in and I see her to her room, put my suitcase in my room and go for a walk. First across the street to the dock. The water is crystal clear. The bottom is sand with an occasional mooring stone. Boats floating like a travel video seemingly suspended on this invisible water.
I arrived in Vietnam 5 days ago with $45 Canadian and converted it to Vietnamese and since I had not spent much I did not stop at an ATM in Saigon. I need money for the tour guide tomorrow so I am off to find the ATM, the ocean is on one side of the town and mountains on the other so we always know the directions however we do not know where the ATMs are except for the finger pointing of friendly people along the way. The first is out of money and since it is Sunday there is no recourse in the closed bank. I find the store that sells glue which I need but no other ATM. At the north end of town I meet a girl, on a Motor Bike, who asks what I am looking for and I tell her an ATM. She says “Wait” and runs into the house. I assume she is going to ask an adult but to my surprise comes back out with an extra helmet and pats the back seat of her motor bike and we are off to the ATM. We stop at the one I already found and I say it is empty so we go to another, or rather, the other and it is also empty, so hopefully tomorrow we will find money.
The girl asks me where my hotel is and I tell her over there by the ocean, I try to pronounce the name but she does not know it. We ride as I point and we end up in front of the hotel. She says “I work here”. First we work at pronouncing the accent marks but I do not see the difference in our pronunciations. Inside she tells everyone how she rescued me when I was lost. Even though it is the ATMs that were lost she is so happy about rescuing me that I cannot contradict her. I thank her for rescuing me. So many people are talking about the rescue that Minh Ha, who is now awake, comes out and joins the discussion and frowns at me for getting lost. Actually I seldom get lost because even though I may take a wrong turn I usually end up being someplace I liked being anyway. I have met interesting people wandering. I have only been lost in life. Familiar people can make me feel lost but not places and not strangers.
I did not feel tired but Minh Ha still wanted to rest so she returned to her room and I to mine. The next thing I was aware of was Minh Ha waking me and asking me if I was hungry. I was not but said I was because I have come to realize that no matter how I work at it she will not say “I am hungry”. I assume we will go to the restaurant in the hotel but she says it is too expensive so she wants to go around the corner to a place on a side street. I told her to order what she wanted. She ordered and a bowl of greens appeared and a gas burner, a plate of rice noodles, and a steaming pot of fish, bamboo, banana flowers, okra, and things I could not identify, I could taste lemon grass and ginger but there was so much more. It was so good but it was enough for 2 more people to join us and still have left overs. Minh Ha has never selected a restaurant or food that was not delicious or as we say here Ngon.
I think Minh Ha fell asleep and I also did but woke to write this day. We do not have WIFI in the room but I hope we do in the lobby and I can get this up.
Poulo Ccondore Prison
Entrance to The Old French Prison
Vo Thi Sao was executed at 19. Even now people come to pay their respects to her.
We were up early and had time for a leisurely breakfast and called the cab for the ride to the Museum where we were to meet the guide who Mr. Bui had told us about. He was at the entrance of the French Prison. Minh Ha shows the guide the list written and signed by Mr Bui. The Guide speaks to others and leaves taking us to the entrance to Poulo Condore Prison.
The French built the prison in 1861. The older section is to our north and was is in bad condition and is not accessible at this time. We enter Poulo Condore and are in a great courtyard. On either side are long buildings that are high and deep. Each is divided into 5 rooms and each room has an entrance. Next to each entrance door is a small door where a guard can lock down the prisoners inside. As we enter we see a large room 2 stories high and with a concrete platform running around the entire room. It is raised about 16 inches and is about 5 feet from the wall out. Around the inside of this raised platform are shackles that are fastened to a long bar which is connected to the bar through the little door by the entrance. The French thought this room should hold 100 men. It would be a little cramped but the Americans raised the number to 200. The heat is high outside and I imagine it would be oppressive with the prison full.
As we entered there is a large tree which was growing when the prison was built and has out lived the prison and witnessed
all that has happened.
At the end of the long buildings and in the center of the courtyard is a small building with a steeple and a Cross. It was a Church, which was built for the guards and prisoners who had chosen Christianity. Just a little hypocritical.
At the end of the long building to the South is the club for the guards and after that the Barber Shop.
In the rear of the walled in compound are the kitchen which prepared mostly rice. The prisoners diet was supplemented by fish, meat and vegetables which had spoiled and were unfit for the guards to eat. Nearby is a dining hall and a latrine which was a wall 30 inches high around a concrete troth. Next to the troth and still inside the wall is the well.
In the back and to the north, behind the older section are the infamous Tiger Cages. The building has 74 individual cells with a concrete bed and shackles for the legs. Originally the cell was to be a one man cell however by the end there were 7 per cell. Up a flight of stairs was a large open room with bars above each cell. A guard would walk the center and observe the prisoners and hit them with a long pole or through rocks down at them. The rocks were kept in a bucket by the cells.
Another building had cell doors but no roof. All day the sun beat down and always the rain would fall during in bad weather.
During the time of the French there was only one female prisoner however with the takeover by the Americans in 1954 that changed and many women were held here. A diorama in one cell tells us of a woman who went on a hunger strike and later ripped her stomach open with her hands and threw her intestines at a guard before dying.
The Architecture and grounds are so beautiful and yet so much suffering and sadness has happened here. Often the things in life that make us happy are also the things that make us sad.
We leave the French section and drive a short distance. Turning down an unmarked gravel road we come to the entrance of the American section. In 1954 the French went home and the prison fell to the Americans. There is some difference of opinion here. Many say the prison fell to the government of The Republic of South Vietnam. Anyone connected with the prison say the control went to the Americans which is probably true since the Americans were backing the French and were now in power in the South.
The Americans built buildings with small cells and over-crowded them. The beatings, torture and abuses continued. The abuses were physical, verbal and psychological. Every effort was made to let the prisoners know there was no hope and their families were ashamed of them.
Our third stop was the museum. It is a large building with many displays, artifacts, photographs and displays of honors to the prisoners who survived.
We returned and our guide said goodbye and was gone. I asked Minh Ha if we owed him anything and she said “no”. I had thought it was because of the hand written of Mr Bui, a Hero of the Revolution, but it turns out that it was because Minh Ha’s Brother-in-Law had been imprisoned there for 7 years.
We went back, had lunch and rested for a while then Minh Ha called our cab and he took us to "the best beach on the island". It was a very nice beach however the one in front of our hotel even nicer and just a short walk. On the beach I heard a roar and a plane went off an abutment on the beach. Here we had driven to the airport, a considerable distance. Still the beach was nice although Minh Ha, being Vietnamese would not go more than 20 feet from shore. After the beach we returned to our Hotel, Had dinner and took a walk along the beach. Returning we went to our rooms and slept like babies.
Cemeteries - Vo Thi Sau
Tomb of Vo Thi Sau
Vo Thi Sau was executed at 19. Even now people come to pay their respects to her.
5:00 AM and I am awakened by the sound of the rain. Minh Ha is probably asleep so I take my laptop to the veranda and look out over the harbor. The rain is so beautiful and the smell of it and something cooking in the restaurant at the end of the Hotel Phi Yen is a wonderful thing to wake to. The sky is gray and the rain is enough to obscure the island across the bay and to the north. There is lightning and thunder occasionally but the time between Lightning and thunder is so long that it must be far off. As I write the clouds are moving to the north and perhaps we will have a nice day. Our plan is to see the three cemeteries and the crematorium, if it still exists.
Our driver arrives on a motorbike and tells me that the cab is busy and he can take us at 2:00.
He was so nice yesterday. After the morning we asked what we owed. The meter said 63,000 VND and he said it was 150,000. Minh Ha asked why and I had noticed he had been turning the meter off when we were out of the car so when he turned the meter off it reset and we did not have to pay while we were in the sites. 150,000 is about $7.50 USD which is a good price for half a day of driving.
Since we had the morning off we went swimming. There is a beach across the street and down a few hundred feet and I suggest we go there instead of the other end of the island. We walk down and as we enter the beach area we hear a lot of hellos. It is Van, the girl who rescued me yesterday, she works here in another hotel owned by the same people who own our hotel. We are happy to see her and she is happy to see us. Minh Ha and she talk a while and then Minh Ha and I go to the water’s edge ready for some swimming but first the obligatory photos. We take many including the retakes of the ones suspected of not turning out well. Minh Ha is a selfie aficionado. Not at all vain but just like a little kid.
The beach is long and clean. On the road side are vines with purple flowers. On the ocean side is the most beautiful crystal clear water. There are almost no waves and the beach goes out so slowly. In the pool Minh Ha swims like a fish but in the open water she does not. I ask her why and she says she is afraid of getting into deep water. I said “you swim in the pool in deeper water than it is here”. I said “if you swim into deep water all you have to do is turn towards the beach and swim back into shallow water”. Finally, I tell her that if she aims at a building on the beach she will always be in shallow water”. At last she agrees that if I walk on the sea side of her she will see that I am not in deep water and she will feel safe. I agree and she is off. She swims like a fish, preferring the breast stroke. I knew she wanted to do this and she is having so much fun swimming in open water. We stop for a while and she is floating on her back. I have been trying to get her to do that for years since everyone should know how to do that because no matter how well you swim if you find yourself far from shore you can only swim for so long then you have to rest and float. I think she is feeling more confident in the open water, it is a beautiful thing to see.
I am swimming and she is on shore when she comes running into the water to show me a crab about 5 inches across with long legs and little claws. She was a Science teacher until she retired a few years ago. On the beach we sit and make sand castles. I taught her that a few years ago in DaNang. We use the technique of dribbling watery sand until we have castles that look remarkably like Angkor Wat.
After the beach we Have lunch around the corner. She wants to rest so I suggest she call the taxi and tell him to come at 3:00 instead of 2:00 and she does and rests.
The Taxi arrives and the guide also and we are off. All that is left are the 3 cemeteries. At the first we arrive at a temple to the Heroes of the Revolution and the tomb of Vo Thi Sau. Sau joined the fight at 14 and was a brave fighter until she was captured at 17 and spent 2 years in Poulo Condore before being executed. She is so revered on Con Dao that she is worshiped as a Buddhist Saint. Behind the temple and out buildings is a cemetery for those who died at the hands of the French. It is a large cemetery that has many trees and is often random in it’s layout. Many of the graves have markers but no headstone and no name is known. Others have a name and some have the traditional tomb. Vo Thi Sau had a large tomb and behind there is a black marble monolith with a white Cameo of Sau in the center. Her grave is surrounded by worshipers burning incense, arraigning food that is left for her and praying. I am handed incense and all that is necessary is to hold it up, then to your forehead, say a silent prayer, then dip the incense forward 3 times and place the incense in the bowl of sand. Prayers are silent and prayers of all denominations and religions are always appreciated.
Most cities in Vietnam have a Vo Thi Sau Street.
Adjacent is a large cemetery with several very Socialist sculptures. One is a large block and the other is a woman who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The third is a place where a small group of prisoners convinced their Vietnamese guards to join them end rebel. This rebellion was put down quickly and within 2 weeks 100 prisoners were killed. Twenty were taken alive and were forced to dig a mass grave for their comrades then the 20 were buried alive.
The violence that was perpetrated here was from the French, Americans and South Vietnamese. In 1970 a congressional committee came to investigate the conditions. They left the inspection that had been laid out for them and followed a map, made by a former inmate, and found deplorable conditions. Shortly after, we are told, The US demolished part of the prison. Too Much of it remains to believe that and the only damage seems to be decay of the oldest French part of Poulo Condor.
I have decided we need to come back here next year. Perhaps Van will be our guide. Then we can just go where we wish and find what we are looking for. So much history here.
We have dinner around the corner again since Minh Ha likes the place and the price is a little better than the hotel restaurant. Tonight is another pot of broth, Vegetables, and tonight, Frog. The Frog is good but the skin and flippers left on give it a gelatinous texture that is not my favorite. Perhaps it is why I never cared for Junket Rennet Custard when I was little. I liked the taste but the texture is something else.
This is our last full day here and I wish I had planned more. The hotel is across the street from the most beautiful beach on the island. The history is so intense and I think it would be nice rent motorbikes and ride around.
Our Hotel is the Phi Yen which is very clean and everything works. It is a very nice hotel. There is another one on that long beautiful beach across the street called "Con Dao Camping". It is bungalows shaped like tents. Just past that one is a larger one that looks nice but I do not know the name.
All the history worth seeing is on the small town or just a stone throw from it. I will get up a list of the sites as written by Mr Bui.
Leave Con Dao - Arrive Phu Quoc
Our Hotel on Phu Quoc
This is the day we leave and much regret that I had not planned a few days more. It is a small island and a smaller town on the island and almost all the history is in close proximity.
When you come to Vietnam please allow a few days for Can Dao. Our Hotel was Phi Yen and it was 4 stars according my rating system. Clean, nothing broken and patched, close to many things, in this case close to everything including the most beautiful beach on the island and clean. Next time we will try the Can Dao Camping which is owned by the same people as Phi Yen and is on the beach that I mentioned. The camping aspect is that the units are little cottages which are shaped like tents.
I wake and pack by pushing everything that is mine in the room into my suitcase and go to see how Minh Ha is doing. Minh Ha has everything out and is placing one thing in this bag and one in this case then this case in that suitcase and something else in another bag. It is something to watch but if you think I am making fun I am not. Every time we need something she has it including a spoon, knife, first aid and nothing is missed.
The taxi has arrived and Minh Ha has already negotiated the 300,000 VND trip down to 100,000 VND ($5.00 USD). We are off and I am already deciding where we will go next trip and what I want to ask. All of a sudden Minh Ha, who has gone through our rooms thoroughly, looks into space and yells something. The driver slows and I look around to see what the danger is. She has remembered that we did not pick up my passport and her ID Card. She was a little panicked. As I said I always plan to be early in case something happens, as it did. We turn around and head back to the hotel as I reassure her that there is plenty of time. As we pull up to the hotel the lady is coming out with our papers. She is apologizing and we thank her. Turning around again we are on our way back to the airport. I tell Minh Ha that it was good that she thought of that when she did and she smiles and relaxes a little.
She is a little worried about a rash on her back which is like the one she got in Mui Ne one year after eating crabs, which she likes, except they give her Hives. I wonder if it was the Frog. She also wants to take a nap and I tell her that in 2 more flights she can sleep. She laughs. The flights are only an hour a piece.
At the airport we wait and soon our plane is here and we are on our way to Saigon to connect to Phu Quoc. This time we are on an Airbus 321, probably since Phu Quoc is a very popular vacation destination. Many of the seats are unfilled, but then the season is nearly over.
A pleasant surprise at the airport is that there is a shuttle bus to anyplace in town for 50,000 ($2.50). Arriving at our hotel it is a pretty as the Hotels.com photos showed
The hotel is a little of a surprise. It is very pretty and just like the photo on Hotels.com however the small road through the cottages is almost an alley in the middle of resorts. The back of my bungalow is the back of the resort and the back of Minh Ha’s, directly across, is behind the next building. The rooms are very nice and clean. The interior walls are brick and the floor is a red tile, all very natural. A lot of dark wood furniture. Through a back door I see sunlight but I wonder where the bathroom is. The man opens the back to a very modern bathroom with a spacious shower and a roof that is a sheet of corrugated fiberglass overhead and the ends are open and as you shower you can enjoy the natural sunlight. The room is very nice but I think next trip, if there is one we will stay farther from town especially since we came here only for the beach and natural beauty of the island which we can see, on Google Earth is still here.
In the room is a book of John’s tours which are many and varied. Fishing and night fishing for squid, the fish sauce factory, pepper farm and many others. I see one which we will take to the fish sauce factory, pepper farm, winery and swimming at a remote beach. A second I like is snorkeling and swimming which I imagine will be in a place worth Snorkeling to see something exciting.
John is doing well for himself. He has several large boats, busses and vans and probably he can live here which, away from town, is paradise.
This evening we have dinner at a small restaurant and go down to the Night Market where we saw so many things. I forgot to take my camera so we will return tomorrow evening. Now it is late and we are heading back to our Bungalows and a good night of sleep.
Swimming and the Night Market
Moray Eel in the Night Market
How often does your local Acme Market have Moray Eel this fresh on a week day.
I have been her a week and I realize that my vacation is almost 1 tenth over. Still I am calm.
Today we decided to take one of John’s tours. I know there is a booking office at 143 Tran Hung Dao and since we are at 81 THD I do not think it can be far. At the office I ask Minh Ha to ask how far. Here is my first mistake of the day. In any place not far is a subjective term. In Vietnam it is more ambiguous. We begin our walk to the office which is “not far”. In about a mile we are up to 100, this is after starting at 81. Then 121, 122, 124 and 123, something is not right so Minh Ha asks and we are told that 143 is in the direction we are going and “not far”, now half a mile passes and the buildings have no number. Once again we are told “not far”. After another half mile Minh Ha sees a sign for John’s Tours.
The lady is friendly but as we go to pay there is a small corner torn off our bill and she says it is no good. I find another and this is just another quirk since the lower bills are sometimes hard to read because they are in such poor condition.
Now on our way back Minh Ha is hungry so we stop to eat. I am hot and not hungry so I chose to have ice water. Minh Ha is a little dejected because, like Tea, eating together is a social thing. I remind her that I am trying to loose weight. I always loose about a pound a day here as long as I stay away from Coke Cola. She orders and I sample things she has ordered which appeases her sense of togetherness. Walking back I realize just how hot it is as my fingers are sweating. Minh Ha, because of her packing style, even for a short walk, hands me a towel and I use it like a sheik’s head gear, or like a French Foreign Ligonier’s hat. Everyone finds this very amusing and I attract much comment. I have never been on the cutting edge of fashion before. Along the way I stop at an electrical store to buy a plug that reduces 220v to 120v. Of course the electrical store sells everything except these.
We stop at CO OP which is a more western like market to get milk and 3 bags of cookies for Minh Ha, how does she stay thin.
I am hoping to get to the beach today however Minh Ha is taking another nap so we will see.
After her nap we go to the beach and the surf is still a little high. The beach here, just South of the center of Duong Dong, the main town on Phu Quoc Has good and bad. The beach is public for 50 feet from ocean. It is posted “No Swimming” except a small area that is marked off in Buoys. The beach drops off fast to 18 inches then goes out steadily deepening. If you go all the way to the rope it is again shallow. Beyond the rope are very large boulders and they keep a sand bar. They are also very pretty with the waves splashing up and over them. There is a lot of trash in the water. There are also some small boulders in the area for swimming. Happily I bumped up against them or stepped on them and did not break any toes while accidently kicking them. The water here is not as clear as it was on Con Dao.
Minh Ha comes in and we go out a way but she is hanging on. I pull her to the ropes and she sees how shallow. Just as on Con Dao I point out that if she picks a point on land she will not go out too far. Also that she will hit the ropes and know to stop. Finally she is swimming in open water that is a little rough. She swims down and back about 200 or 300 feet. On one time back she says she likes swimming in the ocean. This is so good and I watch her go back and forth many times.
After cleaning up we are off to the Night Market. It is fascinating. Stands of fish tanks with all manner of crab, fish, eel, cuttlefish, shrimp and prawn, some prawn so big they look like lobster and there are also lobster. There are pans full of every shellfish. Next to each stand is a grill and someone who will cook whatever you buy.
There are people making Ice cream on a refrigerated surface. They pour your choice of flavor then cream and work it with two spatulas until it has frozen to creamy ice cream. It is delicious and the show draws a crowd. Ice cream and a show.
Minh Ha has gone to her room and turned in and I will also since tomorrow starts early for the tour.
Touring Phu Quoc Island
Nuoc Mam Factory
Just in this room we saw Vat number 42 and there may be more in the room beyond.
We have breakfast in my room since it is served in the room and we enjoy breakfast together. In Vietnam meals and tea are social things and should not be declined. I have friends who feel snubbed if I just am not hungry and do not want to eat. In thoes cases I usually order something small.
First a note. I put all my photos on www.henrybechtold.phanfare.com for security so if my camera and computer are lost or damaged I have all my photos safe. You will see they are not well identified because I have not had time. You will also see many Photos of Minh Ha. It is because she loves having her photo taken. She does not have one ounce of ego to vanity in her but she loves having her photo taken. Now that I am digital I can just click, click, click. A professional photographer told me that the secret to taking perfect photos was to take so many that a few will be really good and every once in a while one will be perfect.
Today we ask for breakfast at 8:00 since the car from John’s Tours will pick us up for our North Island tour. We had purchased a group tour and would have been happy to be part of the group but the van showed up with a driver, Guide and a guide in training. We were told that since we were the only ones that we could go and stop where ever we wanted. Nice.
Our first stop was the Pearl Factory. As we entered a lady was telling about the process. She showed the shell of a 3, 5 and 7 year old pearl. She had a bowl of 3 year old oysters and opened one. She severed the muscle, revealed the oyster and massaged the oyster till a small round sphere appeared within. She then made a small cut and the pearl was out. It was passed around and everyone could feel it. Inside was a store full of counters and display cases full of pearls. Necklaces, Bracelets, Pendants and earrings. We looked at necklace and bracelet sets that were from $150 USD to $600 USD. The whiter the more they were. In cases farther were the bigger pearls and ones that are black. The larger black necklace was $9000 USD.
The Wine Factory was next and there were samples. One was as sweet as candy and even I did not care for that. Another was just perfect, which is sweet. A third was 29% Alcohol. A bit of a surprise. A fourth was something that those who know wine might like.
The fourth stop is something I have wanted to see for years. A Fish Sauce Factory. In Mui Ne I would ride past a factory near our hotel but was always turned away and could not get in. Now we are in the factory and a building with vats that are eight feet tall and 6 feet across. I am not sure how many vats there are but we see number 42. The air is filled with the fragrance of fish sauce. The vats are constructed like big wooden buckets and banded by vine that is wound together to make it stronger. In the vat are fish and water that ferment for 1 year. Then the sauce is syphoned off and this is the best sauce. Water is then added to the remains in the vat and it ferments for 3 more months. This will make a sauce of lesser quality. I want to buy a bottle but I am told it is not allowed on the plane however for $1 USD I will risk it. Minh Ha says that she also wants some and places an order to have it shipped to Saigon and it will be delivered to her door.
Next we drive to the North end of the island to
A place that is called a national Park but is called, by our guide, the jungle. We leave the van and walk through this jungle. There are many trees that are over 3 feet in diameter and the brush create images of the war. I was not in a unit in the field but remember stories from those who were. We would go to places like Tay Ninh, An Loc and Loc Ninh and talk to men there. They would speak of a path like this but you did not walk on the path you walked over in the brush because the booby traps were on the path. I look into the jungle and it is easy to see how many enemy could be 30 feet away and you would not see them. Our guide points to the ground and ants are attacking a worn that is about 10 inches long. The jungle is very quiet and you feel far from civilization even though we have just passed miles of a mega development.
The development is Vinpearl Phu Quoc. It is the vision of Pham Nhat Vuong CEO of Vingroup. He is Vietnam’s only billionaire and a self-made man. His assets are said to be 1.1 Billion. The scale of this project are amazing. There is already the Safari and under way are the golf course, casino, a hotel on the grand scale and a city with office buildings, shopping malls single homes and a development of bungalows homes built around lagoons. I hope the jungle survives. Mile after mile bulldozers and excavators are scooping up swamp and making it flat, solid ground. The hospital in this city is already build. We are told condominiums in the lagoon city are $300,000 USD. The completion date is set forn 2018.
We arrive next at a beach with a flat ocean that is as clear as a swimming pool. We have our lunch and swim for a while. It is so beautiful and the only detraction is that near the shore there is a lot of trash in the water.
Back in the van and our next stop is the Bee Farm. There are hives everywhere. We go into a pavilion and hear about the bees and their project here. Many honey and wax products are sold here. The bees are smaller than our honey bees. One comes and sits on my finger as we talk.
Coming back into the city we turn on to a road that is about 100 feet wide. I mention that this is more like a runway than a road. Our guide laughs as we pass over the large white rectangles that you see at the end of the runway and finally we pass over the numbers 21. We are on the runway of the old Phu Quoc Airport, just like a plane we move onto the exit and taxiway, to the terminal, around it and we are out on city streets.
The tour was good because we saw many things. I would have liked to see more of the day to day workings of each stop but we have seen much. It also showed us how big this island is. It will be of use as tomorrow we have a motorbike reserved and we will have a look at things.
Back at the hotel Minh Ha wants to take a nap and I decide to write. I lay down for just a moment and wake to hear Minh Ha who has come to tell me it is dinner time. We go to the street and decide to go left tonight. Minh Ha picks out a nice restaurant and I have grilled shrimp while she has grilled fish and then a pot of clams in a delicious sauce.
We walk around for a short time and return to the hotel. In front of the hotel is a restaurant which is not yet open. Going out a western man said hello, he is still there so I stop and talk to him. He is Alexander and he is from the Ukraine. He has been here 4 years and wants to open the restaurant. He is a chef and wants to serve Vietnamese and International Cuisine. I tell him that 15 years ago in Saigon it was hard for non-Vietnamese business to get started. The skeleton of hotels were all over town as the corruption became intolerable the investors walked away. I wonder if things are better. He said there is a lot of nonsense. Someone will come in and ask why there is a plant there or why there is not one over there. Today he is putting in plants along a wall, we chat a while and I wish him well and I am off.
Minh Ha wants to turn in so she must be really tired since she usually comes in my room to see her photographs of the day. I go to my room and type a little but soon I am also sleepy and I go to bed for the night.
Sunset Phu Quoc
Sunset Phu Quoc
The Ocean on the west side is a little rough and there are many boulders in the water in the area of Duong Dong, The major City and a mile south. The water here is also less clean due to the town streets being washed down into the ocean.
Minh Ha is up before me and comes to remind me that we are having breakfast early so we can get the motorbike and see some more of the island.
Breakfast arrives and she is back over to share it and talk about the day. She has pancakes today which are more like crêpes. They are like the “big Pancakes” Granny used to make and we would smear them with jelly, roll them up and put sugar on top. In looking back I can see this is not a well-balanced breakfast but then we were young. I have my omelet and roll.
We go to the entrance of the hotel and the motorbike arrives. The young man has a paper to fill out with much wording. Just like home. Unlike home Minh Ha reads every word and walks around the motorbike looking here and there and checking that the license plate matches the form. Here everything goes wrong. She has decided at the last moment that we want only a half day. They talk money and a half day costs almost the same as a full day. This is not acceptable and after some discussion she tears up the agreement and the boy rides off on the motorbike. The full day price is only $7 USD so I do not know what the problem is. However having lived a life where you watch every penny, or Dong, in this case, I never argue with her.
There is one area where I will stand my ground. We went to the night market several times but could not eat because it is too expensive. While Minh Ha napped yesterday I went to the CO OP and bought butter and we are going back to the night market tonight for those 8 inch Prawns. Here seafood is eaten largely with a combination of salt and hot peppers but I have my butter in hand and even though people will stare and laugh I am having the Prawn and melted butter.
With no motorbike we go to the beach across the street. The ocean is beautiful and we have fun swilling. The only detraction is the water being filled with plastic bags. They are no real problem. They do not sting and we get used to them but they are esthetically unpleasant. I notice the bags come south along the coast but here they turn Southwest and go out to sea even though the coast goes south for miles. I find this unusual but Minh Ha sees nothing interesting so I told her that I think the bags are traveling by following one another and they are going to plastic bag heaven. I pick one up and tell her it is torn and no good but when it gets to plastic bag heaven it will be like new and be happy and it will find peace. She looks at me with a sense of awe that I should know this and also a sense of “how could you believe something like that”. I always admit to her when I have been teasing her
After a nap we go to dinner at a street vendor up the street and have an ear of corn. I mention that she said yesterday that the man who owns the hotel said he would send us dinner. She says we will tell him we forgot. I said we cannot do that, his feelings will be hurt. We cut dinner short and return to the hotel. We are no sooner in my room that the lady from the hotel comes in with a tray and a wonderful meal. Rice, bean sprouts and beef in a sauce, broth with greens and pork and sauce. Everything here is in sauce or has a sauce with it.
The sauce is almost all a combination of soy and fish sauce with onions or hot peppers yet people will stare and correct you if you use the wrong sauce with something. I bought a bottle of sauce once which is still in Minh Ha’s kitchen because it is for octopus and apparently nothing else. Oh well, a cultural difference.
Phu Quoc Prison - Motorbike Day
Phu Quoc Prison
Phu Quoc Prison
The Prison on Phu Quoc is largely gone but a reconstruction is here and a Museum.
We have rented a motorbike today for the entire day. Minh Ha has planned the day. We are going to ride down to the southern tip and see some things but she is not clear what we will see except there is a beach a Pagoda and a Waterfalls.
We have pancakes again for breakfast and Minh Ha packs 3 days provisions but I must admit we do use everything she packs, just that there are some things we could do without and not have to carry. Still it is like they taught us in Cub Scouts, Be Prepared. Minh Ha came in, ready for the day. Though Thunderstorms have been predicted for the week we are here it has only rained hard at night and by breakfast it is tapering off and gone. During the day it has drizzled occasionally but the blue sky tells us that it will pass quickly. It is already in the 80’s but Minh Ha came in wearing a sweatshirt with the hood up. I asked if she was cold but she did not see the sarcasm. In fact there is no word for sarcasm in Vietnamese. I once wrote a story which ended with “sometimes the little voice in my head can be very sarcastic”. After reading it a friend pointed to the word and asked what it meant. I explained and she wrote something. I asked her to translate it and she said it means, Shadow Meaning, which is much gentler than sarcasm.
We drive south along the West side of the island. The other day I noticed that by the Pearl Factory the beach was real nice. I think from around the Eden Hotel down it is a wider beach and clearer water with less waves. The road south is a new 6 lane highway with a wide medial. It is under construction and it is being built to service quite a lot of construction along the beach. We see many hotels under construction and it is nice that they are together here instead of scattered all around the all around the coastline. Some are springing up in other areas but the most are here and in the main city where they are one on top of another. The road south has stretches of asphalt then stone then asphalt then dirt, stone, asphalt, and on and on ad infinitum. At the end it is mud and Minh Ha questions my skills and decides I should ride through the mud while she walks around. Anything for a lady, at least I did not have to throw my coat down in the mud for her to walk on.
On the main road we travel a short distance and come to what looks like a prison. I point it out and Minh Ha says “Yes”. I ask if she wants to go in and she says “Yes”. Another prison built by the French and taken over by the USA and their “Puppet soldiers", which is how the South Vietnamese are referred to here in anything government. There is a museum and many photos. The story of a mass grave for 513 Vietnamese Prisoners. The movie shows the opening of the grave and the placing of remains in small caskets. The prison was quite large but only a portion has been recreated. There are dioramas of various tortures. Only QC (South Vietnamese) are shown torturing, no Americans but in the museum the USA is mentioned as running the camp. In the rear of the camp is a tunnel which is large enough for two people to walk side by side. The stairs go down then run alongside the original escape tunnel which was successful in getting many soldiers out to rejoin the fight all sounding very patriotic.
From there we went to Sao Beach which is another of those perfect beaches. We are on the South East coast and in a large cove. Many tour boats are anchored not too far off shore. We can swill to them if we wish. Tourists are shuttled to and from them by smaller boats that come up to the beach in a roped off area of the beach which is the only place power boats and jet skis go. The beach has a restaurant and tables for picnickers. We rent a beach chair which is a wood platform whose back comes up a little. It is a good place to leave our things and hang clothes and it is only $3 USD for the day. The beach from the restaurant to the water is about 50 feet and is clean. The water is also clean, we did not see any trash in the water all day. The water dropped quickly to 2 feet then went out gradually until at 400 feet it was chest deep. Then it became shallow on a sand bar and again dropped off more quickly after that. At this point we could have swam another 300 feet and touched a boat. However at this point power boats and jet skis were allowed and we would hope they were watching where they were going. The only concern here is that if you are out past the sandbar and just floating I noticed the current was pushing me rather quickly and I was soon in deeper water and where the power boats and jet skis were and when you float you are harder to see. The water is crystal clear and we have so much fun. The shower is $1 USD and is cold water but in this heat it was very nice. It was free to park the motorbike and her on Phu Quoc we could park and not worry about the bike being stolen. The day at this beautiful beach was $5 USD.
Back on the road we proceeded North and towards home. We were looking for Ho Quoc Pagoda which we find just a short distance up the road. We turn East and follow a long winding road made of concrete that ends at the Pagoda. It is worth the visit. It sits on a hillside with a small mountain behind it and the ocean in front. Entering we are looking at a very wide set of staircases, each with 63 steps and in the center is a large mural with golden dragons and inscriptions. The temple and out buildings are beautiful with alters, beams and rafters covered with gold leaf. There are many sculptures. There is a restaurant that overlooks the ocean. It is a very peaceful place and worth the visit.
Just beyond the Pagoda, at the end of the road, about 1000 feet farther is a house. If I win the lottery I will buy that house for vacation. I hope you will stay when you are on Phu Quoc.
It is getting late and Minh Ha wants to get to the hotel to rest before dinner. Heading for home we stumble on Suoi Tranh, the waterfall that Minh Ha had heard about and we go in, since we are right here. It is a long hike on a very rocky path up a long hill to see a rather small water falls. Along the way are some interesting statues of a heard of Elephants at one place. They look good coming through the jungle. Another is a group of a lioness and cubs. There are Indians, hippos in a pond, a tiger and some, I think, Armadillos. Back to the motorbike and it does not start. The guard notices and comes to our aid. On this model of Suzuki the kick stand must be up for the motor to start. We thank the man and are on our way. All day it had started so I guess I must have put it up just by chance before I tried to start it. Thank goodness someone was around who knew. Always something new to learn.
It is now late and the park is empty. I am hot from the hike and the breeze as we ride is so cooling. I do not like my photo being taken but I need one on the motorbike which looks much like a toy with me on it.
We pass the winery and I was going to get a few bottles to take home. One that was as sweet and Manischewitz Concord Grape, my favorite and only one I like Maybe because it is communion wine and maybe because I really like Grape Juice. We pass through small villages and towns and arrive back at the hotel. Alexander is having dinner in his restaurant which is not open yet but he is hopeful. We meet the owner of the hotel Cosy Bungalows, where we are staying, and he asks us about last night’s dinner which he sent us. We tell him it was very good and he is happy. He and his staff are very nice. It has been a good stay.
Rainy Day - Phu Quoc
In the morning rain falls outside and we have breakfast in my room.
I woke around 8:00 just in time for breakfast. Minh Ha was up but had not come over yet. I had hoped to get a motorbike and see the Northeast portion which looks mostly undeveloped. We had seen the center and Northwest on our tour and the south on the motorbike. Unfortunately this morning it is pouring and does not look like it will stop any time soon. It did not dampen our day though. We watched TV and the rain outside. Minh Ha wanted me to record a video of the rain coming down. We did that and took photos out the window.
The walking and the climb up to the waterfall was a good workout. The hike to the water fall was not so steep or so long but it was once a path that was made from whatever stone they found along the way. There was no gravel between so it was like walking on stones across a creek. Some were slippery and where there was a boulder it became part of the path. So bad were parts of the walk that many had made a path along the path. I was ok with staying in this morning.
I moved the computer from the desk to the table. I was resting my hand on the keyboard by the USB unit for my wireless mouse when I got a good shock. Attempting to pull the power plug from the computer I got another shock. Finally I pulled the power cord from the wall where I did not get a shock but noticed that water was on the outlet. The outlet, which is under the TV, which was under the air conditioning unit had water from the air conditioner dripping on it.
By noon the weather was clear and we went for a walk on the beach. Then lunch, more TV and dinner. Lucky Minh Ha was a biology teacher so she likes nature shows.
This was our last full day and it is ok. I would like to have had the motorbike to see the undeveloped portion of the island but we had a good time and saw a lot of Phu Quoc.
Phu Quoc - Burger King
In the Phu Quoc Airport is a Burger King.
Rain again this morning. It has been a beautiful stay. The hotel, Cosy Bungalows, has been very nice and the staff has been so helpful and friendly. It has been a joy to be here. The only negative is that the ocean below the main town is filled with trash. In future I would stay north of the town or a few mils south.
I got the great ice cream at the night market. I bought butter at the CO OP but did not get to use it on the giant prawn that are sold there and grilled before your eyes. Minh Ha is quite financially conservative and is appalled at the prices which are less than you would pay at home though I will admit more than you will pay here outside the Night Market.
Everyone here comes to see us off and even hires the cab to take us to the airport. It is a nice ride and we arrive in plenty of time. Since I like to be early I suggested we can have lunch at the airport. Minh Ha agrees but will not have a cheeseburger at Burger King. I have the cheeseburger, French fries and a diet Coke. Minh Ha has a sweet roll with chocolate which is much cheaper, besides most of my friends here do not like greasy fried foods, except for French fries which they mostly like.
Arriving in Saigon we go out to the curb and look for a way home. Several desks offer 180,000 ($9 USD) to center city but want 270,000 ($13.50) to take us to the bottom of District 4. Minh Ha does not use Uber. Her daughter does and often gets us a car when needed. As it happens a car without meter has dropped someone off right in front of us. Minh Ha talks to him and we have a ride for 150,000 ($7.50). Minh Ha is happy, the driver is happy and I am happy.
Back at the house May is waiting and her friend Tung arrives shortly. May has bought a box of Moon Cakes which are made during the mid-autumn festival. We cut one in 5 so we all have good fortune and have some while Minh Ha is cooking dinner.
Last year I bought Orange Juice often so this trip Minh Ha bought a case. We have a wonderful time chatting and retire. I was going to write and get things sorted out but I decided to lay down for a few minutes and woke next morning.
Miss Oanh - Army of the Annamites
Army of the Annamites
These were the Vietnamese who fought with and for the French. They had a large encampment to the west of Cong Quynh Street at the west end of 23 September Park. Many buildings remain there.
Things to do today. I had taken all of Miss Oanh’s things to her the other day and she was so excited even though all I did was pick up the things she had paid for and transported. One of her favorites was the 4 bottles of Perfume. She could have bought them in Saigon but they would have probably been main in China. In Saigon I can purchased Chanel No 5 in a bottle and box that the lady at a local upscale department store could not tell was a fake. I could because I knew because I paid $2 on the street and could get it for less if I wanted to buy in quantity. The other day I forgot her Ball Park Beef Hot Dogs which she loves so much. So today I dropped them off and made her day.
I went by the Dental Clinic to find out who I owe $400 USD to but they were closed again and I think they may be no longer in business.
After that I had time to kill so I walked down from District 10 and looked at the shops. I stopped to get a few things that I wanted and worked my way back down to Pham Ngu Lao and 23 September Park. This area is full of western tourists and I do not care for them however it is also where I stayed for years, down an alley, in Hotel Thuan Duc. As I neared the alley I met the man who lives across the alley from Thuan Duc and used to have a cyclo. Now he has a motorbike. He said he was getting too old to peddle the cyclo. I was at the alley that Hotel Thuan Duc was on and on a chance I went down. Each Visit I find Peter sitting at the little shop across from Hotel Thuan Duc having a beer. I went to the shop, saw Peter, and said “a lot changes in Saigon but some things never do”. He said “I am probably in the same seat” I said “You are” and we picked up the conversation as if it had been yesterday instead of a year ago. We discuss Saigon and changes and war and religion. Peter is interesting to talk to. I ran into half a dozen people who I knew and they knew me and it is one of the things I like so much here.
Across De Tham street I went into Phuong Trang Bus Line and bought my ticket for DaLat. I will be going upon 6 September and I want to be sure I have seat A01. I really do not like sleeper buses but is what they have now and they are not made for anyone over 5 foot however the front of each row has more leg room. Ticket in hand I am off to look around a little more. A stage has been set up at the South end of 23 September Park and I think it is part of the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Coming back I got on the 46 bus but got the one going to district 8 instead of District 4. I thought this was no problem. I will see where it goes and take it back. It went quite a way into district and then the man got out and went into his house leaving me standing in the road in district 8. I walked back the way we had come till I saw another bus 46 and asked if he was going to Pham Ngu Lao and he was so all is well that ends well.
So many beautiful people to meet every day. Riding on the 46 bus a couple of ladies get on. They are very petite, slender and dark from working out in the sun. One is missing her right arm. She is dressed very traditionally in what are often called pajamas. She has such a lovely smile and beautiful bright eyes. When she smiles at you, you can feel the gentleness.
Our Niece’s family are making Moon Cakes at a fevered pace. They will finish in a few weeks and we hope to get together for lunch when they can step away from the mixing bowls and oven for a few hours.
Minh Ha is off to Yoga in the building where we saw the show being put on last trip. Many children singing patriotic songs, Carrying flags and marching round much as we did back in George C Shelmire Elementary School, in Southampton, PA in the 1950’s. I have asked her to check to see if there is a show on Friday when she goes back as I would like to see it.
More things for tomorrow. So it is a good time to end this for now.
AIA insurance - Bitexco Tower - Dinner at Opium Factory with Martin and Thao
Disolay at the theater where the young people can get into the display and take photos.
This morning Minh Ha needs to go to the ATM then to AIA to pay for her insurance.
I do the driving because it is easier for me to have her on the back than it is for her to have me on the back. We ride to the ATM of her bank which is in the HSBC Building across the square from Notre Dame Cathedral. While she is in the bank I wait at the curb and notice the girl next to me who is wearing a garment like an apron and also like chaps. It looks like it ties behind her and keeps her dress clean from whatever might come from the streets.
Next we drive to the Bitexco Tower where the office of AIA is. On the fourth floor is a café called the nest by AIA. There is a sign telling us this is a work Café. People are sitting at tables with laptops and having coffee or milk shakes and snacks. A very pleasant environment. One wall is all bookshelves and filled with books for people to use.
At the door we meet Tam who was a student of Minh Ha’s. He asks us what we want to drink and I select a Chocolate Mint Milkshake, which is very good. Business is conducted which is much nicer than a window with a long line. There is a problem with Minh Ha’s card not working so she is off to fix it at the bank and I am left to wander in the building.
In the café I look out the window and see some old French buildings and there in the center is the old US Embassy on Ham Ngai Street. In 1967, when the new US Embassy was completed up on what is now Le Duan Street. The old Embassy became the embassy Annex. Now it is an office building. The new Embassy was abandoned in 1975. In 1995 when relations were normalized between the United States and The Socialist Republic of Vietnam the Embassy was given back to the US. Since the new, new Embassy was to be in Hanoi the old new Embassy was made the US Consulate and in 1998 the building we all recognize as the war time embassy was demolished and is now a park in the compound of the US Consulate. The former Ambassador’s Residence is now being used by the French.
I wander out into the mall of the Bitexco tower. It is 5 levels in a wing next to the tower building. On one floor are all restaurants. Two large restaurants and a group of small restaurants that have a counter and a wall behind hiding storage and next to the counter you can watch everything being made. Very nice and packed.
On another level are the movie theaters. Seven in all. 2 on one level and 5 on the next one up. On the lower level is where you buy tickets then enter the theater where your movie is playing. You can buy food on any of the shops on the two levels or bring it if you wish.
Just like at home are displays of the movies but here they are interactive. One is about the story based on Cinderella. On the back are the characters and in front is a low platform with a foot rest and a photo of a glass slipper. A girl will stand there and put her foot on the rest behind the glass slipper and the boy will kneel and pretend to hold the glass slipper. Someone will take a photo and they are in the action of the movie.
Leaving the tower we go south on Hai Ba Truong and Minh Ha says to go straight but I tell her we have to go right to say hello to people. She says she does not know anyone in the center of Saigon. I tell her “I will introduce you to them”. She says it is funny that I am a foreigner and I know people in center city and she has lived here all her life and does not. I drive between the Eden Building and the construction of the Metro and there is Hoa My, My Niece. She sees me and waves. I stop and she is already getting out the water for me and Minh Ha. I introduce them and they chat. We make arrangements to meet for lunch tomorrow. Since this will be their independence Day that might be a mistake but it will be good to talk.
On the way home I have my first accident. Just a tap and Little damage done but still it reinforces Minh Ha’s right to back seat drive. He was coming at us and turned in front of us with no turn signal and I got only the last 6 inches of his bike which is probably why there is so little damage. In the USA he would have been cited but this is Vietnam and no matter what people do you are wrong if you hit them. I think of it as “Offensive Driving”. It works for them and there are few accidents.
Bach at the house I go down the street with the piece of chrome trim that fell off and get a wrench that will match the bolts. Returning home I loosen the bolts and put the chrome on and tighten the bolts. Al is well. Minh Ha comes and gives the trim a good tug to test if it is on tight. It is and it meets with her approval. Once again, all’s well that ends well.
Back home and we rest for the evening of dinner out.
Six o’clock comes and we dress and are off to Jaspas at 74/7 Hai Ba Trung. It is in the compound that used to be the Opium Factory in the days of the French. The restaurant is very nice and we enter to meet Thao and Martin Dockery and their two lovely children. Martin was in Vietnam as an advisor for years and he and Thao now live in New York but are here on Vacation. In 2 days they leave. The meal is really great and we have much interesting conversation.
Driving home in the post-accident era Minh Ha is more insistent on back seat driving. We are home in no time and here at the lap top.
Tomorrow is their Independence Day and we will have a good night sleep to get our energy up for all that will be going on.
Lunch with Niece Hoa My - Dinner with Khuong and Family
House in District 7
Minh Ha's SIster and Husband live in District 7 in a very upscale neighborhood.
Today is Independence Day in Vietnam and May is not working and Minh Ha is retired so they both want to sleep in. I have a lunch date with my Niece Hoa My and we will meet at Highland Coffee at Pham Ngu Lao and De Tham Street. I take the 46 bus as it drops me off a block away and arrive early so I can walk around the place to see who is there. Yesterday I thought I saw Suong but I did not get a chance to talk to her. Today I met a lady in the park whose name is Mai. She is always smiles, I met her last year and we talked. Her life is not a happy one but she always seems so happy. We have fun talking.
It is time and I go to Highland Coffee and Hoa My is waiting outside the door. We say hello and go in. Something new at Highland Coffee, they do not serve meals, only drinks and snacks. We go in and I have a chocolate milkshake and she has a smoothie. We talk for a while. Miss Them came up. She is the only movie star I know personally. She worked selling in the park in front of the Opera house and when they filmed the Quiet American the vendors were told to leave since they were not authentic to the time. To compensate them they were allowed to be extras. When the bomb went off she laid in the street and pretended to be dead. I made up a t-shirt with “The Quiet American” on it and photos from the promo but I put her face on it to make it look like she was the star. Everyone loved it. I mention that I have not seen Mr Nhut yet this trip. Hoa says that moments after I stopped to see her yesterday he came by and a she told him I was here. He said he would see us soon and we looked out the window to see him go by. Hoa called him on the phone and by the time we got downstairs her was there. We shook hands and he reminded me to call if I needed anything.
He left and Hoa drove me to the intersection of Nguyen Hue and Le Loi to see the place. The tax store is still there but empty. It was to be torn down but is halted because there is interest in preserving historic buildings. Some say the façade will be kept. The building is gutted but through an open door I can see the main entrance with the fountain, escalators and curved stairs are still there all alone with the rest of the building gutted. Hopefully it will be saved.
Hoa drives me home to the bottom of District 4 which is where her mother lives and we agree we have to have dinner with Mom when I get back from DaLat and Phan Rang.
After resting Minh Ha says that we are invited to have dinner and visit with her sister and brother-in-law who was so helpful in introducing me to Mr Bui and also for his memories of being in Poulo Condore Prison. She said he wanted to know my reactions to the Prison and to Can Dao Island as well. We had an interesting time talking. When I am with him I cannot help but think of him, who was once our “enemy”, and how in his country he is a hero like those who were with George Washington at Valley Forge.
They took us to a small Italian restaurant a short walk from the house. We had a very nice meal and a walk back to the house.
Minh Ha wants to leave and I ask when the fireworks start. She says 9:00. Since it is only 8:30 we have plenty of time. Returning hme I come to the lap top to write when Minh Ha’s phone rings. I take it down to her and it is May. She says the fireworks are starting. Minh Ha wants to go to the bridge to see them. I point out that they will end before we get there. She wants to go so off we go running to the bridge. We can hear them but only see part of them over the buildings. As we approach the bridge. I mention that I do not hear them anymore. People are walking back from the bridge. Minh Ha asks and they say they are over. Minh Ha laughs at our running for the bridge but I tell her it is ok.
Another nice day visiting with nice people.
I thought this was the end of the day but to my surprise as I lay down and fell asleep Minh Ha came in and was telling me “eat watermelon”, “eat watermelon” with some degree of urgency. We had bought a watermelon today so I got up and went down to the kitchen where she had cut the melon up. The watermelon here are small and so sweet. I took home some seeds and planted them before coming and Susan may have some before I get home. Perhaps there will be some waiting for me when I get there in a couple of months.
Last trip I told the story of Rattlesnake, a story of Native Americans that was told to our Cub Scout Pack years ago by Glen Wolf who is a full blooded Leni Lenape. May liked it a lot and so as we sat around eating watermelon I mentioned that I had another Native American story. So, after eating the watermelon we adjourned to my room and chatted. I enjoy this. My story this year came from someone forwarding it to me on Facebook. It is the story of the two Wolves.
There is a Native American Grandfather telling his grandson the story of two wolves that live in each of us. One is Evil, he is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other wolf is Good, he is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth. They are locked in battle and only one will survive. The boy thinks and asks his grandfather, “Which one will survive”. The grandfather tells the boy, “the one you feed”.
It was also well received by May however Minh Ha seems to not be so phased by it.
We talk about folk tales and other legends of different cultures. We talk about ghosts and I mention that some believe there are ghosts and they are the spirit of people who died and left something important unfinished. I tell May. “Like the little girl in DaLat”. Minh Ha rubs her arm and May says she has goose bumps.
So now May and Minh Ha have gone off to bed and I will also and I think I will sleep till morning this time.
Housework - Lunch with Granddaughter Tram and son Thu
Tram and Thu
One of my Granddaughters, Tram and her Daughter, Thu came to Saigon to visit
Susan has said that the hot spell at home has broken and the weather is nicer. Here it is the same hot and humid.
In a few days I will be going up to DaLat for a few weeks and then to Phan Rang for week. After that I have 3 weeks and home. My Granddaughter, Chau, wants me to go up to Ha Tien with her and I would really like that. Also I must go to meet a man in Vung Tau. Everything should fit in.
This morning Minh Ha wanted to sleep in so I was left to my own devices. I could have gone into town but I really wanted to go swimming.
Early in the morning Hoa My called to tell me that my Granddaughter Tram was coming in from Tay Ninh and Hoa will pick me up at 5:00 so we can meet and all go to dinner together.
Minh Ha is cooking and as it turns out she is cooking something for me. She says it is sour soup. I remember the things that looked like bumpy cucumbers which were very sour indeed.
She is also doing some wash so I go down to get the first load of wash and hang it out on the line on the balcony. This done May arrives home and we discuss what Minh Ha is mixing up in the blender. There are leaves cut very fine and put in the blender. After liquefying them she pours them through a strainer and what is in the bowl begins to congeal and we have Green Grass Jelly. I said I had this once before and it is so strong that I did not like it. Minh Ha assures me this is fresh and it is not so strong. She is right but unfortunately it also does not have a taste that I like. I remind her that when I give her things to try that I only ask that she try a small amount and I do not make her drink or eat large quantities.
After lunch which includes sour soup which is not all that sour and quite good. The sour comes from Tamarind. We take a nap. I had not intended to but my computer is acting badly and just stops working and I have to power off and back on so I take a nap and wake an hour latter. Minh Ha says it is almost 5:00 when my Niece, Hoa, will arrive to take me to have dinner with my Granddaughter, Tram and my Great Granddaughter, Thu, who is 16 months old. They came in from Tay Ninh. I had planned to go to Tay Ninh and the Mekong Delta but the friend who was going decided not to go and I do not know if I have time to go now.
We had a lovely dinner and Thu is so cute. So is Tram who looks much like she did in Anh Linh School. We talk about many things. She is happy married and in Tay Ninh. She works in a grocery store. It was good to see her. She and Thu are both very happy and smile a lot. I remember Tram always did smile a lot even though her older sister did pick on her badly sometimes. Tram’s English is not very good so Hoa was very helpful. After dinner we left and as we drove off Thu waved at us and it made everyone happy.
Returning to Minh Ha’s house Hoa and I agree that this restaurant is a good place to take Mom when I return from DaLat and Phan Rang.
At Minh Ha’s house I sit down to write and in comes May with the piece of the Moon Cake that had tonight. It was good and I am happy for the Good luck it brings.
Last night I thought I was done and ready when one last thing happened. I had told Minh Ha that I had to go to the market to buy some things and she asked what. I said for one I need deodorant. Last night May came in and handed me a new deodorant, the one I use and I was surprised and thanked her.
One last thing. I mentioned the way they drive here and how it is not important how you drive only that you do not hit anyone. It works for them but when it fails it is usually is a small fender bender and all walk away. However sometimes it fails big. A story on the news about an accident where motorbikes piled up and 2 people were killed.
Movie - Lunch at Hoang Ty - Dinner in
The decor at Restaurant Hoang Ty is Antique Motorcycles and Motorbikes.
I am not sure how the conversation got around to movies but at breakfast this morning May and I started talking about the movie posters at the Bitexco Tower that I had seen the other day. One in particular is the movie Tam Com. It has elements of Cinderella but where Cinderella ends this is just beginning. Tam and Com are half-sisters. Tam means the heart of the rice and com means dust that comes from rice. You can see who is the good one and who is the bad one.
May did not like the movie because it was so far from the Cinderella story but we discussed it and she said we should go to see it. Her friends were split as to those who wanted to see it and those who did not. We went to a movie theater up on Cao Thang Street above 23 September Park. The Theater is an 8 story building and I do not know if anything else is in the building. We went to the 6th floor and May picked up our tickets which she bought through the phone before we left home. Theaters are on several floors so we went up to ours.
Walking in we find the theater steep and about the size of the multi Cinemas at home. It is very clean. We are in the last row and I notice that this last row is made of bench seats two together with the armrest and two cup holders so each couple has two cup holders but nothing between. The theater was probably designed by someone young enough to remember why teenagers go to the top seats.
The show begins with a short cartoon showing how annoying it is to have your cell phone on and to smoke, and to be loud during the movie. Then a look at the people who are not welcome. Smokers, drunks and people with babies. There are no previews we go right into the movie. It is very well made. The costume and scenery are terrific and the story is very good. A little of Cinderella does run through the movie but the rest fits well with it. It is a little difficult for me since I have to read the sub titles. Still very enjoyable
Some little differences in the theater are the snacks. Popcorn is popped as we see it or with sugar and comes in a bag about 6 inches deep and 3 by 4. On counters here and there are little cards about 6 by 8 inches with other movies playing or coming soon and you can take them to remember to come back to see the movies.
After the movie Tung and Mai took us out to lunch at a place up the street called Hoang Ty and as we go in I cannot believe the motif. On raised platforms around the restaurant are antique motor cycles. A 1936 BMW, a 1914 Indian and others including one which looks like a production bicycle with a gas tank and motor added.
Lunch was great and we are back home resting up till dinner. Minh Ha cooks from scratch for every meal, every day. Occasionally it is left overs but something is added to make it a meal. She spends a lot of time cooking and cleaning. I try to help when I can. Part of the fun of living with a family.
After dinner we clean up and are working on our Lap Tops. May was out with a friend who was having a birthday and returns. She comes up and we all sit around and chat. It is a fun thing to do and May also said she enjoys it. The end of another really nice day.
Anh Ling School - Emaciated Lady
We got up when we got up. Luan, Minh Ha’s son, was up and off to work first then May and Minh ha was up to let May out then lock up. I had asked Minh Ha if we could go to Anh Linh Free School today. I wanted to see the school and had to deliver some money to them.
Back in January Susan and I went to the Loch Rannoch Pipes & Drums - Burns Dinner where there was a 50/50 and I said to Susan “If we win, it goes to the orphans”. Well, we won $256 so I set it aside and today I went to the ATM and got out 6,000,000 VND and we went off to Anh Linh.
On the way we stopped by May’s work to take her lunch. We waited on the street and May came out. She is all smiles and has such a bounce in her step. She is just a joy to be around.
When May heard, last night, that we were going to Anh Linh she asked if I would take some clothes that she wanted to donate. This morning Minh Ha also wanted to donate some clothes.
I had first known Sister Cam Thuy who ran the school and orphanage, then came Sister Kim Ngoc. Now the one in charge was Sister Kim. We gave her the clothes and talked for while. I gave her the money and she said she would find something for the children.
After that we came home and had lunch and a rest.
I went back into town hoping to meet a lady who sat by the old Diamond Building. She was extremely emaciated but had the most gentle, beautiful eyes and though she had no English we manage to talk for a while. There are people who just brighten your day by passing through it. I also thought I had seen Suong a few days ago but did not get a chance to talk to her. I did meet the old lady who has been in the park forever and who helped us to get Yen into school and keep track of her after her father took her back out.
I have used the 46 bus a lot these last few years and now I do not have to ask for the driver to stop. Most know where I belong ant both ends of the trip. It makes me feel a little more at home.
Minh Ha is getting ready for Yoga class and May came in with a Tous les Jours Brownie.
I will get a shower and Minh Ha will be home later.
Movie - Lunch Out - Dinner at home
The movie was so good Sunday that I suggested we go again today and I was surprised that Minh Ha was so easily convinced. The movie I really wanted to see was Ram Thang Bay. Thang Bay is July of the Lunar Calendar. It looks a little scary and Minh Ha will not even talk about it. I will have to ask May about it when I see her again. Instead there was a movie named Nang which is the little girl’s name in the movie and it means Sunshine.
It was a beautiful story about a woman who was “simple minded” and who was raising a daughter by collecting recycle. It was a very good story and came to a very sad part when everything got better and everyone was happy. Disney would have approved it was much in the tradition of his works.
This was all Vietnamese from writers to directors to actors. A fascinating thing was that, much a movie filmed in the USA, it took place on the streets of Saigon. As the story unfolds we see the streets and parks and landmarks of Saigon. Very different and very beautiful.
Something I love in Bollywood movies is that in the end after the story is done everyone is dancing together. The heroes and the bad guys. Even the ones killed off in the movie. The man who blinded the children so they would be better beggars and the children. It is almost like they’re telling us that they hope that we enjoyed the story but it was only a story and everyone is friends. I love that.
The Vietnamese movies I have seen here also have something that plays with the credits. A small segment of the screen to the side has some closure to the lesser character’s stories. In the case of the one who was from a rich family and got AIDS from a transfusion he is seen talking to the Doctor who says there was a mistake and he does not have AIDS so he goes to the girl he fell in love with and takes her away in his Mercedes. Another character is seen with the police who tell him that he must mend his ways to be a better person and the teacher who he fell in love with was waiting outside to see him as he left. Even the one bad guy who stepped forward to help the police solve the case is in court and his boss is sentenced to death by firing squad but because he helped keep them from executing the wrong person he can rehabilitate himself and he is sentenced to 20 years. A little tough but it is better than execution. It was a really fun movie
The refreshment stand we went to this time had the large buckets of popcorn like we have at the Barn in Doylestown but they are in plastic buckets with a handle, reusable.
After the movie we went across the street and Minh Ha had some Pho. I had a little but I will be on the bus for 7 hours tonight so I want to eat less. It is a sleeper bus but I bought my ticket early so I got a front row seat which is roomier.
Next was the market, which is a western like store and Minh Ha stocked up on things I liked an I hope she will not try to cook them all tonight. She spends a lot on extra groceries so I like to help out but it is not easy. She points out that we never let her pay for anything when she is in Pipersville so she thinks I should not pay for anything there. The difference is that we make considerably more than her teacher’s pension but still is it tricky trying to help without hurting her feelings. I managed to get her to take something and I feel better.
Dinner is now ready and soon I will be off to DaLat for a few weeks. We have things planned for when I get back and a few places to go in the remaining time in October. Maybe a few more movies.
We are on the West side of the Northern expanse of the lake. We can see an island and across the island, on the hill, is DaLat College.
Today actually started last night. Everyone was at the house. Minh Ha was checking to make sure that I got everything I needed. May was taking care of things like the telephone I got last year and left there. It is now full of time and a new phone number. Tung is going to drive me to the bus on De Tham Street. Everything is set and we are off with Tung driving me and May driving Minh Ha.
Arriving at De Tham Street and the Phuong Trang ticket office and waiting room. I am told we will take a van to the new Phuong Trang Depot. Having been told this I am aware of the lack of buses on De Tham.
The street had, in the past been jammed with huge busses and many taxis and motorbikes hoping to pick up fares. Now the street was relatively calm.
I and everything are loaded into a van and with all the attention I felt like was being sent off to Summer Camp. May reminded me that I should not keep the phone next to my heart and I told her that my heart wasn’t much good anyway. I could see that it made her feel sad so when I got to Dalat and sent a text that I was here I also told her how I had moved my phone from my shirt to my bag with the computer when I got on the bus.
The van took us to the new terminal for Phuong Trang in Saigon which was on the far Western side of the city. Now the bus had to drive all the way back within a few blocks of De Tham street to go through the tunnel under the Saigon River and out across district 2 and around the city and North towards DaLat.
I had booked early and got a seat in the front row which has more legroom. Still I find it a little claustrophobic. I settled in and did fall asleep for a while and no sooner did I fall asleep than we were pulling into the halfway stop at 3 hours into the trip. This is the large three-sided building with the restrooms under and the restaurant up top and where I can get the Brown Edge Wafers, called Cat Tongues here.
Back on the bus I fell asleep and was only awakened when the lights came on and some music was playing. We were in DaLat. We pull in to the terminal of Phuong Trang Bus Company. I counted the buses once and I am sure there are always over a hundred buses there. We pull into one of the two large islands with overhanging roofs. Getting my bag I go to the vans that park near the bus platforms. I show them the address and I am ushered to one van. The ticket includes the van from the terminal to the final street address. A nice touch.
The van usually leaves me off at the end of Le Quy Don street since it is a dead end street however this driver drives down and turns around in a lot which is still used by Phuong Trang and which used to be there old terminal before the busses became so huge and the tourists became so plentiful.
I get my bag and just as I planned the sun is just showing it’s face. The street is quiet and as I approach Huong’s house she is unlocking the gate. She said “I could not sleep”. Leaving my luggage I take a nap for an hour or so.
I am staying down the street in a nice hotel which is around $7 USD. It is called Ngu Huong 2. It is 4 star on my scale. It is clean, nothing is broken, a shower with hot and cold water and I am real happy.
I get settled in and we go for a walk, stop for lunch and continue the walk around the lake. On the way we pass the Golf Course and the Flower Park. Huong remembers when she was a child that her father would take the family and have picnics on the lawns above the lake. Near the flower park are two small Islands with bridges. It is a beautiful place with much landscaping and topiaries and bonsai all around, many flowers.
On the other side of the lake is DaLat College where Huong got her teaching degree. It is beautiful Campus with many old French buildings, sitting high on a hill overlooking the lake and Flower park. Next is a former birthing hospital which was run by a French Doctor. Now it is a Hotel, a beautiful French Hotel.
We are now at the Big C. A supermarket and mall built beneath a football field, or Soccer to us in the USA. For some reason the field was not used as a football field and is now a congregating place for young and family as well. We stop and get a few things and it is back to the hotel and Huong and Louie go home. It was a nice day.
Train to Trai Mai - The Man with the Excavator
The Man with the Excavator
The man who we helped with his excavator.
A good day, a fun day. Huong came to the hotel this morning at about 10. I had already been to the electrical store for a power reducer to safely plug in my electric razor to the 200v current, A stick on heat pad because my back was sore, I’m sure it was from the sleeper bus which does not allow me to sit up straight or to lie flat, and to the stationary store for a few pens. I am starting to know words to look for in signs to find what I want. Not every store front tells what the store carries and not every storefront is on the front. I am gaining a greater appreciation of those who do not read or are in a country whose language they do not understand. I also have had so much fun with people who will take the time to happily look at drawings and guess at pantomime to help find what I want. A student of mine in Doylestown said he had to make animal noises to communicate with the butcher as to which meat he was looking for. Sometimes bystanders will join in and it is like being on a game show. In the end everyone is happier.
I also got my new Big C valued customer card.
Last trip Huong did not want to take the train down to Trai Mai. It is a tourist thing and there is little in Trai Mai except the Pagoda and I must say it is a do not miss. In the last 15 years it has built up into a major Pagoda. There are buildings with the work of Monks and many are carvings from a single Tree. One is a Peacock whose tail is about 12 feet across with carved scenes all over it. Others are Buddhas carved from a single tree and some quite big. Many stone carvings and in one place where carvings were in progress were two large blocks of pink stone, maybe marble with grey streaks through.
The main building which I remember from 12 or 15 years ago is large and beautiful. Just a point, it is not proper to go into a Temple or Pagoda with shorts or shoes. It is worth the time to walk around and upstairs where you can look over on to another building where monks live and notice the large pond on the roof of the first floor. Everywhere you look is tile work and painted scenes. Sometimes you have to look straight up and see the layers of building as it goes gracefully skyward.
Next to the main building is a garden and in the garden is a dragon. The dragon covers most of the garden. His tail is in one corner and curves up and forms an archway then down in to a pool. Across the walk is another pool and the dragon comes up there and back down. Around the garden till it comes up in a large pool curves around and up over an alter to where we see the head held high and proud.
If you take the train down here you have 50 minutes to walk to the Pagoda, look around and be back to the train before it leaves. I almost missed seeing this Pagoda this year because even before I came to Vietnam Huong said her friend was divorced and moved to Trai Mai and she doesn’t see her much anymore. I suggested we take the train down and see her friend and she agreed. We got off the train and she said her friend lives 200 meters from the train station and she pointed up the hill. We walked and I asked her if anything looked familiar but she said no and I asked if she had ever been here before and she said no and I asked if she knew what her friends address was or what her house looked like and she said no so I asked do you know where we are going and she said no with an innocent smile.
We happened to be walking in the direction of the Pagoda and another couple who were on the train saw us and said “this way” so we went and there was this beautiful Pagoda. Huong is a little different than my other friends but then they are all different from one another in some ways and similar in other ways. Huong got her degree in teaching from DaLat College and she teaches French in which she is fluent as it was her first language. Her father was connected closely to the French and then to the Americans but still she had opportunities that many others who were tied to the Americans did not get. She then earned her Master’s in Fine Art from the University of Fine Art in Saigon. After the American war ended she worked translating French Propaganda in the Mekong Delta and other positions. She is also an artist and writes Zen Poems then paints them. As an artist she tends to see things a little differently. She has been invaluable with memory of the old DaLat.
This trip our conductor has been a beautiful young lady who looks really official in her uniform. She also couples and uncouples the engine and throws the switches at each end of the line so the engine can move to the front of the train. And releases the break when we are to move again. All the photos are on my Phanfare arranged by day at www.henrybechtold.phanfare.com.
Back on the train we arrive at the Station in DaLat. As we leave the building I ask her where she wants to go. She says to the College and I ask “to your Alma Matter” as we say in English, though it is not English. She laughs and says “Yes to my Alma Matter, as we say in French”.
The College is in Walking distance but I ask if she wants a taxi and she says "no" that we should walk. We walk back towards the lake then up a hill to the College. As we approach I ask if she wants something cool to drink and she says "yes". As we sit there sipping a soda we watch across the street where a man is working on an Excavator. He is trying to get a pin on the bucket in. He gets into the Excavator, starts the engine and moves the bucket then shuts the Excavator off, climbs down and hammers on the pin, only to repeat this over and over. Then one of those wonderful opportunities appears. This is not a difficult job but it is one two can do better and faster than one. We walk over and I squat down and look in the hole he is looking in. He gets back in the Excavator and moves it a little and he is past it so I motion down then hold and he comes down and looks in and smiles. He hits the pin and it moves a little then stops. We both look in and he takes a screw driver and clears come dried grease and it has moved a little but it needs the bucket to shift a little. He gets back in and moves it just a little till I motion to stop, it is just where it needs to be so I pick up the hammer and give it a smack and in it goes. I give him the thumbs up and he smiles. There is a small retaining pin that goes through the larger pin and it is not lined up so I hand him the hammer and as he uses the screw driver to line it up we leave and he thanks me and I feel so happy. It was such a small thing but it was so much fun.
We arrive at the College and a man at the gate says something I do not understand and hammers his finger on the side window. Huong is not happy at being turned away from her Alma Matter but as we walk around the side I point at the sign the man was pointing at and the sign says “No admission until after 17:00, which makes sense since classes will be over then. Huong is appeased and I have been so happy today that I turn to the man who sits at the gate, and who is still very cross and put my hands together, bow and say Cam On, Thank you. He relaxes and smiles. Walking back down the hill we pass the man with the excavator and he smiles and waves, as do I.
We get a taxi back to Le Quy Don Street and I go to the hotel and Huong goes home.
After her nap Huong comes back and we are off to dinner, which will be Crab Soup. We have stopped for Crab Soup before and I really like the lady who makes and sells it. Her name is Thuy and she has been there for at least since 2009 in the same location. Before I could not get a photo of her, just the stand and the soup. This time I hold up the camera and she smiles so I now have a photo of her. Her daughter who now works with her is another matter. She is a very pretty young lady but she is shy and when I hold up the camera she hides her face so I put it away. The Crab Soup is wonderful, she makes it with a large ball of crabmeat and other filler and cuts off a piece of the large ball for each dinner served.
We have a great time chatting with Thuy and the others and it is time to leave. They are happy that I can ask how much and understand the amount in Vietnamese. We get along so well. We sit a while as it is raining and we hope it will stop or at least lessen but it is about as slow as it will be so off we go.
Now I am back in my hotel and Huong is home. She may stop by but I do not think there is anything we can do now since it is still raining and even the ice cream parlor is a hike in the rain.
DaLat - Monastery - Cam Ly Airfield
Franciscan Monastery School
A long abandoned Monastery and school to the Southwest of the center of DaLat city
Cam Ly Airfield Tower
Control Tower at the former Cam Ly Airfield
This is a motorbike day. We get to the places too far to walk and out of the tourist loop. My first stop is to see what happened to the area, thought to be haunted where the little ghost girl lived.
As we turned down the street to the old houses which were thought to be haunted only a few years ago and last year I found them all demolished, I passed a small café. Stopping by the gate I remembered having dinner 4 years ago and last year found it closed and I thought maybe for good. However, this year I can see through the window that the shelves are stocked with soda and snacks. Still it looks closed. Huong asked why I stopped. I told her I just wanted to say hello. Huong said “You don’t know anyone here”. Just as I was about to leave a familiar face appears at the gate and is smiling and waving and bouncing up and down. It is Thu Duyen, the lady I met her 4 years ago. It was the same happy smile and beautiful eyes that made me stop and chat then. She had almost no English and I little Vietnamese. Still we managed to chat for an hour till her daughter came home for lunch. Her daughters English is excellent. Her daughter told me that Mother asked if I would stay for lunch. Meals here are very social so I was happy to accept.
Huong and I had a drink and sat and talked for a while. I asked about the houses that were haunted and why they were torn down. When Duyen heard “Haunted” she covered her face and shook her head. Huong said that she said they were not haunted but Duyen’s reaction was contrary to that. Some believe in spirits and others do not and many do not but still respect the possibility. Minh Ha is one of these. After talking for a while we are off to find the house, or rather what happened to the property of the girl. Only a few hundred meters down the road we come to the beginning of the properties.
First at number 7 was the biggest of the mansions. One huge room with two smaller on the left as you face the house. This house now has a “luxury unit”. I am not sure if it is a rental or a home for sale. Second at number 9 was the house that was the most showy. In front was a room with a bar and a glass wall facing the street, almost to say this is who comes to my parties and you were not invited. This was the house that the little girl was living in. This and the rest of the houses are gone but the property os not being developed yet.
And as of now the girl and her mother’s fate are still a mystery. They probably just moved to another vacant property.
Next stop on the day is the abandoned Monastery. We enter the grounds and the building that was the monastery looking for someone but the only person we find is the lady who lives under the bridge from the monastery to the Church and today Huong talks to her but she does not wish to talk. I wonder if it is the friendly lady from last trip. The young man who told us that the school next door was going to restore the set of buildings to use the school buildings to meet their enrolment was not there and the man working in the Church, which was being used as a warehouse also were not working today. Maybe in a few days I will try again.
The school buildings especially are deteriorating badly. They are mostly stone so they may still be worth repair.
There is a particular Pagoda South of town which does not see many tourists. One of Huong’s students is a monk there. I have a little culture shock here. I hear music and a monk pulls his cell phone out of his tunic and responds. They were just finishing the main gate last year and now it is finished and painted. The grounds are filled with all manner of trees and flowers. Many carvings and statues are in with the foliage. It is a beautiful place. I take a lot of photos and Huong is talking with her student. An older monk we chatted with last year comes by. After a time we are offered Pho and tea. Huong’s student has very good English. We have much fun discussing the Gong and Drum, the Yin Yang and Destruction and Chaos. Huong says it is time to go and we thank the monk and say goodbye.
Huong has no place in particular she wants to go so I head for something just to the West of town, on a hill that may be a temple or a tomb. There is a bumpy road up to the place on a hill. Huong does not want to ride up the hill so I tell her she can walk for a short distance until the path is smoother. She declines and walks back to the road. She can be very disinterested in the mysteries of DaLat and also very stubborn when she wants to be. I go up the hill to the road that is smooth and runs around and up to the tomb in the hopes she will see how much better the road is, but no. Going back down the hill she is across the street talking to some men in a garage. I come to her and she says it is the tomb of the Father-in-Law of Bao Dai, the last Emperor of Vietnam. There are Two grave markers so I suppose his wife is also there. I remember from years past so we are off again
I tell her there is one more stop. The Cam Ly Airfield. She says there is none. So off we go and finally find ourselves where I had visited it before. There were many paths back to the abandoned airfield but now the green houses are one next to another. We find a path but there is a lot of water. Huong does not want to go but I pass the biggest and tell her I can see it. She walks along the side and gets on the motor bike and in a hundred feet we are on the runway. She is still not sure that it was an airport till we see the tower. I had gone up in it before when a family lived there but now the gate is closed and only a little girl is in the yard. There is a sign on the gate that says “restricted area”. Huong feels uneasy about signs like this and walks away from the gate. Turning the bike around I go back to the runway. The apron. by the tower. Is being used for sand and gravel storage. I drive to the end and turn around. Riding back down I imagine 45 years ago fighter pilots coming down this runway, seeing the same mountains and taking off.
As we go down the runway a truck is on the runway and a man is readying to take off his remote control helicopter. Another man soon joins him. The man’s English is perfect and he knows the USA well so I imagine he must have been there for some time. I saw a man here a year or two ago and I wonder if it was him. I ask if I may take a photo and he says yes but steps back to be out of the shot. I ask if he would be in it but he motions no so I take a photo of the helicopter.
Since cars are here I think there is another way in and out instead of the muddy road. Huong is happy that there is.
On our way back to town Huong wants to stop at Cam Ly Falls. It is a pretty set of falls with gardens and pools. As always in Dalat there are flowers of every description here. One of my favorites are along a wall by a pool. They are about 8 inches long and hang down like bells. They are bright yellow. I pull up to the gate on the main road but Huong says to go around back. Around back there is no charge for admission and there is a place to park motorbikes and a small café on a plateau that overlooks the Falls. We arrive as the park is closing so we take a short walk and a few photos and we head for home.
Another nice relaxed day.
Bird of Paradise
In the Flower Park these Bird of Paradise flowers look like a family
Bonsai Garden in the Flower Park
Today was a day of things going right and wrong then right again. It all started with Huong not coming until 10:00 so I had time to wander and pick up a few things I needed. One thing was a flash drive, which I still do not have but might find tomorrow since I will be around the big market and Big C. As I was wandering there was a funeral around the corner. I could tell this as soon as I walked out of the house because of the music, mostly drum, coming from that direction. I walked over and there was a group of young men with a large drum, small drum, cymbal and gong. The young man on the large drum was totally immersed in the music. Sometimes he would pick up the pace and make everyone else work. His hair was pulled back then forward like a Samurai top Knot. There was one of those tube characters about 12 feet tall and 14 inches in diameter with air blowing up through it so it moves. Another young man would push it a little and it would shake all the way to it’s top and out it’s arms looking like it was doing a dance from the 60’s. They were all having so much fun, but then funeral begins with “fun”. I am sure there is a reason.
Two Lion costumes are on the sidewalk and soon the lions are dancing. If a person is good with them it is a beautiful thing to see
Everywhere I go I take my camera so I got it out to take a photo and there was a message on the screen “No Memory Card”. I looked and it was indeed there so I pulled it out and it fell in half. Luckily there was a store which sold memory cards, unfortunately the message persisted. I had never had a memory card fail in any camera I had owned and never did anything but a new card in when I got a larger or extra card so I was at a loss. Back at the hotel I found a Canon Manual online and was instructed on formatting a card.
Problem solved and I go back but the band is gone and the family and friends photos are being taken. What a missed opportunity.
There is a lady selling fried eggs on a roll with cucumber, mayonnaise, pickled daikon radish and carrot, cilantro and a little fish sauce. She has a cart about 2 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 5 foot high. Below the counter is a gas burner and frying pan. Another pleasant person who works very early to late afternoon. I take my sandwich and walk up to the small market which is about 5 blocks from the hotel and Huong’s house. I walk around the marker and it is as almost all small markets in Vietnam with masonry counters where women are butchering beef, pork, chicken and seafood with no concern for cross contamination which has not been much of an issue here. Counters of vegetables with really nice produce. Most look it over occasionally and throw out the bad ones. It is rare to see bad produce on the street or in the small markets since they know it will not sell and turn people away to the next table. In the large western markets, just like in the USA you will find a lot of prepackaging with bad items in with good. Progress.
DaLat is full of old French architecture. So many beautiful houses still remain some with dates in the masonry from the early 1900’s some nicely kept up and others allowed to fall into disrepair to the point some have caved in and scavengers have gutted them.
I was hoping to run into Louis who I met on a previous trip. He moved to the USA after the fall but returned to enjoy his retirement and pension in a place where a dollar is constantly increasing. He was not around today and I do not have his phone number.
Back at the hotel I wait and Huong arrives. I had wanted to go to the flower park and so we called a cab and go to the park near the lake. It is large and beautiful. As the name implies there were flowers everywhere. Many beautiful beds of one kind or one kind with a mixture of colors or many varieties. One I liked a lot was a large ben of Bird of Paradise flowers. You can see many blooms singly or in groups looking like a couple or a family. At the back of the park is a lake and refreshment stands so we take a break and have some ice cream. I have a chocolate cone and Huong has, what I am sure was, a Darian Ice Cream cone. Andrew Zimmer said that Darian had the taste of rotten onions just as they get mushy. Anthony Bourdain said if you like soft cheese you will like Darian. I think both are extremes. When I was in a position where I had to eat it I found it was not an overpoweringly bad just a mild unpleasant.
Up on the hill is a row of greenhouses. One is all roses of all colors. A second is plants hanging from rods and small trees. The third is divided into areas of different concessionaires who have everything from toys to pottery to Bonsai and flowers of all descriptions. I bought bulbs last year but the cold in Pennsylvania was too much for them. This year I bought a package for Minh Ha who loves gardening and growing things. I often see her on the balcony garden of her home watering and trimming and talking and singing and dancing for her plants.
At the bottom of the hill is a pair of 70 foot topiary dragons who meet to form a gate to the area near the lake. By the lake and refreshment stands is a large plaza filled with Bonsai. Small and large, different varieties, some alone and others are small pieces of Jungle. Some are tiny and some have 12 inch in diameter trunks. One is leaning and the branches hang almost to the ground as if it were a model for never giving up.
Then lunch and Huong decided we should see the mushroom farm. She called her favorite cab which likes her direction to take all the long routes. We were off to where she said it was and ended up asking people who said it is just down there or up there. Finally someone said it was there but it closed long ago and moved to Trai Mat. This is where the train goes and Huong would not go last year because it was 60,000 VND and it was too much. Now we are not there and it is already 200,000. I point this out and it is received with only a minimal acknowledgement.
In Trai Mat the consensus of opinion is that it is that large building across the valley. The valley is accessed by a long dirt road with a huge center mound from large trucks going in and out. We arrive and look around. A young man on a motorbike says there is no mushroom farm here. The rest all walk back the road farther and question people. I think the large building is it because it has no windows so I go to look. As I approach there is a pile of topsoil, which is rare enough in Vietnam but there are a few mushrooms growing in it. The building has one large door with a 6 inch in diameter hole to access the lock from either side. Doing something that has served me well I wrap the strap of my camera around my wrist and slide it in. Pointing it in all directions and snapping away I get a panorama and guess what. Mushrooms.
Meanwhile the group returns with a man on his phone but in the end the boss is not here and no one wants to let us in without his say so.
Back in the car we exit the dirt road after the driver has stopped often to move a large rock from the center of the road. I use the term road advisedly. Back to town and Huong wants to stop at the lake and walk home. I like it. As we walk there are many enterprising people selling all manner of things. One small red jeep like vehicle is selling ice cream. It is almost like a child’s toy but large enough to hold everything the young lady needs to sell. Another is one of those very small trucks where a girl is selling pizza. Huong is buying one. It is rice paper with greens, onions, hot sauce and a few other things. An interesting take on Pizza.
Dinner with Ngoc Bich and her family
Ngoc Bich's Family
Little Brother, Mother, Me and Ngoc Bich
Ngoc Bich's Family
Grandfather and Grandmother
Ngoc Bich's Family
Grandmother and Father
A wonderful day beginning to end. First a little background. One of the things I like doing here is to take photos of people and a year later return to give them the photo and take another. Shopkeepers, children, even shipbuilder once in Qui Nhon. Three years ago I was riding down Pham Hong Thai and I saw a woman and two children having lunch in a small shop. I stopped and the little girl ran out and said hello. I held my camera up and she ran in and straightened herself up and came back to smile and make a peace sigh. I took her photo and said see you later. A year later I returned and she was still there except now she was not wearing the school uniform. She remembered me and I gave her the old photo and took another. Last trip I came back and she was not there. The shop was gone and a corrugated metal fence sounded the place where the row of shops had been. I rode down the street to the corner where another young lady was standing and waving and I had taken her photo also. She was not there but her mother and father were so I talked to them. She had gone to Nha Trang and was now married. I asked them if they knew the first little girl. They did and they put their other daughter on my motorbike and told her to show me where the first little girl lived. I arrived at the house and met the girl’s mother who did baby sitting in her home. She said her daughter was at school and the language prevented much more. It was near the end of my stay so I said goodbye and left the photo.
This girl was younger than the second so I did not think she was married. Just before my trip this year I got an email from Ngoc Bich. She said Do you remember me? I was just a little girl when you took my photo. I think I put my email on the back of the photo and she had noticed it just recently. We exchanged a few letters and she invited me to meet her family when I was in Vietnam again. I said I would like that. As soon as I knew when I would be in Dalat I wrote and said we would arranged for me to visit and meet her family. She gave me her address and the house number is 16/17. In Vietnam a house number is the 16 and the slash tells us that at 16 you will find an alley and you go down that to 17. Easy enough, or so I thought. In Vietnam house numbers can be very irregular to say the least.
I took a taxi to 16 and there was a truck in the alley so we could not drive up but it was short way to the top so I went up. At the top a man told me it was not there but the alley on the other side of 16 so I went up that and was told it was not that alley but, the man there pointed in the direction of the first alley. I am now 10 minutes early and am sure that I will be there on time. There was no sense going up the alley I went to first again so I started asking people on the street. The general consensus of opinion it was farther up the hill which was getting higher in numbers. One nice man pointed out that the number 16 on the first place I went was the new number and under it was a small 12 which was the old number. I wandered up the hill and asking here and there.
Finally, as I was beginning to wonder if I would find this house today I felt a bump on my arm. I was a little startled to see a motorbike and a young man. The young man was dressed in black and was riding a black motorbike. He showed me his cell phone which had Ngoc Bich’s address on it. I did not know who he was but I got on the bike and off we went. We rode past the store where I had taken the second girl’s photo and on to almost the end of the street. It now dawns on me that some streets start numbering at both ends and meet in the middle. We are near the end and the young man stops to ask and a lady points back to the way we came. We go back to the store and I remember that the house from last year may have been hers instead of the grandmothers as I had thought. At the store a steep road goes down and I remember that road. I point it out and before I can suggest that I get off and walk down we are on the way down the steep road. It curves left and we pass 16A/17. A lady is out so the young man asks again. She points up the hill but as we go back up I see an alley next to the Pagoda and it rings a bell as it did on the way down. I point and say I think this is it. Back the alley he asks again and I see another left that looks familiar. This hill is steep so I walk down and he follows. At the bottom a narrow dirt path curves off to the right and this I remember quite well. I lead and the young man follows. Around the curve is a concrete walkway and I see the house. The young man is behind me as Ngoc Bich sees me and comes out of the house.
I tell the young man this is it. He asks her name and I realize he does not know her so I doubt if they sent him. I do not know if I should offer him something but he turns to leave. I thank him and he smiles a little for the first time. He had been more serious before. He turns and leaves. I can only imagine someone I asked told him to go help me find the house. It was so nice to meet him and his help was greatly appreciated.
Ngoc Bich is there with her Mother, Grandmother and little brother. We went in and her Grandmother had tea waiting and we sat and chatted and sipped tea. Soon her Grandfather arrived and joined us followed by her Father.
We went in to dinner and I was first surprised to find a beer at Ngoc Bich’s place. I asked if she drinks beer, she is 16. She laughed and told everyone what I had asked. They all laughed and she told me the table was set without knowing who would sit where. I was asked if I liked beer and I said I cannot drink beer. If I drink a can I will fall asleep and I do not want to fall asleep on the back of a motorbike
After inviting me she had written a follow up email asking if I could eat Vietnamese food. Her mother was planning on Snake head fish and sour soup. I told her I liked Vietnamese food and always enjoy having new things.
I do not know if it was just what was in the market but the fish was Tilapia. There was also beef with red and green peppers and onions. Fish was boiling in a pot with greens. There was also chicken and some rice noodles. Everything was delicious and I used one of my Vietnamese words to say Ngon, Delicious. Everyone liked that. We had a wonderful leisurely lunch with much conversation. We discussed language and they asked about my time in the army in Vietnam. I told them of the VC I have met since returning and how nice they were. Once in Cu Chi we saw an M42 Duster, a tank which had 2 40 mm anti-aircraft guns on it. An old man was leaning on it and our guide told us that during the war the old man would find unexploded cannon shells, dig a hole and place them in so the next vehicle that ran over it would be blown up. The old man had blown up a tank just like that. I asked the guide to tell the old man that I drove a tank just like that and thank him for not blowing mine up. He did and the old man laughed and came over and hugged me.
Dinner finished and Ngoc Bich pulls a large bowl from the refrigerator. It could be Vanilla but it is not. The black seeds let me know it is Durian. In this case it is Durian and milk. It had a sweetness and an interesting taste to it.
Ngoc Bich’s Grandfather had to go back to work and was the first to leave. The rest of us talked for a while and soon it was time for me to go. I thanked them all and told them how nice it was to meet them. I am glad she has such a nice family.
They asked if I would call a taxi and I could but I could not talk to them as I do not know Vietnamese. Ngoc Bich asked her grandmother for the number and I said “Ba Tam, Ba Tam, Ba Tam, Ba Tam, I trust Anh Linh Taxi”. Their number is 38 38 38 38. I find that everything you learn about someone else’s culture helps to bridge differences and has always been appreciated.
Grandmother, Ngoc Bich and I went up to the corner where the store is and waited for the taxi. I got in and we managed to tell him I wanted to go to the Central Market. I wanted to get a flash drive to take some photos to be printed and also to find the shop that had some old photos of DaLat including one which was looking up towards the market from the lake only to see that there was no market and no main street, only farm land. Finding neither I walked back to towards hotel
On the way back I passed a woman and two girls all talking in sign language and I could not help but to smile. I think sign language is akin to dance. One girl smiled and waved. The other two looked at the first and then at me. They were signing to one another and looking back. The older one finally smiled and waved as if to say, shyly, oh go away. As we walked in opposite directions I turned two or three times just in time to see her turning also and I think she was a little embarrassed that she got caught looking. It was a day to meet such nice people.
At the hotel I text Huong and told her I was back. I laid on the bed for a moment and woke up an hour later. It was a big meal. In the mean time she had text back to come to her house. When I arrived she was cooking French fries and beef strips. I was full but it is a social thing and she had not cooked for me all day.
In the evenings there is a Night Market in DaLat. Many stalls line the street up to the market and it is something to see. Selling everything, fruit, clothing and many food carts. Some large carts and some small table and stool places. Around the market the stores have no front when the metal door is up so they are open to the street and are a part of everything.
There is a lady selling Crocheting and as she sells she is Crocheting, talking and barely looking at her work. A lady sells small toy rockets and she launches one skyward. It is lighted and swirling and drifts back down close enough that she can put her hand out and get it. There are people in costume who interact with people. Winnie the Pooh is here also one of the Minions and, of course Mickey and Minnie.
There is a girl selling paintings and I have seen her here in years past. Her Father paints and she and her sister sell in the area around the Main Market.
I hear a drum and follow the sound. A boy is beating a drum and a yellow and a red Dragon and running in and out of booths chasing a man all in red. There is also a girl with cymbals and an entourage of followers. I have seen this before at funerals and Tet and once in Vung Tau where the group held up a pole and the dragon climbed it and shook his head around. This group was all children. We are in the Mid-Autumn Festival which is the Children’s Tet and I guess this is why it is all children. As the demons are chased from each store the owner gives the Dragon some money and it goes on the next location.
Huong and Louie had wandered off and we are separated so I look for a while but the crowd is very large and I head for the hotel. On the way home I hear drums again. There is a Dragon, this time black and white, chasing demons from an electronics store. He is chasing the bad spirit all over the store rearing up and shaking his head. I think the owner thinks the Demon is sufficiently gone from the store and encourages the Dragon and it’s group out of the store.
It was a good day of meeting new and old friends and seeing happy things but I still wonder, Who was that man in Black.
Rainy Day - Old Photographs - Purple rice and Ice Cream
Sitting in the coffee Shop looking out on the main street that runs to the Main Market.
It is a rainy morning in DaLat. Still we must make the best of it. I have been seeing some prints of DaLat from 1930 to 1954 and I have wanted to buy a few. Today we went down to the photo shop and there were the old photos on the wall. The lady there invited me in to look at all the photos on her computer. Some were back to the time when rural Vietnam was much like the old Native Americans. Some wonderful photos of people from back then. What I wanted were the ones from the days of the French. I picked six and they will print them and have them ready for tomorrow evening. They are about 18 by 24 inches and one shows the view from the hill across the lake to the Theater on this side what is fascinating is the lack of buildings over 2 stories. Some very old French buildings are there and the theater but no market and no hotels in the valley where the market stands now. Other photos show vast open areas that are now covered by hotels. That was my extravagant purchase for this trip. It came to about $45 USD.
As we walked back through the city an old lady with an old bike was pushing it up the hill on Le Dai Hanh street. A long strap was dragging behind her and if a motorbike or car had run over it she may have had her bicycle pulled over. I walked to her and pointed. She put the kickstand down and I picked up the end of the strap and handed it to her, she smiled such a beautiful smile and said Cam On, thank you. She seemed so happy, maybe just to be noticed and thought of. The way of saying no thank you to people selling things here is to ignore them.
We stopped at the Artista on Le Dai Hanh. It is a small café that has coffee, ice cream and some breakfast and lunch dishes. Huong has Chocolate Ice Cream and I have coffee and a carrot cake. The servings, especially the coffee which I usually have in the 20 ounce size at Wawa. Here it is meant to be sipped over friendly conversation or I have noticed sometimes over business.
As we sit in the coffee shop we look out over a rainy Market and the park. I take some photos and a video of the rain falling.
I go back to the hotel and Huong to her house. After getting frustrated by Phanfare, which is not uploading correctly, I go back into town. I had bought a flash drive at the photo and I want them to print out a few photos from my computer. I leave the images and the lady tells me they will be ready in one hour. Too short to go home and back so I walk around the theater. On a corner is a lady I have seen before. She is selling Purple Rice. I ask for one and she scoops out some white and some purple. I do not know why the rice is purple maybe just coloring maybe something else. She scoops on some toppings. One is coconut and there is sugar, something that looks like Garbanzo beans and a white liquid which is probably coconut milk or cream. It is sweeter than I should be eating but once in every two visits is not so bad. I walk over to the big market and go up to the roof to look at the girls sewing pictures. Some are so intricate. One was a girl sitting and laying her face on her arm on a table. As you walk around the other side you see the same girl from the back. The material it is on is translucent and the effect is amazing. However there is no one there and the building is empty. There is also a café on the roof and I ask where the girls went. After a group effort I find it is over on Yersin near the college. I found what I want and everyone is so happy to have helped.
In the square between the Big Market and the Cinema I see 2 Economic Police with a Police officer in Grey and I have not found yet what branch he is in. They walk around and people sitting will see them and call out down the street. Some vendors will pack up and leave and others will stay. I notice the lady selling Purple rice is gone.
Walking back down to the hotel I come to a shop that has many types of bread and many items in dough. One is a hot dog wrapped in dough wrapped in bacon. One is a pizza like bread and topping. There are a lot with meat and cheese and also sweets.
Back in my room I enjoy my snacks and Diet Coke.
Crazy House - Chicken Church - Bun Bo Hue
Crazy House rooms are now for rent.
Crazy House is still a work in progress
Old French Restaurant and coffee House
It was damp and drizzly this morning when Huong arrived and she wanted to get coffee. We walked up the street to a little shop and I had coffee and she had hot chocolate. Both were very good but I am still not used to getting the 2 ounce coffee. I rather the 20 ounce, still when in Rome. It was a relaxed time since we did not know what we would do today.
We walked along and I took some photos. A new church that was built in the last few years. Very modern. There is an old French building across the street that I have always liked and it had been falling into disrepair but now it is being refurbished so I am sure that it will not be torn down. Huong said it was once owned by a French Lawyer.
I talk a few photos of the Lam Dong Provincial Administration Building. It is a monstrous building. It is not, in my opinion, a beautiful building but it does give the impression of the seat of power. Back across the street are the old Justice Building and the new Justice building.
We are just around the corner from Crazy House. This is a must see in DaLat and it changes every visit. It is being built by Đặng Việt Nga, an Architect, artist and I think romantic. The buildings look like trees and mountains with caves and passageways and skyways that resemble branches. Many places there are stalactites and what look like lava flows. In one cave we find what looks like a door into a French Villa which it is, or was. The villa was swallowed up by this beautiful creation that has been under construction since the 1990’s. For the last 15 years I have been seeing the progression of the building and there is still much to do. Blocked off portions have stairways to nowhere, yet. Beautiful views from the upper portions. Most wonderful is that this is a guest house. The rooms are like caves and hollow trees. They range from $30 to $60 dollars. A garden combines live trees and plants with concrete ones. It is so beautiful. This is a must see.
Crazy House is privately funded and much work is to be done so If you wish, donations are appreciated.
Next stop is the Church that Huong wanted to go to. It is sometimes called the Cathedral of DaLat and it is a beautiful building in the Cathedral style. A cruciform building that is also sometimes called the Chicken Church. This name comes from the chicken which stands atop the cross on top of the steeple. The Chicken is actually a Rooster. The Rooster atop the Cathedral is on ball bearings to be a weather vane and it is also a lightning rod. A beautiful building.
As we walk up the street it begins to rain so we duck into another old French building that I have long admired. It sits at the point of two roads and is wedge shaped but rather wide across the front. I need a place to be out of the rain and it is open for the first time that I happened to be walking by. So much beautiful woodwork inside and a stairway that goes up to more dining room. A long bar across the wall as you enter. I am looking and admiring and the staff are giggling as I take photos so I take one of a staff member. An interesting thing in Vietnam is that many people when you take their photo will say “Thank You”.
Next I walked to the Gallery of the Embroidery Art center. This house was the former home of the founder who began in the mid 1990’s. I hope to get to the History Village, which is where the workers have moved to from their former location above the market. These hand embroideries are sometimes small and simple and sometimes so grand and large that it amazes me that it was not painted but stitched thread by thread. There is so much to see in DaLat but this is also a must see. Plan a few days.
Almost out of money I head back to the center of town. At a shop at whose name I will insert here when I found it I pick up my photos. I had ordered 6 photos of DaLat from 1930 to 1945. They are beautiful and show the city before the hotel and tourism boom.
Somewhere after the Church Huong got tired of walking and took a taxi back to her house. I came back to the hotel but on the way it began to rain hard. I bought a new poncho which was only $1.25 however I left it home today. I ducked in to the shop that sells all the wonderful baked goods and got two hotdogs wrapped in dough and then wrapped in bacon. Don’t say anything about this to my Cardiologist. I sat on the step and watched people go by. The security person was watching the motorbikes which were supposed to be parked nose in however because of the rain people were parking along the building to take advantage of the awning. This caused some heated discussions. The uninvolved and I just looked at one another and shrugged.
The rain stopped and the hotdogs were gone so I walked home and called Huong to say I was back. She said she was resting but wanted to go to dinner soon. I got ready and was waiting when she arrived. We went down the street to a place she liked. She said she wanted Bun Bo Hue. I said I did not like it and thought I would order something else. We entered and it appears they serve nothing else and had brought a bowl over as we entered. I do not care for it because of the Bun Bo Hue I have had was always beef that had a lot of fat and bone and gristle. I also do not like congealed blood. Other than that it is great. So it is sitting in front of me and I eat it, after passing the congealed blood over to Huong.
Finishing that we are off to the night market. The crowd is less today. It is a little cool after the sun is gone but Huong has a heavy winter coat and I like the perfect fall weather. We walk around for a while and notice people running in every direction carrying things and clearing the area at the base of the large stairway in the main square in front of the market. A police truck is there with his lights flashing. There is what looks like panic but everyone who is selling is trying to save their business and equipment. Meanwhile a surrealistic scene and in the center are people sitting at one of the tables eating and appear to be unfazed by the panic around them and continue eating. The police appear to only go after the food vendors and the people who are selling jewelry or combs or other things from the small 18 by 30 inch tables. The police are sitting in their truck and as I walk by I make eye contact, smile and the officer smiles back. As they roll past people come out of the woodwork and return to selling. I guess they know that once the police pass they will not be back. The stands that are set up appear to not be concerned so some of the street vendors move in among the goods and disappear. The police are farther down the street and a clothing rack moves and a cart of food comes out and back to the position at the bottom of the stairs.
While we sat on a bench a young man, with a pot of charcoal burning and a pot on top with something boiling, turned to us and asked something Vietnamese. Huong was short with him as most are here with vendors or beggars who have the same status here. The young man turned back to his pot and stopped smiling. I felt bad and would have bought something although I hate to throw things away and was not hungry. I have been doing good at not buying from every pathetic person or cute child. There was one man with disfigured legs who was coming up the street by lifting himself with his hands and sitting forward and repeating this slow process and I did buy 5 lottery tickets from him.
On the walk back to the hotel there were three more dragons the dragon costumes have a lower jaw that the person inside can open and close to make the dragon more animate. Also they open it so people can put money in. This is a little like Christmas and Halloween combined. In one restaurant the dragons and the little man were running up and down the aisles. Soon the dragons began to fight by rearing up and clashing together. I thought a little theater with dinner was nice.
Rooster - Easy Rider - Banh Beo, Banh Xeo
Work going on at the "Chicken Church".
I was up early and not knowing when Huong will show up I went across the street and got an egg on a roll and walked up to the bank. I wanted to have enough cash to pay the hotel bill since if I use my MAC and the machine takes it I will not be here to get it back the next day or two.
My Mission today is to find why the chicken is on top of the Cathedral. Most accounts say it is a rooster and not a chicken. In the past I have gone to services there but as we were going out the door the priests had disappeared and no one who spoke English was there. Every time I go to the church no one is around to talk to. Today there was a lady in the book store which had not been open before and she knew. The rooster serves many purposes. It is a weather vane, a lightning rod and now I find it is a symbol of France and more important it is a symbol of Saint Peter. This made so much sense and as soon as she said it I remembered “before the cock crows you will deny me three times”. It just fit. I was excited and she was happy. I told her I am 70 years old and I can still learn something new every day. We were both happy and I had got there just in time as they were about to close up the store.
Happy with my discovery I was walking back towards the hotel. Students were all over the street and it amazes me still how few look both ways or even either way and they do not get hit. A young lady passes and turns and smiles. It is the girl from the book store. On the way back I pass the Hello Kitty store. Very popular here and I wonder who originated the idea of Hello Kitty.
Now I am off to find Easy Rider Vietnam. They have been wonderful guides in the past and there are a few things I want to see.
Huong had wanted to see the mushroom farm so I booked a tour for the Mushroom Farm, a Minority Village, the silk factory, a place where the silk worms are raised and whatever may come up. The cost for the day is $30 per person. Easy Rider Vietnam is really good because you can customize the package to go where you want and skip anything you may have seen before and want to skip this time. Also you can go at your pace and stay a little longer where it interests you and a little less where you have seen it all. We have used them before and the best thing their English is very good and they know the area. They will also take you on ling rides up through the central highlands or all the way to SaPa.
That settled I went back to the hotel and called to tell Huong. It was time for dinner and I had seen something being made up near Easy Rider and ask Huong about them. She thinks they are Banh Beo but I know they are not. She suggests Ban Xeo but I think not so she suggests we go have both and decide. We go up by the market and a few doors down is a lady making Ban Xeo. They are delicious but not what I saw. Next we go into the market where a lady is making Banh Beo. They are also very good but not what I saw. I learned how to make Banh Beo in Qui Nhon and had it there, in Saigon and here in DaLat. All three were very good but all three were a little different.
Next we went to where I saw something being made but they had all closed up shop and were gone. Tomorrow. Back at the hotel I get ice for my Diet Coke and sip it as I type.
Silk Factory - Weasel Coffee Farm - Mushroom Farm - Flower Farm
DaLat History Village
A beautiful collection of History and Art which wanders through many rooms in and out with streams cascading through the Village.
7:30 and my alarm rang. At 8:30 Easy Rider Dalat will be here and we are off to see so many things today. He had shown me the tour choices and I took the one closest to what I wanted, crossed out a few things and added the ones I wanted instead. They are flexible. They can also get a car if you need or want. My driver showed up on time and we were off to our first stop the XQ DaLat Historical Village. This was started by a man, in 1990, who wanted to preserve the history of DaLat. He started a business to promote the art of embroidery. He now has a business which employees hundreds of embroiders who are now under the Village. Plan a few hours for this and maybe even lunch. The Village is filled with many examples of embroidery from small that you can afford and put in your suitcase for the trip home to very extravagant which cover a wall. Some on wood framed stands some who are a set which are on 3 or 4 stands. Some fill the material and some, like the fish and the butterflies seem to float on the translucent material and you can see through to what is on the other side, beyond the material. One I have admired is a Girls head lying on a table facing us. When you walk around it is the same girl but now we see the back of her head each side surrounded by the translucent material. Some have the same but opposite picture on each side. All very beautiful.
The building it’s self is a piece of art. Last time I was here it was big now it is sprawling down a gentle hillside. In one gallery you may exit up three stairs one direction or down five stairs another. The climate here makes it unnecessary to have doors or windows and sometimes in a showroom you will walk and be out in a garden or in a balcony. The hillside makes the entire village flow from level to level. Some galleries are on several levels and some open to a garden or a stream flowing down through the village. At one point a group is playing traditional instruments. In many galleries you will find a girl embroidering. Nice to watch the picture grow. You can take a photo and they will embroider it. I did not ask the price. At one point I saw a doorway that read Embroidery Training. Down a flight of steps I could see a place where the majority of the embroiderers were working but the sign read “Do Not Visit”. When they were on top of the market it was nice to go in and see them working.
Among the buildings and pavilions are restaurant of different styles. Each restaurant is in or facing a garden. It is a beautiful, peaceful place.
Next we ride towards Lam Ha. On the way we Pass Elvis on the Hill, where we got bergers last trip and met the owner Bob who is originally from Australia but made his living in the USA as a Rodeo star, with many trophies to show for it. Onward to a ridge where we had a nice view of the Military Academy which I have been trying to get close to for years. Then past the DaLat College of Tourism, a large group of buildings, relatively new and down into Lam Ha.
In Lam Ha our first stop is the village of the minority people. They are one of a number of Minorities in Vietnam. Once persecuted they are now protected. The children receive free education and families have free health care. I am told they live in this village which is a town of parallel streets and simple homes but go into the hills to work farms. The house we stopped at was raised off the ground and had a plank floor. The walls were plank and it looked like two rooms. Outside was a chicken coop and a pig sty. There were a few coffee bushes and a persimmon tree for extra money. There is little interaction with the people until we were leaving and an old man wanted to shake hands then hug then kiss my hand and I felt a bit uncomfortable as if I were one of the wealthy planters from long ago and people felt it necessary to bow and scrape but the man was genuinely happy. We came here because the better known Chicken Village was much farther away. In the past, on another tour, we went to the Village of the Lat People, from which DaLat gets it’s name. we went into a hut and saw many instruments and met a man who spoke Lat, Vietnamese, French and English. He had worked closely with the French, and the Americans. This was in 2003, and I wonder if he is still around.
Soon we see racks out in driveways and it is the raising of silk worms and cocoons. The racks are placed in the sun for 4 days then the cocoons are ready for the Silk Factory.
Down the street is the silk factory which we had visited before. Then we walked in and wandered around. This time there is a small booth and a girl who sold tickets for 50 cents then we went in and walked around. The first step was to put the cocoons in hot water then the girl finds the end of the silk. Attaching this to a spool the cocoon begins to unravel to the spool. I am told that each cocoon contains 80 meters of silk. When these spools are filled they are removed a lady in the next row of machines lays 9 on the floor and finds the ends and pulls them off the small spools on to large spools. From this they are taken to the weaving looms. All of this equipment was probably old in the days of the French. The looms are controlled by a computer of the earliest type. Cards are tied together and come through the loom one at a time as each thread is run through on the shuttle. The card tells each thread to raise or not causing a pattern in the cloth. This is very interesting to me both from the aspect of the computer to the old machinery.
During lunch we are talking and I sing a part of a Vietnamese song I know and my guide tells me that he plays guitar and his friends get together and play and drink beer until their wives tell them to go to the club. After lunch we head back to DaLat. On the way there are two stops. First is the Weasel Coffee Company. Looking at the weasels I think they are probably Civets. It was found that after Civets eat coffee beans and excrete them they are tastier, in fact they are twice the price of other coffee. I would have bought some to bring home just to taste but a small bag is $30 and I was not that curious. I was however curious about how someone found that it was a better after being excreted. I can only imagine that someone was really hard up for his coffee and finding none saw the Civet droppings laden with coffee beans, looking like a payday peanut bar and put in his coffee maker. The Civets are now kept in cages with wire bottoms so the droppings can fall on to a corrugated sheet subfloor and be swept down to collection. Upstairs is a coffee and souvenir shop. I had a coke, diet of course.
Last stop planned was the rice wine distillery. Behind his house a man has a mash cooker and a still. The steam pipe from the still goes out the window down and in through a pipe into a 5 gallon container. This is poured into drums for a years storage and aging. My guide interrupts the stream with a shot glass and gives it to me. It is surprisingly smooth and I don’t mind it at all but still Mogan David Concord Grape Wine is the only alcohol I like and then only when I have congestion.
On the way back we do stop for a moment at a flower farm and then on till I see the control tower I thought I have seen before but it turns out that it is only Cam Ly Airfield seen from a new angle. Still I am happy to know this “other” Airfield I have been looking for all these years does not exist and I can stop looking.
Back home I call Huong who is ready for dinner and we go to the usual place she likes. She is off to her house and I to my room. The drums and dragons are nice but this is the fourth night that they camped under my window and it is a little much. They usually stop around 9:00 so I am hopeful.
Ice Cream Man
School is out and the Ice Cream Man is there.
Today there is nothing planned so when Huong showed up at the hotel today she suggested we go up to the market and get breakfast. It was rice and some other things which I did not recognize. One was very sweet and the other had no real taste at all then sugar and some other and finally some onion that was fried to being crispy. It was good. As we ate we talked about the food that I saw the other night. Huong said it was Banh Can. After breakfast we went up to the market and there was a lady there making it. We bought some and to take back to the hotel. It seemed to be primarily egg and came with a pouch of green onion and fish sauce. It was not my favorite.
After breakfast and the market we sat in a café and had orange juice. Interesting that tea is served here with almost every meal. We are given a pot of tea before we order out juice. We would have been given the tea if we were ordering coffee.
We watched people go by and then walked up a side street which was almost all old French houses. At one she told me that this house was her friends before 1975. Beautiful, beautiful buildings. Up the street was one beautiful house after another. At one there was no sign that anyone had been in the driveway or the steps and path to the house. We looked and were discussing it and a lady in the house behind us told Huong that it was the police. Still it looked like no one had been in or out. Next to it was a building that had a sign. She said this is police. At the top of the street was a 6 story building and this was also the police. Going down the next street was a building backed up to the last street and it was Immigration. I walked around back and could see that the house that looked empty was accessed by the rear door that was near the police building. On this second street was a building that looked like a hotel. Huong said it was the police guest house. I said “do you mean the jail?” she smiled. It makes me wonder how many police were in DaLat.
Back at the hotel I write some and Huong goes home for a rest. She will come back when it is time for the lady to sell Purple Rice.
Huong arrives and we walk up to the movie theater and just behind it is the lady with the purple rice. Having purchased it we go down and Huong knows where to get Banh Beo but it is not as good as the market. It seems that everyone makes it differently though basically the same.
We sit in the circle in front of the market and watch the people at the Night Market. A lady comes by selling those little things that you sling shot into the air then they flutter back down. Many toys that light up and wiggle. I am starting to know people selling there. People that are there year after year.
This year I notice that many are selling selfie sticks. Also a number selling combs but I do not know what is special. Many have a little stove and a limited amount of food. Still the young man with the pot and I wonder what is in it. I hope someone buys whatever it is. He looks a little alone.
In front of us 4 boys are playing the game of kicking the little shuttle cock back and forth. Once it comes right and Huong kicks it back. We walk back and I go to the hotel and Huong goes down the street to her house.
Leaving DaLat and arriving in Saigon, again
DaLat History Village
A return to the DaLat History Village with Miss Huong along this time
Any day on a motorbike is a good day. The ability to just go where you want and stop where you want and stay as long as you want. On Thursday I took a tour with Easy Rider DaLat. It covered much and it was a nice tour. Unfortunately, Huong felt ill and could not go. But today we will go see all the things she wanted to see and I wanted to stay longer at. I know where everything is from the tour. We head out towards, Cam Ly, looking for Gas, or Petrol, which ever we can find. We run into a station in the north of Cam Ly and I think the airstrip is around here somewhere. As we are filled with gas I look around and there is the Cam Ly tower across the road. We drive the 20 km to Lan Ha. We see the clouds coming and put on our rain coats. I am glad I bought a heavier duty one which will last a few storms. The front is longer so it can go over the handlebars for better protection. The front also has a plastic clear spot so the headlight can shine through. on the way Lam Ha we stop at a town whose name I forget to see the Ethnic Minorities. I know the general area but forge the street we went down. I took a shot, went around the block and there was the house we stopped at. Not much to see or do but I told Huong this is where we stopped. On down the road we pass Weasel Coffee and then the mushroom farm, the restaurant we stopped at Thursday. We had taken our rain coats when the rain stopped and now it was beginning. I pulled off the street into someone’s garage. Many buildings have a frame out the front covered with corrugated sheet metal which is used for garage or a store or restaurant. This one had a large truck in it and room for 2 more so in we went and sat on the front porch. Finally, the rain let up so we put our rain coats back on and were off to the Silk Factory.
This time we went in and took our time to look around more and ask questions. A nice man answered questions and turned on the loom so I could make some videos of the workings. Having worked 25 years programming main frame computers the computer here is especially interesting. I remember the days of the 1401 and the 360 when we depended a lot on the standard IBM 5081 cards. The basic difference being that the holes in our cards were detected by electronic pickups and not vacuum. We find that the silk, once wound into the larger coils are worth $50 per kilo. The rain has stopped and Huong wants to see the Mushroom Farm.
On the way to the Mushroom Farm we stopped at the restaurant we stopped at Thursday. The food was very good and we had not had breakfast so lunch was welcome. We both had fish and rice. More rice than either of us could eat but we finished the fish and greens, most of the rice and the soup.
At the Mushroom Farm we went in and the people there were so friendly. One was there on Thursday and she showed us everything. On Thursday the guide pulled up the tarp on one of the buildings to reveal the Mushrooms. Today I showed Huong the same and a boy came by and waived us on to another building. I thought we would see the same but he was so insistent and so happy that we went along. The mushrooms here were much farther along and as he held up the tarp he invited us in. The girl who was here yesterday was in there also she is so sweet and pleasant, they all are here. We go in and watch as the lady picks the biggest clumps of mushrooms and the bag will regrow another batch. There are goats here and Huong is not too excited about them till she sees two babies and she stops to play with them. Down near the entrance we stop to see the bags filled with ground Rubber Tree. The bags are put on shelves then rolled into an oven to purify the mixture so that only the mushrooms that are wanted will grow. Then the spores are placed in the end of the bag which looks like a two liter soda bottle then put in the buildings. The buildings keep out the sun and they naturally stay warm and damp.
Just up the road is the Weasel Coffee Farm. We stop in for a soda and to sit on their porch which is on a hillside and 3 stories up. There is a commanding view. Huong is sitting with her eyes closed. We discuss beautiful and romantic. She thinks beauty and romance are separate and I think they are often very joined. I think that often because of romantics things are more beautiful. We have a lot of fun discussing things and often not agreeing. It is not necessary to agree with friends all the time. She said I am beautiful but not romantic. I said I am romantic. As we walked out the girl who served us Thursday and today was by the door. She asked if she could do anything for me and I said no, your pretty smile is enough for me. I walked back to Huong who noticed how the girl was looking and I said ”I am romantic” Huong laughed.
As we leave I get on the motor bike and I am waiting for Huong to get on and get settled the driver of the van parked next to us smiles and points at his head. I forgot to put on my helmet. I say “Cam ON’ and put it on, he smiles. And we are off.
Back on the road Huong asked if I knew where the flower farm is that we stopped at some years back. I said I did not but we are surrounded by flower farms. The 20km back to DaLat went quickly and we soon found ourselves at Cam Ly. I pointed out the flower farm where we stopped the other day but neither of us really wanted to stop. After all, how many beautiful girls in mountains of flowers, mixing and matching them, can you look at. Duh
Down through Cam Ly we come to the road that runs to the abandoned Cam Ly Airfield. I turn in and Huong asks why. I tell her I want to go up in the tower and maybe someone will be there today. She said it is restricted and I cannot go up. We come to the end of the airstrip and drive up to the runway to the apron, which is now a storage facility for sand and gravel. The gate to the fence around the tower is open and I pull up to the gate. This makes Huong nervous and she gets off the bike and walks away from the gate. This is very Vietnamese. Most I know will not even look through a fence if it says “keep out” or “restricted”. It has been ingrained by years of a repressive government and it will not change fast except in the youth. They seem to have less of that fear of the government. It is exciting to see this. There is a man hoeing a garden and I motion to him that I want to go in the tower. He points at the tower and I say yes and nod. He motions to go in. By this time Huong is coming with me and I am a little surprised. We go in the gate and around the tower to the stairs. The first floor is a home and the second now is. The third floor was abandoned before but is now an office. On the top floor we find the control room and this is just as it was last time I got in to it, empty except for a desk. The windows are filthy. Next time I will bring a bottle of Windex and cloth. I take a few photos from inside and then outside. I look at the taxiway and the apron and imagine the activity 45 years ago. As we leave we wave to the man who is now working farther away. He nods and smiles.
We move out the Apron and on the run way. As I drive down it I think of the pilots who came down this same runway, looking at the same mountains in the distance as they lifted off to, as one pilot put it, slip the surly bonds of earth.
We go back to the hotel and it is still only 1:00 so I ask Huonh if she wants to go to the History Village and she does. It is on the North East side of town and it is a fair ride but we arrive just as the sun is setting. We enter and walk around. There should be a map to this place it is so large and wanders so beautifully down the hillside. As we walk I realize I am in places I have not seen before.
At night it has a different look. The lighting is so beautiful. Not all areas are lit and some are dimly lit. In one area spotlights shine up into the trees. In another the stairs, which go in different directions have lights behind the open risers. The generally soft lighting is a wonderful effect. I know I say a lot is a must see especially in DaLat but it is so true. The XO DaLat History Village must be seen in the day and at night. There are several restaurants. We meet the lady I have seen both times I was there this trip. She says “you are back” I say I am, there is so much to see. She says that at 6:30 there will be traditional music in the lower restaurant and we can listen and have tea. It is 6:15 so we go down and find ourselves in a court yard surrounded by two story buildings with balconies. The floor is red clay tile and slopes down to one end. On one side is a stage that is long and has traditional instruments. In the center is a fire pit with a fire blazing. Art work is all around us in this space with no roof. At the low end of this space sits 14 men in suits and I suspect they are the Board of Directors or maybe officials who are here to check up on things. As the music begins one man gets up and comes to near where we are and talks to the musicians. He looks serious. I look at him and we make eye contact and when we do I smile and nod. He relaxes and smiles. He is joined by another man and they talk while listening.
As the classical portion ends Huong shows me her watch and we leave. As we go up to the street level we are momentarily lost but find our way by following the lighted areas till we are where we recognize. We leave, get our bike and return to the hotel.
It is late but dinner is often late in Vietnam. Most of my friends do not have dinner till 8:00 or 9:00. We decide to go to Huong’s favorite place and have Pho. Many foods stands are a cart that is rolled out at time of dinner. Even many restaurants have a cart in the front. This restaurant has a large one and as we eat I like to look at the cart and the 3 to 6 girls who work at it. There are often 12 hands moving and preparing the dishes and they never seem to get in one another’s way. I cannot get video to my journal but I put some on Facebook.
The end of another great day.
Madam Ngu's House - Historic Wood Block Collection
Banh Beo Lady
At teh small market near Huong's house this lady makes Banh Beo which is delicious.
Today my first thing to do is to buy my ticket for Saigon. Having done this and having gotten a front row seat on the sleeper bus I am off to meet Huong for breakfast. Today we are going for Banh Hoi which I find in much like Banh Beo only on rice noodles in the form of a mat instead of the steamed rice flower and water of Banh Beo. I have now had, in the last few days, Ban Beo, Ban Xao, Ban Can and now Banh Hoi. The Banh Hoi is very good and much like Banh Beo. I did not really care for Banh Canh though and I find that the Banh Beo, though different in different areas, is very good.
As we sit I watch a truck go buy. It is loaded with bricks. Here they are not on pallets and not loaded with a front end loader but rather the bricks which are stacked at the dealer are loaded by hand and stacked in the truck then unloaded by hand and stacked at the site.
After breakfast Huong suggests that we walk up to Madam Ngu’s house which is a museum of the revolution and also of the wood blocks that were used to print the books that are the history of the Nguyen Dynasty.
The back building houses the Printing Blocks. Each block was hand carved to make the Chinese characters the print face. The blocks are registered with UNESCO in the Memory of the World Register. They are housed in State Records and Archives Department #2 in Dalat. There are 34,555 blocks comprising 152 Book titles with 1,935 Books. The art work is so beautiful. As you enter the building, under a portico, there are blocks on display which you can pick up and look at closely. Being very tactile I like this “hands on” approach to history.
The front building is an extension of her home and houses a collection of Photographs that are from the days of the American war and tend to portray us badly. Some of the photographs I recognize from the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, which used to be called the War Crimes Museum.
We see only a small portion of her house but we do see two of her bomb shelters. The gardens are beautiful and include a long pond in the shape of Vietnam with stepping stones across at the DMZ.
Coming back a motorbike passes and a man calls out. The bike turns and the man is a friend of Huong who lives in France but has married a woman from Mui Ne, here in Vietnam. They talk in French for a while and I chat with the driver who is a friend and also lives in France but is Vietnamese.
We stop at the market for Banh Beo but it is not ready yet. Huong goes home and I wait to watch the lady make it and have her recipe. She finishes and I have 4 of the small bowls.
Back at the hotel I rest then go to the Night Market for one last look
Leaving DaLat - The Frenchman's Pantaloons
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We were both tired from not doing much yesterday except a lot of walking. Huong arrived and we went for breakfast of bread with egg.
Back at the hotel I packed while Huong went to translate for a French friend who is visiting DaLat. He needs his pants altered and her sister is a tailor and understands French but not to the extent that she can understand everything the man, Jean, needs to be understood. Huong says she will return in an hour or so. I said as soon as the Frenchman’s Pantaloons are altered. I told her it sounded like a book title, The Frenchman’s Pantaloons. Maybe a mystery. We just sat around and talked for a while and I packed. I leave tonight. A good thing about Phuong Trang Bus Lines, also known as FUTA, is that when you buy a ticket it is from Detram street to Saigon Terminal by van. Then by bus to DaLat Terminal, and then to your hotel or house or where ever you want to go by FUTA Van. They always get you to the bus on time for departure but they are always a little late and that makes me nervous. The van arrives and we say our goodbyes and I am off to the bus terminal. Huong is a very interesting person. She has a degree in teaching and a masters in fine art. She is a poet and an artist, a French Teacher and we have wonderful time discussing things. This trip she has had some personal uneasiness within her family but we were able to fix a few things and the rest will work itself out with her and her sisters, who are also involved, hopefully all will end up for the best. Her sisters are also very nice people.
DaLat to SaiGon and Minh Ha's home cooking
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Today begins at midnight and I arrive at the DaLat Terminal of FUTA. A few minutes early and I am told to wait in the waiting room. The bus is called in Vietnamese and a man comes over and tells me that it is my bus. FUTA has so many people everywhere they go to make sure you do not get lost. Every terminal and every station along the way.
It is a sleeper bus but I have the front seat and a little more legroom. To my surprise I also have a seat that goes nearly vertical and headroom to sit almost straight up. As we pull out of the Terminal we turn left. We always turn right but the road is barricaded. I suspect that all the rain we have had here has closed the road. In the bus I am next to Lien who is a student at the University of DaLat studying English. His English is very good. He is from Dong Nai, the district that Bien Hoa and Long Binh are in. I lived there for about 6 months in 1967/68. After a while we fall asleep. It is an off and on sleep that is interrupted by the occasional stop and noises from outside. We are lucky that this driver uses the horn very rarely. Some steer with one hand and use the horn with the other. This makes it hard to sleep but this is a good ride.
We ride through the hills of DaLat and as we go we see lights in the night. A valley filled with greenhouses that are lit giving the light and the glow of the plastic green house. It is very beautiful.
We stop and I wake to see Linh getting off the bus so I know we are in Dong Nai and close to Saigon. Soon we pass the columns that will hold the Metro which will run from the center of Saigon to Soui Tien in Thu Duc, another place I lived in 1968.
We stop in the Northeast of Saigon and everyone seems to be getting off. I am unsure of this but the driver says I get off. My bag is already in a FUTA van and a man is directing me to the van. As I said FUTA has people everywhere they stop to keep everyone going to where they want to go. In the van we drive down to Detram Street and the ticket office and waiting room of FUTA. I get out here and get a cab. FUTA now has a fleet of cabs and I give them a try. I have always had good luck with Mai Linh but I like FUTA. The cab gets me right to Minh Ha’s door. I arrive a little earlier than I had planned. So I sit across the street and send a text that I am here. I end the text and a light comes on.
After a short nap I come down to find Minh Ha cooking which she does so much every day. Today we have shrimp with the heads on, minced clams, rice noodles and soup. There is a familiar fragrance and I ask if there is crab paste. She says there is shrimp paste. The same to me and both have a very strong fragrance like the bay at low tide. The taste is strong by its self but much less so if a small amount mixed in with things still not one of my favorites. She asks me to taste it and I try some on my chop stick and it is just as I remember. When she was at our house in Pipersville we agreed that she would try things American and it was ok if she did not like them. She did not have to eat them but she must try them. What is good for the Goose is good for the Gander and I do try things. There are few things I do not like here.
I ask her if the toilet was fixed. Before I left it was not working. The water was good up to the toilet but it was not filling so I am sure that it is the inlet valve. The inlet valve simply turns and lifts out. Unfortunately, the water does not shut off at any sink, shower or the toilet so Unless I want to find out where the whole house shut off is, I get on my bathing suit and I simply cover the water shooting in and take the valve out. It is installed crooked and the float is rubbing on the side of the tank. Also the float is adjusted too low, probably from constantly rubbing on the tank and there is an adjustment on the valve itself. Everything is working now and I just adjust the fill to be one inch below the overflow and try it a few times. I step out into the kitchen in my bathing suit, since the water was spraying all over. Minh Ha asks nervously, “What are you doing in there”. I reply “I am playing in the toilet”. She laughs but has a look of concern. I have cycled it a few times and tell her it is fixed and invite her to try it. She is very happy since the plumber said it is too old to get parts and she needs a new one. I am happy. Sometimes little victories are so rewarding.
So I dry off and retire to write this wonderful day’s events. Minh Ha is calling the bus company to get us tickets for Vinh Long Tomorrow. We will say for 2 days. Neither of us has been there before and I want to go to my Granddaughters restaurant. She has emigrated to the USA and is living in New York. Her Aunt is running the restaurant in her absence.
The call gets us two tickets and all we have to do is show up in the morning and pay for them. IT IS NOT A SLEEPER BUS.
After writing a little I go down to find dinner ready. It has the leftovers from lunch and some new things added. Minh Ha often has meals like this. One of the exciting things is a drink that was made from removing the corn from the cob and putting it in the blender for corn drink. I love corn on the cob boiled or roasted over the open fire and whole kernel corn and even creamed corn but I was surprised by the corn drink. It is a flavor that I like in a form that I had never had. Very good. In Vietnam I have learned to expect the unexpected.
I finish today and I am off to bed. It I back on the bus tomorrow.
Bus to Vinh Long - Lunch and dinner on the river
Beautiful view from my room in Vinh Long, Minh Ha also has a room on this side of the building and across the street is a restaurant on the river.
We woke in plenty of time for our bus to Vinh Long. A leisurely breakfast and Minh Ha runs to ABC Bakery to get enough bread for a family of 8 for a week. While she is gone I take the time to boil water. The water is low and I do not want to go and leave none. I take the water from the filter and put it on the burner and fill the top of the filter. Minh Ha returns and May is off to work and she wishes us a happy trip. A taxi is called and we are on our way to the Phuong Trang office where a van takes us to the same terminal on the west side of SaiGon that I went to for my trip to DaLat.
The bus pulls out in what seems like an endless stream of busses. The road is clogged and now the flow of busses makes driving slow. I am always a little surprised how close the big busses drive to each other and to trucks. I notice an SUV backing into traffic. A man is directing the SUV to back while motioning the traffic to make room. The SUV backs but the traffic is not stopping or moving nor paying any attention to the Man or the SUV but the SUV continues and soon he is in the street where the traffic must stop, move over or hit him and that is not acceptable. As he backs into traffic everyone does move to the left and he is out. I am not sure that the man directing was in any way necessary.
We left the terminal almost empty but stop a few places to pick up more passengers. The bus fills till it is almost full.
Out of the city we begin to see the countryside. Rice fields that stretch for as far as you can see. They are a deep green and when the breeze hits them they look like waves on a great green sea. Every once in a while there is a tomb or two in the field. Probably someone who spent his or her life working there. Everything is peaceful and beautiful. Even the traffic has thinned out. The road has rough spots where it is under construction but the bus slows and it is like being rocked in your Mother’s arms.
After two hours there is a 15 minute rest stop. The rest area is under a roof that covers several acres. It is nice to be in such a climate where there will never be a snow load and spans can be very large as long as they pitch just a little. In this area there are many gift shops and restaurants. There are people in the table area who take orders on a computer and give you a receipt which you present at a counter where they have your food and drink ready. Some come in and sit and a waiter takes your order. Writes it in duplicate and leaves your copy on a sharp stand that holds any subsequent items. When you are finished the person who handles money collects all your receipts and takes your money to the cashier who rings your order up and makes change.
After the rest stop we cross many canals. Some wander and others run as far as we can see. Some are wide and others are little wider that a small boat.
We arrive at the terminal in Vinh Long after a little more than 3 hours. From there a van takes us to the hotel. I picked the hotel because it was the only one in Vinh Long on Hotels.com. I have been using hotels.com only because I started using them and have never had a problem. We walk into the Hotel Cuu Long. I show my passport and we are handed the keys. I am amazed at our luck. The Hotel is facing the River with only a low building on the other side of the street. Our view is so beautiful. If you come to Vinh Long the Hotel Cuu Long is so nice. We are in rooms 104 and 103. The best rooms in the hotel are along the front. 101, 102, 103 and 104. I just took 104 without knowing it at all and it has a beautiful view with only a one story building across the street. 103 is as good and 101 and 102 only have a 2 story building across the street but still a nice view of the river. I imagine rooms 201 – 204 and 301 – 304 are all nice but I like the lower floors for the view closer up.
This is a little higher that I usually spend but it is worth $28 since we will only be here for two days.
Having settled in we go across the street and have lunch on a deck over the Co Chien River which is a branch of the Tien River. Lunch is very good and we look out on boats of all sizes going up and down the river. We are 300 feet from the ferry crossing and the ferry comes across the river not facing our shore but pointing up the river. The rains have made the current strong. Much vegetation is floating in the river. As we eat the rain comes up the river. We see it coming and move to a table one in from the edge. The roof on the first 5 feet is more shade than roof and the water pours in on the floor. It is very beautiful.
After lunch we have a nap and rest for our real purpose here. My Granddaughter has immigrated to the USA with her family and lives in New York. Her restaurant is here in Vinh Long and she left her Aunt to run it. However, when we arrive for a terrific Korean Dinner and some Kim Chi we find the restaurant empty. The Aunt closed the restaurant leaving only a sign. The sign has a perfect likeness if Christmas. But no Korean food. Not even a class or coffee cup with Christmas’ likeness is left. It is a disappointment but we head back to the hotel.
Minh Ha calls a taxi. She realizes that she left her umbrella in the Taxi which brought us. I suggest that when we get back to the hotel we will ask what taxi they called for us and we will call and ask if they found the umbrella. Minh Ha says the umbrella has been a good friend for a long time. I tell her not to worry and suggest we go across the street for Dinner. Again we are dining on the river which is beautiful and this time not raining. We have a Hot Pot with Shrimp and rice. It is very good. I wanted to get spring rolls but Minh Ha nixed that because they are not good for you. Something about being fried in oil. After dinner I ask if we can get ice cream and Minh Ha remembers someone selling it as we came in. She goes out and comes back with a cone of Chocolate and a dixie of strawberry Vanilla. The dixie has the Strawberry in the center in the shape of a heart. I am not sure why the ice cream is better than the spring rolls but I enjoy it.
We return to the hotel and the receptionist pulls Minh Ha’s umbrella out of the desk and hands it to Minh Ha. She is very happy. We retire to our rooms and as I write I am sure she is very happy and will sleep well tonight.
Boat Tour Dinner in town
The ever present Elephant Fish is so delicous
I have passed the half way point in my trip but the good days continue. I think good friends have something to do with it. Minh Ha had never been to Vinh Long before and wanted to take a tour. I had been in the general area and taken a number of tours so I told her to make reservations. She did and this morning we were off to the landing across the street. She said it would be 400,000 but 700,000 if we go to the floating market. I told her we could go to the floating market if she wanted and so we were directed to the boat, which was empty. I was hoping to not have to wait too long for the rest to show up. To my surprise as soon as we were on board the boat cast off and we were on our way. This essentially meant we could go where we wish and stay as long as we wish.
We were off across the river which is quite wide here. We passed many boats, large and small and some very large. On the other side of the river we went up a canal through a very large island. We stopped at a narrower canal and transferred to a boat that was being rowed by a lady. It was a narrow boat and the lady stood and rowed with two long oars. She took us a long way through a sometimes narrow canal which went off in many directions. Sometimes we passed other boats and some with motors. At one point a larger boat was backing out and would have hit us but the lady ran up our narrow boat to push off the larger boat. With that boat following us we came to a bend and I could see another large boat coming around the curve. The lady kept rowing and we passed the oncoming boat and left the two larger boats to maneuver around one another. We passed many homes with boats or moorings on the canal. Many high arched bridges were across the canal. For most of the ride it was very quiet, very peaceful and very beautiful.
I wave to everyone and Minh Ha asked why. I told her I remember that person from my last trip. She laughs and finds it amusing that most people wave back and smile. I tell her that they must remember me also. She finds this amusing.
Minh Ha finds happiness everywhere and even though I made little input to the destinations Her happiness is so wonderful. Few things make me happier than to know I have brought happiness to a friend. Especially one as nice as Minh Ha.
We finally arrive at the floating market at Cai Be. It is less impressive than the one at Can Tho. Like the market at Can Tho this market has boats with a tall pole on them with a sample of the goods they are selling. A bunch of bananas on one and a pineapple on another. In Can Tho there are more merchants preparing their goods to sell to tourists. Here there are less tourists and the tour boats do not stop to allow buying of goods. Still she was happy with it. I think next year we will have to go to Can Tho.
Along the banks are towns that have streets and houses and buildings back away from the canals but at the bank there are buildings on stilts with docks. Some very dilapidated looking but docks none the less. Boats moored everywhere. A number of boats that have sunk but were not salvaged and they stick their heads just above the surface of the water.
Many of the places we stopped at in the past are now replaced but others doing the same thing but not as well. Where the rice paper was made there used to be a lady in full swing turning out massive amounts of the rice paper but now a girl goes to the place it is made and does one for us to see how it is done. It is nice but the lady working so hard hour after hour was a little more inspiring.
We had walked through a factory, small scale but an entire operation of making the coconut candy, but here there were a few girls cutting and wrapping the candy and a pot of the liquid slowly cooking. Still I have seen it done and Minh Ha had many questions and someone answered all of them. She was happy but then she is almost always happy and often doing things with her is a lot like when I took the children places when they were little. Her innocence is a thing of beauty.
We stop for lunch at a place that has traditional music. We go in and are shown to a pavilion that is on stilts over pond. There are about a dozen of these pavilions here. I have a photo of a lady who sang traditional music on a previous trip. As she sang I smiled at her and she smiled. The more one of us smiled the more the other did and finally she could not sing. The other 4 singers were aware something was up but did not know what. Only she and I and a Swedish Man knew what was happening. After the singing I went and asked her for her photo and she composed herself and stood for the photo but I said “Not like that I want to see the pretty smile”. At this she smiled and turned her face. That is the photo that I have of her. Some remembered the place with the music from years ago but no one recognized the lady.
Returning to the pavilion I find Minh Ha has ordered. I remember from years past that each visit they served Elephant Fish. It was fried and standing in a rack that made it look as if it was swimming. The fish is light and flaky and fried with it only retaining a little of the oil. It was so good and so consistent. Our dinner arrives and I am surprised to see the same Elephant Fish in the same stand. I love this fish. Minh Ha asks if I have had it before and I say yes. She asks if I like it and I say “I love this fish”. “Do you remember when you say if something falls on the table we do not pick it up and eat it because the table is dirty?”. She says she remembers and I say “If this fish falls on the floor I will get down and fight the dog for this fish”. She finds the analogy both funny and disgusting. She laughs and frowns at the same time. The fish is really good.
After lunch we go to a Lychee farm. Once again there is little information but we go into the grove and pick and eat fresh Lychees for a while. And back to the boat. As we go back across the river to home we see the rain coming. Our pilot quickly puts on his rain coat. Minh Ha dons hers and I wish I had bought mine. I open the umbrella and it keeps my upper body dry and that is where my camera, notebook and glasses are so I do not care if I get my pants wet.
Back on dry land we go to the hotel and get a shower and rest. Minh Ha comes over and suggests dinner. She thinks the restaurant across the street is too expensive. It is almost $10 for the two of us. So we walk into town and find a nice place where she orders too much food. I have tried to tell my friends I want to lose weight, and it is so easy here except everyone here seems to think I will starve and blow away in the wind so I try to eat less without offending anyone. Our dinner is delicious. And as I pay Minh Ha says we should give the waiter 10,000, 50 cents, I say it is ok but why. Tipping is not done here. She says that he is poor and he needs it. I tell her that she is so beautiful for thinking of things like that. She smiles and says she gave the lady who rowed us for so long 20,000 and again I asked why. She said the lady rowed us for an hour and was paid 75 cents but the tour company so we added a dollar to that.
Now I am ready for bed and will fall asleep quickly. I am sure that Minh Ha is already asleep.
Vinh Long - Pagpda - Museum - The trip back to Saigon
Chua Tien Chau
Today we leave Vinh Long around noon. Minh Ha would like to visit the Tien Chu Pagoda. We go down to the desk and leave out keys. The man at the desk gives me two slips of paper. They are for the breakfast buffet across the street. As I look at them They look like the slips we received when we arrived. We had these yesterday and did not think to use them. We have a laugh at our not understanding the slips yesterday and go to the Buffet.
The buffet is nice with a good Vietnamese selection which is ok with me. Once again we are sitting on the patio on the river and watching the boats go up and down and across the river. The ferry is going back and forth across the current.
We go to the ferry and ride across. The ferry costs 1000 VND or 4 cents for us both to cross. It is a very short walk to be at the Pagoda.
The Pagoda was built in 2009 but looks like it could have been there for centuries. There is much new construction in Pagodas and Temples. At the end of the war all religion was frowned on though many in power had grown up Buddhist and it was not actually outlawed. Many pagodas were empty for years and remained much as they had been before the new regime.
When we arrived at the Pagoda there was a service and the sisters were at the main alter. There was beautiful singing. I filmed some but the sound did not pick up very well. There was a long hall that had a wide span and a floor that shined. There were many gardens and one within a wall that had a pond wandering through it. Many trees and out buildings. It is very peaceful and beautiful.
Going back across on the ferry we get off and find ourselves at the gates of a Museum. Going in we find it is closed for lunch. We also go to lunch and sit on the dock which is becoming very relaxing and familiar. After lunch we return to the museum and find many interesting things in the 4 major buildings and among the displays outdoors. Out back is a Huey, covered in dust and dirt, an F5A fighter jet and other Russian and Chinese Vehicles. There is a bunker where the commander of the Vinh Long area of the VC had his command post. It is concrete and about 12 feet in diameter and rises 4 feet above the ground. There are a system of tunnels beneath which have offices and living quarters. We know this because I am lucky enough to be with someone who knows the language. Many Museums have little or no English explanation of exhibits. One building is a temple. Another is a Historical display of Items much like you would find in a museum of Early American history. A winnowing machine for separating rice from husk. I have one in the garage that separated the wheat from the chaff which is very similar. There are early plows and a group of oil lamps that would be at home in a collection of American antiques. There are costumes and an old Herbal Medicine Shop. In Cholon section of Saigon I still find shops like these on the backstreets. A wall of drawers and a long counter that looks like a bar.
Our time is up and we return to wait for the van to the bus for the ride home to Saigon. The bus stops at a rest stop 1 hour into the 3 hour trip and once again we are in this massive area of restaurants and shops.
Back on the road it is a short trip to Saigon. We come into the terminal from which we left but this time we come in from a different direction and I realize this is the terminal that Thanh brought me to years ago when she took me to see where she worked at the Bon Chen Shoe Company. From here we get the van which should take us back to DeTham Street however it ends in the Northwestern side of District Binh Tranh. Minh Ha calls May and May arranges an Uber ride. We are home and tired. We chat with May and Minh Ha is off to Yoga. She says we will have dinner at 1 after she returns. May has bought dinner and I suggest we wait since Minh Ha likes meals together so much. I rest and save photos to Phanfare. After Minh Ha’s return we have meatballs and rice with a really nice sauce.
I had planned to write this then but I was tired and fell asleep.
Resting up - De Tham Street
Today I moved my photos to Phanfare and wrote yesterday’s happenings and goofed off. I went downstairs and Minh Ha had gone to the market for fixings for lunch. Minh Ha does nothing in a small way. Lunch was to have fried fish, soup with Daikon Radishes, Carrots and a garnish of fried onions. As Minh Ha and May cooked and prepared we had a nice talk. Minh Ha’s reading and writing English is very good but she has a little trouble with listening and speaking. If she gets excited she just speaks in Vietnamese and May translates. We talk about English and what we think about this and that and we often have fun with Minh Ha having a towel for everything and heaven help the person who uses a floor towel on their hands or a dish towel on their face. We discus history and travel in Vietnam and in the USA. Many subjects and always a lot of fun. May is just as beautiful as her mother. She went to the same university and taught biology until taking a job in business. She is always helping her mother and if I say I need to go to the store for something she will pop in and have it for me. Both are wonderful people.
After that great lunch I go to De Tham street to buy my tickets for Phan Rang tomorrow at midnight. Another trip that is about 9 or 10 hours so we will sleep on the bus and arrive in Phan Rang in the early morning and if they do not let us check in early we will leave our bags and go to the beach for a while.
I walked around hoping to see old friends who have usually been in the De Tham area. I hoped to see Ba Hai and find how her teeth got fixed and who I owe $400 dollars to. I thought I saw Suong last month but I lost track of her and Miss Dung who I have not seen for a few years. People come and go but I hope to see some. I was hoping to see Bob, the motor cycle driver.
Still there is a month left. I get a cheese burger and small Coke at McDonalds and head back to the 46 bus to district 4 and my home away from home.
At the house I remember the leaking sink. It is the drain which had a “y” fitting. The sink drains from the top straight through and the “y” was put in for the washer to flow into the side. When the sink is being used the water sometimes runs out the washer’s side of the “y”. All I need is to make washer’s side a little higher so the water does not go up it. I talk to May about it and she Has some pieces of PVC that were left over from when it was put in. I still need 45 degree to make the curve closer to straight up. At the corner where I get the 46 bus is a small hardware store I have used before and I saw the PVC fittings there. In a few minutes I am back and the sink is fixed. Another little victory.
Dinner is always an event and there is always good conversation. Tonight I pack for the trip to Phan Rang.
Hanging out and going up to Miss Oanh's House for the trip to Phan Rang tonight
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Breakfast again with Minh Ha and May and I finish packing. Lunch is a nice meal and we talk about my trip up to Phan Rang. This is another place I have never been and all I know about it is the song from the War about “Hello Phan Rang Tower this is Blue star 824”. It is a song about a chopper coming into Phan Rang with wounded and is turned away because an inspection going on. The pilot sings about being shot up and leaking hydraulic fluid and almost out of fuel, but still the tower does not want the chopper to land during inspection. This is the sole reason I wanted to see here but it was because Miss Oanh wanted to come here that I really decided to take time to see this place.
After lunch May has called a taxi. I told her I would take the 46 bus and the 20 from Pham Ngu Lao but she says she has a coupon and the ride is free.
At Miss Oanh’s house we go next door to the coffee shop owned by her friend. We decide to go out to dinner and have a nice meal at a large restaurant that is frequented by Vietnamese patrons.
At Oanh’s we chat and her friend sings for us. 10:30 arrives and we are off to De Tham and the Phuong Trang Bus. The buses do not come to De Tham so we are taken by van to the terminal on the Northwest of Saigon. We are early but better early than late. Even at midnight the terminal is very busy.
There is a lady with a boy who is deformed and does not move except his eyes. She leaves him to go to the ladies room and he begins to cry a little. We make eye contact and he smiles. She returns and she also smiles a little. She goes to the other part of the waiting room and tends to another child who is also deformed. The lady returns to hold the first child. She hugs him and talks to him. Though he cannot stand or walk she carries him like a child carries a doll and holds him upright so he can look out the door at the busses and people passing. She has trouble walking. Her clothes are worn and she has the look of being weary. She is very plain but she is so beautiful in her plainness looking much like an angel caring for the children.
11:45 and the bus is here and ready for loading so we go out.
Arriving at Phan Rang - exploring the hotel and beach - the Musicians
Singers from Phan Rang Church
I wish I had thought to get everyone in one photo
Midnight and the bus pulls out on this 9 or 10 hour ride, they tell us. For the first time I am on the upper level and in the center. I can sit straight up and I sleep very well. I have stayed away from the things I should stay away from on a long bus trip.
I was told the Dalat trip was 7 to 8 hours long and it turned out to be 5 or 6. This trip turned out to be 6 or 7. I think the times were printed up when the roads were not as good as today and no one ever changed them. It would be helpful to have an accurate time so you can plan your arrival however, this is how things work here.
We arrive early and have no problem checking in. Our cottage is wonderful. There are so many of these little cottages that look like houses from a children’s story book. Many concrete animals around the grounds. As we entered there were a pair of concrete mountains about 40 feet high. A very large circle and off to one side is Registration. Some of the statues are broken and all need paint but it is the after season time here and there are signs that work is being done. There are statues of Mickey, Santa Clause and Snowmen. Concrete fences that are made and painted to look like branches. Outside our door there is a concrete creek with a concrete boat in it. The water is not running but it is very nice. A creek winds through the grounds with waterwheels and many plants in the water.
We take a walk and take some photos of the cottage, the pool and the beach. We are just behind the pavilions and the ocean is on the other side. The beach is miles long and curves gently. The water is crystal clear. I am standing about 200 feet offshore. I forgot my mask and snorkel. Along the shore is a concrete path lined with Palm Trees. The sun is hot so we decide to have lunch and come back as the sun is lower in the sky.
On the way to the Hotel’s restaurant there is a group in a pavilion and as we pass they wave and as we return their waves they increase. We have rice, soup with greens and fish. I have a bowl of crab soup also. We enjoy the meal and I notice that there is an outlet on the pavilion and Miss Oanh has found the password for the restaurant. There is no internet in the rooms but there is in the restaurant.
I will be a little late on my journal but I will get caught up by tomorrow. We are finished lunch and Miss Oanh is talking to a waitress who knows where to find Banh Xeo. I tell her I will go get my laptop to come back and get some work done on my website. On the way to the cottage I pass the pavilion with the people who had waived before. They were waving and calling out so I went in. The floor of the pavilion was covered with beer cans. There were ten of them and the table was covered with food. They were having beer, food and music.
There were two guitars, two saxophones, two composers and two Catholic Priests. They were all friends and told me I could join them at the church tomorrow at 9:00. The composer with the guitar asked if I knew CCR. I was surprised and said “yes” so we started with “Who’ll stop the rain”. They were having so much fun. The wife of one of the guitarists was singing. They asked if my wife sang and I said yes. They said to invite her down. I said she is in the United States. They asked if Miss Oanh was my girlfriend, this happens a lot, and I said she is a friend, not a girl friend. The one priest said something which I did not completely understand but I think he was offering me absolution in case I changed my mind about her being a friend. They poured me a beer and went to toast and I said “Mot, Hai, Ba, Yoooooh!”, a very Vietnamese drinking toast and after that I was in. I do not really drink beer because one can puts me to sleep. Fortunately it is also a custom here to pour warm beer over ice. In this case I always put more ice in whenever I can. This serves two purposes. One, it makes less room in the glass for a friend to pour more beer in and second, as it melts, and it does rather quickly here so I am drinking mostly ice water. I did ask Miss Oanh to join us and she said she would be down later. I reported back to the group and the singing and drinking continues.
When she did come down she enjoyed talking with the group but declined to sing. We had fun for hours then Miss Oanh went to take a nap till the sun was down a little and we could swim without so much direct sunlight. After a while I said I should go see if she is ready as the beach is shaded by clouds. One of the priests has left and the other, the one who said that we should concern us with having a good time and helping others to also enjoy themselves is what is important and we should not worry so much about tomorrow since we cannot see it. This is not the Catholic Doctrine that I had heard in the past. As I leave Miss Oanh is returning in her bathing suit. She hands me the key and I go to change
When I come back we go to the beach and have hours of wonderful swimming in the beautiful water. It is getting late and we return to shower and get dressed for dinner.
The waitress arrives at the room at 7:30 sharp just as she told Miss Oanh and they are off to get the Banh Xeo. I am watching Batman and Robin since the TV and TV movies sent to Vietnam, from the USA are mostly the absolutely worst stuff that was probably cheap and violent. No wonder, when I am in a discussion with strangers, especially students I am asked “Do you own a gun?”
Well, I thought that just about did it for a beautiful and very full day, but I was wrong. I finished typing the paragraph above and thought it was about time for Miss Oanh, the waitress and the Banh Xeo to arrive so I went to the door. Just as I opened it they were right there putting the key in the lock. I gasped a little in surprise which caused them to both shriek, just a little. We all laughed and the food was here and Miss Oanh and the waitress had eaten there and brought mine back. As I started to eat Miss Oanh cried out, “RAT!” I asked her where and she said two rats had gone under the bed. Not wanting the Banh Xeo to get cold I finished it while Miss Oanh called the hotel to have someone come and evict the rodent couple. A young man arrived and when told the situation he went out, got a long seed pod and waved it under the bed but nothing happened.
Having finished my Banh Xeo, First things first, we must maintain our priorities and Banh Xeo loses a lot if it cools. I take one side of the mattress and motion the young man to take the other. The mattress has no holes, cuts or nests so that is good. What we do find is that under the beds has never been cleaned. I ask Miss Oanh to ask for a broom and dustpan and I will sweep the trash out. It takes asking a few times for it to sink into Miss Oanh as she is rather upset at having seen a rat under her bed. The young man returns with a broom but no dust pan. I take it and sweep behind the night stand. Then he takes it and sweeps the area under the bed and I motion that we should also do the other bed. Miss Oanh is talking very fast and not at all pleasantly to the young man. I point out that he does not own the hotel and the person who does pays as few people as he can to clean and then tells them to clean this and this and this and this and do it quickly so they clean as fast as they can but can only do so much. It is the owners fault. She calms down a lot and smiles at the young man who also smiles and I think feels better. The cleaning is not really a solution to the problem but it is doing something and Miss Oanh is much calmer and the problem, though not solved is seeming less life threatening.
All that behind us I am on the patio of the restaurant getting my website caught up and my photos to Phanfare and I hope when I go back Miss Oanh is still calm and has had no unexpected visitors.
Motorbike - Church - Around Phan Rang - WIFI - Dinner of Squid
Abandoned Roller Coaster
We were told the amusement was open in January but I doubt it will be open next Tet.
Today we have a motorbike. The young man dropped it off early
While Miss Oanh is getting ready I ride around the complex. I am in Unit 431. There are hundreds of units like this here. All modeled on Tree stumps, log Cabins or caves. At one time this was a very special place but I had yet to find how special. Beyond the cabins are rows of rooms in buildings that are plain and some that are like thatched roof buildings. The restaurant is large and there are indoors, indoors upstairs, outdoors in small patios along a long promenade. Beyond is the surprise. Riding out behind the restaurants I find a roller coaster. Sitting with the coaster at the loading platform. The ride covered with vines and trees are growing up through it. Weeds grow all around. I turn down a street that is now cracked and patched and to a gate with a banner over the arch. In front is a ride that spun seats around then lifted them as the spun. A “Pirate Ship” that rocked only here it is a whale. Down a broad way that is now being crowded by trees and bushes that have gone untrimmed for a long time. Two large corrugated steel roofed buildings open from 10 feet down that once held all the patron’s motorbikes. There is an eerie feel. Everything is covered in vines. Trees once planted and maintained for an effect have gone wild. Dead plants and branches everywhere. A three story giant slide sits off at an angle surrounded by weeds and trees. It reminds me of Spirited Away. Along another road is a zoo. Empty, overgrown cages. One with a pool covering most of the enclosure. I am so happy to have stumbled upon this place. It is like being in a lost world. Everything needs paint, many of the concrete animals need repairs. The place is just tired and holding together simply because it is here. Everywhere there is a need for landscaping, cleaning, repairing and I do not think the funds will be coming. The area shows signs that the shift in vacationing habits has passed Phan Rang By or at least this section. Several buildings are halted in their construction and left as memories of what was or perhaps what might have been. One resort is the AgriBank resort and I wonder if it may have come back to AgriBank when it defaulted.
My only real complaint, aside from the rat, is that for the first time in Vietnam I am in a carpeted room and the room cannot be cleaned with a broom. It needs a vacuum and the carpet needs to be shampooed from time to time. I never mind needing paint but the room must be clean and free of rats.
We went to the Catholic Church to see the musicians and priests we met yesterday. However, when we got there we were told the Church no longer has masses. I guess it was the wrong church.
We had discussed where to go today. I wanted to ride up to Cam Rah Bay but Miss Oanh said it was 4 hours by motorbike. She wanted to ride around Phan Rang and see the sights. She said there was so much to see here. So there we were at the church and no one else was so we rode around Phan Rang.
We rode and I asked Miss Oanh where to and she did not know. She said to go where I want. I said I wanted to go to Cam Ranh Bay. She said No, too far. I asked where she wanted to go and she said I don’t know. This is getting us nowhere so we just ride around town and find the place where the main part of Phan Rang meets the ocean and there we found signs that said there was no swimming there. The hotels were sparse there and much land was undeveloped. There was a very large and ornate building which was the police. Many official buildings and the beach. Not much to see so we went back inland from the shore and looked for a restaurant that Miss Oanh would like. After some looking we were in front of a restaurant that advertised rice and had an assortment of meat and fish to go with it. She was a little hesitant but the place looked clean and the people looked nice so I pressed a little and we sat on the sidewalk and had some nice lunch. I had rice and shrimp and she had rice and pork. She had a little left over and there was a cat hanging around so she fed him, or her, and the cat was happy. She chatted with the family and had a good time. We left and went in search of the market.
The market was a big one and had the usual sellers of vegetables, Fish, Meat, all without any refrigeration and the fragrance was surprisingly nice. There were people selling plastic wares and pots and pans. Many interesting items for sale. I got some cucumbers and tomatoes which is a good contingency lunch for me. I have my limes and am looking for diet coke but no one seems to have it or understand what it is. I explain “Coca Cola, Khong Duong” (no sugar) then they say “OH yes, no have”. I guess it is just not popular here.
Coming back we ride along the coast and realize that the trip to town this morning was a little out of the way and we are not that far from downtown Phan Rang.
We take a dip in the pool before dinner and the pool is clean and cool but shaded so it has little sun, which is nice as bright as it is today. We are alone in the pool and I think we are almost alone in this sprawling complex. I have only seen a hand full of people since we arrived.
Miss Oanh Rests for a while before dinner while I ride north to a bridge over a river which is filled with fishing boats. In a small area are Navy Boats and a sign to keep out. On the way back I stop and get the AA Batteries I need at a little shop with a young lady who is so happy and full of smiles.
When I get back I ask Miss Oanh about dinner. She had been talking to the waitress who was most helpful at pointing out places to eat. It was the girl who told her about the Banh Xeo restaurant and also at one we stopped at tonight. This was a very nice surprise. We sat down and Miss Oanh asked what I wanted. I said just order what you want and that will be fine. She ordered and we watched as the young lady cooked our squid. There were about a dozen with 3or 4 inch bodies. They were cooked and served in a delicious sauce. We were also given rice paper to wrap them in and a plate of greens and sliced cucumbers. It was really delicious and then came the soup. A large bowl of clam and oyster soup. In a broth but thicker maybe it was the greens that gave it the thicker texture. I think we will be coming back tomorrow. Miss Oanh commented on how good it was.
Returning to the rooms we gather our electronics and head for the restaurant and the internet. I get some things up on the website and also I get my photos up on Phanfare, where my photos are under henrybechtold. I now have them all up except for the videos of the Musicians because they load so slowly. The photos from the abandoned Amusement and Zoo are there under the date 27 September.
I do not know what brought it up but I have a folder filled with music. I started singing and the waitresses thought it quite funny because It is rare to hear Vietnamese just singing for the fun of it. Miss Oanh went off since she was on Skype and I guess my singing was interfering. When she returned I asked if my singing scared her away and she thought that funny.
So all is up to date, almost, and I am good for today.
Swimming in the Pool and Beach - The Fishermen
Fishermen on the beach in Phan Rang
Pulling in their nets
I am up early and return the motorbike. It was a little high at $10 for the day but we had a lot of fun, saw a lot of Phan Rang and met some nice people.
The bike returned Miss Oanh calls Phuong Trang and arranges a bus for us to Saigon on the 30th at 2:00. I was a little uneasy about this because last time I let her arrange bus tickets was to Pham Thiet last year and we got seats in the very back. However, she came through and when she came over and told me that we had tickets she said B01 and B02 and I am happy.
While Miss Oanh is busy with her make up for the beach I take a walk along the shore to get some more photographs. There is a group of fishing with one of those small round boats. The boat takes a net out and when the rope attached to the one end of the net is all the way out the boat puts the net out parallel to the shore. At the end of the net the boat brings the other end of the net to the shore and a group at each end pull the net in. I see the net now with the floats on the top making a long arc. A considerable effort is exerted in pulling the net in. Each person has a belt with a rope and hook and they walk down to the water, loop rope around the top of the net and place the hook on their rope. Then they walk backwards and pull the net in. Each person in turn goes down to the water to connect and pull till the net is in. In the basket formed by the center of the net is pulled ashore filled with fish. From all the effort what is pulled in would fill a 2 gallon bucket. A few fish are 5 inches long. Two are about 10 inches and are very thin with jaws like an alligator about 1 ½ inches long and lined with tiny little teeth. Then they take the fish in a 5 gallon bucket and pour them through a sieve which has half inch opening. This lets the very small fish out to lay on the beach and die. These are the fish that they could be catching in a few weeks but there is no thought of conservation. Only what we get now. Killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
The fishermen are all very friendly and wave and make peace signs and in the past I have helped pull in the net and they were very happy to have help but today I am not dressed. I will wear a bathing suit tomorrow and hopefully they will be out again.
Once again we sit in the pavilion and have lunch. Today is Rice, Greens in a sauce and Fish steaks in a yummy sauce. We take our time and watch the beach and the clouds. We go to the pool which is now shaded and it is clean and very nice and cool but a little too much Chlorine. It is fun but it stings my eyes, or maybe it is just me.
After the pool it has become slightly overcast so we head for the beach. It is now a little cooler with the clouds but the water is warm. Miss Oanh likes that but I would rather a little cool. The water is clear after 10 feet. The first 10 have debris from the storm that has washed plants and branches down the river and into the bay.
Last night someone raked up all the debris and put it in little piles. This morning a lady came along and picked up the piles and took them somewhere. It was a little sad to see that as she was picking up the little piles the ocean had deposited more debris. It was like she would always be working but never getting the beach clean.
Dinner time and I tell Miss Oanh to select a restaurant she wants to go to and she picks the one we went to last night for more Squid in sauce and Clam and oyster soup. The meal was great and now we are back in the pavilion using the internet. I hope to get the videos of the musicians uploaded tonight and this and the photos from today.
This afternoon when we were in the pavilion I was sure I heard a Saxophone but I went to look and there was no one there.
Exploring the resort - Catching up - Dinner
One small segment of the restaurant that has numerous dining roms anda pavilions
We have spent most of our time here in the hotel complex and I have been fascinated with the abandoned amusement park. This morning I went back there and took many photos. It is eerie, beautiful, quiet, a little mysterious a little enchanted. I am sure something could appear out of the corner of my eye at any moment. The highest room number I saw was 510. This is a very large place and I am told in a month it will be full. It would be interesting to see.
Many places in the amusement park there are piles of debris. Plastic soda bottles, soda cans, Styrofoam containers, branches, and in places some fascinating things. Large snail sea shells and a case of them. Concession Kiosks and furniture. Cases of dished, broken pottery, a pile of stools, a pile of bicycles. A man is climbing out of the roller coaster ride with a board in one hand and a tape measure in another.
There is an empty pool about 2 feet deep and next to it are, stacked, little duck boats with paddles that you crank with your hands. Ride after ride 3 deep and an Elephant with holes for eyes. I look around back and under his tail is a large opening that children can go in and climb stairs to see out the eyes. I think I might have places the entrance in his side but then things are different here.
Restaurants everywhere, even in the abandoned amusement park is a snack bar which is opened in the sense that there is no door and a girl is inside in the kitchen which looks like it might serve anytime.
I am told it was built 16 years ago. The restrooms in the abandoned section have the old, hole in the floor, toilets. There is a pile of night stands. One has a pillow in the drawer. Many broken statues, some in piles. The three story water slide drops into a pool which is dirty water but looks in good repair.
I walk through the restaurant and find Miss Oanh having breakfast. She offers to buy me breakfast but I do not like big meals in the morning. I have a little of hers and return to my room. The cleaning girls are sitting outside the room waiting to clean. They have no equipment except for a small broom and a spray bottle filled with an orange liquid. I saw one of the girls yesterday and said to no one in particular “SO Pretty” she said thank you in a voice so high and clear and pretty Thank you”. She had beautiful eyes but her face was covered with the mask so many wear whenever they are out. She pulled it down and she had a face so pretty and so innocent. She had a face so beautiful that I think there are Angles in Heaven who would kill to be that pretty. They came in and did a minimal job of cleaning. But she was so bright that I did not really care about the rooms cleanliness. She kept her mask off and we would talk. The other girl giggled in a high pitched voice and I would go he he he he and they would both laugh. So delightful, so innocent.
I went to the office to get information about when the place was built and when the amusement park closed. The hotel is 16 years old and they say that the amusement Park closed after Tet this year. That would be six months and I do not think that could be. Still I have an email for Mr Thuy and a web address for the hotel.
Returning to the rooms Miss Oanh has rested and is ready for lunch. Back on the pavilion we have fried eggs and bread with the ever present cucumbers and tomatoes. Now she wants to rest again so I go to the ocean. She said she will come in a little while. I don’t know if it was the tide or the fact that there was no rain last night and therefore the river has not flushed all the branches out to the ocean but toady the water is just as it was the first day. Crystal clear water and no debris at the shore line. Swimming out I float in the gentle waves. I wish I had remembered suntan lotion. I did remember a t-shirt to keep from burning now I just have to worry about my face and head.
Miss Oanh shows up and we go for a swim. We both enjoy this beautiful day however we are right near the water being over her head and she stays close. The waves move us in and we are less than hip deep then the waves move out and we are just where I can stand but she cannot.
After an hour she wants to go be out of the sun and read so I go to take photos. This morning I took many photos of the Abandoned Amusement park. While I was the camera changed to color shift 2. I probably touched something. I set it back to color shift 1 thinking there would be no effect. Instead of orange I not got a blue gray. My photos all now look almost like black and white so I went and took them again. I am leaving all on Phanfare since sometimes black and white have a nice look. I am thinking the piled things might benefit from black and white look.
More swimming and more exploring. This 4 day excursion was not as exciting as some. I have had a good time climbing around the lost Amusement park and the village. I found hut number 837 so this is really a big place. At one time this was a showplace and probably packed with tourists. Out last night. Miss Oanh had gone off with the waitress to go to the market and to look at a house that the waitresses mother had for sale.
Seven o’clock and Miss Oanh is not back so I am off to the internet and restaurant and I am sure she will find me when she returns. I am caught up with photos on Phanfare including the videos of our musical friends which are on Phanfare under Day 42 – 26 September at henrybechtold at Phanfare.com. Miss Oanh has returned and found me and we will have dinner and retire to our rooms.
Staff says goodbye - Bus to Saigon - Huge windmills - Power generating stations - Parallel Railroad
Promenade and Beach
Proenade runs for miles from center of town almost to East inlet
Up and out for a swim on our last day here. We have fried eggs and bread then Miss Oanh goes to finish packing and check on transportation. This makes me a little uneasy but from the time the children I have found that trusting creates trustworthy behavior and in this case all works out well.
The lady from the hotel comes to ask us how everything was and we told her it was a nice stay, except for the rats, but that was only one occasion.
We settle the bill and go to the restaurant for coffee and to wait for the Taxi. Phuong Trang picks up and drops off at the door everywhere I have gone except for Saigon and when they drop off at places not an office of theirs. This is one. We came on the bus from Saigon to Nha Trang and they just stop along the road and open the door. So we are there a little early and Miss Oanh talks with a nice man who has just come in from Saigon. The bus pulls up out front and we are on board in seats B1 and B2. We talk with the driver and the conductor for a while and settle back to enjoy the scenery.
South of Phan Rang we start seeing many rice paddies. Mile after mile and far off in to the distance. Also fair size hills that are covered with large boulders. We pass large power generating stations. Some under construction others in operation. And then we begin to pass at least 50 huge windmills. Next are miles of Dragon Fruit farms, row after row of the plants on posts so that the fruit hangs free and is not on the ground.
From Phan Rang down to Phan Thiet we are parallel to the railroad. After Phan Thiet it is dark and we sleep for most of the time.
We arrived back in Saigon late and the van brought us to a place not far from Miss Oanh’s house in District 10 so we got a taxi for the short ride to her house and I stayed the night. First Miss Oanh had to get into her house which she locked from the inside so she went to her friend who lived on the street behind, went to the 6th floor, climbed on to her 6th floor and down to open the door, fascinating. Next we put our things in the house. Miss Oanh had brought some seafood from Phan Rang. It was in a Styrofoam container with ice. She had brought some things for her friend so she put some in her freezer and took the rest to her friend. I went to another friend next door who owned a coffee shop. I had a coke and we chatted.
Back to Minh Ha's - A visit to Chau - Dinner and a Movie
My Granddaughter Chau
Chau wanted to walk around district 7, where she lives, and she took me to a nice Korean Restaurant.
I woke this morning and needed the internet to tell everyone I was back. So many things still to do. Miss Oanh’s computer was not working so I went to Tous les Jour and got a coffee and pastry, did my email and looked at facebook for a while.
I returned to Miss Oanh’s house and told her I would come back in a few weeks and download the photos from Phan Rang to her computer. Saying goodbye I went to the street and got a taxi to Pham Ngu Lao. I walked around the block hoping to see a few people I have not seen this year. No one was around. So I went to wait for the 46 bus home.
The 46 bus is a small truck that is little more than the size of a Lambretta. It is 6,000, about 30 cents. We are on our way so I send a text to Minh Ha, “I am on the 46 bus” and at last “I am in front of your door”.
Minh Ha is happy to see me and I am happy to see her. May is also happy and I am so glad to be staying here it is such a nice family environment. Minh Ha throws together a lunch for 10 and May helps. I do not know much about seasonings so I just boil water. Here we put tap water in the top of a filter then it drips through. We take the water from the bottom and boil it. Then we put it in the pot from which we draw water. I use more water and ice than most so I boil water and fill the ice trays and icemaker reservoir. I like to be doing something even if it is just boiling water. It makes Minh Ha happy that I do something even though she keeps telling me I do not have to
I make contact with Chau, my Granddaughter, and we decide to have dinner at 6:30. She is in District 7 and it is only across the canal so I decide to take a taxi. As I am getting ready Minh Ha says we will ride together and she will visit her Sister in District 7 and pick me up later. Off we go and Minh Ha is not back seat driving so much. Maybe it is because I told her that Miss Oanh is a worse back seat driver than she is. We arrive at Chau’s house. She has an apartment in a nice building. Minh Ha goes to her Sister’s house. Chau calls a taxi and we ride to a place in District which she says is very safe. It is a clean area and many new apartment buildings. We walk and end up at a nice Korean restaurant. She says the area is mostly Korean. It is very upscale. I can say hello to the owner in Korean and she is very happy with that. I like to learn Hello, Goodbye, please, thank you, how are you and I am fine when I meet a person who has a second language. Chau also knows some Korean. After dinner we are back walking the streets and I see a familiar building. I ask, “is this Crescent Mall?”. She says No this is Vivo Mall and we go in. It is as big as Crescent Mall but there is so much now. The stores are much like a mall in the USA but cleaner. The floors shine, the restrooms are very clean and modern. The stores are filled with fashion and toys. Toys everywhere. Thomas the Tank Engine many recognizable brands. In the middle of the first floor is a large area that has a sign over the entrance that says German Toy Fair. There are tables all over with all manner of German made toys. Barns and animals, Dinosaurs, robots. There is a large table with a racetrack and model racecars. A large sandbox filled with trucks, bulldozers and steam shovels and so many children playing.
At the far end are stuffed animals that children can ride. They get a ticket and mount their animal and they are off with their parents in hot pursuit, camera in hand. Parents having as much fun as the children.
Restaurants all around, more on the upper levels. Thai, Korean, Mexican, Pizza and a coffee shop with great milkshakes.
On the top floor is a movie theater showing at least 8 movies and an IMAX. I ask if she wants to see a movie. She does and we pick one, Deepwater Horizon. A great movie that kept Chau on the edge of her seat with her hands over her mouth for most of the film. There was a lot of action and I imagine it was accurate from what we heard while it was all going on. As always here we got to pick our seats and got right in the middle of the theater. Since Minh Ha was going to pick me up I sent a text that we were going into the theater.
After the movie we came out and there was a message from Minh Ha saying she was in Vivo Park. I asked Chau where that was and she said “here”. I looked around and Minh Ha was there with a worried look on her face. I said I told you we were going to the cinema and she said she did not get any message and she was worried. I told her I was sorry that she worried and I called up the messages to show her the message and it was not there. I said I typed it and I must have backed up or not sent and I was so sorry she worried. She had contacted Chau and was in touch after she went to Chau’s house and someone gave her Chau’s phone number. Minh Ha was tired and so worried that I had to reassure her many times we were all ok and I was so sorry that I worried her. She is so beautiful.
It was late when we got home and she was tired but she made dinner at midnight. I look at her and I am so amazed how she cares so much and is such a nice person. We eat dinner, clean up and off to bed. I wanted to catch up on my journal but I was too tired. I just lay down and the next thing I knew it was morning.
Resting and a movie - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
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I was tired this morning after being out till after midnight last night. Chau and I had discussed going to Vung Tau together. At dinner she asked if we could invite someone and I asked who. She said Thao Ly, another Granddaughter. I said that would be nice. We talked about going Tuesday and coming home Thursday. I also asked Minh Ha. Minh Ha said she could not come because she has yoga on Wednesday but if we go Saturday and Sunday she will come. I think that may be good for Thao Ly since she works Monday thru Friday. Now we are just waiting for Chau and Thao Ly and hopefully we are off.
Meanwhile I am catching up on my Journal and lunch is on the way. We are having Banh Xeo today.
After Lunch I finish my journal and my photos to Phanfare. Soon it is dinner time and we are having Banh Xeo again. Minh Ha has so much shrimp and is frying away. She is so special.
I had every intention of going into town and printing some photos, sending Huong’s chocolate and cheese up to her in DaLat and seeing who I could find around town. There was too much food today and too much time to rest so I did not get anything other than my journal done. I am sure I will get back to doing things tomorrow.
As it turns out we discussed movies and I suggested going. May calls around and finds one directed by Tim Burton. She likes him and I remember Alice in Wonderland and Edward Scissorhands so we are off. Minh Ha does not like horror or violence. Romance is ok, comedy is best. We arrive and select the movie and we find it is not a comedy. Minh Ha watches and does not complain. The movie is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It is a little ghoulish but not a horror since the story and directing is having fun with everything that happens.
Back home and we find the pot full of shrimp is no longer full but It is empty. The cat is lying on the washing machine and his paw is orange. We all know why but he lays there smug as can be thinking he has gone undetected.
To bed without a midnight snack of Banh Xeo.
Plans for Vung Tau - Cô Hầu Gái - Buzza Pizza
This night Chau took me to the Buzza Pizza Restaurant.
Up and to work on my Journal and a look at Facebook and my email. An email from Chau and Thao Ly will be going with us to Vung Tau. I am excited and tell Minh Ha that the trip is on to Vung Tau. I go to Hotels.com and reserve a family room for 4 and it is done. It is more than I like to spend but it is the Hotel Cap St Jacques and we have used it before and enjoyed it so much. It is across the street from the Back Beach which is very nice. I write and tell Chau we are set and we will take the bus down because Minh Ha is reluctant to take the Hydrofoil. She says the boat has a bad reputation for accidents and sinking drowning many people because of the limited escape areas. I have never heard of this but then I do not live here and do not hear all the news. So to make everyone feel at ease we will take the bus. Slower and not as much fun but everyone will feel better. May has found the public bus that runs down and we do not need reservations we just show up and off we go.
That settled I write back to Chau and tell her it is set. I also remind her that I often think of going places far away but we can also do things around town. I tell her we can go to Movies and the zoo and anything else we want to do. I suggest another movie and it is my turn to pay. We arrange to meet at McDonalds on Pham Ngu Lao and go to the Bitexco Tower Theater to see what is playing then to dinner.
I had been meaning to take the chocolates and cheese to the bus company and send it up to Miss Huong. I had forgotten to take it up to her when I went to DaLat. The office is on Pham Ngu Lao just Northeast of De Tham street. That finished I walk around but there is no one I know that I have not already seen.
I have a coffee which is called Café Americano and it is much like American Coffee but stronger. As I sit it begins to rain, then rain very hard. I text and Chau is on the way. She arrives and comes in to McDonalds. As we sit the rain is lessening. Finaly, we ride to the Bitexco Tower and I wait as she goes down into the underground parking. She emerges and we go up through the 6 levels of shopping and restaurants and to the theater. We rule out the movies we have both seen and have our choice. Cô Hầu Gái is the one for us. It looks a little like horror but here we do not see blood and guts we rather see spooky movies and this had a wonderful twist in the end, or rather, I should say, several unexpected twists. Later when we got home May asked the price and was surprised it was so cheap. The she remembered that at Bitexco Tower theater Monday is Happy Day and tickets are reduced. Yes it is a Happy Day
Chau asks where we should go for dinner. I tell her any place she wants and she suggests Pizza. I have had pizza here and it is always on thick sweet bread with some Pizza looking toppings and a little cheese. Chau drives us to Buzza Pizza at 5-7-9 Nguyen Trung Truc Street. The Pizza is like at home with a thin crust and Chau orders a Green Salad to go with it. After a wonderful meal we cannot think of anything to do together at night this late hour so Chau drives me home and we decide to have a day on Wednesday or Thursday. I really have not spent enough time with my Granddaughters so we will rectify that. Tram is in Tay Ninh so I am afraid we cannot do a lot about that now but next trip we will get out to Tay Ninh to visit.
Back home I finish my journal and wait for Minh Ha to get home from Yoga to have a midnight snack and some good conversation.
Minh Ha arrives home and May is up and the conversation is stimulating as usual. We talk about the Rough Riders and how Teddy Roosevelt ate a dozen eggs for breakfast each day. This led to how old was he when he died and I said I would google that. Then wasn’t he one of the 4 presidents on Mount Rushmore and where was Mount Rushmore and I thought it was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. And somehow that led to Pets and I remember Randy’s ferrets and what is a ferret anyhow. It is a Mustelid like Weasels and Stoats but I will check for more. Back upstairs the Ferret is a Mustelid and I guess I need a photo. Teddy Roosevelt died at the age of 61 and Mount Rushmore is indeed in South Dakota. And as the diarist once said “And so to bed”.
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All that is planned for today is going to the market. There are small markets in almost every cross road section of the city and Minh Ha shops there daily but today we going to the big market. It is not as big as Big C or Lotti Mart but it is big enough to have much more than the street markets and not be so high priced as the larger more western markets.
We ride to the ATM then the bank and to the market up a few blocks North of the West end of 23 September Park. It is a large store that is much like the stores in the USA except there are many employees to help you find things, assuming you speak Vietnamese. Some do speak enough English and some things you can do in acting it out.
For some reason Diet Coke is not so common and some places do not have it at all. I get 10 cans and a few other things I want. Minh Ha fills the cart. I notice that the store carries Barila Pasta and I am surprised and point it out to Minh Ha telling her that this is sold in Pipersville. She picks up a box and turns to the cart. I take the box and put it back. I have to be careful of saying I like anything or even pointing things out or they will end up in the house next meal. I once said I liked the bread she bought when she was up by the Yoga Place. Next morning I woke and she was not around so I asked May where she was and May said she went to get bread. She drove up across District 4 and to the top of District 1 to get the bread she had bought the previous day because I said I like it. I bought Orange Juice last trip and when I arrived this trip she had purchased a case. I asked why and she said it is cheaper by the case.
We returned home, had lunch and took a nap. We did a lot of sleeping yesterday.
May came home and we had dinner. May’s boyfriend came and we all had a nice time talking.
The next few days I plan to just be around the city until we go to Vung Tau, which should be really nice.
I did get an email from the young man who is interested in Illustrating my book so we will meet Monday evening after we get back from Vung Tau. Sometimes I write stories for friend, just for fun. Recently I wrote one for a friend and it sounded so nice I thought it would be fun to publish. I met an artist on Facebook and his work had wonderful colors just like I would want for the book. We are publishing on Amazon as soon as I get his artwork. We decided to split 50/50 if we sell anything and if it succeeds he will have experience as an illustrator and I will have as a writer and we will see what happens next. After all, thanks to the internet, the poem I wrote a few years ago ended up being one of 3 poems students at a University in Singapore could read and analyze for a grade. It was rather exciting.
Now it is bed time.
Wandering around SaiGon
Hotel da Ville (City Hall)
Looking up Nguyen Hue to City Hall
Today my Granddaughter is busy with her old school. I have been doing things with her and I am so happy. I usually take them on a trip but now I am so happy that they want to do things around town. Just going places together and having meals together.
Minh Ha does not want to go to the movies or museums or the zoo or much of anything except stay home or travel to other places. So I am left to my own devices. Up in town I go to the larger market for a few things like M&M’s and Ritz crackers and cheese. It is interesting to see the American brands that are here and where they are made. Laughing Cow Cheese is her but it is made in Morocco. M&M’s are here but they are made in China. Barilla Pasta is here but it is made in Italy. 10 years ago apples here came from Washington State but now they come from New Zealand.
I walk up and down Nguyen Hue and noticing the large ugly buildings that are rapidly replacing the beautiful old ones. The new buildings usually have 2 to 7 floors of shops selling things like Hugo Boss suits and Rolex watches. Most of the expensive watches are very big and unattractive. One store sells nothing but Waterman Pens. I get all mine from Univest Bank so when I lose them I do not feel bad about it. Who comes to Vietnam to buy things you can buy back home and be sure you are getting real items and not Chinese reproductions. In one shop a man showed me a Rolex Watch and I told him it is not a Rolex. He asked how I knew. I told him that if it was a real Rolex he would have said “yes it is” rather than “how did you know”. Besides the second hand on a Rolex does not bounce, it sweeps. I can buy Chanel No 5 for less than $2 USD which is highly suspect.
There are really nice things here. Bring a nice snapshot and you can get a very nice oil painting for $30 USD or more depending on the size and complexity. A friend took a photo of my granddaughter and had it painted as a gift. It is very nice. There are some interesting antiques however the antique area of Saigon is being swallowed up by big new buildings and the Antique warehouses on the South side of the Ben Nghi Canal are all gone to high rises. Now that I can afford some of the wonderful things I saw there years ago.
I wandered down by the old, pre 1967, US Embassy on Hàm Nghi street and around that area. There is the Bank on the Ben Nghi Canal which I would love to see the inside of. It is a massive building that must be full of old dark wood paneling and wonderful architectural details but it is not on the tours. Much is not. I have been asked to leave many places and still taking photographs is something best done quickly and then making a quick exit. I was asked not to take photographs at the mall and in a bakery. If I was from a competitor, hoping to copy their designs I would have been there with a cell phone pretending to make a call and not with a camera. No photos at a construction site or a company and even getting into a company is difficult.
On a bright note I found, the other night, I have beautiful eyes. We were sitting around the dinner table and Minh Ha and May were saying that I have beautiful eyes. Most Vietnamese Have dark brown or black eyes but I have hazel. I am told they are full of different colors and they sparkle like magic. I told them that many western men think the curve in an Asian Ladies Eyes is so beautiful and mysterious looking. They smiled but I do not they think they really believed me. I may develop an ego if I am not careful. Several women, complete strangers, have told me I have beautiful hair. I remember it was when I was 6. Big, beautiful, soft, blond, curls. Now it is what I think people refer to as salt and pepper, what there is of it and yet one stranger reached to touch it and looked as if asking permission so I said “it is ok”. Again Vietnamese have the most beautiful silky soft black hair but they think the curls are beautiful. I am glad I did not get a haircut before I left. It seems like everything people do not have is what they like. Minh Ha is upset because her skin darkened when we went swimming in the ocean and now will not go to the pool. I told her that American women spend millions to get even fake tans that irradiate their bodies and cause skin cancer. My cousin is a dermatologist and he once said when he goes to the beach and sees all those girls with the dark tans he sees dollar signs.
So after that I looped through area where I used to stay to see if anyone was there. They were not so I went home to find Minh Ha washing and cooking. We ate together with May, who just came home from work, and she was off to Yoga. I am finishing my Journal and wait for Minh Ha’s return to have a late dinner. I do not think I am going to lose the weight I had hoped to this trip.
Chau - Miss Peregrine’s home for Peculiar Children (Again) - Wandering with Chau and back home to find Minh Ha Sewing
The Kellogg's cerial, made in Malaysia
This morning we went to Lotte Mart. I wanted to go to look around and maybe see a movie. We went and the store is big. I got some fish, cheese, yogurt and Mayonnaise to make tomato and mayo sandwiches. A little taste of home. Yesterday the tomatoes at the street market were real ripe. At the Lotte Mart I also found a can of Hunts Spaghetti Sauce and since there was Barilla Pasta we got it and will have spaghetti and sauce. Next time I will have to bring the fixings for meatballs. Somethings, like bread crumbs, are just not here.
Since we bought the fish a movie was out so we came home and put things away. Chau called and we will see what she wants as soon as she answers my return to her call.
Chau has called back and wants to meet at McDonald’s on Pham Ngu Lao. I go and while waiting I meet a man from Washington State and we chat. He also finds being in Vietnam to be more therapeutic than the VA whose answer to PTSD is drugs and after diagnosing PTSD they want you to prove you have it before they will do anything. Go figure.
At 3:00, as planned Chau shows up with a friend who is an older woman. We wander towards the Zoo but it is already drizzling so we decide to go to the movies. The movie we select will start in one hour so we go to eat. As I said this is a cultural thing and I just had lunch and am trying to do better but I do not know if Chau or her friend are hungry so I go and get something small. Of course my ordering little causes Chau to order more so I can share hers and have enough. I used to lose a pound a day here but the more people I know the less that happens.
After eating we go up to the Theater and use the escalator. Chau’s friend has never used one and is afraid. Chau takes one arm and I the other and we stand watching the treads come up and past as she hesitates. Finally, we get her on and everything looks good till at the top we turn to go up another. Again we have such trouble convincing her that it is easy but she is very hesitant. At last a guard comes over and leads us to the elevator. This works till we get off on 7 and need to be on 6 so we head for the escalator and she sees it coming and balks. I tell Chau to take her hand and I will push her. She recognizes my gestures and backs away. The lady is laughing so much and we get her on a few times but it is wearing her out so we stop and use the elevator for the rest of our time in the tower.
The Movie is Miss Peregrine’s home for Peculiar Children which we both saw before but there was nothing new that looked good.
After it was getting dark and Chau had nothing to do so she got out near her home and I went on to mine and she said she would come again tomorrow at 2:00 and we would find something to do. I had always found some place the girls and I and often others at the school could go to have fun but now I realize that they just want time to spend together day to day and Chau especially wanted this so off we go and wander around the city having fun and exploring.
At home Minh Ha is sewing big pockets in a sweatshirt and May comes in with a Japanese Chocolate Flatbar Cookie which is wonderful and small enough to not be too bad for the diet. The three of us have another wonderful time discussing many topics. I hope to find an emaciated lady I had met years ago to see if she needs help and if we can find it for her. She is one of those overlooked people who if you stop and chat you will see that she has the most beautiful eyes and eyes are the mirror of the soul. May points out that it is a popular saying in Vietnam also.
My Journal is caught up and Minh Ha is sewing and May has turned in. End of another day.
Fabric District in District 10 - Taylor - Chinese M&Ms
In District 10
I am writing this five days late and some of the details are lost to me.
I remember the riding so far North of Cholon. Here is one of the fabric districts. Shop after shop selling cloth of every description. Block after block of cloth. A lot of silk but also material for suits, quilts, pajamas or Ao Dai. I notice that any material for Ao Dai are hanging so you can see the pattern that will be on the front and Back of the dress. Some are very beautiful. There are flowers in all colors and scenes of Sail Boats, Fishing Boats, Villages, Mountains and Gardens. All very beautiful. We are here to buy some material for Minh Ha’s Sister in Cali, Vietnamese for California. Next we ride up into Tan Binh to the Tailor who will sew Minh Ha’s Sister’s new Ao Dai.
I remember this quite well since I got to do a lot of driving and I really liked that. It is a challenge to drive in Saigon but it was a lot of fun also. On the way home we stopped at the Market above 23 September Park.
Back at the house Minh Ha cooked dinner and May was soon home. After we ate we talked. I love talking with May. Her English is very good and she is intelligent and very knowledgeable of many things. She is very helpful in learning about history here and also what is going on in it society and politics here. I had bought a bag of M&M’s and put them on the table. May asked how I eat them. I said that when we were children we made traffic lights out of the Red, Yellow and Green. Then we ate the tan and brown, then the orange. Then we ate the extra green, Yellow and Red from the traffic lights and last we ate the traffic lights one at a time. May was beaming with joy as she said “That is how we ate them”. Here we are on opposites of the world where people even peal apples differently from one another and yet children eat their M&M’s the same. And a little child shall lead them.
Just a note, the Chinese M&M’s melt in your hands, making an awful food color mess on your hands. Dinner is over and, As Pontius Pilot did, I have washed my hands and I am off to bed.
To Vung Tau - Ocean - Pool - Dinner on the pavilion
Minh Ha and Thao Ly
On the beach in Vung Tau
The day started by getting up early, having had little sleep. I was packed for Vung Tau but Minh Ha was not. She was up late last night squeezing passion fruits which were not as sweet as she liked so she boiled water and added sugar to mix and bring the passion fruit sweetness up to her expectations.
She was now packing and we were expecting Thao Ly to be with us by 8:30 so we would make the 10:00 bus to Vung Tau. A call to Chau found that she had overslept and she said she would bring Thao Ly over right away. We are getting close so May has called the bus company and changed our time to the next bus at 11:30.
In the background May is orchestrating everything to make this all work smooth. She is taking care of the bus and the taxi and keeping us on track. Without being asked she just pitches in and makes things run smooth. Minh Ha said how happy she is with the way her daughter has turned out, and she is so right. I love talking to May in the evenings, at meals and on weekends. She is as special as her mother.
Thao Ly arrives, the taxi arrives and we get to the bus station. This time we are using a different bus company, Hoa Mai. At their office we get in an SUV for a ride to their terminal where we get into a very nice Van which seats 9 in very comfortable seats and we find ourselves on the way at just after 10:00. The ride is very smooth and we are in Vung Tau in an hour and a half. We are delivered to the door of the Hotel Cap St Jacque which was the name of Vung Tau in the days of Indchine. It is a very nice hotel just across the street from the beach. I show my passport and we are in and to our room quickly.
We have a family room which has a smaller bed for parents and a large one for the children. In our case the little one is for me and the large one is for Minh Ha, Thao Ly and Chau. It is a very nice one but I had hoped for one whose number I forgot. It is 127 or 129 which are in the old section of the hotel. The rooms there are filled with old dark wood and big windows with the doors like you see in paintings and old photographs of Indochine. These two rooms have back doors that open to the pool. Still the room we are in is very nice.
We are in 310 which is on the front of the new building and has a nice view of the ocean and the old lifeguard tower which is an imposing concrete structure that looks like a water tower with windows around the top. Some of the rooms at the north do not have such a good view since the completion of the Dic Star Hotel which is between us and the beach. I did have to ask the meaning of DIC and was told it was Development Investment Construction a corporation who did not have the imagination to name their Hotel as well as many others here like the Blue Seas or the Imperial or even the Green Hotel.
The Cap St Jacques is pretty much changed over the years that I have been coming here. Very nice with two restaurants and now a very loud bar which keeps the noise in the bar and the street outside it. The pool is a little small but they have an arrangement with the Dic Hotel to use their pool across the street which is large, very clean and just off the beach. We go there first and have a very relaxing time as we are the only ones in the pool. After that we head for the beach which is just perfect for children of all ages. The beach is very flat and goes out slowly. The waves are small so they are great for kids. There are tidal pools all over the beach. A cleaning machine keeps trash and debris off the sand. We have a lot of fun there and back to the pool.
We go to the room and rest up for dinner. I like the
Restaurant in front of the hotel which is a pavilion and has a nice breeze. The food is good but I ask where everyone wants to eat. After much confusion and a not helpful cyclo driver we end at the night market but there is no market. He says it is not open today which is a little absurd because night markets are open all over Vietnam especially on Saturday. The restaurant he left us at has no real selection and is out of everything that is under $25. We walk down the street and Minh Ha finds us a real nice restaurant with dishes we like and a very pleasant waitress who tells us where the night market really is and that if we go down and left we will be on the street of the Night Market and the Hotel. We have a very nice walk to and along the beach. Stopping at the Night Market we shop a little then walk to the hotel. On the way we find an amusement park with a Ferris wheel but no one wants to go on it. It would be great for some photographs but I will have to see if it is open during the day.
Back at the hotel we get ready for bed and watch TV. I think we will all sleep well.
Buffet Breakfast - Bao Dai's Palace - Catholic Church Bai Dau Maria - Dinner at the Night Market
Mary and Jesus
Statue at the South end of Vung Tau
We were awakened by Minh Ha who was up and dressed and ready to go. I was in the bed by the window and she was at the foot shaking my foot and saying it was time to go to breakfast. I looked across and Thao Ly was also trying to wake up. Finally, I got up and went to the bathroom to change. By time I was ready Thao Ly was up and went to get dressed.
We have tickets for a free breakfast which is a very nice buffet down in the Cap St Jacques Restaurant. There are eggs cooked to order and bacon and their idea of sausage which is more like little Balognas than actual sausage. There are noodles and seafood, Broccoli and Cauliflower, rolls and New Zealand Butter, Tomatoes and Cucumber, many fruit, Orange Juice and lemonade, coffee and tea, a variety of rices, pastries and several soups.
Breakfast is really good and we take our time. I notice that there are no western guests at breakfast. A beautiful little girl appears at our table and quietly looks at us. I smile and say hello, she smiles just a little and says nothing. We each talk to her but she is silent. She leaves but comes by from time to time during our meal.
We go upstairs and I am hoping we will get ready and go to the beach. Minh Ha and Thao Ly are watching a show in Vietnamese and do not seem to have any intention of getting up and going to the beach. After two shows Minh Ha suggests that we go out and look around to see Vung Tau. I am all for this. We get ready and Minh Ha suggests that we take a taxi to the Front Beach. We walk out the door and a taxi is there so we get in and we are off. I get a little worried on these taxi rides of Minh Ha’s since I have little trust in taxi drivers being given a free run as to where we are going and Minh Ha takes no real interest in explaining things so I understand that she and the driver know where she wants to go. Still I trust her because there is really nothing to lose.
We are on the back Beach and we drive down along the East Coast. The ocean is beautiful all the way. Many resorts and hotels and we both see one we like and I write down the name to look into it for another trip. She also notices it and mentions it. I tell her that I did also and wrote it down. We pass the Statue of Jesus on the mountain. I have climbed up to see him on 3 previous trips and would like to again but first we are off to Bao Dai’s Palace in Vung Tau. It seemed like all Bao Dai really did is maintain mistresses and palaces here there and everywhere. The Palaces are more like large summer homes than palaces as we think of them but they are always worth seeing since they are history and often have many displays and give you a feel for those who ruled and ran Vietnam in the Indochine days.
Here there is a display of very old Chinese pottery. When the Cham Island Shipwreck was found a certain amount of the find was auctioned and I was lucky enough to get 4 small bowls which are quite beautiful. It is interesting to see things I have in a museum. This palace is beautiful and behind there is a cave which Minh Ha forgot about. Thao Ly walked into the entrance for a photo and I asked Minh Ha to also go over. Then when I took the photo I went in also and they had nowhere to go except to continue. They were apprehensive but went and after one turn you could see the other end. It was a wine cellar for the emperor’s private stash. After that there is a stairway up to the small patio where the emperor could look down on his palace and the ocean beyond. The view is beautiful. We took many photos here. Above the patio is a cistern. After a time we went back to the taxi to go on to a church that Minh Ha wanted to see.
The church is the Catholic Church Bai Dau Maria. It is a large church on spacious grounds. Up the mountain from the church is a very large statue of Mary holding Jesus up above her head. The grounds has buildings that house many Priests and Sisters. Minh Ha and Thao Ly both want photos taken here. Usually with their hands folded. They both have such a gentle air of innocence.
Driving back up along the coast I see many things. There is a container ship heading for the Saigon River. It is filled with containers stacked high but it is high in the water indicating many of the containers are empty. Still there is a market for containers there. We also see the Hydrofoil for Saigon leaving the dock. Minh Ha asks if I would like to go back on the boat. I really do like the Hydrofoil. She says we can. I know she feels uneasy about the boat since there are accidents each year and people die but still we can both swim and we will not be far from shore. All manner of freighters and fishing boats are there anchored and moving from one place to another. The coast is beautiful. Clean beaches and places that are rocky and a few that have rocks and in between are beautiful sand beaches.
We return to the hotel and decide to have lunch. One of the restaurant of the hotel Cap St Jacques is under a pavilion on the front of the hotel along the road by the beach. A nice breeze moves through and we select our meal and have a nice time talking. Thao Ly will be leaving for Saigon soon since she has to get back to Cu Chi to sleep home and be at work tomorrow morning. She asks for the room key and goes to pack. As we finish lunch we meet her coming down. We all walk out front to wait for the Van to Saigon. We talk and we all agree that it was fun being together. I am really happy that Minh Ha likes my Granddaughters so much and can talk to them in such a friendly manner. She is a good influence on them. The van arrives and Thao Ly gets in. We all wave and she is off. I can not help saying to Minh Ha “Our little girl is all grown up and going off to the big city alone”. She smiles.
I want to swim but Minh Ha wants to rest. We go to the room and I get busy uploading the photos from the last few days to Phanfare. After 2 hours I wake her and remind her that if she sleeps much longer she will wake up at night and not be able to sleep. She gets up and is ready to swim. We get the pool bracelets just in case but decide to go to the beach. It is overcast and cool. The tide is in and the tidal pool is now connected to the ocean. There is a place where it is only about 8 inches deep then the pool is 12 to 14 inches and the ocean goes out gently. The waves are 2 to 4 feet high. It is very nice.
On the way out we pass the little girl from breakfast. She recognizes up but still does not say anything. We go out a way till I am chest deep and Minh Ha swims across towards the beach and returns to me. She knows this will keep her from going into water that is too deep. She enjoys swimming in the ocean since Con Dao.
On one swim she runs into a man who is holding a dog. The dog swims from the man to Minh Ha and back. Minh Ha enjoys the dog in the water and holds him for a while. It is so much fun to see her happy.
The overcast has made some interesting and beautiful cloud formations. Layer upon layer and colors of white, grey, and orange. It is beautiful and I sing Clouds by Joni Mitchel which appeals to Minh Ha’s romantic nature.
After returning to the hotel we are ready for dinner. We walk to the night market now that we know where it is. Chau had told us it was a good place to find seafood. She was right. We stopped at a place that had a large table od sea food. Fish, Clams, Snails, Shrimp, Squid and octopus. A lady is grilling and a young man is inviting people in. I select the shrimp, which are large and have their bodies attached and some little squid. I tell Minh Ha to select whatever she wants. She picks Steamed clams and snails in a tamarind sauce. I am concerned that she may have too much since she has a reaction to seafood and does not seem to worry about it when she is hungry and seafood is around. The food comes and it is great. For all we have and drinks the bill is under $15 USD. A bargain and the service is so friendly.
We walk back along the beach. Some men are fishing and Minh Ha stops to see their catch. They have a few small fish but they are happy with them. They have long surf poles with a glow light on the tip so they can see if there is action on the line in the darkness.
As we walk it begins to rain gently and Minh Ha, always prepared, pulls out an umbrella and we walk the rest of the way home under this umbrella which is too small but it keeps the rain out of our faces. Minh Ha notes that this is romantic. I agree.
Two interesting things happened on the way to dinner tonight. As we left the Hotel there was a banner and I could understand two words. After a company name was the word sales department and at the end was teambuilding 2016. The yuppies have arrived in Vietnam. Along with business and tourism there were now yuppie cheerleaders. As we left they were in the restaurant chanting as a man on stage, with a microphone that was all too loud shouted something on the order of “Drive Sales” or give me 110%.
Outside we passed a cyclo who wanted us to use his services and to get Minh Ha’s attention he called out “Little Girl”. It is not polite to mention a ladies age but Minh Ha did retire from teaching several years ago.
In the room Minh Ha wants to look at the photos from today so I let her while I wait for the computer to write my journal. She has finished looking at the photos and I have finished my journal so I am off to bed and I think this is another night of sleeping well.
Pagoda - Jesus - Swimming - Ride back to Saigon
Jesus on Mountain in Vung Tau
To welcome all who come in peace and love.
Canon at Jesus feet
To welcome all who do not come in peace and love.
Last day in Vung Tau. Again we have the Breakfast Buffet and again it is really good. An addition today is Sushi. Also today there is Chau which is rice cooked with extra water so it is creamy and baby oysters.
The beach here has been really good. There have been waves enough to have fun. Minh Ha has been swimming in the ocean and loving it. The beach is great for children. At low tide there are large tidal pools that are about 8 or 10 inches deep with warm, clear water in them. At high tide these pools are connected to the ocean by 8 inches of water and are about 12 to 14 inches deep with little waves. The beach is clean and no trash in the water. The water is as clear as Beach Haven NJ at it’s best.
Today we forgo the swimming and go to a Pagoda that May has suggested. Friends have told her about it and May is a fount of information. The Pagoda is the qqqqq Pagoda in District 6 of Vung Tau. We enter through a long driveway that is lined by stone wall. In a courtyard we get out of the taxi and find ourselves in a complex of many buildings. There is a pool and 4 large lion heads facing 4 directions. A small pavilion with a large bell. Walking up a gentle hill we see building after building. Where the Monks live, where the sisters live, several large halls, an outdoor dining hall and many buildings with alters. Flowers and trees everywhere. May looks at my photos and points out one tree and tells us that this species is in front of pagodas but she does not know the English. I am sure by breakfast she will have found it for us.
We spend a lot of time there and then we are off to the statue of Jesus on the mountain in the south of district 2. I have climbed to this statue on 3 previous trips and always like to climb the 816 steps to the foot of Jesus. On this trip we find, for the first time, that the statue is open to the top. It is another 133 steps in a stone statue that air does not move in. The top is narrow but you can walk out onto the arm of Jesus and get a commanding view of all of Vung Tau. Some students are getting some chuckles to see that I just make it out onto the arm. We take many photos before making the descent down the 816 steps which is much easier than going up. If you want to cheat there is a service road up the back and a motorbike can drive you up however we chose to climb.
As you leave the statue there is a sign that says “Go in peace to love and serve” which are the last words spoken in our service back home. Another interesting sight at the top is the 2, very large guns left by the French. As Jesus welcomes all who come in Peace and Love, with open arms. The French wanted to be prepared to greet all those who came with intentions other than Peace and Love.
Back at the hotel we pack and go down to checkout. As we leave the room I give Minh Ha 50,000 to give to the maid. Tipping is not done in Vietnam but recently Minh Ha has pointed out that the workers we see in Hotels and restaurants often make $.50 to $1 an hour and some less. 50,000 is only $2.50 and she was a very pleasant young lady. I like the Cap St Jacques Hotel though it is at the North end of the resorts. I like that it is away from the city of Vung Tau and all its congestion. I have been coming here for about 25 years and only stayed at the Rex, on the beach, in town once when I forgot my passport and had to be rescued by a friend who had pull at the Rex. All I know is that she said we often have to keep people here. She was involved with the church when religion was not officially approved of. Which reminds me of Sally who was an English teacher. I once told her that “I knew that a preposition was something you should never end a sentence with” and she would grimace.
We met the manager of Cap St Jacques yesterday. One thing I like about this hotel is that the pool is on the West side of the building which is shaded until almost noon. Since Vietnamese ladies do not want a tan this allows Minh Ha to swim and not worry about the dreaded tan. Unfortunately, the pool is closed for maintenance. It was then that the manager saw us and asked if he could help. I explained and he understood and said he would open the pool for me. I said it was for Minh Ha and he was happy to open the pool but she didn’t want to be a bother so we went to the beach.
After checkout we waited for the Van to Saigon which arrived right on time and we were off. A funny thing about the Van is that almost home we stopped for a rest stop and it was then that he collected the fares. Minh Ha had bought two sandwiches but the van driver did not want anyone eating in the van and so we put them away till home.
The trip was nice but after the rest stop it began to rain. Then it poured. We rode into Saigon and passed construction of 20 story apartment houses that covered acres. Some sat in the middle of rice paddies and wilderness with grass huts and canals and then a huge apartment building. Novaland is one of the big names that appears under other names on buildings. Also CBRE, CB Richard Ellis, a worldwide property management company. I see their trucks in Doylestown PA. Little Pull’s Mother works there as a financial researcher. I must get to see then before the trip is over.
The van comes through the tunnel under the Saigon River and as we emerge everyone is surprised that the storm on the other end of the tunnel is not here and we are greeted by dry streets and a sunny sky. I am reminded of the sign as you left Tan Son Nhut in the 1960’s. The sign advertised Pan Am and said “Welcome to Sunny Saigon”. We ride up around the bus terminal at Ben Thanh and on to Pham Ngu Lao where the van stops at the bus stop for the 46 Bus which takes us home for 25 cents.
The house is empty and we have a lite lunch and a nap. 6:00 arrives and I am off to town. I will meet the artist who will illustrate the children’s book I wrote. I arrive at the Highland Coffee shop and wait. I am early. He arrives with his friend who will help us by translating. As it turns out he has already panted most of the illustrations and they are just beautiful. We talk about the book and how the Amazon publishing of E Books works then we discuss each other a little and Vietnam. Business concluded I am off to home.
The busses do not run after 6:00 so I get a taxi. Arriving home May is there and we have fun talking about the time in Vung Tau and topics of the day. I just love talking to May as she is so interesting and well informed.
Now it is late and the day, which was wonderful and exhausting is over.
arrangements - CO-UP
The night I made Spaghetti.
A day with not much to say. I have one last trip to take to Can Gio which is becoming an annual pilgrimage. A sort of end to the trip. I have heard from Pull’s mother and I will be seeing the family next Wednesday which will be interesting. I have not heard from Enrique yet. He works for the oil company and is a geologist. He was in Oman but said he was coming back and I hope we get together before I leave. We both want to go to the ARVN Cemetery out in Thu Duc. He has never seen it and I want to go again.
We did go to the larger market, CO-OP, to stock up on Orange Juice, Yogurt, and Ritz Crackers. One of us, who is always pointing out how bad candy and cookies are, bought a supply of Snickers, but I will not mention who since I do not want to embarrass her.
For dinner last night we had the Barilla Angel Hair and Hunts Tomato that I bought and Minh Ha added some diced potato, Carrot and bell pepper. Susan often adds things to prepared foods to give more taste or texture and it is interesting that here where tastes are different Minh Ha does some things just the same.
Friday I am going to Miss Oanh’s house to stay over so we can get an early start Saturday morning to attend a family service to honor her mother who dies some years ago. When I told her I would cook dinner she laughed and said Yes, she had never seen me cook before.
One thing I have no photos of is the dinner table at Minh Ha’s. Where so much interesting discussion happens. Above is a photo of the table with the Spaghetti and sauce. I want the people around it but they are convinced they are not attractive and do not want the photos taken. I insisted telling them they will look at the photos and may delete any and all they do not like. However, they have not done so yet so the photos are in never never land. The dinner is a success and we all have fun.
After dinner Chau calls and wants to go to Bui Vien Street which has a sordid reputation. It is late and raining so I tell her I will go tomorrow and we will have dinner. She agrees and we will see what is up.
Dinner with CHau - Hard Rock Cafe
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I was sure that I would have nothing to write about today but things changed as the day progressed. I had breakfast and did some writing and looked up songs and poems that I had on the computer before it got a virus some time back. As soon as breakfast was over Minh Ha was cooking lunch. I was soon summonsed to lunch and I thought that was going to be the day. Chau had said she wanted to have dinner again. I told Minh Ha that I would leave at 5:00 to get to Bui Vien Street in plenty of time to walk around and go to McDonalds early enough to be waiting for Chau at 6:00.
I got there had a coke and was waiting when she walked in. She was all smiles and we talked and she picked a restaurant on Bui Vien Street. An Italian place named Vittorio. I ordered the Calamari and she ordered the Lasagna. When dinner arrived there was an extra order. Like all my friends I cannot convince anyone here I want to eat less. It was all so good and we shared all the dishes leaving more than I would like to leave and I hope the chef was not offended. We discussed were to go next. I said there was a place across the park and up past the New World Hotel that has music outdoors and I had not been to it for years. We walked up and it was still there but closed. There was a sign that tomorrow it would be open and have many big name entertainers. How fortuitous that we walked up there tonight. We may have missed it completely.
On the way up we met a friend of Chau who she had called because she had wanted me to meet him. He is a very nice young man and we talked some. We rode to another place where there was music. This place was closed and we ended up at the Hard Rock Café. I liked Rock and Roll but I did not like it after they dropped the Roll and it became Hard Rock, Acid Rock, Punk Rock, Techno Rock and on and on Ad Infinitum. The music was very loud and it was hard to talk. Then the live entertainment came on and it became impossible to talk.
The band and the singers danced a lot and women from the audience got up and danced in front of the stage in a line dance with the two female members leading them. One dancer from the audience stood out so far above the others and the dancers in the band. She moved so gracefully and had a translucent white dress that was the essence of innocence and purity. She was just beautiful.
Chau was very happy that her friend and I got along and she was having a really good time also. She wanted us to get up and dance and I told her to get up and give us an example and that stopped that.
I text Minh Ha to say we were at the Hard Rock Café and I would tell her when we left. She said “OK, I go home then”. I had told her to not come to get me on Bui Vein Street because we did not know when we would be done or where we would go and I do not like her in the back pack tourist area alone at night. I text her when we left the Hard Rock Café and said I am on my way home. I was going to text her when I arrived so she could come down and let me in but she was waiting at the door with the door open a little and she was looking out. I told her I was sorry she went to Bui Vien Street and I was not there but I also told her I had said I did not know where I would be or when I would get home. I told I worry about her being in town alone at night and she smiled. We both worry about one another.
Chau is happy, Minh Ha is happy, Chau’s friend is happy. All in all it is a good ending to an interesting day.
Concert Canceled - Ice Cream - Corn Bread
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All I had planned and also looked forward to was going to the concert tonight. It was all Vietnamese performers and Thanh Thao was to be there but it was canceled due to rain during the day. At night the rain did not come and so it was put off until next Tuesday. I have that day open so I hope to see the concert and Thanh Thao.
Aside from that Minh Ha and I had a nice day and even had ice cream. I had and we bought some for her children but she did not. Ice cream is not good for us.
We had talked before about American Corn Bread. May brought some corn cake which had corn baked in to the layers. It was different and it was good.
Ice Cream finished and I am off to bed.
Miss Oanh - Miss Bay - Spaghetti
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I am writing this two days late so I am not sure how many details I left out but I did want to get to Miss Oanh’s house on time.
The morning is a blank and I did not take notes or photos.
I took the little bus up to Pham Ngu Lao. I told Miss Oanh that I would cook dinner tonight and she was happy about that. I stopped at the CO-OP above 23 September Park to get Barilla Capellini, Hunts Spaghetti Sauce, Parmigiana Cheese, Butter and a little ground beef and ground pork.
I arrived at Miss Oanh’s house in District 10 at just about noon as I told her I would. We spent a little time with the neighbors and I met Miss Oanh’s friend who will be going to the celebration with us tomorrow. Her friend is named Miss Bay, which can also be spelled Miss 7. Many in the country side are named by the order of their birth. Miss Bay is the seventh child born to her parents. She was born in 1962 but does not know what day or month. This is not uncommon in older Vietnamese because long ago everyone in Vietnam celebrated their birthday during Tet, the celebration of the Lunar New year.
Miss Bay is a nice looking lady with a lovely smile and bright eyes which she does not show often. She is one of those people in Vietnam and I suspect in life in general who is just not important to anyone. At birth she was not important enough to be given a name. She was married but her husband left her. She has a son that she does not talk about. She works for Miss Oanh and her family and is always available but I am not sure if she was invited tomorrow because she is part of the family or she was invited like you pick up extra soda or hot dog rolls. Miss Oanh says she is a good worker and she trusts Miss Bay but she does not really know much about her or her life outside her work. Miss Oanh did say she is a nice girl. She has no English so I get to practice my Vietnamese which she understands and I suspect that it is because no one really talks to her much and she enjoys the attention. I am not an employer and I hold no authority over her so we talk and I see the all to infrequent smile and bright eyes. She likes to sit by me and hold hands but when the family is around she pulls away a little and I think it is because I am accepted as family and she is not and does not want anyone upset that she is close to family or friends. I could be writing too much into this but it seems too obvious.
I make the spaghetti and brown some ground beef and a little ground pork then add the sauce. The Spaghetti is ready and I put a little butter on it and the sauce and some Parmigian cheese. Miss Oanh has spent time in the USA and likes some American foods. I always bring her Ball Park all beef hot dogs and a different condiment each year It was Hintz India Relish this year.
Miss Bay did not want any and at the time I did not understand why. Miss Bay and I got closer and she showed that beautiful smile and the brightness in her eyes and she liked sitting close and holding hands however when Miss Oanh entered the room she released my hand and moved over a little. It was a little upsetting to see her keep her place when those who employ her are around.
I was near the end of watching Hotel Transylvania and wanted to see the end but Miss Oanh wanted everyone in their room so we could get sleep before the 4:00 AM Bus arrived. So I was packed off to the third floor and Miss Oanh went to the 5th or 6th and Miss Bay stayed on the second with the TV off.
End of Day.
Vinh Kim - Miss Oanh's Mother's Celebration - Return to Saigon - Home
Preparing Dinner for the anniversary of Miss Oanh's Mother's Death
I wake at Miss Oanh’s house and it is almost 4:00 AM and the bus is supposed to be here. I get dressed and go down to find Miss Oanh and her friend in the kitchen.
Around 5:00 the bus arrived and was across the street in a side street. After repeated phone calls and a consultation with some others who were also going on the bus we went across the street and got on the bus. We were going to a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the death of Miss Oanh’s Mother in the town of Vinh Kim which is down near My Tho.
The Van headed south through Saigon and stopped for a few more people. The place where we stopped was across the street from the Old Saigon Port Building where I had a room in 1969. It has not changed much in the intervening years.
Now we have everyone and we are heading south towards My Tho. We are Myself, Miss Oanh, Miss Bay, her brother, sister and nieces and nephews. We are out of Saigon and the vista becomes one of rice paddies and small towns. There are factory complexes here and there set amongst the peaceful rural setting. Occasionally there is a larger town.
We arrive and there is a very large intersection at this end of the Market in Vinh Kim. This market is very long and runs down to the river. There is a beautiful Cao Dai Temple in the center of the town.
We continue on a short distance and turn off onto a path. The Van is a large Mercedes that is high and wide. The path is narrow and the trees hang low. We hear scraping and at one point. There is an electric pole on our right and a tree on our left and we just squeeze through. Then we are on a concrete road which makes me wonder if we had turned towards the river sooner might we have come down to the other end of the paved road and had an easier trip for our driver. Still no one seems to care not even the driver.
Down this road we run next to the river and many homes. Some are shacks and some are very nice homes. We arrive at the family homestead. The house has three stories and a small fourth which opens on to a roof terrace, then a fifth that is a small copula and a terrace above that little building. On the grounds, next to the house is the tomb of their Mother and a place for their Father when his time comes. The grounds are covered with one story sheet metal buildings. They are filled with individual cages that each hold one rooster. The family business is fighting roosters.
Much is going on here today. The women are cooking all manner of foods for the dinner. The men are busy drinking beer over on the pavilion which sits on the canal. There is a bulkhead and a concrete floor with a wall at the one end and a half wall on the canal side. The land side is open as is the other side which will be part of the larger pavilion when it is complete. There is a large wooden bed on the pavilion. One of those old beds which is a platform that raised those, who could afford it, off the floor.
So many dishes are being prepared. I am sitting with the women because they are the only ones who speak English. A bowl is placed in front of me and Miss Oanh shows me how to take a 4 by 4 piece of dough, place a spoonful of a pork and rice mix on it and fold it so it can be fried. It is a lot of fun and everyone thinks it is funny that a man is working in the kitchen. As it turns out the women notice that I am making very neat folders for the mix probably because I am not used to making them and must pay more attention. Every once in a while Miss Oanh translated something. Sometimes I asks her when the women are talking and glance over at me I know it is about me and I ask her what they are saying.
Miss Bay, 7, is working at slicing this or that. She is taking direction but when not directed she is always busy doing one thing or another for the family, never complaining but I am not sure she feels appreciated either. I look at her and see a certain beauty and sadness,
I was given the tour of the rooster houses, the house and grounds. Each dish is plated in three bowls. One of each goes on a table in the courtyard. One on a table in the house and one on the Pavilion. Then the prayers begin. The older brother brings out the incense and lights the bunch. He holds the bunch up to his forehead and prays then bows the incense three times. People bow three times and bells ring three times as three is an important number in Buddhism because of the three Nobel Truths. This begins in the courtyard by the first table. Then he divides the bundle into small groups and gives them to the family members giving each multiples of three in and they go in all directions. Prayers are said in all areas of the house, shrine, tomb and grounds. The air is sweet with incense and the men adjourn to the pavilion while the women eat in the kitchen.
After a time all are in the pavilion and all are talking and laughing. Someone, who knew I had made the little fried things says they are very good, I added “Va Dep Qua”, and very pretty. Everyone thought that was very funny. Miss Oanh translated from time to time.
The table is cleared and people begin to leave. Everyone says goodbye and all depart. We load into the van and are headed back to Saigon. As we come to the market we stop and everyone gets out and buys Ice Cream. I had too much to eat again but since two people bought Ice Cream for me I felt obligated to eat the Coconut Ica Cream with peanuts. Almost everyone slept going back to Saigon. I think everyone had much to eat.
Arriving back at Miss Oanh’s home I get my things and get a taxi home. I go to my room and find the house empty when I hear a voice and look out the window to see Minh Ha is prewashing the clothes. We talk for a while and she calls to finalize the luncheon we are having tomorrow with Trevor and Ky’s Family here in Saigon.
I wanted to write about today but I looked at the laptop and just could not so as Minh Ha was using her laptop at the desk I laid down for a moment and woke at 4:00 AM to finish my daily entry and I think I am ready for a nap already.
Lang Nuong Nam Bo - Elephant Fish - too Much Food
Lang Nuong Nam Bo
Wonderful restaurant in the North of Saigon
Today is the day we have lunch with my Nephew’s wife’s Family here in Saigon. This is my real life Nephew and they are real life family. I woke and had breakfast and went back up to catch up on my Journal for yesterday and the 14th. I was almost done when I realized that it was 11:24 and we were to leave at 11:30 for the 12:00 Lunch. Minh Ha came into my room and I Asked is it time to go? She said “Soon”, and looked through some drawers in my room, which is her room when I am not here. As she headed for the door she said. “hurry, it is time to go”. Sometimes I love the way her head works. I dressed and went down stairs. May’s Boyfriend Tung was here. Whenever we go as a group Tung drives me and May drives Minh Ha. I said that I wanted to drive, she said “No”. I said this is my family we are dining with and I will not be driven around like a child, she said “NO”. Having settled that discussion I go with Tung. I really like driving but Minh Ha feels safer with me riding with Tung. We are running a little late so Tung and I are off to the restaurant to meet Ky’s Mother and sister and Sister-in-law. The restaurant is Lang Nuong Nam Bo in the North of District 3. The place is up a side street and it is not too noticeable until you are there. It is very large and very nice. There is a two story parking garage next to the restaurant.
As we arrive Ky’s mother is out front and we greet each other. While Tung parks the motorbike we wait for the others. Ky’s Sister is across the street with her Sister-in-law. Minh Ha and May arrive and we all go in. Everyone is ordering drinks and they do not have coke. I go next door and buy two. Minh Ha asks the price and I tell her 24,000. She says it is only 7,000 at the CO-OP and I point out that I would have walked to the CO-OP but I thought it would take too long. She sees the humor and we continue ordering.
Before we came she went to the internet to look at the restaurant and saw that they have the Elephant Fish. This is one of my favorites and she knows it. She orders the Elephant Fish. Then she asks what else I want and I tell her to get what everyone else wants. Here things are really served Family Style. Everyone orders and then the dishes are all brought and everyone has some of everything. I like this. In this restaurant they bring one dish at a time and we all have some. Then the next dish arrives and after that another. It is a really neat way of serving and trying different things.
The meal comes. first is a dish of noodles with onions and clams. It is hot and delicious. That gone the next is Squid that has been grilled and that also is delicious. Cooking squid and Octopus is not all that easy. If they are cooked too long or little they are like eating a box of rubber bands. These are just perfect. Next is half a Pineapple that has been hollowed out and the seafood is baked in the shell. There is Squid, Clams, Crab Meat and vegetables. Next is the Elephant Fish that has been fried to just the right crispness. The meat is white and delicate and the flavor of the oil is just a gentle suggestion of flavor. Each dish has its own condiments and it still amuses me that if you use the wrong condiment people will point and laugh. I am amused because do all your friends put the same topping on a hot dog? Do you always use the same topping. Here there is a condiment for each dish and everyone knows the correct one to use and that is how it is. I like to use the correct but first I like to have something without any condiment and then I often like to try different ones.
Ky’s Sister had to leave to Teach and has left. She will bring the things I want to take home the day before I leave which is 10 days away. I got an email from my Niece Cathy who works in Singapore and is coming to visit the day after I leave. I guess we will have to wait till next trip to have dinner.
I have taken some photos but I did not do it before Ha left so I will have to get a photo when she brings the things for home.
The bill arrives and for this wonderful banquet it comes to under 1,000,000 which is approximately $45 USD. Amazing this meal for two back home or in a western hotel here would have been much more than that.
The meal is over and I am stuffed. I would have resisted more but everything was soooooo good. We return home and have a nap. Around 7:00 I smell something good and go down to the kitchen. Minh Ha’s cooking is every bit as good as the restaurant but I have a light meal, if such a thing exists in Vietnam. We have clams and rice crackers in a broth of clam juice and onion with a little sugar and salt. There is rice and a soup with potatoes, Sweet Potatoes and something green. Minh Ha asks if I like her cooking and I tell her I like everything she has made here or in Pipersville except the Bitter Melon Soup which is appropriately named.
Now we are home and the eating is over for today and I will take Minh Ha and the kids out to dinner before I leave and we have the two days in Can Gio which is a seafood wonderland but other than that I will not have a big meal for the rest of my stay. During the meal Ky’s Mother did say I looked as if I had lost weight and I hope it is so even if only a small amount. I felt like I have gained but I did fit in the Sleeper Bus better so I can be hopeful.
Chau - Hospital - Microwave
23 September Park
Southeast corner of the park is being cleared to make room for the Metro
This morning I checked my email and Facebook and was surprised to find my Granddaughter Chau in a hospital bed with an IV and a message “I’m all alone”. I asked where she was and she said Saigon Hospital on Le Loi Street on the 2nd floor in room 1. Since I was ready to go out I told her that I would be there soon. I took the bus up to Pham Ngu Lao and walked the few blocks to the hospital.
As I walked I noticed that there was a large portion of the South side of the Southeastern end of 23 September Park cleared of all those beautiful old trees. I don’t know what is being developed there but I do wish they would leave some of Old Saigon alone.
I had passed the Hospital so many times over the years but never gone in. It is a very old building that needs a lot of restoration. I wander and find a few people who direct me to the second floor room 1 and there is Chau. She is in a ward with 5 beds. Three on one side and two on the other and where the third would be is the bathroom for that room.
We talked for a while and she said she was run down. This has happened to another friend and she also went to get an IV. I am not sure what other treatment she is getting. She was tired and she asked me to sit on her bed. She put her head on my leg and as I rubbed her back she fell asleep for a few hours. It was nice sitting there with her.
She woke and a friend had stopped in. The friend was the lady who was afraid of the escalator and she laughed when she saw me. Chau asked if I wanted anything to eat and I said no but she wanted me to try the rice and pork that the friend had brought for her. I pointed out that she was the one who needed to eat and she did but fed me spoon fulls and it was nice to share. The rice and pork was very good. The friends left and we talked then she asked if I wanted something to eat and I said Ice Cream. She smiled and I asked if she wanted some also. She said yes and she would like a Chocolate Milkshake.
I went across the street but both of the Ice Cream shops on that corner across from Ben Thanh were gone, also the one at the other end of the block was gone. I went into the mall and found Baskin Robbins and got the two Milkshakes and went back to the hospital.
As I arrived a lady from Anh Linh was there bringing Chau more soup and bags of snacks and more water. She is a really pleasant lady as are all of the people there at Anh Linh. No sooner did she leave than two students from Anh Linh arrived. After that it was quiet for a while. We talked and she said that the young man in the next bed was here because of a motorbike accident. I had only seen one serious accident even thought the driving is so bad here. In discussing this a few days ago May said people are getting killed all the time. We saw a video of two schoolgirls, caught by a surveillance camera, riding out of a side street, without looking, across an intersection and getting hit by a man who had been riding down the street and had no chance to stop. The school girl driving went over the handle bars, doing a cartwheel and, looking much like Charlie Brown when Lucy pitches to him. The girl riding was knocked off to the side by the man’s motorbike and the man went over his handle bars and landed head first on the road and did not move. The man in the next bed had the skin ripped off his lower back in a strip about 4 inches by 6 inches. He also had 10 inches of stitches up the right side of his abdomen and was in much pain when he had to move.
After a while the young man did have to get up to go to the bathroom. And his Father and Sister were sliding him down the bed as flat as possible and were about to sit him up, now that his legs were over the side of the bed. They were having trouble. There was another young man who was in the room with the girl in the third bed on our side. I had noticed him for some time. He had a very intense look but the look was also very kind and when the Father and Sister were obviously having trouble he came and helped. When the first young man was on his feet the second looked as he walked slowly and stopped every three seeps to rest. His look was one of concern and he stood in case his help was needed again. We made eye contact again and he nodded, I think, in sympathy for the first young man. The second young man seemed very interesting and I wish we could have talked. There was an older woman with him and I could not tell if the girl was his girlfriend, wife or Sister. He was very attentive to her as well. I hope he is there tomorrow.
Minh Ha’s microwave had been not working for a year so on the way home I stopped on Nguyen Kim on Trung Hung Dao and bought a new one. Minh Ha had said she would get the old one fixed but for $75 USD a new one is in order. I intentionally avoided any made in China since Minh Ha is one of many angry with the Chinese taking over Vietnam and the wealthy Vietnamese selling the country and it’s citizens down the river. There was a Sharp that was made in Thailand and it was the size of their old one and it was an 800 wat so I think it will be good.
A man from the store went out to flag a taxi and I asked him for an Anh Linh taxi which he got. I arrived home and wanted to sneak it in and set it up before anyone would notice. Minh Ha’s son was in the doorway with his motorbike so I thought that he was coming home and Minh Ha would be inside now that the door was open. Instead he was going out and she was in the doorway and I was caught. I stood between the Microwave and Minh Ha and said it was nothing but I was caught. I took it in and took the old one out then cleaned where the old one was and put the new one in. Minh Ha was appreciative but said I should not have because she was going to get the old one fixed. I just looked at her and she laughed. It was in place and waiting when May got home. I said to May that I know she likes books and I got her this one today and told her that it has information she would need. When she saw it was a microwave manual she looked over at where the old one was and said “Oh, thank you, thank you”. She is as appreciative as Minh Ha and she is such a wonderful happy intelligent and interesting person that to make her happy is something so beautiful.
We have dinner and talk. Minh Ha has made a bean soup which she adds a long roll cut into pieces in. It tastes really good as does everything Minh Ha cooks. I got Ice Cream yesterday and we have some for desert.
I come to write my journal and find it difficult so I lay down for a moment and wake several hours later. Now it is finished and I will go back to sleep, I hope.
Chau - Meeting new people - Another Concert Canceled
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Our first task of the day is to go to the market. We are out of Diet Coke and most places do not sell it. The big markets always have it. We are also out of Orange Juice, Yogurt and limes for the Diet Coke and milk for my coffee. I want to go to Lotte Mart which is in the direction which has little traffic but Minh Ha wants to go to CO-OP because she has a card. I am not sure what the card gets her but no matter. We are off but we go to a little CO-OP which has only 8 cans of Diet Coke but that is enough for now. We are stocked up and homeward bound. I will get the rest of the Coke and the Yogurt tomorrow before I go to see Pulls Family.
Chau is still in the Hospital so I get the little Bus up to Pham Ngu Lao and walk over to the Hospital. I go just a little way out of the way to see if I can find the emaciated lady that I met a few years ago. I think someone puts her out to solicit money and picks her up later and probably takes her money. May wrote a note for me to show to people because I cannot act out or say, in Vietnamese, emaciated. May also warned me that people might take advantage by saying they will tell me where she is if I give them money then tell me a false address. May is so thoughtful and concerned. Armed with the note I go to where I used to see her but no one knows anything about her.
After that I went to the high end market in a new office building where I get Chau’s chocolate Milkshake. It is from Baskin Robbins where a gallon is $30 USD, a Quart is $20 USD and pint is $11. I do not know where it is made but I bet opening a shop where someone in western attire turning a hand crank ice cream maker would be an instant hit.
I am a little surprised that no one in the hospital questions me wandering around. When I need help someone will help me and I needed it today as Chau’s room has changed. My sleep has been off for almost a week and I am a little tired. Instead of Chau sleeping in my leg today I fall asleep on her bed and have a good nap. Today she had many visitors so after my nap I went back to Pham Ngu Lao. Walking around I pass Peter and say hello and also the old man who used to drive the cyclo. I could not find Be Hai but I met a man from North Carolina who has been teaching in Vietnam for 5 years and is still working on his Vietnamese and just like me his friends can understand him but strangers cannot. I cannot find Be Hai so I go back and get the 46 bus back to district 4. The bus picks up a man from Ireland who has been teaching here for 13 years. I told him it used to be you did not even know how to speak English 15 years ago, all you had to do is be Western. He said it was like that when he started but he sees the different now. He mentioned that the torn up park is due to the Metro which will run under 23 September Park and I wonder how many trees will be torn up in this terrible project that is long overdue and over budget
Home for lunch and while Minh Ha takes a nap I get my journal updated. Tonight is the concert with some big names. Thanh Thao will be there. I am looking forward to this and I hope to get there early. There is a tent over a section but some seating is in the open and it is looking like rain right now.
After a quick dinner here we are off to the concert. We are in the South of District 4 and the concert is in the North of district 1 and we are at the tail end of the rush hour. Traffic is awful but we arrive early to get the good, dry seats and find it is not tonight but Friday. I think we will call Thursday and Friday and avoid the wasted trip.
On the way home we stop to get more Diet Coke and tissues since I have a bit of a cold. We are home and May is awake and I am so happy to talk with her about anything. We discuss language a little and stubbornness also some poetry, cultures and Aung San Suu Kyi. Minh Ha is reading the news and watching some videos of the flooding in Northern Vietnam. Some of the videos are very sad. We are watching people being swept away to their certain death. Hillsides being swept into rivers, boats and ferries being capsized.
Not the happiest of endings to the day but it is an ending.
Museums - Dinner with Pull and Family
Now two of the old infantry barracks are universities
I had little planned these last two weeks of the trip and just wanted to do whatever came up. I have been enjoying living in the south of District 4 with Minh Ha and her daughter. Both are wonderful people and Minh Ha’s daughter, May, has excellent English which lets us communicate easily.
It is funny that when we travel Minh Ha loves to visit Pagodas, Temples and historic places. She loves swimming and dining out but here at home she wants to cook and clean all day and never go swimming which darkens the skin which she wants to avoid.
I decide to go up into the city and see what I can see today. I take the bus to Pham Ngu Lao and walk into the center of old Saigon. Past Ben Thanh Market and the Hospital. Into Le Loi and finally to Nguyen Hue.
The building that housed the jewelry business and which had burned down some years ago, is still a vacant lot, sounded by a high corrugated wall. It is being used as a car and motorbike parking lot for now. I stop at a stationary store to buy a small paper clamp to hold the float adjustment on the toilet.
At Nguyen Hue and Le Loi I stop and chat with Hoa My who is selling sodas at the place between the New Eden Building and the former Park which is now the construction of the Metro Tunnel. She says that the Metro is not scheduled to be complete in 2019 which is 2 years past the original deadline.
I wander off the Northeast and pass the Opium Factory. The Factory still exists as restaurants back from the street. One we ate at is very good. However, at the street only the gate remains. The buildings on either side are gone and new construction is moving in.
I am now behind the Post Office and there are some old French buildings in the block before the Post Office and the Post Office Block. There is an Old French mansion behind a high wall there and it does not look like it is a company or offices. Maybe still a residence. At Le Duan is the former US Ambassador’s residence which is now being used by the French. Next is the US Consulate in Saigon. Surrounded by the same high wall as it was in 1968. A guard asks me what I want and I tell him I want to go in and buy some ball caps with the logo but the guard says that they do not sell them. I said they did a year ago and he says they are all out of stock. I tell him I want to buy any souvenirs that may have and he says they are all out of stock of everything and gives me a card with an email address where I can make an appointment to visit the shop, which is out of stock in everything. The US Consulate is a very unfriendly place. Across the street is the British Consulate and I ask them if they have anything with the Lion and Unicorn and Ho Chi Minh City on it. The guard says she does not know but tells me to go in and ask. A very friendly place. Unfortunately, they do not have anything.
Next stop on Le Duan is the Museum of the battle of Saigon. There are displays of vehicles and tanks on the grounds but no admittance to the building. One of the displays is a downed aircraft that was destroyed in the battle of Saigon.
Now we are at the Zoo. In the grounds is the History Museum and a beautiful Temple. The Zoo it’s self is now clean and the animals are well cared for. I like the zoo. It is very peaceful and relaxing. Many very large old trees. There are always students in the Zoo and the History Museum. One year Art Students were sitting on the steps of the History Museum while painting the Temple across the way. Some were very good. This day there were a hundred students waiting to get into the History Museum and were all milling about playing games and talking. Some were shooting marbles. As I was ready to leave the zoo it began to rain so I got a taxi to Pham Ngu Lao and waited for the bus. At home I rested and waited for this evening when I will visit with Pull and her parents. Pulls Parents are very nice and wonderful to talk to. Her father is a lecturer at the university and her mother works for CB Richard Ellis, which is an international company that manages all aspects of property world wide. I have been seeing so much new construction and the names I see most are Novaland and CB Richard Ellis. I told Dung, Pulls Mother, that I see the CBRE trucks around Pipersville. Sy, Pulls Father, graduated from Oxford and recently took Pull to England and visited Oxford. I asked if Pull will go there and her father said yes, in 10 years. I have been seeing Pull’s videos for many years and that is how I met her parents. Pull wanted to play video games so her parents bought her a piano which Pull plays very well and has such style.
Sy was born in the North and came down in 1975 with his parents when he was 2 years old. While working in Hanoi he met Dung and they were married. Dung moved down after their marriage with her parents. Her mother lives with them. And is such a delightful lady who has no English and I do wish I had more Vietnamese. We discuss the new construction and Pull and other aspects of Society like the fact that the US television imported from the USA is mostly violent. None of us see a reason except that Vietnamese youth like American Violent movies. They also seem to like Loud, Bad, American Music which has replaced the happy music of 10 years ago.
I was half an hour late due to the traffic. It is a 20 minute trip except in rush hour when it is 1 hour and 20 minutes. I will have to make a note of this for next year. Back in District 4 Minh Ha is waiting up for me. Sometimes I say “Thank you Mom” and she and May smile. She does worry like that. I have a touch of a cold and she has been giving me all manner of remedies like Lime rinds in Honey and sugar and Honey infused with garlic. She is always telling me that I should not drink juice and Coke with ice in them because it is bad for my throat.
Home and to bed. It is now after Midnight.
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Today I did so little and I did forget to tell you about the French Infantry Barracks yesterday. They are on Le Duan Street between the US Consulate and the Zoo. There are two buildings that straddle a cross street which was once the entrance of what was the Barracks. As you look at them they are now on either side of the side street. They look much as they did almost a hundred years ago. On the right the building that was barracks is now a university and it is easy to just walk in and talk to students, faculty and staff. The building is fascinating and has wide balconies that keep sun off the rooms and wide stairways. When they were built they were on the outskirts of Saigon but close enough that the soldiers could be in Saigon quickly. The city has expanded to and past the barracks.
The building on the right is the university of Pharmacy and is closed to visitors. A few years ago I was telling my Niece Uyen about it and she said that anyone could go in so we walked over and went in and we were stopped by a guard. Uyen spoke to him and we were in and walking around the University of Pharmacy and visiting classrooms. I have noticed that friends can get me in places where I cannot go simply because they are with me.
There was a third barracks that was much larger. It straddled the street that was once the entrance and which now cuts through the University. Each of the buildings have an upper floor added and you can see the change in the design there.
The Play Guang Huong
In the beautiful play Giang Huong
The trip is coming to an end and today was the most beautiful surprise.
I got up and went to town just to look around. I had heard of a concert with many International stars and among them is Thanh Thao. I have loved her singing and videos. However, it rained the night of the concert and the day it was rescheduled for it was also postponed and today it was supposed to happen but it was raining again and I held no hope for it.
May came home from work and said she had a surprise and Minh Ha and I should get ready to go out. It was raining a little even as we left and May called a taxi. She called a Grab Taxi which is a competitor of Uber. It cost a little more but they give free coupons to draw people to them so May gets the coupons and uses them.
We drive North and I wonder if the concert is being held after all. We are well past the venue for the concert and I am getting more and more curious. We go North and West. In Hoa Binh we pull into a very large theater. Going in we were seated and after a time the lights dim. A spotlight came on and a man dressed in the attire of the middle country from long ago was on the edge of the stage. He began to describe the coming story and I could now see this was a play and it soon became obvious it was a very professional one. Great costumes and sets. The acting was wonderful. At one point the spotlight was on us and I turned to see the Mandarin coming into the center of the theater past us and looking for his Princess. He would ask questions that were, otherwise rhetorical, however he was addressing the member of the audience that was close to him. At another point the fairies were dancing and came into the dark theater. Their outfits were covered with small white lights and light strips out their arm then one beneath that and a third at the bottom of their wing that moved as they did. They were covered in a white translucent costume. As they went back to the lighted stage their lights went out and they were in translucent dresses which disappeared and they were in their individual bright colors again. I have a short video of that section which I will try to get up on my Facebook as soon as I am done here.
The story was even better as it was a traditional story from long ago in Vietnamese History. The name is Guang Huong which is the name of the Fairy Princess who is central to the story. The stage had a display on each side and gave the subtitles as the play went on.
It was another of my firsts. Something I had never looked into and there it was. A gift so beautiful.
The trip to Can Gio - Our first day
Ferry at Nha Be
On the way to Can Gio
We took our time getting up and ready this morning. We are going down to Can Gio for the weekend and will be back Monday afternoon. This is becoming a traditional last trip within the trip. I like it a lot and Minh Ha likes it also. We have no schedule since we take public transit. This is a nice little trip. We get on bus 20 at Ben Thanh and ride to the River in Nha Be. Then the Ferry across and the 90 bus all the way to Can Gio Resort. The bus leaves us off at the road into Can Gio Resort then we get a motorbike into the resort.
The road in is a boulevard with two lanes each way and a median that is planted and maintained very nicely. There is an arch over the road out near the highway. The motorbikes bring us to the door of reception. Reception actually has no door. It is a pavilion with a small office at each end. The reception counter is in the open area. There is some seating for those waiting to get their room or a taxi out. There are two pool tables. There are several large pools with fish around the building. As always in Vietnam you must be careful to watch stairs. In the stairs are ramps to ride motorbikes up and down. I have never seen motorbikes in the Can Gio resort but the ramps are there none the less. In fact it is a good practice to never back up without looking carefully. All over Vietnam there are steps that are uneven or just end. In a beautiful new High rise I was going down some steps that had palms leaning onto the steps and at the bottom the last step was about 14 inches. Just the way it is.
We are in the room and it is beautiful. Every trip we end up on the building with the 400 numbered rooms. I like this place because there is a beautiful pool, Lovely grounds with gardens, it is clean and the staff is friendly and helpful. The restaurant is very nice and has great meals including free breakfast especially the Sunday Buffet. We plan to be here on Sunday.
The beach is a negative though. It I dirty and has areas of quicksand. Just in the last few years there is a development that put an unimaginable amount of rock and dirt out into the ocean to make new land for many homes, a complete city, Hotels, marinas, and even a harbor with an island in the middle which has something on it but I can not make it out from the artist conception. It has sat empty and construction has stopped for years and I do not know if it will get going again. In Vietnam all beaches are public to 50 feet above high tide. However, hotels can deny access across their property. This has been accomplished here by a long wall that goes from the end of Can Gio Resort all the way down past many beach area restaurants and pavilions where people can rent a place to have picnics and sit and watch the ocean, which is now on the other side of the 6 foot wall. It is so unfortunate since the project is stalled and the businesses must suffer while the developers gain nothing. People do go down and around the wall.
Another asset of Can Gio Resort is the market across the street. So much fresh seafood on display. Most of it alive. For lunch we select 5 kinds of snails. Squid and some shrimp. The selection is a total of $5 UDS and we have much to take back to the room for later.
We swim in the beautiful pool and turn in early.
Buffet Breakfast - Pool - Lunch in my room - Exploring - Dinner in the Market
Pool and Carrot Restaurant
A beautiful resort
One of the high points here at Can Gio is the Sunday Buffet breakfast. It is not the larges but there is always a good selection of Vietnamese favorites and a few American dishes as well. Of course, there is Pho and on the American side are fried eggs and omelets along with rolls and butter. Butter is not so common here but a friend who has visited America said she loved butter when I brought it to the spaghetti dinner I made. I had two fried eggs and several rolls with butter. I do miss butter. There were two rice soups. One had some green vegetable in it and the other had little bit of pork which I first thought was something seafood. There are spices that I associate with seafood and when they turn up in other meat it is a new taste. There were the rice pancakes that are thin like a crepe, and rice. Always watermelon and pineapple and tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and a few other leafy things. We have coffee, tea Orange juice and water. It is a very nice meal and I am sometimes amazed at how someone as slender as Minh Ha can eat so much.
After breakfast we took a walk along the beach and looked at the hotels and restaurants and beach pavilions that are now behind the wall of the new resort city which I really do not think is going to get restarted. It is interesting and a little sad. We also walked the other direction towards the Saigon River and there the wall ends and the pavilions are much busier. People are eating at all the pavilions and I notice something very Vietnamese. As people eat they throw trash and garbage on the ground in front of them and under the table and people who provide food clean up the area after guests leave.
In our bathing suits now we head for the pool. The pool is large and always clean. It is a large round pool and is never more than about 5 feet deep with a roped off area covering about 1/3 of the pool that is only 30 inches at most and a small pool about 20 feet in diameter with a bench around the inside that is about 24 inches at most. Just after breakfast the pool is full of kids and parents but empties as the sun gets up in the sky.
A short rest and it is lunch time. We go back to the market and Minh Ha orders some each of 4 different kinds of snails. I order something that looks like a flat shrimp or a troglobite. Minh Ha says that she likes them a little so I give them a shot. We take our goodies to my room along with Ice Cream and we have drinks there. They are good but harder to get the meat out of than a shrimp. We also have the snails and Minh Ha has brought a spoon so we can get all the juice. I also have one when I travel due to past experience. We enjoy the feast and have a lot of fun also. Many Vietnamese eat on the floor using it as a table and chairs. It is good and this is only the precursor to dinner when we will feast on all the good things the sea has to offer us.
Minh Ha has to rest after the buffet, swimming, walk and lunch. She goes to nap and I go to explore. For years I have wondered why the street from the main road to Can Gio Resort is such a boulevard and the arch near the highway. I have also noticed some buildings back from the beach a little but have not explored. Today I walk across the street and back from the market a little. There is a building that we have always noticed at the corner which is very large and mostly metal and glass so I thought it was an office building. I find it is a hotel but looks empty. I think much was expected of Can Gio but not much happened. Back this street are three small hotels with no pool and a walk to the beach which has little access. Beyond is a building that was never finished. Still farther are 4 houses that are very large to be so far from the city but they also look empty. I think that there are two blocks of roads laid out and finished but as I walk I am finding much, much more. I walk deeper and deeper into the light jungle and find the paths I am on are lined by curb and have drainage sewers for the runoff of the roads. Some of these roads are boulevards with medians that have been planted at some time. I see I am a good distance from the ocean but the boulevards look like they run all the way to the shore. There is a maze of roads and at one point a walled off property but nothing is inside except some cattle. I follow many roads and come to dead ends where the road continues but the overgrowth is dense and I do not want to step into a swamp or a sewer and break a leg. It is interesting and I will have to look at it on Google Earth when I get home. My laptop is small and I had to get rid of it a month ago.
Walking back to the Can Gio Resort I find a compound that is old buildings that are very nice looking and I go in. It turns out that it is the police, CSTT, a group that patrols although I have not seen any here. There are six motorbikes that are pretty run down.
After a good long walk I am back and Minh Ha is asleep. She does not want to swim so we talk a while and prepare for dinner. It is raining as we leave and I ask her if she wants to eat at the Carrot Restaurant and she does not want to. The food there is very good but she says it is too expensive. It is reasonable to me but we are used to different measures and I never press her when she wants to go to the market.
Once in the market I select 5 very large shrimp, each about 7 inches long, and they are grilled for me. Minh Ha throws in a dozen clams which are steamed for us. We find a table and order drinks. We are under a corrugated steel roof and the rain is pouring down. The sound is pleasant and the air is filled with cooking seafood and fresh air. I love the smell of the rain. Minh Ha orders a bowl of soup and we enjoy our meal. A few feet away a waterfall is pouring down off the roof. The shrimp are great and I love them. My hands are sticky and Minh Ha, who is very proper holds out a wet cloth. I am licking my fingers and she is frowning. I like to tweak her propriety once in a while and remembering her not wanting me to pick up anything that drops on the table I tell her that I do not want to waste a drop of this Shrimp and I will lick the table off in a moment. She pushes the wet rag at me and half frowns and half laughs. The shrimp is that good but I take the wet rag and I do not lick the table, much to Minh Ha’s approval.
Minh Ha has a seafood allergy and I feel so bad for her because she also loves seafood. She has only had one outbreak this trip and that was in Con Dau. She has her clams and her soup and is happy.
We return to my room and watch TV for a while before Minh Ha goes to bed and I write my journal which is now up to date.
Exploring - Carrot restaurant - Seafood to take home - Ride home
Beach at Can Gio
A beautiful resort but not the nicest beach.
Our last day in Can Gao begins with me up at 4:30 to take photos of the sunrise. I told Minh Ha last night I would leave my door unlocked and if she did not find me there I would be straight out to the beach. I walked around for a while and finally the sky began to lighten so I went to the beach only to find that the sky was filled with clouds and the sun continued to rise with only slight blue patches.
Back at my room Minh Ha is not awake so I just rest and wait for her to wake and come over. Another free breakfast and I like the Carrot Restaurant. We had a wonderful dinner of Shrimp by the Kilo, Luckily I ordered a half kilo. Minh Ha does not like it because it is too expensive. By our experience here in the USA it is very cheap.
I swim but Minh Ha, still worried about her skin darkening sat in the restaurant and watched. After that I dried off and got on clothes and asked her if she wanted to take a walk. She said on beach and pointed East and I said on the beach and pointed West. She said ok but soon found we were in an area that a development company had walled off blocking all sight of the Beach. Now everyone is separated including a 54 room hotel and a number of pavilions. This is in front of the boulevards I found and I was hoping to find where they came to the beach. Instead we found many mosquito breeding grounds and Minh Ha was worried about the Zika virus spread by Mosquitoes. I did not know how worried till later. We went back and walked to the East. Here we passed many pavilions, most of which were in need of repair. This is an area which attracts mostly Vietnamese tourists for the day. They come in bus loads from Saigon. Even the Can Gio Resorts has very few Western tourist.
It is near lunch and check out time so we go back and pack and I ask Minh Ha if she wants to have lunch. She is not really hungry but wants to get something to take home to May. We go to the market and I get some shrimp from the grill while she orders some crab claws. They are really big claws. Minh Ha calls for motorbikes to take us to the bus. The ride is a fast one and we enjoy the scenery. In the middle of nowhere was a 4 story building with no windows. We pass a familiar building that looks like a ship. It is about 100 feet long and has a bow that comes to a point and a forecastle even a number on her bow, really interesting.
Back in town we get the 46 bus to home. We unpack and Minh Ha is already cooking dinner. As always it is delicious then she gets out the Crab Claws and everyone is happy. May and I are talking and I tell her about the boulevards and the walk to the west. She said her mother already told her that I need to go everywhere and see everything. I said yes and she said Mother was very worried about the Mosquitoes. I thought she was just annoyed by them but she was worried. I said maybe that is why she hit me so hard when she said a mosquito was on me. She would whack me in the head and then when I looked at her she would say Mosquito and show me the bloody remains. May laughed and Minh Ha, who we did not think was paying any attention, smiled.
I do not always know for sure when Minh Ha is paying attention or is understanding. Sometimes May and I will talk and Minh Ha gives a look and I say, She understood that.
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I had on two occasions had a pain in my kidneys and the doctor looked at it and ran some tests and said it was nothing worth operating on and in a few days it passed and I thought it was that again. I know warm water is always good for anything inside so I drank a lot and after day it began to subside. Now I am wondering if it was all the spicy food in Can Gio combined with the hot pepper I accidentally ate last night. Vietnamese dishes come with a dipping sauce which is usually Soya Sauce or Fish Sauce with cut up peppers in it. The peppers give flavor but are not to be eaten. I do not know how I missed this all this time but last night while eating Summer Roll I scraped the bottom of the dish and I got all the pepper slices in one swoop. Suddenly I could not breath and there was no milk around so I used my Coke but it did nothing. I do not know which it was but I was laid up all day and night. The real problem was that this evening was the Service at Miss Oanh’s Church for her son who died long ago. She had recently brought him to Saigon to the columbarium in her Church. It is important to her and I really did not want to miss it. She is so nice and I like sharing things that are important to my friends but I really was in bad shape.
So ends a day that I would have just as soon skipped.
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I spent most of yesterday trying to assure Minh Ha that I would not die. This morning I believe it myself. After much water the pain is going away but it could not have happened at a worst time. My last two full days and of course Minh Ha wants to cook for me and I really do not feel like eating but I will she puts so much in cooking and in eating together.
Goodbyes - The Trip Home
Plane at teh Gate
Almost time to go
Another day which started slowly and quietly. I woke and Minh Ha and May were downstairs. Minh Ha’s son was there in the kitchen but said goodbye and left for work. May had taken off to come to the airport. I got a shower and packed my last few things and took my suitcase downstairs. My big suite case which I use for carrying all the things people have asked me to take to the USA is already packed and downstairs.
In light of the problem with luggage weight coming over Minh Ha suggests us weighing the luggage. I am allowed 2 suitcases each weighing 50 pounds. The large one is heaviest and it weighs in at 48 and a half pound. We talked a little about my feeling sick for a couple of days and I assure Minh Ha and May that I feel much better today. I am sure now that it was the spicy food and the pepper. I have been drinking warm water and really do feel much better. Minh Ha is packing enough food for an outing and also has thermos of warm water for me while we wait at the airport. I love her thoughtfulness and I make sure to have some at the airport. I do not like her to worry about me but it is a nice feeling when people are concerned and show it. May also.
May calls an Uber taxi and it arrives quickly. The ride is a quiet one. We pass a store with an old Lambretta sign I mention missing the old Lambrettas that were such a constant sight around Saigon until they were outlawed some years ago. Minh Ha remembers them also but the car becomes quiet again. We arrive at the airport and are almost exactly the two hours early that the airlines ask for so I go in and check my luggage and get my Aisle seat all the way home. Going back out I find Minh Ha and May and we go to the lounge where people not traveling can sit with passengers and wait. Once again we talk about my safety and that I should watch my carryon all the time and since I still have a little cough left I am reminded that when I cough I should spit and thought I do not like spitting they are right. They are both Biology teachers so I go to the men’s room and spit each time I cough. I just do not like spitting but I do not want them to think I do not think their advice is important.
We say our goodbyes and Minh Ha is emotional. I will miss her and May. I loved the times we had and I loved talking around the dinner table and in the room where we all sat around like at a campfire and we learned something and had fun. It is getting close and I hold up my finger like the hand of a clock and say tick, tick, tick. Minh Ha smiles anxiously. I go into the terminal and we wave as I go in and out of sight. Staying with Minh Ha and May has been like being with family
Security seems lax and I am in to the waiting area by the gate.
Inside the terminal I notice that a lot of liquor is for sale. Since I do not like it I do not know but I think the prices are greatly inflated. The wait inside is not too long and we are soon boarding. We are in the air and fed a nice meal and one movie, or most of it anyway and we are in Taipei.
We pass through a minimal security since we are only getting off one plane and on to another. I go down to a café and get a coke and piece of cake. The tables are full and one has only one woman so I motion to the chair opposite and she also motions. I thank her and sit to open my laptop to begin this day in my journal. The lady is joined by a man and they talk for a while then leave. Another couple comes and asks to sit. They do and I find they are from Princeton Junction, New Jersey not far from my home and a town I am familiar with from my days working in Princeton. We discuss the town, our travels and something of our lives now. The man and I are retired. We enjoy traveling. Soon the lady says it is time to go. We all pack up and return to Gate C6.
I wait for boarding and find we are closer than I thought. A young man is asking everyone if they are going to New York and I say I am. He says that last call for boarding has been made. I go down and the lower waiting is empty. I go through the checkpoint and the corridor is empty. This is as close as I have ever come to missing a flight but still there are 15 minutes to wait.
I am very happy with the seat. I am on the Starboard end of the 3 center seats and a nice lady is on the port end and the seat between is empty. We are both happy about this. I put my computer on the seat and she puts her bag and glasses. We pull up the inside arms of the seats and we all have a little extra room.
We are on a different plane but still EVA Air and the movies are the same so I watch the movie from the first leg over to see the ending. After a few hours we have a meal. The meals on EVA are very good. There are several good movies which makes the time fly. I have a few hours of sleep now and then. In the galley there are always glasses of juice and packages of snacks. It is a smooth gentle flight. After 11 hours we have a second meal and when finished we are only 1 and a half hours away.
As we approach JFK my mind is filled with everything that has happened in the last 73 days. The people, places, sights and sounds, the experiences. This always happens when I come home. I often think I am an anachronism the only thing is that though feel I belong somewhere else I do not know where that is. Maybe I have just been awake too long. I can feel the plane going down and the landing gear is coming down. In moments we are on the ground.
Customs is interesting. We now go to a device and place our passport in a scanner and our fingers on a second scanner and we are identified, asked a few questions and given a receipt. Next is an agent who asks us where we were and what we were doing there, do I have over $10,000 in US funds and do I have any food. I answer that I have food, the Moon Cakes but I add that the Moon Cakes do not have egg. I did not know that it is prohibited to bring eggs into the USA but Ha did know and told me there were no Moons in the Moon Cakes. The agent next to us said he had never heard of a Moon Cake without the Moon. I said it is rather pointless to have a Moon Cake for luck and not have the Moon which is the luck. My agent welcomes me home, which has only happened once before. I also wonder how much of our friendly chat was just friendly and how much was to observe if I was anxious about something. I am sure some of it was security but it does put one at ease and if one had something to hide it may very well have shown up then.
To the luggage carousel and my bags are not the last out this time. I am out on the loading area and I see the bus from the travel agency. The bus stops at Cherry Hill and Washington ave in Philadelphia. I decided to get off at Cherry Hill so it would be easier for Susan to get here. Unfortunately there was no one going to Cherry Hill and I was marked for Philadelphia so the bus did not stop at Cherry Hill. I call Susan who comes to Philadelphia and picks me up. Something always happens when I come into JFK late at night. I think next trip I will stay at the airport hotel till morning then work things out when it is light and everything is up and running.
On the way home I stop and get a Wawa coffee.
All things considered I am home now and all is well. I will sleep in my bed tonight and I think I will sleep well.