All of the H's

Trip Start Jul 13, 2006
Trip End Jul 06, 2007

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Monday, January 1, 2007

New year, new country. Within about 3 seconds of arriving at our hotel there was a knock at our door and John Oliver and Alison from Vancouver walked in. We spent almost 2 weeks travelling with them. It was great to have their new energy and conversation.
In Ha Noi a couple things were obvious. The traffic was crazy. There are 83 million people in this country the size of California and apparently there are 12 million motor scooters. Maximum engine size is restricted to 175 cc, so the cops can catch them. Entire families of 4 and occasionally 5 pack on one scooter; typically with junior standing at the front, holding onto the handle bars (no doubt he thinks he's driving) and the baby is held in Mom's arms at the back behind Dad. Honda is no doubt developing a seat extension called the Extended Family option, so that grandma and grandpa won't be left behind on the next picnic.

Crossing the road here on foot is quite daunting. The simple rule is "big beats small". Buses always have the right away, followed by cars and then scooters. As a pedestrian you're well down the food chain. Our first reaction was to wait for a break in the traffic and run like hell when one comes... but there never is a break in the relentless flow of scooters. Our second attempt we called the 'Vietnamese line dance' - 2 steps forward, one step back, one to the side, clap your hands together after every near miss and yell "Oh my gawd, that was close."
After watching the locals we tried our hand at 'Blind Man Walking'. You just step off the curb and start walking in a slow, but steady pace that says "I'm not even aware of you, so unless you want to break your head light on my knees, you best swerve around me." As John pointed out one crucial element is that you can't show any fear. Quinn and Chevy said that isn't easy when you're "fearing".

After much discussion on where to go in Viet Nam we decided we would only visit places that started with the letter H. So after Ha Noi we went to Halong Bay (for a boat cruise) Hue (say Way, but think about an H when you say it), Hoi An (over 600 tailors reside here) and Ho Chi Minh City (for adrenaline producing street crossing). We somehow snuck in a visit to the Vinh Moc tunnels near the DMZ (de-militarized zone - the buffer between north and south Viet Nam during what here is called the American War to differentiate it from their 900 years of war with China, Japan, France and Cambodia) where 800 people lived underground for 4 years. We also went to Ninh Binh "the Halong Bay of the rice paddies" where we went on a row boat trip that was so relaxing John and I were practically catatonic by the end.

One of the most moving things we did was visit the site of My Lai where one morning in 1968 American soldiers killed 504 men women and children. The only American casualty was one GI who shot himself in the foot in an effort to remove himself from the carnage. I mentioned that it was disappointing how few tourists were here and Deb pointed out they were all busy getting custom suits made.

One of the things I was really looking forward to in Viet Nam was learning how to kite surf. So off we went to the windy beaches of Mui Ne. My initial reaction was how tough can this be... I've skied a ton, windsurfed and even used dual string kites before. My first 2 hours consisted of being dragged around in the ocean by the kite (they don't give you a board at the start) and I swallowed enough salt water that a few people on the beach were actually alarmed that they be witnessing the start of a tsunami because the water level was so low. Walking down the beach to our room I was almost hit by a novice (I assume) kite flyer who from at least a height of 20 ft. smacked down on the beach and then was dragged back into he surf by the kite. I still can't believe he didn't break anything. The next morning I did no better controlling the kite (in fact much worse) and while it might well be that this beyond middle-age, overweight tourist was in over his head, for the sake of ego preservation I prefer to believe that my kite was simply possessed. With my tail between my legs I made a hasty retreat having been beaten by "Son of British Car Wash". (You'll need to read an England entry to make sense of that.)
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