Posts Tagged With: Vietnam

Holiday Blues

I feel blue. In this time of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s I feel an oppressing pressure to be joyful. Solitude -which I treasure- turning into loneliness at warp speed and in slow motion at the same time. I do envy those who truly like being alone. And regret not being one of them. I am grateful for so much and so many but today I just feel blue. Winter creeping on me both physically and metaphorically.

A snowy cold day on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Remember the movie Inside Out? On Halloween the year the movie was out (2015), I dressed up as one of the characters: Sadness. So this is an accurate portrayal of my state of mind now.

In the past my solution to my “blueness” was to travel. But I can’t anymore, so when I’m low I reminisce and travel again in my mind. For some reason Vietnam came to it. Which is odd, for of all the countries that I visited in Southeast Asia, it was the one I connected to the least. Yet, it was there that I was introduced to Caodaism. According to caodai.org: “The noble effort of CaoDai is to unite all of humanity through a common vision of the Supreme Being, whatever our minor differences, in order to promote peace and understanding throughout the world. CaoDai does not seek to create a gray world, where all religions are exactly the same, only to create a more tolerant world, where all can see each other as sisters and brothers from a common divine source reaching out to a common divine destiny realizing peace within and without.”

A dirt path strewn with litter that leads to…
A beautiful, well-kept building…
Which is absolutely breathtaking inside.

I realize I am in Rossmoor and that in Garden Grove, only 17 minutes away, is a Cao Dai Temple resembling the one just outside Long Xuyen, Vietnam that introduced me to this religion. Did someone say I could not travel? Off I go in a virtual journey no more.

So the path to the temple in Vietnam is dirt and rubble. Here it is busy streets that lead me to a residential area in Garden Grove, CA. I see the colors and it’s as if they are mermaids singing to me. I must go to it. Hopefully this visit has a better outcome than when the mermaids lure sailors in.

undefined They have a parking lot and as I park I hear the sounds of a language I have not learned and probably never will.

The entrance is a mini-me of the temple I so admired and moved me in Vietnam.

However the main pole in front of the temple does not have the reversed swastikas which happen to have a Buddhist influence and is sacred to many Vietnamese. The swastika (a Sanskrit word) is also a tantric symbol to evoke ‘shakti’ or the sacred symbol of auspiciousness. I don’t doubt that its absence is due to trying to avoid controversy.

The one in Vietnam.

I take a few photos. Take off my shoes (as ordered) and enter another world.

undefined undefined undefined

The place is smaller than than its parent in Vietnam but is just as colorful. The quiet I expected is not quite there for the side doors are open and in comes loud voices in Vietnamese from the courtyard. There’s a gathering of followers who are sprucing up the church. One side door is being primed and the other has already been painted yellow. It is noticeable that the congregation takes pride in their home. I kneel and find my inner quiet.

As I look through one of the windows and hear the background chatter, I am almost transported to Long Xuyen.

It is in the little touches of daily life and some writings that I linger.

Before leaving I explore the back of the temple. I pass about 15 people sitting around a table chatting and as they turn their head to see me, I join my hands in prayer mode and bow slightly, saying nothing. They go back to socializing; I go back to the car knowing that I will visit again.

And keeping my promise that I would end each blog with a song or two. Here are two. I did not see the movie that “I’m Standing With You” comes from (I think it’s about a mother and child) but I feel we all want that someone that stands with us through whatever we go through. I’ve been lucky to have those people beside me.

And then, one of Peter Bradley Adams, a singer that brings me happy memories. “For You” How can you not love a song that says: “If your wandering ever leads you, To a place where you don’t know which road to choose, Leave your worries behind, Take the road that leads to mine, And I’ll be waiting there for you”

Categories: California, Ramblings, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Water Life and Cambodia Ahoy!

I have been dreaming of seeing Angkor Wat and today -when we leave Chau Doc, Vietnam and take a speedboat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia- I will be two days closer to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.  In between there is much to see and two immigrations to go through.

As we are leaving the hotel we spot a little girl apparently alone, but actually waiting for her dad.  She’s on a bike with her own little rattan “throne” in front.  We all start waving at her and she timidly waves back.  Dad comes out and takes the veil off her face.  She stares at us and is probably wondering what the fuss is all about!  

After the bus drops us off we still have to walk through a market to get to the boat.  We pass by a temple with inscriptions in Vietnamese and Chinese: Chau Phu Temple.  You would think at this point I would be tired of temples and markets but I still find them fascinating, each generating different emotions in me every time.  

Though small, it is a thriving market the one we go through on the way to the pier.  A crate of chicks reminds me of a Spanish children’s song that goes: “Los pollitos dicen, pío, pío, cuando tienen hambre, cuando tienen frío…”  (The little chicks say peep, peep, peep, when they are hungry, when they are cold…)  These must be really hungry ‘cause their pío, pío is loud and strong!  Somehow it saddens me and I look away.       

The lanes are narrow and motorbikes and people coexist in them.  I’m so enthralled by these huge grapes that I don’t realize that a bike narrowly misses me (or I it).       

And yet, on my next photo none of the craziness is reflected.

We go through an alley  and my inner voice goes “water ahoy!” (I know it’s land ahoy but I wasn’t up for arguing with myself.)

Soda anyone?  

And had I not had breakfast, I could of gotten it at the boat that offered a hot meal to all.     

A houseboat floats by and my thoughts float with it.  I wonder how it must be to live like that. 

I have a few minutes to ponder this as our boat gently advances to a fish farm that we are visiting.   But before that, we shall pass and visit a floating wholesale market.   Another boat offers us a burst of color along with its wares (somewhat like a 7/11 on the water).   A good indication we are entering the market.  

Each boat has a long mast that has, instead of a flag, the fruit or vegetable they are selling waving at the top.

Here’s the coconut boat.  

Want to guess what this one sells?

   

We leave the market with another blast of color from a boat.  

A few minutes later we arrive at the fish farm. 

I try to pay attention, I really do, but the smell from the fish paste so commonly used in almost everything here is so overwhelmingly nauseating that all I’m thinking is getting on our new boat that will take us to Cambodia.  Not that I haven’t smelled it before but it was always intermingled with other scents.  Alone, and in mass quantities, it is hard to breathe.

Relief as I take a huge breath upon boarding the boat that will take us to the Vietnam exit border     and the Cambodian immigration.  I had wondered this morning how it must feel to live on the water and I’m getting a taste of it now.

I have learned to be patient and smile my way through every immigration process but the Cambodian immigration control is unique.

A curious local (as usual it is the people that draw my lens).    

After leaving the boat and walking for a bit there is an immigration control like no other.  

I get the usual “Paraguay?” question but with it comes a smile and a look.  And just in case you don’t believe it actually is a border crossing here are some officials to prove it as we head back to the boat.   This is not the plank we take back to our boat… 

  Back on the boat our trip leader entertains us.  

I relax for we still have about two hours till our arrival to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.       

My stomach growls, my eyes blink open, and I spot land.     

Thaly, our local guide, and our first and only female guide on our journey, welcomes us at the dock.  This is a bustling, metropolitan city.  We check in at the Almond Hotel where we have lunch.     At this stage of the game most have a hankering for familiar tastes so they serve us ice cream for dessert!  We are all like little kids verbalizing our delight with many “yummms and ahhhs”.

Off to the Royal Palace.      

As we cross the gates the sounds of life outside seem to decrease to nothing.  Isolated perhaps by the tall walls that surround it.  What it doesn’t isolate us from is the brutal sun.

The king is in residence, indicated by his flag waving high.  

I know I should be most impressed by the Throne Hall

-that we are asked not to photograph even from the outside looking in.  In fact, today we can’t go inside at all.   But aside from the Baccarat crystal chandeliers that are certainly captivating, it is the Moonlight Pavilion that holds my eye.     

We head towards the Silver Pagoda set of buildings.  The walls are painted with the Khmer version of the classic Indian epic, the Ramayana.  

I sit and contemplate how manmade beauty is framed and enhanced by nature.  

Life outside the walls has not stopped.        

We go back to the hotel to freshen up and go back out for our ride in a remok (the Cambodian version of a tuk-tuk) along the riverside to our restaurant.  We are served Cambodian food which, as in all of Asia it seems, includes curry something.  We taste fish amok (steamed fish with herbs in a banana wrap).  I am not warming up to Cambodian food as much as I have to the rest of Asian food.

Tomorrow we will have a somber morning walking through The Killing Fields.

Categories: Cambodia, Chau Doc, Phnom Penh, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Fruit Memories, Courtesy of Vietnam

The morning is young though I am definitely not feeling as young as when I went to bed.  Got very little sleep and can feel the fuzziness in my brain.  My step is slow.  And this without drinking a drop last night.  The dancing did me in.  Muscles I didn’t know I had are making it known that they were there all along.   Muscle ache and lack of sleep, however, have no power against adrenaline and after I take a shower I’m all set to go.  Let’s see how long it lasts…

Today we are heading to the Cu Chi tunnels, the base for the Vietcong guerrilla fighters during the Vietnam War.  I am wary of this visit for two reasons: am a bit on the claustrophobic side and don’t know how I’ll handle the tunnels (or if I’ll dare go in) and am not sure I’ll want to hear the propaganda that may go with it.  But I’m in Vietnam and I’m going.

On the way we stop at a rice paper factory and rubber plantation.  I am learning so much about processes of elaboration of things I had never given a second thought to and am acquiring a new appreciation of them.  

I get the opportunity to try my hand at making a rice paper roll.  This rice paper is used to wrap vegetables in a sort of spring roll (which is not fried).  It’s delicate and much harder to make than it looks.

It begins by spreading the mixture of rice and water on a hot plate.  

Then you pick up the roll with a roller. (How à propos.)  Cook didn’t trust me to do it by myself and helped.  

Then it’s transferred to the bamboo to cool.  Hopefully without a hole -mine had one  😦   

Once I’ve humiliated myself enough for being so inept at it, we spot a cashew tree.  In Brazil is where I first was familiarized with one.  The top part of the fruit is the nut that we know as cashew.  My mom used to make juice of the cajú (in guaraní) fruit –or cashew apple-.  Brought back a lot of happy times to my mind.  

A little girl was fascinated by our group.  

The group went on to view a rubber tree.  I preferred to stay on the side of the road with my memories, while snapping pictures.

I find it interesting that when aware of having a picture taken, most in Southeast Asia will flash a victory sign.  

Though the passengers on the same truck did not.  

We arrive at the Cu Chi Tunnels.  

First thing to greet us is an imposing US Air Force helicopter. 

Then we are off to cross a tranquil looking setting  into an area that at wartime was as far off from tranquil as you can think of.

Breathing Hole

Breathing Hole

The tunnels were an elaborate maze (75-mile long).  A veritable city from which the Vietcong operated, coming out only at night for food and supplies.   A place of little breathing room both in space as in oxygen.

And very difficult to detect.

    

They took care of their wounded underground.  

And even had entertainment. The artist in me smiles that even under dreadful conditions that part is taken care of. 

You can go into three tunnels.  One is very claustrophobic even when it has been widened to accommodate tourists.  Tom, the most adventuresome of the group, went in and looked a bit frazzled coming out.  Another is shorter and I did go into that one.  I survived it thanks to Amarjit’s voice on the other side saying: “It’s not long.  You can do it.”  Can’t imagine what it was like to live in them!  I learned a lot about the war.  Even more so after going on the Internet to read both sides.

After this visit we need a bit of downtime which the bus ride back provided, as well as the market visit that followed.

Ah, but the flood of emotions and remembrance is not to be curtailed as I encounter a fruit that my grandpa use to grow and lovingly pick for me when I visited:  a cherimoya.  

Enough of memories?  No, as in the next stall I spot sugar canes.  Don Eladio, my gramps, used to peel the sugar cane for me so I could chew on it, enjoying the sweetness of it for hours.  Grant you, not great for the teeth but the memory of it is!  

Now that we built up an appetite we head to a local restaurant: Phò Hùng.     I would later find out that it is one of the best in the city for Phò, a Vietnamese noodle soup, pronounced “fah”.

The food was absolutely delicious.  You add ingredients that are already on the table to a huge bowl of soup.

I also sampled yet another local beer.

A wonderful meal!  

From here we are free to be on our own.  I, to meet with Jeff (my LA friend who lives in Ho Chi Min City) and maybe experience what locals do.  He picks me up and here comes my first taste of being Vietnamese.   I don a helmet and climb onto the back of his moped towards a café.  

In less than a few minutes we encounter a motorbike accident, a very common occurrence in this city.  Though he is a good driver my immediate reaction was, can I get off now?  

At the café, which is very LA’ish, talking in English with a familiar face, and about common subjects I nearly forget where I am.  

I lived!!

He drops me off at the hotel so that I can reunite with the group.

After my experience surviving as a moped passenger in the chaotic Saigon traffic, I am fully prepared for my cyclo-rickshaw tour of the city!  

For the record is was not as tame as it looked or as I had expected.  We encountered another accident on our route to the water puppet show!  

The water puppet show  did not impress me much, particularly since I had attended another traditional puppet show, albeit not a water one, in Myanmar that was very special.  I think I enjoyed the live music most.   The mechanisms for the puppets are under the water, while the puppeteers are waist deep behind some screens.  In earlier time these performers where prone to all sorts of waterborne diseases but now they use knee-high waders.  

Leaving the show I felt the zipper of my bag opened.  Looking down, my point-and-shoot camera was almost falling out.  Mary, from the tour, was wide-eyed when I looked up.  Yep, someone had tried to steal my camera!

We went off to a French restaurant where strong chili sauce on the table -and a power failure- reminded us we were not in France.

I was going to meet with my friend and his girlfriend afterwards but by the time I reached the hotel, I could not muster the energy even to call.

Tomorrow get ready for Chau Doc and another day chockfull of experiences.

 

Categories: Cu Chi Tunnels, Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Xin Chao

I wake to an almost eerie sunrise, tinting the haze in an orange-red color becoming a grainy photograph in my mind and on my lens.  Laos has been special.  Unexpectedly so, beautifully so, and my heart sinks a little as I put my bag out the door for it to be picked up.  But I am missing my name written on my ID tag in Vietnamese and Cambodian, so the journey continues.  Besides, in Vietnam I have a familiar face of a friend waiting.  It will be nice to catch up and hear about his life as a local.

We will experience flying a new airline for us: Vietnam Airlines.       Just right to get us in the Vietnam mood.  Somehow, Robin William’s voice as he says “Good-morning Vietnaaaaam” doesn’t seem to get out of my head.  Our flight is delayed an hour which allows me some time for coffee which comes in a heart-shaped cup. I add the local paper and some Thai music on my headphones.  I close my eyes for a moment and think of how enriched I am by all the experiences I’ve had so far.   The silly grin surfaces on my face once again.

 As we arrive, it surprises me that the airport is not very congested.  Sufficient immigration officials for all of us so we spread out, almost one to a line.  “Paraguay?” mine asks inquisitively.  “Yes”, I smile.  I am used to this interaction.  Happens in every country.  Sometimes they chat about it, sometimes they have to look it up on their list to actually confirm that such country exists.  Here I get a scowl.  Alone?  No, with tour.  Where?  To Myanmar, Thailand…  NO!  Where tour?  Oh, they cleared immigration already.  I get a shrug from him.  From?  Laos   Another shrug.  Ticket?  Uh, which ticket?  Next to??  Oh, here’s my itinerary.  By bus to Cambodia next.  I’ll make it short for you guys… In total I got (in about 10 minutes) around 7 shrugs, numerous scowls, a request to produce my alien card from the US, and when he ran out of questions and reasons to question my visa he just stared at me scowling and I at him, still smiling.  He still has my passport.  My mind was wondering what next and my heart at this point was racing, racing to nowhere but exerting itself nonetheless.  GO!, he says and I enter Vietnam as I see my guide coming back for me.   Turns out that all the nastiness could have been avoided had I slipped a few bucks.  Or then again, I could have ended up in jail trying to bribe a public official.  I wasn’t going to take any chances.

It’s mid-afternoon on a Saturday in Ho Chi Minh.   The city seems to be on speed. The sounds of motorbike engines punctuated by horns, people talking loudly and my gasps, as I see more than one unsafe driving condition and near    miss, are not melding together well at all.       

It’s Bangkok craziness times three.   We are instructed that when we get off the bus, if we cross the street we should not stop in the middle, not walk back, not run.   Supposedly they will skirt us if we just walk calmly. If I raise my hand, as in Bangkok, will they stop?  Giggle.  Nope, but you can raise both arms in signal of defeat says my guide.  Ay, ay, ay!

We go to the Ming Phuong lacquer factory.  They give us a fan upon arrival that I will use throughout the rest of the trip.  The process of lacquering is so time consuming and involves so many steps that I now understand why it is so expensive. So much patience involved.  This woman is breaking the duck eggs to apply on one of the steps.  These men are varnishing, seemingly unaffected by the fumes that emanate from the pool.  And, yes, two of them are smoking away as they work.  The result is astounding on some of the pieces.  

I buy two small items.   Little old me, who never buys anything on vacation, must have had a crash course ‘cause my suitcase is getting mighty heavy!

Next we head towards the Notre-Dame Basilica in the center of the city.  For the record, I don’t think I’m in France, there happens to be one in Saigon that was built in 1877.  It is pretty though not that impressive when compared to the European cathedrals.     

We turn around I see a vendor.  Like the colors.  Snap a photo.  

Remember April 29, 1975?  On April 30 Saigon fell and the reunification of Vietnam into a Communist state began.  This marked the end of the Vietnam War.  On April 29 the CIA personnel was evacuated from the top of the CIA building.  A famous photo by Hilbert Van Es captures the moment for posterity.   We are staring at that building now.  The actual building will be demolished in a week’s time to give way to a new development.        

We have to cross the street to the Central Post Office.  We live to tell the tale. The building is beautiful. Inside as well.

Guess whose portrait overlooks it all?  

On the side are phone booths with world city clocks on top.  

I immediately spot California. 

As we again cross the street to the bus (and survive) I hear that Amarjit has had her camera stolen in less than a few seconds.  We are all heartbroken.  She had all the photos of the trip in the one SD card that was in it.

We go to the hotel.  The group will have dinner there.  I was going to call my friend but no need.  His girlfriend and he are in the lobby waiting for my arrival.  I take a quick shower and go to dinner with them.  I leave my camera or I would share photos.  Tried a soda, lime and sugar concoction that I loved and my first Vietnamese-style soup, which was great.  We eat outdoors.  It’s really crowded and I am reminded that it’s a Saturday night.  The evening is still young and we (actually they) decide that we should go dancing at The Sheraton where there is a live band.  Haven’t danced in years and made up for it tonight!  Haven’t gone to bed this late in a long time either.  The cab tries to charge me much more than what he told them he would.  Hey, I’m good at this by now and give him only what was arranged and open the door to the lobby at 2:00 am.

Feeling young all over again.  Let’s see if I still feel like that tomorrow.

Hello! (Xin Chao) I have my name in Vietnamese now.  Does that make me a local?  

Categories: Ho Chi Minh City / Saigon, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

8 Days to Departure. But, Who Is Counting? Oh, I am!

It is 12:30 am and I am awake. Calmly… well, maybe not so calmly but meticulously… yes, carefully making arrangements to… oh gosh no, I will not paint a picture that is not! I sit in front of my trusted Mac with my eyes tired of reading through countless blogs/forums/mails/photos that the wonderful Internet provides me with just a few clicks. I am on information overload and I am seriously considering just going back to my old procrastinating self. After all, how bad can it be to get to my Thailand portion of the trip and have all my hotel reservations done but no flights to get to the wonderful places I will go within the country? Probably really bad! I punch in my dates again. A scheduling nightmare ensues. Why was I so confident that there were going to be flights every 15 minutes?

  My passport has returned. That is a story all in itself, but I will choose to tell it later. I am just relieved that it has come back to safe harbor. It was a thrill to leaf through it and see the colorful visa stamps. For what all this process cost me I would have expected a lot more vibrancy to those colors though! Though Laos has one with a hologram that’s pretty cool.

My rambunctious inner child is still jumping up and down and going “Yay!” (I think she is eventually going to take over and will have me smiling, skipping, and dancing throughout BLT+.)

It was worth every penny, however, not to have to trek to every embassy or to have to FedEx it to one and then to another or keep track of where it was or make sure all the info was right, or… well, you get the idea. No doubt it would not have had a good outcome. When I sent my passport in December my heart was still hurting and my mind was not into details. Now I have absolutely no excuse for not getting all the pieces of this puzzle together.

I don’t usually worry too much about itineraries –I have a backpacker mentality with a gentrified execution to travel- but being it the first time that I am alone on a trip this long I am not leaving too much to chance. Or at least I’m trying not to.

I go back to booking my flights and am sort of soothed by the fact that I am making reservations towards the latter part of March. That’s really far away. The first flight on Asia Air from Bangkok to Chiang Mai seemed really cheap until it directed me to the extra charge for my bag and then more for my seat (yes, really) and then to the meal –I’m not eating- and then to insurance –no again- and then to a place where it tells me that should I not use their internet check in, at the airport they will charge me extra. Once I added an additional $55 in fees I click again and I have at least one round-trip ticket taken care of. Fortunately, Asia Air doesn’t charge you for oxygen since I am hyperventilating and using a lot of it now. Then I have to find a way that when I return to Bangkok I can just go ahead and jump on my next flight to Koh Samui. This island better be worth it ‘cause there are no cheap flights and I proceed to pay what I was not expecting. $320 dollars later I am booked on a barely 1-hour Bangkok Airlines flight.

I have a false notion that I have all the time in the world till departure until I look at my February calendar. Eight days. Only a week-and-a-day before I leave? I still have to stock my antique stores/booths in Orange, CA. My will and my health directive have to be done. I have to meet with friends. Will I manage to do it all?

My new camera lies next to my bed. I swear it stares back and says in a very snooty way “You better get to know me. I’m not that simple you know.” If we don’t get acquainted really fast I will not be able to take all those amazing photos that I promised you I’d post. Time is running out.

Will keep you posted. It’s now 2:30 am and I am going to bed. Sleep is next.
Hypnos, Somnus?

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Myanmar - Burma, Ramblings, Uncategorized, Vietnam, Visas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: