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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Good Morning Vietnam!

(what did you think I'd call it .... !?!?!?!)

And so....Round two.

Sorry for the delay. I've been a little busy, you know, adjusting to
a) Asia
b) a 12-hour time difference
c) my life

Yeah. So, hi.

Currently, I am in the beach town of Nha Trang, awaiting my bus pick-up for a 12 hour drive up the coast to Hoi An, another beach town, but a more quaint one filled with tailors that are ready and waiting to make (in 24 hours, mind you) ANY little piece of clothing your heart desires. For next to kind of town. But, I know I've been lax about writing, so I'll try to catch you up to speed in the half hour until I leave. Might be hard. Vietnam is going to be very hard to desribe in a half-hour.

Let's start here. Vietnam is AMAZING. I actually still don't think I'm grasping that I'm actually HERE. It's on the other side of the world, and you feel that at every turn. There's nothing at all familiar about this place, but it's absolutely fantastic and very very beautiful. And that's only having seen two cities and the Mekong Delta!!

My trip started in Ho Chi Minh City (fka Saigon) about a week ago, I flew through Tokyo on a fifteen hour flight, in coach. I was DREADING the trip, obviously. Cross-country-transPacific in COACH. Not so fun. But, it was actually not as bad as I imagined it would be. Looking out my window, I was continually awed by the wing span of the plane that I was in, one that needed to go 15 hours non-stop. And, then, as the Japanese coastline came into view, I think I caught myself, catching myself...if you know what I mean. I was flying over JAPAN. Narita Airport was a trip, it's almost hokey how overdone on ettiquette the Japanese are. Everyone is in uniforms that seem fake, like from a 1970's movie about Japan, shaped in design like girl and boy scouts, with matching hats and white gloves. They are polite and delicate and everything is done with care and order, and serious little bows. It's pretty wild.

Then, onto Ho Chi Minh, where I stayed with Jordan's friends Joy and Brian, who works for Mersk over there. They live in District 1 (HCMC is divided into districts), where most of the shops, hotels, and restaurants are centered. Since I came into HCMC late at night, I didn't get a sense of the city until morning. But, oh what a morning!!! Walking out onto the streets of HCMC, you cannot stop looking around. You are bombarded by sights and sounds and smells, coming at you from every angle. The first thing you notice are the motorbikes, which are the main means of transportation in Vietnam. Everywhere, motorbikes, racing by at breakneck speeds, carrying men, women, children. 10, 50 and 90 year old drive motorbikes and looking down the streets, seeing them gather at stoplights, it's absolutely like nothing you've ever seen. They are mixed in with the taxis and cars, and there are NO RULES. Taxis U-turn at will in the middle of the streets, traffic lights hold no real stopping-potential, pedestrians (myself included) just cross the lanes of traffic wherever it is necessary to cross. Slowly, with care, looking as you do it. It's nerve-wracking at first, you think you're going to get killed, but you don't. Both the traffic and you develop a sense of crossing. I don't know how it works, but it works....

Then, you notice, the people. Hanging around. Everyone in Vietnam hangs doing nothing ALL DAY LONG. So congregated all over the streets on these little plastic chair/table sets (that you all have bought your 2 year old children, FULLY...) are Vietnamese people. Kicking it on the colored plastic. Eating, usually. They eat all the time, from the vendors on the street (which are at every turn, hawking pineapples, rice, pho -- or noodle soup, live lobsters and crabs that they cook in front of you, spring rolls (currently my staple food b/c nothing else is quite doing it for me...) For all the eating these people do, all the rice and noodles and baguettes (remember, Vietnam was French once upon a time ago), I have NO IDEA how these people are so freakin' skinny! Very jealous of them. I wish I could rice it out and not gain. Not in my lifetime. No one is sure what all these people actually DO, but they're so happy, friendly and smiley. And when they ask you where you're from (well, me....) and I say the United States, a lot of times, I get a handshake and smile and a "Hello, America" response. Very interesting..... The other thing you notice about the people is that many are handicapped in some way, whether it's missing limbs, palsied faces, limps, blindness, there is a lot of hardship for a lot of people here. You want to give money to everyone that asks, you really do, because the poverty here is different, but you can't. And it breaks your heart....

Another random thing -- everyone wears pajamas. Women, usually silk ones. Like sets that I would reserve for a romp in the hay, possibly. Camisoles and pants, you name it -- if WE sleep in it, THEY work in it. And the men wear like Hugh Hefner smoking jacket pajamas. I guess if you think about it, it's pretty damn smart -- get up, get out of bed for the day, but goddamnnit, be comfortable!!! They MIGHT be onto something. But, I didn't exactly get used to it. It's a little off...

Ok, time for my bus. Part two, HCMC and Nha Trang next . . .


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