Hong Kong 1Rev Holly Abroad July 2016

First Leg of the Journey

Such a weekend! Arrived HK Saturday afternoon (sure missed the nail=biting landings at the old Kai Tak Airport!) at hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui; got settled and then powered through the afternoon tho sleepy, and had fab dinner at Hutong Restaurant overlooking HK Harbor.  Watched lights come on all over the city and once again felt the vibrancy of this amazing place. Did tour of HK on Sunday so Dan could get feel for the island.  Drove up to the Peak, down through Aberdeen (not recognizable, except for Jumbo’s Restaurant: the old working sampans have given way to more “effishent” fishing boats, and the old harbor has expanded into a gigantic marina for huge yachts.  High-rise apt buildings everywhere, with new bridges and highways, give Aberdeen a new look, and it’s become an “in” place to live.  Drove thro Repulse Bay, where again the development has changed the nature of the community.  Hong Kong 2Even Stanley Market is spruced up now, with a clean beach, lots of restaurants along the waterfront, and mostly clothing and touristy stores where the old fruit/vegetable stores used to be.  I missed the dogs, cats and chickens running around!  The fragrance and sounds are the same, however: that indescribable smell of the “Fragrant Harbor” and the sounds of shrieking Cantonese voices, the “da-dum da-dum da-dum” of trucks backing up, and the jack-hammering at construction sites everywhere.  On Monday, we experimented with the subway (MTR) and zoomed into Central, found our way to the Peak Tram, and again went to the Peak the proper way (see the selfie below).   There’s a new community up on the Peak now, with a Galleria and lots of restaurants and even more high-rise apt buildings….when we were here in  ’79, I remember only one restaurant and a mostly wooded area.  

Hong Kong 5We took the Star Ferry back to Kowloon side, still the best ride in town and for less than 50 cents US.  Oh, I forgot one thing: Dan came with the notion of looking into getting a jacket made.  You’ll see him negotiating with his new BFF Shan, who is now creating TWO new jackets and a pair of slacks.  He’s happy.

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One night, we visited the night market and are about to take one more pass through the jade market before heading for the airport for our late-afternoon flight for Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)!!
 
Love to all, Holly and DanHong Kong 4

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Second Leg of the Journey

Hi all,

Good morning Vietnam!   We arrived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City officially) and were metvietnam 1 by our guide Truc, and our driver Tai, who drove us through the most terrifying traffic we’ve ever seen: bumpter-to-bumper cars, plus twice as many motorbikes swerving in and out, and trucks, occasional bicycles, and even a vendor on foot pushing a cart of vegetables - all fighting for space as they speed forward, or swerve to turn left or right….Truc said it’s like lots of fish swimming upstream in and amongst the turtles; for us in the back seat, it was more of a white-knuckle nail biter!  Anyway, we arrived at our beautiful hotel in the center of town across from city hall and a promenade where all ages promenade at night.  The rooftop bar of our hotel, the Rex, is where the “5:00 Follies” took place - where the journalists and photographers met every evening during “the war” for drinks and chatter about what had happened that day.  In addition to providing a great view of the city, it’s around the corner from the Caravelle, the hotel where journalists were generally housed.  On our first day, we got an in-depth look at the religions of Saigon (which I think includes most of southern Vietnam); we visited a Hindu temple, two Buddhist Temples (including one where we sat in on a sort of catechism class, around 60 men and women sitting on floor mats with a prayer book on a small table in front of them), Notre Dame Cathedral (designed by Gustav Eiffel with materials imported from France), and the Cao Dai temple, where we happened to witness vietnam 2a memorial service for three men.  Of note:  the “elders” of the latter invited us in to watch and hear the ritualized chanting, drum-beating and ceremonies to honor the deceased; according to Truc, the chants were prayers to God to speed the passing of the deceased to their next life that would, God willing, be a good life.  Also of note: the Cathedral allowed only two hours a day for “outsiders” to come in for a visit and then only for a quick look from the narthex.   We particularly enjoyed learning about the Cao Dai denomination; it originated in Vietnam, and is an eclectic mix of Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism, and sees itself as called by God to be the 3rd messenger for spreading God’s word.  (The first two were Moses and Jesus) The faithful don’t seem like evangelists but they do good by providing care, housing, food etc for anyone in need.  Among their saints are Victor Hugo, Winston Churchill and Shakespeare!
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Our temple visits were fascinating, but the high for the day was a visit to the “War Remnants Museum.”  The front courtyard contains a B-52, a Huey, a Chinook helicopter, a jet fighter, a piper cub spotter, several tanks, a troop carrier and anti-aircraft guns.  Some look beaten up, others have been re-furbished and used by the Vietnamese in the two wars that came after the “American War” (with Cambodia and China).  We probably spent close to three hours inside the museum.  One room celebrated the photographers whose pictures we remember well from the covers of Time, Life, the NYT, and gave a face (and their own lives to the war.  A few are still MIA’s in Cambodia, apparently.  Another section documents the spraying and the consequences of dioxin; in a room painted orange, we saw before-and-after pictures of deforestation, of people and villages, and of second generation victims.  The rest is painfully graphic documentation of the unfolding of the French War and then the ”American War”  to achieve the ultimate independence of a proud people.  vietnam 3Truc has taken several groups of varying sizes of veterans through the museum and through the old battle sites, and said their reactions are mixed: some are still proud of having done the “right thing,” others are saddened, others are relieved to revisit a nightmare and get closure.  It was an emotional experience for us, and probably what we came to learn about.
 
And so we ended the night at the 5:00 Follies with funny drinks in tall glasses with little umbrellas sticking out!
 
Love to all,  Holly and Dan
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Thursday - an early start today for the village of Cu Chi about 1 1/2 hours northwest of Saigon (oops - HoChiMinh City). We passed along the major highway that leads to the Cambodian border, teeming with those “fish and turtles” (motorbikes and cars) swarming around each other and yet, miraculously, avoiding disastrous contact.  We gradually turned off onto smaller arounds til we reached the site of the largest network of underground tunnels built by the S. Vietnamese guerrillas to store weapons and medicines, live in, and launch attacks from on the US military as they either came up the Saigon River or were dropped by parachute.  The ingenuity of the engineering is staggering.  The labor involved in digging narrow and deep tunnels with nothing more than pick axes is staggering.  We were told they’d dig at night, and women especially would carry the dirt to a discreet dump site - either the river or a bomb crater - so that there was no evidence of this active construction.  I went down one of the holes and crawled about 15’ , noting the dank air and absence of light; my lofty ambition to experience what the SLA soldiers did gave way to a backward (literally) retreat to air and light, and the stairway where Dan was waiting. Had I stayed in the tunnel, I’d have come up at another small opening maybe 80’ away.  We met a man, an Aussie, who crawled through another tunnel with his two sons; they emerged gleeful at this labyrinthine hide’n seek, but he emerged muddied and glad to be freed.vietnam 3-1 We saw lethal traps that were hidden behind trees or in inviting pathways the GI’s might have taken; we also saw the “tiger cages” - see below -  (maybe 18” H x 5’ L x 4’ W) the French had built and left behind to contain prisoners; we watched a “cobbler” making sandals out of rubber tires that were standard issue for the S. Vietnamese.  We also noted the reforestation of the last 40+ years in this land that was once laid bare by our bombs and napalm.  We heard the larger story about the VC, who were S. Vietnamese guerilla fighters (NOT from N. Vietnam as we’d remembered).  And we began to understand much more about the complicated dynamics of that war that were never made public: N Vietnam vs China, US vs China and Communism in general, South Vietnam vs all foreigners, the govt of S Vietnam against foreigners, China and N Vietnam vs Cambodia and Laos (border countries), and N Vietnam precipitating the battle of 1/2/63 to expose the US “advisor” weaknesses.   
 
Back to Saigon with a walk through the beautiful museum of pre-1975 but mostly post-1975 art, much quite contemporary and highly individualized, so unlike  stylized Chinese art.  Two hours of rest (a combination of Wimbledon and a swim in the rooftop pool) and then Truc and Mr Tai (our driver each day) picked us up for a night on the town, vietnam 3-6  beginning with a spicy beef/noodle dish squatting on a curb in a large public park (fantastic!!), followed by a restaurant with prawn roll-ups in an amazing pancake-like thing and spring rolls wrapped in lettuce (plus basil and mint), followed by a stop at a street vendor selling pho, an amazing soup (ours was with wontons), followed by a night club and dishes of ice cream as we heard guitar/piano/violin accompanying a showcase of individual singers (maybe 6 or 7) some singing vietnamese ballads, others singing Neil Diamond, Carole King & Karen Carpenter songs.  Of course we topped the night off at the "5:00 Follies”.  Good night from Saigon!
 
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vietnam 3-5 PS  One of the photos is from the rooftop bar looking down on the boulevard, where water fountains spouted skyward to the squeals of those who inadvertently were standing on top of them at the wrong moment, and circles changed colors as people of all ages rolled around on roller skates and segues with colored wheels!  It’s a carnival!
Holly Adams
 
 
 
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Friday - last full day in Saigon, alas, as tomorrow we fly to Danang.
Another early pick-up as we headed south along the infamous Rt 1 to the Mekong Delta. vietnam4-1  Following the Saigon River for awhile, we passed through “suburban development” of Saigon (hi-rise apartment buildings, a new university campus, some low-income housing, light manufacturing), and then gradually entered the agrarian south, vietnam4-5 with rice paddies at different stages of growth (three crops per year, including two rice and one other vegetable, with burning of the soil in between), or sugar cane or regular vegetable and fruit farms (eg cassava, pineapple, banana) until we hit the delta area. The supply chain is ingenious: trucks bring building materials down to th
Delta, and then bring back sugar cane, bananas, pineapple/guava, rice cakes, popped rice, rice and rice husks (for fuel) and boats float back to Saigon with mud for construction sites.  vietnam4-3 We boarded a small boat that toured us for a couple of hours through the boat markets and the inlets of the delta .  We ended at a beautiful French plantation home (long abandoned by its owner) for a 6-course luncheon, surrounded by a forest of swaying bamboo and banana palms.  Not many birds, or at least elegant tropical birds, but a few “LBJ’s” as my son-in-law Pope calls them (“little brown jobbers” like sparrows).  Life on the delta is hard work; people who own properties on one of the waterways don’t want to face the water (it’s work, not play) and resorts haven’t quite taken hold there yet. vietnam4-6  But life in the Delta is much less expensive than in the city of Saigon, and so older people tend to retire there.  At TET, therefore, families pile onto their motorbikes (3-4 people to a bike, plus bags!!) and head south to spend the New Year with their “elderly” parents.  Truc told us that in Vietnam, the story goes that "if there is a catastrophe, a Westerner protects his children but a Vietnamese protects his parents.”  An interesting thought, yes?
 
Back to the city, we walked around a bit for our last night and then headed for the rooftop for our last “Saigon Follies” and a light supper as the city swirled in the square below us.  We’ve made friends in the city and in the hotel b/c they are SO friendly, so forgiving, and so interested in meeting people as they (we) are.  The city is quite beautiful and refined, highly cultured, and a pleasant blending of old with new, of the past with the future.  We see it in architecture, in food, in art, in the way people are living.
Onward to Danang tomorrow, as we watch the semi-finals of Wimbledon!
 
Love, Holly and Dan
 
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Sunday…the first full day in this ancient waterside community.  Our guide picked us up at 9 for a 1 hr ride to My Son (“beautiful mountain”), site of the ancient Cham kingdom and home to its sacred temple site.  This beautiful site is actually a valley within a mountainous region just east of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  During the war, fighters (VC and SLA) would hide in this valley as they made their way to their combat assignments; the US would see the smoke of their cooking fires, assumed they (“the enemy”) were there in great numbers, and then dropped bombs on the sacred site.  Many temples were destroyed by the bombings, others just damaged by aging and weather.  Many craters still exist.  A UNESCO heritage site, there is some money coming in to help restore these ancient sites, and the US gov has given money to help rebuild, but there’s not enough, particularly as much of the money goes first to national or provincial government officials, and very little gets distributed to the designated purpose.  Judging from the many contemporary shrines in My Son, we understand that villagers come here from miles around to make offerings to the many Gods they need help from: sea, direction, harvest, fertility, & prosperity.  We enjoyed the tour, but it was boiling hot in the sun, and were relieved to get back into the air-conditioned car, with more water bottles.
 
We returned to the hotel to pick up bikes, and stopped at a fantastic spot for our favorite meal of pho (noodle soup w/ beef, vegetables, lemon grass) and spring rolls. We then biked maybe 10 miles into the countryside, riding through rice paddies (with water buffalo), fish farms, a pottery community (small village where everyone was involved in making pottery and sharing proceeds), some new neighborhoods in development (new cement homes, new hotels and rental villas), and a communal vegetable & spice/herb farm.  It was initially terrifying to join the motorbike traffic as we made our way down major roads alongside the trucks and cars, crossing  intersections yelling and  “beep-beep, beep-beep” as we followed our guide (who happens to be a competitive cyclist!).  Gradually we got into the rhythm and even passed large groups of Australians on bikes, and locals somehow carrying towers of empty water bottles balanced on their back.  It was a great day, and - literally - off the beaten track.
 
The day ended at the pool, with adult libation in hand!  
 
Holly Adams
 
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Tuesday, 12 July: Another hot and beautiful day.  When we arrived at the hotel verandah for breakfast, the head of the wait staff, Hue, handed us a card signed by the rest of the staff wishing us a good journey today and a speedy return to the hotel next year.  A first for us!  After breakfast, I went across the street to pick up the laundry, when the lovely lady/proprietor met me half way with the laundry neatly folded and packed in a plastic bag; two day’s of underwear for two people for $5!  An hour or so later, when she saw our car leave the hotel, she waved and waved.  Can you imagine? The road north hugged the coastline, dotted with hotels and “golf villas” under construction, funded mostly by foreign investors.  They lease the land for 50 or so years (foreigners cannot purchase) and are required to hire Vietnamese to do the work.  Vietnamese cannot gamble, but more casinos are being built to cater to Chinese and Japanese tourism.  We stopped at the beach in Danang, and waded in the water…warm, soft white sand, gentle waves, quite wonderful.  Up the coastline road over the mountain pass with a French bunker at the top, next to a [old] gate to the royal city of Hue.  We noticed that the French tourists were the only ones climbing all over the bunker and pretending to fight war games. Heading down the other side of the mountain pass, we saw interesting sights.  Our fave: large trucks carrying pigs (mature ones) packed into 3 levels with open sides so they were as well ventilated in this 90+ degree weather as possible.  The pigs would stick their noses as close to the openings as they could find space for, squealing thirstily until these enormous oinking trucks stopped, quite frequently, actually, at a “hog wash” stop, where hoses soaked the pigs from all sides and the oinking subsided.  
 
Arrived in Hue about 3:30; it’s a small town (much larger than Hoi An) but without the hustle and bustle of Saigon.  We went first to the Citadel and Forbidden City of the emperors, a large complex but smaller than the imperial palace of Beijing, I think. The last emperor, Bau Dai, abdicated in 1945. The official explanation was that he didn’t want to fight against the French, with no mention of Ho Chi Minh and the Communist takeover.  There are still many ancestors of the Nyguen dynasty;  they get no special treatment from the govt or society and have just moved on.  We saw copies of imperial decrees from the 13 emperors indicating that they did some good for the people (education, social reform, and so forth) and in the time between 1802 and 1945, the decrees were written first in Vietnamese characters, then handwritten French and by the end in typewritten French.  The two guides we’ve had have talked openly about the Communist party (neither a member) in neutral tones; they’re only complaints are about corruption at all levels that leads to big income gap.  There is no social security here; govt workers (who must be party members) receive a pension for life, but self-employed or those working in private sector have to save for the future.  The cultural norm is that 3-4 generations will live together, with the oldest taking care of the youngest so that those in the middle can be out working to support the rest.  As Truc, our Saigon guide told us, he wants to retire soon and spend more time with his parents.  Our current guide lives with his father, wife and 2yr old daughter, and the father babysits the child while he and his wife work.  Health care is free, and is better than private care, so we are told.  Another point about the Forbidden City: it was the site of some of the most brutal battles of the TET offensive (1968)because the VC hid there in the imperial buildings and the allies bombed them.  Result: many buildings no longer exist, and a few bomb craters are left, not as large as the ones at My Son.  That said, there are still bullet holes on the enormous bronze urns from the French war, years earlier.
 
The day ended at the hotel, the former French governor’s house and guest house on the river, with us at the pool with local Huda beer and local specialty spring rolls.
That’s all for today! 
 
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Thursday, 14 July

An early departure for the airport of Hue for the Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi.  Never, in all my life, at least since 1968, did I imagine that I’d be flying into Hanoi!!  We landed, were met by a new guide Phi (pronounced “fee”) who is young, divorced and delightful.  Apparently they’ve had rain for a couple of days, so it’s a bit cooler than where we’ve been, thank heavens.  We’re staying in the Old Quarter, near a large lake in the center of the older part of the sprawling city (of over 9 million!).  After we dumped our stuff at the hotel, Phi took us for a walk about the old town.  We encountered the same kamikaze traffic we saw in Saigon where trucks and bicycles and motorbikes come from all directions.  There’s an art to cross a street: you wait for an opening, and then move forward steadily (not running) with confidence and resoluteness.  Miraculously the traffic parts for you.  And if two or more are crossing together, they MUST stick together to prevent a motorbike from coming between them.  The city is bustling.  Lots of stores, and all doing a brisk business.  There are  something like 75 streets in the old quarter, and the old names reflected the product that was sold exclusively on that street, like “shoes” or "kitchen appliances” or “hardware” or “kids toys” or “fabrics.”  Today it is still that way to a certain extent, but now restaurants or cafes or bars/lounges and coffee houses have moved into these streets, so there’s a normal mix of stores.  
 
We attended an afternoon performance of the Water Puppets, a Vietnamese specialty, actually one that began with northern Vietnamese farmers who would entertain themselves with puppets telling folk tales when their day’s work was done.  It was beautifully done, with about 8-10 “handlers” actually standing in the water behind a curtain manipulating the rods that activated large wooden puppets in the water as old folk tales were re-told.  There were fire-breathing dragons, and a fisherman who got swallowed by the fish he was trying to catch and about 12 other stories. We happened to sit next to a couple from N Stamford who came over to meet their daughter who’s been working on a UN project in Myanmar; it was fun to swap CT stories while waiting for the show to start.  
 
We found our way back to the hotel somehow, showered and changed, and then ventured out again to have dinner in an unbelievably good Hanoi/Vietnamese/French fusion restaurant. An elegant meal, followed by a walk back to the hotel and stopping along the way to capture the night scene: thousands of young people hanging out on the street, seated at low tables and drinking micro beer (cheap), appetizers from local restaurants whose waiters were busily running in and out, and talking.  The noise was deafening. There’s a liveliness and energy here we did not see in Hue, and a surprisingly contemporary look for a communist city that’s been under foreign rule for so many years, mostly China and France.

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An emotional leave-taking this morning at TanSanNhut airport (say that name over and over to yourself, and the daily news of the 70’s will return with eerie familiarity); we left Truc and Mr Tai with hugs and handshakes and “camon”s (thank you’s) as we made our way to board the flight northeast for Danang, about 1 1/2 hrs away.  Upon landing, we made our way to the immigration and baggage claim (“reclaim” here) area, and a group of young women, perhaps Vietnamese, perhaps Korean, stopped us, holding my Nikon camera - opened - and informing me that it must have fallen out of my carryon bag, they’d found it, looked at pictures, and recognized us!  (Also my sun glasses!) We all laughed (me in total foolishness and oblivion) and they clapped at their success in finding us by matching a picture of Dan to the real person!)  That act of generosity of shared joy summarizes what we’ve experienced so far in Vietnam.  In HK, we met interesting and kind people, but there was twice as much pushing and shoving for space and attention in that culture.  Here, there is a genteel pace and thoughtfulness for the “other” that is deeply touching.  
 
Our new guide, Deung, took us immediately to a small museum in Danang about the history of the Cham people and culture…quite interesting, but we were melting in the sultry heat (95-100).  We saw the famous Danang Bay, this time dotted with pleasure boats and small fishing craft and not the large military carriers and destroyers of the 70’s.  We drove about 1 hr south on Route 1 along the coast to our destination, Hoi An, an exquisite old town settled by the Cham over 1000 years ago and now a World Heritage protected site.  On the way, we passed by the old  “Salt Water” airstrip, hangars and control tower used by the US to unload materiel.  Upon arrival in Hoi An,  we were taken first to a waterside restaurant (it’s on a river off a delta with the “East Sea” (Vietnam doesn’t use the name South China Sea off their coast, for obvious reasons) for a leisurely luncheon (my iPhone camera has not worked all day, so not many pix today), and then to the hotel, also on the water.  Around 4, Deung picked us up for a walking-around tour of Hoi An and the old quarter.  Visited a silk “factory;” in a small townhouse, silk worms are raised on mulberry leaves, then put into wooden boxes sort of like egg cartons with inserts about 2” sq where they build cocoons, which are then put into boiling water, from which the silk thread  is spun…and we saw it all.  Of course, on the lower floor we had the opportunity to custom design silk shirts/dresses/jackets to be ready for delivery in 1-2 days.  Maybe tomorrow….Another big business here is  styling shoes and handbags made from imported leather (some local leather used too) and of course beautiful arts and crafts, pottery and embroidery.  We’ll go back again tomorrow, so I can get some pix of the lively night scene with lanterns, floating candles, and an air of celebration and carnivale. We had supper and adult libation on an island you access by one of several pedestrian bridges with lanterns, and it was just magical.    
 
Many Australians are here on vacation, as it’s their winter; we’ve met several lovely people.  That’s all for now…it’s been a hot and tiring day!   Holly and Dan

The Reverend Holly Adams
 

 

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