…since I’ve written due to the lack of internet access here. We received a message from our school’s computer office about a month ago stating that one of the internet cables to Vietnam had been severed by a shark.
Yes, a shark. I didn’t believe it until I saw this picture:
The good news is that it has been fixed and the even better news is that they have buried it, so it won’t happen again.
In the meantime, I’ve been busy with school and life in Hanoi. The highlight of the last month was the annual MSHS Talent Show. It is run by the HS senate as a fundraiser and students from grades 6th – 12th can audition and participate. This year there were several highlights; a young sixth grader who sang ‘I feel pretty’ without any background music, the sister who sang an Alicia Key’s song while her brother played the piano, the drum performance to a Guns and Roses song, a 15 minutes classical piano piece and, of course, the dance performance by Pixalated.
This is a dance troupe of Vietnamese high school boys that has been around for several years. I remember the first time I saw them was during my first UN Day celebration three years ago. They were wearing all black with traditional Vietnamese hats that hung over their faces, so that they seemed to be electronic or animated beings on TV. It was amazing. Every time, they are just mesmerizing.
The MSHS Talent show provided a wonderful night of entertainment because of Pixalated, but also due to the courage that each student had to get up in front of full-house and share their dreams and wishes. It’s a long night, but one that is not to be missed.
Here’s a link to Pixalated final performance from last year’s talent show. It’s with their founding members – Pixelated.
I hope you enjoy!
During one of my recent (or not so recent…as it has taken me quite awhile to get this posted) Sunday bike rides, I stopped and enjoyed a bit of sweet corn.
I was a bit skeptical, as this –
wasn’t where I was used to buying sweet corn.
It didn’t even follow all of our family’s ‘rules’ about sweet corn:
- Must Should be from Iowa.
- Can be from Missouri, if there is an excellent batch.
- Must be eaten within at least 2 days of being picked.
- Is eaten in July.
I was eating it in October. It wasn’t from Iowa or Missouri, but I do think it was fresh.
The women at the sweet corn stand was tickled that we had stopped, enjoyed a few ears of corn each and took pictures of how it was being cooked.
They say that a smile is an international language….I would add sweet corn to the list, as well.
I don’t get much of a chance to actually see Hanoi during the normal school year. There’s always something else to either do or go to. So I thought it was just about time that I became a tourist again this week, my first week of winter break.
On Tuesday morning, I set-off ‘early’ (that’s vacation time ‘early’) to see Ho Chi Minh in his mausoleum. I had read the description of the long winding path to the mausoleum and the etiquette of dressing appropriately, being quiet, not sniggering and keeping my hands out of my pocket, so I was prepared.
It was exactly like the description…a long walk from the entrance to the actual mausoleum that took you past several guard stations…a line of people from all over the world walking through with the majority being Vietnamese…guards in all white uniforms enforcing the rules…and the body of Ho Chi Minh in a glass case with his hands neatly placed in front of him on a dark blanket. He looked serene.
I must say I did go to kind of say that ‘I’ve been to see ‘Uncle Ho.’. Yet, I came away wondering about this whole phenomenon. I went to see Lenin in ’93, because it was part of the tour. I passed up the chance to see Mao in 2000, as I didn’t really know what I would gain as a tourist from seeing him.
Visiting Ho Chi Minh, though, made me realize just how important he is to the north Vietnamese and how much he is still revered for his thoughts and actions. But, I still wonder why he was embalmed and put on display…was it for the memory and opportunity for future generations to see and ‘meet’ him or was it to stop any concerns or disbelief about his life and death?
We did visit on someone’s (or many people looking at the number of people in uniform) special day. Just outside the mausoleum was a huge crowd of men and women in uniform. We couldn’t tell if it was graduation or just the end of a class, but the whole complex (the mausoleum is just one of several buildings there) was filled with green uniforms. I couldn’t resist this picture when we were in the Ho Chi Min museum:
Over the past two weeks, I have learned several important lessons about living in Vietnam…
1. A closed road has many possibilities.
There is a new highway going in near my school. For the past two years, I have watched it being built, knowing that it would someday change my route to work. That day happened about a month ago. Now I’m just waiting for the rest of the highway to be completed, so it can officially open. For now, though, it serves several purposes…a parking lot for taxi’s, a track for morning exercise, and a test road for new drivers. Each day I see the creative uses on my way home from work and wonder what will happen when it official opens and there is a constant flow of traffic. Will the taxis still park there? Will people still be able to use the wide sidewalks and flat surface for exercise? Only time will tell.
2. A plastic bag poncho is better than a side-vent poncho.
For the past two years, I have been using one of those ‘disposable’ plastic bag ponchos. Each time I put it on, I vowed to myself that it would be the last, that this would be the day that I actually went out and bought a ‘proper’ poncho. That day finally came about a month ago and then the rains stopped. Last week I finally got to use it. It was one of those 24-hour rains and right when I was ready to go home, it started to bucket down. I knew I would be fine, as I had my new poncho, so I got all ready and headed home. I quickly learned that while side vents are great for letting in the air, they are also great at letting in the rain and the big splashes from cars. I arrived home soaked and sorely disappointed that my new ‘proper’ poncho had failed. Lesson learned!
3. Coconuts now come with their own easy-access straws.
Living in SE Asia, I regularly see fresh coconut milk. They are everywhere on the streets. Piled high next to a small table and chairs; you simply stop, wait for the owner to chop off the top and then you are on your way. Easy and delicious! This past week, I learned that it can be even easier. Just unwrap the straw, pop it into the coconut and enjoy! Who knew!?!
First stop, Hanoi train station to catch the night train to Hue, the ancient Vietnamese capital.
The train offered small comforts like blankets, pillows and hot coffee in the morning. This was a welcome relief after a rough night’s sleep, as the train stopped at several small towns along the way, so my sleep was punctuated with the rattle of brakes, the jumping starts and the very loud speaker announcing each stop.
I had just one day in Hue, so spent it walking around the old citadel, a walled city built from 1804 – 1833. This walled city
suffered from two major events; in 1885 the French forces stormed the citadel in response to a Vietnamese attack burning the library and removing all valuable objects and in 1968 the VC seized the walled city for 3.5 weeks which resulted in a response by the South Vietnamese and US forces. The complex is now being restored, so I was able to experience both the new and the old.
My relaxing day was also filled with the exciting thought of ‘hitting the road’ and getting on with the purpose of being in Hue – my first 3-day countryside bicycle ride.
Laura, a colleague from work, and I had carefully planned our route, arranging transportation and accommodation through a local travel agent. Our plan was to get a ride over the big mountain just west of Hue and then bicycle to Hoi An, 180km away.
October 13th – Huong Phong to P’rao (45km) – The driver, Linh, cautiously wove his way through the mountain road getting us to our starting point – 40km south of Huong Phong on the Ho Chi Minh highway. The whole ride, I’m grateful that we had decided to get a bit of help in the beginning, as the road is narrow, filled with patches and is on a constant incline. When we reached our mark, Linh stops, helped us set-up our bicycles and then waved good-bye as we glided downhill around the first bend. I can only imagine his thoughts about two foreigners bicycling through the countryside for three days. It must be something like, ‘Why?’.
October 14th – P’rao to Thanh My (50km) – After a wonderful night’s rest at a local guest house or Nha Nghi, I picked Laura’s brain for hill climbing strategies, as I knew that we had many more to climb today. It was actually the day we climbed our longest hill (or should I say mountain) – over 4km up with several points at a 10% grade. Was I ever grateful to see the road marker stating that Thanh My, our next overnight stop, was just 11km away!
October 15th – Thanh My to Hoi An (80km) – The final day of bicycling was much longer, but found us coming out of the mountains to the plains as we approached the ocean and the town of Hoi An. Not much time for pictures, as we were anxious to get to our final stop and had our first and only encounter with rain.
The last two days of the holiday were spent in Hoi An at a lovely guest house located between the ancient town and the ocean. It was a perfect way to end the bicycle trip – hanging out in the hammocks tied between coconut trees on a small fish pond.
Check out my bicycle, all outfitted for an upcoming trip from Hue (okay, not Hue, but on the other side of gigantic mountain just west of Hue) to Hoi An…
Less than one week left, now. My bicycle leaves Friday on a train to Hue, where I will meet up with it on Sunday morning. From there it is a few nights in small guest houses about 40 – 50 km apart, before we make it to the beach and fabulous food of Hoi An. Fabulous!