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Rain on Me – Vietnam

Rain on Me
Vietnam

November 14
After a lot of Valium, I arrive in Hoi An. I did get to sleep on the bus but not as much as I would have liked. The after effects of the typhoon are evident as there is a heavy rain which limits my activities. The Japanese Covered Bridge was a good place to visit because it had statues of two dogs and two monkeys, which indicated the years that construction on the bridge began and ended. Also, I wasn’t getting rained on because it was a covered bridge. I did go to some markets in Hoi An, which is known for its tailor shops. People come here to get nice suits and dresses for little money. An overly friendly young Vietnamese girl at the Tran Family Chapel met me and gave me a tour. These “family chapels” are a history of the particular family in Vietnam. This one went back 13 generations and 300 years and included photographs, memorabilia, and also graves in the backyard.

All that remains after the battle of Khe Sahn is a coffee plantation with a burnt out American tank and a couple museums
All that remains after the battle of Khe Sahn is a coffee plantation with a burnt out American tank and a couple museums
Due to the extensive rain, I decided to move further north to the old capital of Hue. There is slightly less rainfall here but it is still a mess. Arriving at night, I find a place to stay and a place to eat. I met a Finnish couple from Lapland (up where Santa Claus lives) at the restaurant and we sat together. They were about to close but they took our orders. However, they decided just to mix together what they had left in the kitchen but it was actually quite a nice meal.

November 15
It rained all day. I arranged my DMZ tour for tomorrow. Then I went to the imperial city located within the Citadel area of Hue. The imperial city was impressive to look at as it is a big area and there are several buildings and gates. Also there are other things like drums and watchtowers to see. The rain did put a damper on things. For instance, I was going to take a boat trip down the Perfume River and visit the Royal Mausoleums but there was too much rain. Much of my time was spent in the Citadel area or talking to Mr. Money, who was a small local guy who I bought some old coins from.

November 16
The DMZ tour takes us down Route 9 towards Khe Sahn and we are able to visit many sights on the way. The first place is a church that has numerous bullet holes due to a battle that occurred nearby. The rock pile is a hill that was bombed so severely that vegetation still doesn’t grow on it thirty years after the war is over. Next, were the tribe people who had big, fat pipes in their mouth smoking tobacco. The tribe was supposed to be near the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which is mythical as there is no concrete trail that can be tracked. The next part of the trip was Khe Sanh which was where a huge battle occurred and was immortalized in the Bruce Springsteen song, “Born in the USA”. Now it is just a large coffee plantation with a burnt out American tank and a couple museums. The Americans attempted to cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but as the North was retreating after the Tet Offensive they surrounded the Americans here. Many died and eventually the Americans won but the base was later abandoned.

Returning to the main road, we headed up Route 1 to the actual DMZ. There is a small sculpture indicating where the actual line dividing north and south was and then up into what was North Vietnam. There is a set of tunnels here but these are much more wider, like caves, then the very narrow Cu Chi Tunnels.

November 17

Tok tries to sell me water at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi
Tok tries to sell me water at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi
On to Hanoi. I tried to sleep on the bus last night but the driver kept talking to the person in front of me. I stayed in the Old Quarter and walked around the French Quarter before visiting a decent history museum.

November 18
There are several government buildings and museums to see in Hanoi, which I did. I went to the Ho Chi Minh Museum where Ho Chi Minh is embalmed. Unfortunately he gets his face redone in November and I was unable to see him but I saw his old stilt house that he used to live in. Nearby is the one pillar pagoda. Then on to the B-52 Museum, which is just a B-52 that was shot down and fell into a lake and is now apparently a museum.

At night, I attended the water puppet show near the main lake, Hoan Kiem Lake. These shows originated in the rice patties as a way to entertain after a long day. It is entertaining as sticks located under the water, not strings from the ceilings, control the water puppets. At the end of the play the curtain behind the puppets is opened and the people that control the puppets come out, waste high in water. The puppets are dragons, swans and of course people. The story line follows a down-on-his-luck fisherman who perceivers and eventually becomes successful. The grand finally includes a small fireworks show bursting of the swans’ mouth.

November 19
Today was my last full day in Hanoi and I mostly relaxed around the main lake. I spent a lot of time watching locals play chess and talking to a little girl, Tok. I had considered taking a trip to Ha Long Bay but didn’t. I bought show more cheap CD’s and several souvenirs including a water puppet. They also have these pictures made of eggshells, which are beautiful and must take a lot of time. I sent back some more mail, which took less than an hour this time.

I saw all the Communist propaganda posters as I walked around the lake and began to wonder if I was a Vietnam vet would I want to come back? This is difficult as I was not in the war, was never in the military and never had to shoot at another human. Considering the poor reception most Vietnam vets were given, the controversy and the trauma of war it would be difficult. However, the people here are extremely nice (now that there not shooting at Americans), the country is beautiful and although technically Communist it has embraced the free market system, which indicates “losing the battle, but winning the war”. So, I imagine it would be a therapeutic to some degree but also traumatic. There are several Vietnam vet tours here.

November 20

Water puppet shows originated in the rice patties as a way to entertain after a long day
Water puppet shows originated in the rice patties as a way to entertain after a long day
I said good-bye to Hanoi and hello to Beijing. Hanoi actually had a nice airport but almost no one was there. I met Alex, a Russian, on the bus to downtown Beijing and was fortunate that the bus stopped right at my hostel.

We took a walk down to Tiananmen Square and saw it at night; it was quite attractive lit up. Then we went to Kentucky Fried Chicken and talked there for a while. We were both tired and didn’t want to try out our Chinese so we took the safe bet in KFC. We talked about Russia and how clean and attractive Beijing was. Alex was staying up all night because he had a 6 a.m. flight to Siberia but I needed to get my sleep for the Forbidden City tomorrow.

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