Update from Toby

Toby here, unusually.

1. send emails if you wish, we love hearing from folks.
2. Don’t send our own message back to us! We have poor to abominable connections and we know what we said.
3. Don’t forward things, send them to our home addresses and we will get them when we return.

We are in Sapa Vietnam with one of those good news/bad news things.

The good news is that our guide saw snow for the first time in his life. The bad news is that we were with him.
We have packed for a visit to a semitripical country, in the spring. All climate reports were for general temps of 60 to 85 with maybe a couple of 50-55 degree mornings.
Well there is sleet in the steet outside for the first time in years and the first time EVER in March. It’s maybe 38 and we have been to the market and bought gloves (good news: $2.00 pair) and a parka for barb ($16.00)

The ride over the mountain pass in the Russian jeep was interesting (drolly delivered) in hail and fog, so the precipitous drops, and looming trucks were hardly noticable. Barb was wrapped up in everything she had including her sleeping bag. Russian jeeps have a low gear that could climb up a wall, and a defroster that works adequately, but they leak air like a sieve (so they drain quickly after fording rivers I think).
We have canned walking in the sleet for the afternoon, the valley is invisible, and no-one but stupid westerners are on the street.

Prior to today’s ride we had a couple of great days going over a totally unused (by westerners) road. Much interesting construction over some amazing passes. Spent the night in Than Uyen.

That’s all for now, we aren’t keeping up, and Barb is not sending out her usual entertaining missives. We have little good access to the net, spent an hour getting in 4 emails yesterday.

High mountains and big rivers

Greetings to one and all,

Here we are in the mountains to the west and northwest of Hanoi. We arrived here 3 days ago and our first adventure was our first home stay. Mai Chau is the city that we are near, it is a small town really, not much of a city at all. A town without internet, by the way.

We drove past Mai Chau, carefully following along on our map. Mr. Cuong let us out of the vehicle and Khanh and Toby and I hiked into the hills. We took a well worn path past 7 different villages, all of which were White Thai. We felt like creatures in a zoo frankly. Clearly we were the only westerner most of these people had ever seen and none of them had seen any outside of town. But it was a lot of fun and we greeted them in Vietnamese and many kids hello, hello to us. Eventually we arrived at our home stay. The White Thai (so named because of a headress they wear) live in stilt houses made from wood. They live on the raised floor and our home actually had an enclosed first floor with a nice tile floor. I have no idea what they use that first floor for, as it was completely empty. I am guessing in the hot season it is cooler than the second floor. We were greeted and ushered upstairs. Grandma, who chews betel nut, was spitting out the window. It was rather disturbing. We were more than a little surprised as the home was not at all as Khanh described it.

We have learned more about Khanh. The critical thing we have learned is that though he speaks English, he does not understand it that well. So when we ask a question, he says yes. Always. So if we ask the wrong question, we get an answer that we like but that isn’t true.

Khanh had told us that we would have a separate room or at least space. I was very clear when I questioned him. This was simply not true. The second floor of this house consisted of a large room with one piece of furniture. It was a storage cabinet with the television on it. Other than that and the stacked up bedding against the wall, the room was completely empty.

Since Khanh had not told them we were coming (there is no phone, of course), we were somewhat of a shock. But warmly welcomed. We went for a walk around the village and through the paddies. Eventually dinner time came and the women came back from the fields to find us. Surprise! We all had fun and supper was prepared. Since the power was out to the village, we ate by candlelight. Grandma was sent to another son’s house. All of a sudden, the electricity was turned on and voilla! the entire family glommed onto TV. Very bizarre.

Here in Vietnam, there are 3 channels. All government run. One has news. Another has soap operas or movies. Action packed American or Russian or Chinese thrillers with dubbed in Vietnamese voices. The third channel is about how hard the government is working for you and has interviews with various people in the country and public service announcements. The first day we arrived, our $15.00 hotel television had CNN but after that, their satellite went out.

Our host was very well informed on politics and education and the world in general. This after Khanh had informed us that the White Thai were not as clever as Vietnamese. The ethnic minorities are considered inferior by the Vietnamese but I didn’t expect that attitude from Khanh. Anyway, our host was better informed than Khanh and asked us all about what we thought would happen to Vietnam as they entered a market economy.

Sidenote: in 1995, Vietnam decided to leave socialism behind (not Communism, socialism) and move towards a market economy. They are in stage one of that process, and now have a ‘market oriented’ economy. In 5 years, they expect to have a fully developed ‘market economy’. Looks like capitalism to me. Just like in China. That looked a lot like capitalism to me too.

He talked intelligently about free trade, health care, education, etc. It was very interesting. Dinner was fine, but eventually, I could not avoid finding out about their sanitation facilities. Now, mind you, I am pretty accommodating. I can use an outhouse, a pit latrine, or a squat toilet with or without running water. But this method was a horse of a different color. There was a rudimentary wooden plank structure made from the outer planks of trees with bark on them. The framework was encased in grain bags. Inside were two more planks, bark side up and between them was where you ‘sat’. Since this was not down on the ground, sitting was the only option, except I am tall enough to avoid contact. The two boards, spaced a foot apart or so, looked like they would fall to the ground at any moment. And they were wet. Under them was ash. Now, to their credit, ash is a far better approach than lime. Ash absorbs all odor. We had already run into squat toilets with ash as the primary disposal method and it works pretty well. But this was beyond the pale. Men went outside on a second pile of ash.

Since this was the first of 9 homestays and all but one was more primitive than this one, according to Khanh, I vetoed future, more primitive homestays. And I questioned him about the next night, which was also a homestay but very ‘upscale’.

The next day, we hiked through the very beautiful mountains to Muong village, where we had lunch. The family was great fun and first I napped while they prepared lunch. It was decided they would serve chicken. The man got a very long gun out and off he went. He shot a chicken in the yard!!! I had just whispered to Toby “do you think he is going to shoot the chicken?” Toby said, “no, people don’t shoot chickens!” Moments later, kaboom! the chicken was injured and carried off. Discussions later told us that they don’t cut their heads off because then they run around and get away. Well, that chicken didn’t get away but he wasn’t dead either. Flopping around a bit. A tough old geezer, too. Not my first choice of food, but the tofu was great, as were the greens, which is pretty much what I eat all the time now. Toby eats whatever gristly meat is put before him, and fish bones too. I nibble.

That family was great fun and we talked and talked and took photos of everyone in the village. They all came and posed and a wonderful time was had by all.

That night, our second homestay, was supposed to be upscale. And it was. We had a separate room. Same stilt house, more White Thai, but with a little tile building nearby that had two rooms. One was a shower of sorts and the other had a flush toilet. You brushed your teeth outside, where there were spigots and drains that ran into the rice paddy irrigation system. It worked well and the shower had a water heater. You filled a basin with hot water, washed, and used a sauce pan to rinse. Then you dumped the basin into the hole in the floor (also into the rice paddy irrigation system) and filled it with clean, rinse water. I felt great, especially by comparison to the first home stay.

Since I had revolted on future, more primitive homestays, we stayed there 2 nights and did more hiking. Yesterday we ate with a Tho family, way, way up in the mountain tops. It was a hiking and trekking day, according to Khanh. He was right, it certainly was. There are no roads even for motorbikes where we were, only foot paths. And the Tho have horses, the first we have seen. Again, we were a spectacle but it was lots of fun. We always bring books and pens and pencils for the family and the school. We got to meet a teacher and many children. By the time we arrive at a village, we feel like the Pied Piper, we have a string of children walking with us talking to us. We say numbers, good morning, good afternoon, how old are you, what is your name. That is just about their entire repetoire of English but they are so delighted you understand them when they run off every English phrase they know. It is lots of fun.

Every Monday, the kids in the hills carry a plastic chair with them to school, where it stays for the week. On Friday, they bring it home. Khanh did not have any chairs when he went to school. Bringing chairs is a real innovation, he feels.

Tonite we are in Phu Yen. In a Vietnamese style hotel. Comfortable with a water heater, so we will get to bathe. At the homestay last night, they even fixed my skirt, which got torn and sewed a button on for Toby and hemmed a pair of his pants. Our clothing is taking a beating here. They had a washing machine and did our laundry too!

There are no westerners in Phu Yen, in fact, in most places we go. I will wrap it up, as it is getting dark. In another email, I will write about walking in the dark. Another adventure for another time.

Love to you all,

last thoughts on the Red River

Xi chao!

Because internet access is spotty at best, we have done far more than I could write about since my last communication. I would like to offer some random thoughts on our Red River Delta experiences.

Photography: is not something Vietnamese have access to! I assume it is because cameras are very expensive and developing is far more costly than most people can manage. Toby became the official photographer at the festival in Khanh’s hometown. Once we learned that it was not only not offensive to take photos, but that people were desperate to have their photos taken, Toby went generally nuts. And because the camera is digital, it was very connecting on my fronts to show people their photos on the screen. As he left me off at the last internet cafe and walked back to the village, he was accosted and physically dragged to someone’s backyard, where he was the honored guest at a cockfight. They put black electrical tape over the spurs so it is not as gruesome as it sounds. Photos of that, photos of the ceremonies, photos of wrestling, photos of children, etc, etc. etc. We will mail them prints and also load them on the web so that our guide can print them.

I developed a friendship with a 12 year old girl that was fascinating. Her name was Dong (pronounced Zoon) and she was enthusiastic about practicing her English. We got pretty far in language and did many things together for 2 days. She even rode on the back of my bicycle, it was the first time I ever transported a person on the back little shelf. We rode for miles on rice paddy dikes, some people actually take turns peddling. The front person lifts their legs straight out and the back person peddles for awhile. Dong and I did not do that, as I was terrified she would get hurt but it was fine. In the end, I left her with a book and some pencils and a kiss. She was endearing. She spent a lot of time teaching me Vietnamese. She was ruthless and would only say YES when I really got it right. That meant sometimes 50 times!

The language is quite a challenge. In addition to the 6 tones for every vowel, there are many, many consonents. There are little symbols that make various consonents sound and behave differently. I struggle much more than Toby and am slowly deciding that helping people practice English is better than trying to say something innocuous like hello but saying it wrong and having it mean something else entirely.

Air pollution. No matter what we may think about the deterioration of the Clean Air Act under the current administration, it will not erode that much in 4 more years. Here, the sky is rarely clear. No blue at all, we have not seen a blue sky even once. There is smoke in the air at all times and the sky brightens by noon sometimes. Sunny would not be an accurate description. People burn everything. Each day they sweep the trash up in piles and burn it. Plastic or paper, you name it, it gets burned. They litter constantly so there is a lot of trash. Smoking piles of ash are everywhere. Many people cook on coal or wood. There is a room attached or separate from the house where there is a constant fire going. Only a few have gas. Plus here in the mountains slash and burn agriculture is widely practiced. It is no wonder we can’t see the sun! And unusually enough, there is another practice that contributes to the air quality. Go to Google and do a Ha Long Bay sear
ch. You will see photos of incredible limestone rocks jutting out of the water. Very scenic and beautiful. In the Red River Valley, these same rocks jut right out of the soil and the rice paddies. We ride under them and through them and around them. Well, to make cement which is a primary building material, they extract the lime from these rocks. They do this by taking these big stones and putting them in a pit. Maybe 6′ by 6′ square and 4-5′ deep. They fill the pit with wood, bamboo, coal, anything that is combustible and set it on fire. It burns for days and creates a tremendous amount of smoke. Eventually they are left with a pit of limestone powder that becomes the mortar for construction. Many homes have such a pit that they use. Bricks are also made here as there is quite a lot of clay in the soil. Brickmaking creates lots of smoke as the kilns are outside and burn for 7-14 days. Whew!

Well, I need to go as everyone is waiting for me. There is lots and lots to say but the next email will be about the mountains where we have spent the last 3 nights. For those with a map: Mai Chau.

Love to you all,
Barb and Toby

Red River Delta 2

Xin Chao,

Here I sit in a tiny cubicle at an internet shop. There are 16 computers jammed in to a space that is 15′ deep by 10′ wide. The end is open to the street and every computer is in use, mostly by young men I would guess were 15-18 years old. Many are playing games, and the one right next to me is a good game player as there are many kids crowded around him watching. Plus they like watching me too. My cube is about 15″ wide, but I am reduced to about 18″ because my game playing neighbor is so good at reaching new levels. Plus he smokes! More than a few flies too.

We are with 2 Vietnames people most of the time. Our guide is Khanh and our driver is Mr. Cuong. We ride in a Russian jeep, a rather noisy and large vehicle from the days before Glastnost, when Vietnam was buddies with the Soviet Union. Now they are friendlier with China. The Russian jeep is good as I feel safer in it, although I am sure that is an illusion. Mr. Cuong is an excellent driver, driving in this country requires some unique skills and sophistication with the horn.

We left Hanoi and ventured southeast to the Red River Delta. Our first stop was Cuc Phuong National Park. We visited the Primate Rescue Center, the only one of its kind in the country. Gibbons swung on their long, long arms from the bamboo trunks that lined the top of their very long cages, as they rehabilitate from injury. Langurs live in Vietnam, 22 different types, but they are in danger of being wiped out. The Chinese are huge buyers of animal parts and people hunt everything to sell to the Chinese for big money. The center is an attempt to protect and release animals into a protected area. People still hunt illegally in the protected areas, but not as much and the Vietnamese are succeeding a little in this endeavor. Langurs are sweet, sweet things and fun to watch. We hiked extensively through the park, up and down over limestone mountains. Khanh took us very seriously when we said we wanted to bike and hike all over the countryside. We are logging 10-15km per day on foot and 20km by bike! Be careful what you wish for is the lesson, but we are loving it. It feels good and really does get us into the heart of the countryside.

We learned yesterday that Khanh has three definitions for movement: there is walking which means level ground, there is hiking which is rather intense up and down mountains and then there is trekking. We will be trekking but don’t quite know what that means. Maybe something like our climbs of Katahdin!

All of our biking and walking is done in the delta and we traverse the dikes and levies that separate rice paddies. It is incredibly scenic, the limestone mountains of this area are surreal and filled with shrines and pagodas. We visited a pagoda to the tree god, a Taoist or Daoist deity. An old man read my ‘fortune’ for lack of a better word. Translated from his Vietnamese to Khanh’s english meant my fortune was very abbreviated and sugar coated. The woman who was standing behind the old man was very alarmed by my fortune, but Khanh claims it was good! Khanh’s father had gone to the pagoda last year and his fortune was bad, and he died within the year. I seem to be successful at making contact with the women, but language is a huge problem and my contact is by eye and with pantomime a little. Another day we visited a shrine dedicated to the god of the mountain and had tea with the caretaker and his family. Each of these close contact experiences are very powerful and even though Vietnamese do not touch, the woman there wrapped her arms around me and walked holding hands for a long time.

Little girls as a rule are rather shy, and it is a brave one that calls HELLO to us as we walk or ride by. Boys on the other hand seek contact and call out every English word they know. Some children begin learning English when they are 8 or 9, but most start when they are 10. By the time they are 12 or 13, they can ask how old we are, where we are from, our names, and on rare occasions, we actually discuss the number of people in our family and whether we are hot or cold. We have a little album with photos of my family, Toby’s family, Orion and Marian and our house. It is a big hit always.

For the last two days, we have spent time in Khanh’s village. They are having a festival to honor the founding fathers of their village, which was formed more than 500 years ago. There are 15 family lineages here and yesterday there was a procession through town with 7 sedan chairs with memorabilia of those 7 familes. Not all of the founding families have chairs and Khanh’s does not. Today each family makes an offering at the shrine and Toby is there photographing and interacting with part 2 of the festival. I will join him shortly for the afternoon program which involves sports. Wrestling and a stand up chess game as well as other activities.

We create excitement wherever we go. Children flock around us and it is great fun. Children in particular want to touch my arms. Once in a while, a baby will be frightened and scream at the sight of us. We have children’s books with us and they are very popular and help us communicate.

The food is excellent, the meat a bit gristly but the vegetable dishes are outstanding. The fish is excellent except they serve it bones and skin and all. That is OK, I just pick what I want out. That does not offend anyone apparently. People cannot understand why we want more vegetables than meat, as it is a great honor to serve meat to guests. Goat is a delicacy and the first month after TET is when it is served. I don’t like it much but Toby eats it. Dog is served the 2nd half of the lunar month for good luck and is purported to be excellent. We have not had any, but I guess I would if it were presented to me. It is a sign of great honor to be offered dog. There are many dogs raised, cute little pups are everywhere. We cannot help but think that cuteness is not the goal here, but they are sweet little things.

The dikes around the rice paddies are living and filled with ducks, chickens, and birds. We ride around water buffalo and oxen all day. These creatures are sometimes tended but mostly seem to know where to go. Farmers are granted land to farm and each 20 years their use of it is evaluated by the government and their land grant renewed if they and their family are still farming. As is true in many rural areas, children are becoming better educated and then leave the farm, creating problems for food supplies.

Khahn’s family raises rice and vegetables, pigs, chickens and dogs. Their compound is made of cement, and there are 3 rooms in the main building. A separtate row of connected 2 rooms is where grandma lives and cooking is done. Another row of stalls has 4 pigs, dogs and a squat toilet that actually has running water to it. Electricity is everywhere, running water is not.

We are here in planting season, here in the Red River there are 2 per year. After 2 weeks, the fields are fertilized and then pesticides are applied. Organic farming does not exist.

Because we are Americans, the war is a huge topic that at first made us somewhat uncomfortable. But everyone wants to discuss it. We have met many veterans. Towns of 2000 people lost 50 people to the American war, 80-90 to the French war, another 10 to the Chinese war (1979) and another 15-20 to the Cambodian war. We are welcomed, there is NO animosity here at all. These people were successful in their quest for unification, that may be why.

The Ho Chi Minh trail is 22,000 km long and stretched through Laos and Cambodia. It took a soldier 6 months to get to the south. The son of Khanh’s grandmother died in 1969 in Hue, during an American ambush. He was 16. She is a herioc mother. There was no conscription here, and families were not expected to send all of their sons but many did. A heroic mother is one who lost all of her sons. There are 2 heroic mothers in this village. She is 82 years old. There are war monuments in every town.

We are getting used to the questions about the war, especially because most are wishing to express that they are happy Americans are coming to Vietnam to visit. Many more Australias and Germans and French come here than Americans.

Well, I have now been sitting here for nearly 2 hours and Toby has returned to pick me up. I have all of the navigation skills of an oyster, but I do think I could have found my way back. It is about 2 km back to the village through the rice paddies.

Much love to you all,
Barb and Toby

Red River Delta

Well, let me tell you all, web based email is awful! I just spent the better part of an hour composing an email and hit send and it is lost forever.

Suffice it to say we are well and near Ninh Binh in the Red River Delta. Our days are spent bicylcing, boating, and walking the rice paddies. We meet local people and talk together, answering questions about America and asking questions about their lives. People are warm and friendly and we are very much enjoying the trip.

Khanh is our guide and an excellent one indeed. Festival here starts tomorrow (that is why our itinerary is different for those of you who have a copy). The festival honors the founders of the village where Khanh was raised and it should be very interesting.

More at the next internet access. Too bad the computer ate my email.

Love to you!

Toby heard from

Here’s Toby’s take on our settling in.

The world is nearly full of people who are really pissed with each other. The Shias & Sunnis are fighting over Mohammed’s son-in-law from 1300 years back. The Serbs & Bosnians are refighting an Ottoman battle from 1325 or so; not to mention Croat vs. Bosnian, Serb vs. Croat, Albanian vs. Serb, & who knows what other combination. Isreaelis & Palistinians are refighting the Crusades. Hutus & Tutsis, Arab Somalis & Christian Darfurians, Tamils & Sri Lankans, etc. etc. etc.

And the Vietnamese. Maybe it’s a clear win, but I think it has to be something deeper. But someone, somewhere, who is in a position to spread the learning should figure this out. We bombed, defoliated and displaced this nation. They did as many horrible acts in return. The war ended with no clean hands on anyone’s part. Somehow, though, they used the horror to learn a lesson, move on, and let the past be.

This place is no utopia, it’s got more than it’s share of problems. But being caught up in fixing the past just isn’t one of them.

Funny that.

street scenes of Hanoi

Xin Chao,

I will try to paint photos with words. Because, as some of you may have guessed, so far the camera has not come out. It will, I promise.

Last night, we went out to dinner. Everyone was served the same thing, and we figured out what to do by watching others. When we sat down, we received 6 small bowls. One had an assortment of herbs, another had sliced scallions, one had roasted, shelled peanuts, another had cold, cooked noodles and one had cut up greens that looked a lot like dill tops and stalks. There was a bowl with clear liquid and tiny hot pepper rings. Shortly afterwards, we were brought a brazier with a small fry pan on it. In the fry pan, cooking in oil, were cut up cubes of fish. We put the dill like green in the oil (it did not taste like dill, it only looked like it) and cooked it for awhile and then mixed all of the various items in our bowls and ate. It was absolutely delicious. The meal, along with a beer for Toby and mineral water for me, cost $10.00.

Today we walked the city extensively. We visited the Ho Chi Minh museum, skipped the mausoleum (where we could have seen his body standing up and mummified), and also visited the Temple of Literature. The museum was very interesting and commemorated his life and his philosophies. It was quite crowded, today being Sunday.

The Temple of Literature is a must see, according to the books, but didn’t excite me all that much. But it has been there since 1078 and that alone made it interesting. It is about scholars, and has a stone tablet for each of the 82 academic studies. Carved on each tablet are the names and birthplaces of the approximately 1300 scholars who studied there from ±1300 to 1480. Each stone tablet is sitting on the back of a stone turtle-like creature, each with a unique head, facial expression and pattern on its back. It is apparently good luck to touch every one of the turtle heads and the tablets themselves, as everyone except us did; in spite of the sign that said DO NOT TOUCH THE TABLETS. There was also a small temple dedicated to Confucious and another renowned scholar whose name escapes me.

Since the Women’s Museum is one of the only museums open on Mondays, we decided to save it for tomorrow.

On the streets, we see many, many things. Weighing people is one way people earn a living. They set up a scale and offer to weigh you. I can only guess that scales are not a common household item. We are not continually badgered by people selling us things, mostly they do not. Once in a while, someone solicits us, but mostly not. We appreciate that, there is little more uncomfortable than having to fight off venders all the time.

Other street sights: a traditional pharmacy. Enormous lizards (2’long) preserved in some kind of liquid in huge jars. Small lizards, perhaps 6 to a jar. Birds in big jars, complete with their feathers (dead of course). Preserved snakes in jars. Smaller jars of dead worms. All this in addition to the usual roots and herbs. I hope to get a photo, as it was very interesting.

Mushrooms sellers: Huge sacks (5′ long and as big around as a truck tire) full of dried mushrooms. Each bag has a single type–wood ears, oysters, and varieties we have never seen before. I assume they are cultivated as I cannot imagine one could gather that many wild ones from a single location. It is not like we have seen any forests. Sometimes we see bicyclists with 3 of these sacks on the back, two lying horozontally and one vertically placed behind the driver. A bicycle approaching you stacked with bags full of mushrooms is nearly as big as a car.

Oranges are very popular and cultivated widely, but instead of pruning them like we do, all orange trees are shaped like Christmas trees, cone shaped. The oranges look like ornaments.

Well, that is about it for today. We leave Tuesday for our journey with our guide. First we will go to the Red River area, where I will learn some Vietnamese cooking and there is a huge festival in the hometown of our guide. Then we will head into the mountains. After that, we will head to the limestone bays and islands.

Tham Biet, Barb and Toby

Welcome to Vietnam

Good morning!

It is 8AM, we have had breakfast and are ready to start our first full day. The hotel ($15.00 per night includes private bathroom) includes breakfast and we had this lovely fruit that we cannot identify. It was very white, like a merangue and filled with something that looks like black sesame seeds. It had a little more texture than watermelon but it was watery like watermelon, but had a density like a cantaloupe. Anyone have a clue what this mystery fruit is? I hope they serve it every day.

Flying into Hanoi was a gripping experience for me. We had been unable to see the ground until just before landing so when the vistas opened, it was an ‘all at once’ experience. The usual quilted rice paddies were everywhere but there are houses built throughout the agricultural areas, one of the older slogans (we saw it on an antique poster for sale in a shop) is: Every foot of ground is precious like gold–leave none uncultivated. Architecturally, the buildings around the paddies are very different than other rice growing areas we have seen. The French influence is obvious. Buildings are freestanding and tall and skinny. Many are about 10′ wide, perhaps 30′ deep but have 4 stories. There is a balcony on each floor in the front, sometimes the sides have windows but often not, I assume because another building will be built 2′ away. Land is certainly precious and I presume they build tall and skinny so every bit of ground can be utilised. Buildings are concrete with exotic wood doors and windows and painted lovely colors.

Transport for the locals is 1) motorbike, 2) bicycle, 3) busses & taxis and 4) private vehicle. Crossing the streets is quite an experience. But it is fine, we had read how to do it, you start off at a reasonably steady pace and the motorbikes, etc that are coming at you in droves will go around you. We try to cross when others are, so as to make a more impenetrable group, but it is almost easier when you are only 1 or 2. There are few, if any times, when dozens or hundreds of vehicles are not in sight, so crossing in the conventional way is not possible. There are a few traffic lights and even a few walk lights but anarchy reigns, so they don’t mean much.

Oddly enough, when we arrived in Hanoi, on the runway was a huge US Air Force plane unloading soldiers, many dressed in whites with their little hats (is that Navy, Steve?) and others dressed in khaki. I wonder what that was all about. It was a cargo plane with 4 propellers. Perhaps they land here prior to distributing aid to the tsumani areas? Beats me.

We walked and walked and walked last night. There was a bit of a lull Saturday afternoon but as dusk fell, traffic increased and people filled the streets. There are sidewalks but they cannot be walked on. This is because people use all of their space. Motorscooters are stored on the sidewalks, wares for sale are set up on tables on the sidewalks and at night, most people bring out little stools and eat and cook on the sidewalks. Big woks with little braziers underneath with boiling oil, sidewalks can be hazardous, but really highly entertaining. The street floor of their house is their living room and where their bikes and scooters are stored, so eating outside makes great sense. It is fun to peek into their house, voyeur that I am. Plus neighbors talk and visit all evening long and kids are running all over the place, seemingly heedless of the traffic inches away from the sidewalk.

Today we go to the Women’s Museum, and maybe up towards West Lake, where Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and stilt house and other artifacts celebrating his life are.

Love to all, Barb and Toby