From Hue to Hoi An

Trip Start Feb 17, 2013
Trip End Mar 21, 2013

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Today is Sunday, I think, and it is pouring rain.  I have come down with a cold and I do not relish fighting the crazy traffic and all the noise so I am staying "in" to catch up on blogging.  Tom is touring old residences in Hoi An.  Our room has old shutters that block the view but let in a little air.  Tom finally figured out how to open the shutters so they stay open, and close the windows to keep the bugs out -- no screens -- but I do have the door to the balcony open so I can listen to the rain.  Rain and palm trees -- I feel like I am in the tropics.  Oh yeah, I am!!! :)  

So, back to blogging about our trip.  Let's see, if today is Sunday, it must have been, um, Friday? that we hired a driver to bring us from Hue to Hoi An.  We have lost track of the days and trying to remember what day and time it is in the USA totally confuses us.  :)  Thank goodness for my dual-faced watch and a computer!

We had a driver in Hue to take us to some of the historic sites.  Once he learned we were from the United States of AMERICA, his English became more intelligible.  There are so many Australians who visit Vietnam, that the Vietnamese all think we are Australian.  Apparently, English is English and they do not detect the different dialects.  When we tell them we are from the United States, they respond with, "from America!?"  Yep.  We are.  Anyway, we liked that driver but he was unavailable the next day which probably worked to our benefit.  The driver we had to take us to Hoi An spoke perfect English.  He was also more open to discussing "the war."  The previous day's driver had a history with the South Vietnamese government and was, most likely, "reeducated." Our new driver was born in 1976 -- after the war -- so he was much more open to talking.  He was also a pretty decent tour guide, although we figured out that he was probably on commission to some of the tourist traps -- more on that in a minute.

Before meeting our driver, we walked around Hue one more time.  The culture is so different from what we are used to.  Women walking along the street with fresh vegetables to sell to the women making pho at their sidewalk stands, thousands and thousands of people on motorcycles who carry everything and anything as they travel the streets.  It is not uncommon to see a family of four riding one motorcycle -- very young children stand in front of the parent if it is a scooter, or they sit behind their mom holding on.  We saw one toddler in a "car seat," which was a tall high-chair looking bamboo stool which stood on the floor of the scooter. Anyone over the age of 18 must wear a helmet, kids aren't required to have their precious heads protected.  My question -- if one of the kids falls off the motorcycle and gets a brain injury or dies, is the couple allowed to have a replacement child? (See comment about children, below.)  Are children that expendable?  Another thing we happened upon in Hue was a hotel that is being built.  Tom pointed out the shoddy brickwork.  His grandpa had been a bricklayer/contractor who had built many buildings in Rockford, IL.  We agreed, Grandpa Bloom would be appalled at the workmanship, that we could have laid those brick better than these Vietnamese "professionals."

"Mr. Qi's" (our driver) father had been a South Vietnamese government employee and he was reeducated -- I would guess that means "brainwashed" -- to believe all that the Communist party believes is true and all that he knew from being in the South was false.  He was probably threatened, probably put into a menial hard labor job to prove he was "loyal" to the new government.  Who knows?  We didn't get that far into our conversation.  We can only ask so much before they clam up.  We also learned that the government has laws about too many children -- one boy, one girl.  Or rather, two children, but they all seem to have one of each.  If they make a "mistake" or the birth control doesn't work, and they have more than two children, they cannot get jobs -- the government thinks it is more important for its citizens to be controlled than to support the children.  Hmm . . . .  At least they get two, rather than the one child policy of China.  

So, off we went about 9 a.m. on Friday for a 3 1/2 hour drive between Hue and Hoi An.  We've been to Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An -- I think the Vietnamese like the letter H!  The drive was very scenic across the mountains where the weather turned noticeably colder and foggier.  We passed a bay where fishermen were in their uniquely Vietnamese boats, and where pearl oysters are raised. When we stopped at the pass, tourist trap extraordinaire, to see the "pillbox" military post built by the French and the Americans to defend the pass from the Viet Cong, we saw the pearls -- mostly "old lady" necklaces.  We were accosted by women selling whatever wares they were selling.  As we walked up the path to view the pillboxes, the map ladies were at it.  Now, I had commented, more than once, that I would like to stop by the local AAA office!! ;-D))))  We are getting very good at saying, "No thank you."  But, the pregnant map lady knows a sucker -- or mom -- when she sees one.  "Not for me, for the baby.  For $1."  Well, we moms all speak the same language, don't we?  It is never for us, it is always for our children.  So, AAA it ain't, but I got my map!!!  For the baby!

Our next stop was China Beach -- made famous by the television show of two decades ago with Dana Delany as the star.  Da Nang was home to a massive USAF base during the war and this was where many US troops spent their R & R.  We stopped long enough for me to dip my toes -- California girl that I am, I am not passing an ocean or sea without wading in it.  The water was very warm, especially compared to the Pacific Ocean.  I even managed to score a small shell to bring home!  

We arrived in Hoi An about 1 p.m.  What a cute and quaint town and very touristy.  There are spas about every two doors so I might just indulge in a massage while we are here -- 60 minutes for about $9.  Not sure how trained they are or how good, but for $9??  Who cares?  Since I have the most awesome massage therapist in SLC it will be difficult to not compare.  I also have the most awesome nail lady in SLC, so I will not be getting a pedicure (got one before I left) while I am here, but the manicure is going to last only so long.  Aby gave me hints what to look for to be sure these Vietnamese girls don't do damage to my nails or give me a fungus.  I'm even leery of the Vietnamese nail girls at home and they have the Health Department looking in on them.  Here?  Not so much, I'd guess.  

We wandered down to Old Town which is really quaint -- more upscale to lure in the wealthy Western tourists.  If I thought I could ever get Tom into church, wearing a suit, this would be the place to have one tailor made.  But, alas, it's tough to get Tom to wear a sport coat to a funeral.
I like Hoi An.  Of the three cities we have visited, this is my favorite.  However, I could do without all the noise and chaos of the millions and millions of motorcycles.  I could also stand to sleep in a bed that is softer than the sidewalk with a pillow that is softer than a rock.  As I write this, we have been here two nights.  I am dreaming of my pillow-top mattress and my squishy pillow.

That is all from me for our first day in Hoi An.  Look at pictures and their descriptions for more. Now, here is Tom . . . cutting and pasting from an email he sent to Patrick about the chaotic driving ~~

I think you would love it here . . . at least after you got your VN drivers license.  First of all you are taller than an NBA star here!  And skinny, so you fit right in.  Only westerners are "fluffy."  Dayna and I would last about a week here trying to drive. This is a country that on outward appearances is very orderly and the government, I'm sure, would like us all to believe that.  But, once past the government bullshit, this is a country of orderly chaos.  Let's talk about a subject you love . . . driving.

First, there are road signs every where like the US.  And the major streets are striped to look like any western city.  That is where the similarity ends!  It is a free-for-all with the only rule being that Darwin's rule applies, bigger have the advantage over the little.  Large trucks appear to see or hear nothing, buses ply the highways with reckless abandon, cars are manic, motorcycles dodge to an almost artistic expertise (carrying stuff at times that you wouldn't try to stuff into a Ford F-150!), bicycles somehow survive and only scare the shit out of western tourists.  Add to the stew, almost no street lights for traffic control or pedestrian convenience or safety.  And, the ones that are here change without any warning!  The average driver does not let himself get confused by the highway stripes, if they exist at all.  As near as I can tell, the stripes are put on the highway to confuse spy satellites into thinking that this country actually has its shit together and may be a threat worth watching . . . which it isn't.

As Roosevelt said, "The only thing to fear, is fear itself."  And these drivers show no fear of anything unless it is a "speed trap," as we call it.  Our driver from Hue to Hoi An was always watching for them.  He pointed them out to us. First, a car or truck along the road with a couple of policemen in it.  Then, a few hundred yards farther down the road, another truck with a lot of policemen, all with sticks and flags to net the offenders.  I think meeting a policeman is to nobody's advantage here.  

Finally, if your motorized vehicle does not have a working horn there is no reason for it even to have wheels!  If you aren't honking the horn at least 25% of the time, you simply don't know how to drive in Vietnam.

Given all that, you would think the pedestrians would have about as much chance as a Polar Bear in Global Warming (which is something this part of the world cares nothing about, but I digress).  But, that is not true!!  Once the walker learns the science of being a pedestrian, he/she is almost safer than any other species on the street.  It's really just mind over matter.  Conquer your fear of imminent death and walking around is only mildly horrifying!


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