19 October 2007

two wheel transport

this video brings back memories of this ride from hanoi to halong bay in northern vietnam.

posted by paul at Fri 19 Oct 2007 at 01:59:58 EST (-05:00) | comments (2)

12 January 2006

a chaos that i'd forgotten

i only became familiar with southeastern asian geography after i arrived in bangkok. laos was not on my original itinerary; an amorphous mass of land which separated my two destination countries, thailand and vietnam, in the north. a land to be crossed and not explored. a culture to be bypassed and not experienced. initially an obstacle in my path, the notion of the obstacle has been melted away over the past twelve days by the vicious laotian sunshine and penetrating friendliness of the people. i now see laos in an entirely different light. a vicious light.

i keep returning to one memory of a woman in luang prabang. immediately after stepping off of the boat after a two day ride down the mekong from huay xai, the other passengers and i were all on missions to find accomodation, always a somewhat stressful event. my parents did a great job teaching me manners but i've found that it's easy to forget even common courtesy ('hello', for instance) and even basic polite phrases ('please' and 'thank you') when focused on an important task. i think i forgot all three when talking to a small smiling woman who came out onto the street to greet sam, rhia, and me and ask if we were looking rooms. after she'd shown us the rooms and we were discussing prices i became acutely aware that i was talking much more loudly then she... remembered that i hadn't even said hello to her... her soft-spoken demeanor exploded in the most calm and gentle way a wall to my face which crumbled over me during the conversation and made me lower my voice, put on a smile, and remember my manners. such a discrete event... a point in time... such a distinct memory... the explosion and the crumbling. ever since then i've consciously focused more on the laotian people... their smiles, friendliness, and gentleness... the laotian serenity had a grip on me and i was sad i'd be leaving laos today.

i'd set the alarm on my treo to wake me up at 0515 but a knock on my door at 0555 was the shocker which made me open my eyes. not sure why the alarm didn't go off but the technical investigation would have to wait. i'd packed 95% of my equipment the night before and scrambled to pack the remainder, pissed that i wouldn't get a chance to take a shower and make myself a little more presentable for the vietnamese immigration officials. the ride to the airport was quick; checked in, paid my 10 usd departure tax, passed through security, and walked up the stairs to wait for my flight. an hour and forty minutes later, the plane took off _ahead of schedule_, a recontour first.

i caught a couple through.the.window.of.a.moving.vehicle quality pics of the laotian and vietnamese countryside from the plane. i generally don't get anxious while flying but as the plane descended into hanoi through whiteout conditions i couldn't shake the memories of discovery channel 'moments from disaster' plane crashes and was gripping the armrests so tightly that all of the blood decided it no longer wanted to reside in my fingers. fortunately we landed without incident. passed through immigrations and customs without incident. hit the atm... ten beautiful plasticky green 100,000 dong notes which each featured a smiling portrait of former president ho chi minh... once again, i was a millionaire.

bypassed a guy trying to sell me on his cheaper bus ride for a 2 usd minibus ride. the minibus was the type which dropped passengers off at their guesthouse of choice; i fumbled through my guidebook and picked out a random guesthouse for the minibus copilot. grr, the copilot. we arrived in hanoi, the copilot called out the name of my guesthouse... i got out and was greeted by a man who confirmed the name of my guesthouse and quickly shuttled me inside. i was a bit tired from the early morning wake-up and the month of relatively hassle-free travel in thailand and laos had crashed my defenses... only after i'd decided on a room and checked in did i realize that this was not actually the guesthouse i'd chosen. supergrr. i was a victim of the commission fix quick switch... son of a bitch. but i was too tired to care and happy enough that i had a room. i listened while the guesthouse manager went through the expensive tour options. thank you, sir, but no thank you.

out into the city for some walking and food, my first impression of hanoi brought back memories of indian hassles... motorbike vultures waited on every corner, each asking if i was their next meal... a man by the lake tried to suck me into a several day tour of the north... their was an aggressiveness in hanoi which had been completely absent in thailand and laos and it became evident that i'd need to check the charge on the shock system: checked [reference entry]. i was in a new country. women wearing conical hats and carrying shoulder boards bounced around the streets, scooters dominated the traffic; the city had a chaos that i'd forgotten, but it did have street signs. amazingly excellent street signs, in fact, which matched up with the uncharacteristically accurate and complete map from my guidebook and i was able to navigate beautifully on my new city walk.

that evening i attended a water puppets show, a vietnamese tradition dating back centuries. what exactly is a water puppet? i had the same question. this 1.9mb avi video doesn't come close to the experience (in fact, due to my poor video skills it actually makes the performance appear somewhat boring), but it will give you an idea. the puppeteers stand behind a curtain and operate the puppets via long wooden poles. the most beautiful sound, one instrument in the band called the dan bau, or monochord. if you can handle a large download, listen to its sweet and somewhat supernatural sound in this 7.5mb avi video.

posted by paul at Thu 12 Jan 2006 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)