Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Hanoi, Vietnam to Hong Kong - June 8th, 2004 of the Common Era

Yes, I flew from Hanoi Vietnam to Hong Kong. Although I have loved the rustle and bustle of traveling by land via bus and train I must admit that it was extremely nice to travel by place again. I flew Vietnamese Airlines. A nice airline it was.

I sat in an aisle seat so I was not able to see Hong Kong on our descent into the city.

Now, as I have mentioned in a previous journal entry, I do not consider Hong Kong to be apart of China. I know on paper and on political maps that Hong Kong and Macau are "technically" apart of the China motherland . . . blah blah blah. Since China practices a "One Country, Two System" Special Administrative Region blah blah blah with Hong Kong and Macau in my mind Hong Kong and Macau are both still their own city-state countries. I strongly feel like this for this reason.

I have a Chinese visa. Originally I was going to travel from Hanoi by land into southern China - thus activating my Chinese visa. But, as I learned, if I wanted to go into Hong Kong from China then my Chinese visa would immediately expire and if I wanted to return to the Chinese main land from Hong Kong then I would have to apply for another Chinese visa. What the hell? Is Hong Kong apart of China or not? Since my Chinese visa does not include Hong Kong then in my mind Hong Kong is not apart of China and thus its own separate country. Simply said I can add Hong Kong on my list of countries visited . . . hee hee hee.

Hong Kong = 3 parts Tokyo + 2 parts New York

Im happy though that things worked out so that I could fly into Hong Kong because their airport and airport train system is a marvel in and of itself. The airport is hyper clean and efficient and their airport train system rivals that of any Japanese train system - and that is saying a hell of a lot. To begin with I approached the airport train with my bag, which sat on a cart that I rolled, and was met with a uniformed gentlemen that lifted my bag off the cart, took the cart and parked it, and then when the train arrived too my bag and placed it into a luggage holding area within the train. Now that is what I call service. All the seats in the train have a monitor screen on the back side of the head rest so that you can see the progress of the train on a digital map as it travels from Lantau island to Kowloon to Hong Kong. The train is fast, your ears will pop as you travel through tunnels. Out the window of the train I got my first glimpses of Hong Kong. My only thoughts were that I wanted to live here. I have never seen so many sky-scraper apartment buildings in my life. They were all clean and organized and carefully placed between the many hills and mountains that define the topography of Hong Kong.

I ended up in Tsim Sha Tsui which is on a penninsula that points right at the Hong Kong skyline. Tsim Sha Tsui is described by most people who live here as the decrepit part of Hong Kong. It is full of massive low-income apartment buildings, sketchy camera and electronic shops, men from Bangladesh and India trying to woo you into their tailor shops, and working girls that walk the streets at night, along with suspicious sauna's and massage parlors that advertise in Chinese, English, and Japanese.

As soon as I walked out of the Tsim Sha Tsui train station I was approached by a man from Bangladesh who wanted to show me a Guest House room in the Mirador Mansion.

In Tsim Sha Tsui there are two massive apartment buildings that are a hot spot for back packers to spend the night in. They are the Chungking Mansion and the Mirador Mansion. To most "middle-class" people I suspect that they would be afraid to stay in such a place. It is full of low-lifes, people screaming, porn shops, cheap tourist shops, and sketchy electronic shops. The public walls of these two buildings are covered with dried stains of various drinks and foods and maybe . . . blood? - No, just joking. The place is full of grime and dirt. It essentially needs a good long bath.

I followed the man from Bandladesh to a small shop within the Mirador Building that sold paintings. Somehow this shop was the check in desk for the Guest House. After grabbing some keys he took me into an elevator. We got out on the 8th floor and walked to what looked like the door to an apartment. He opened it up and I could immediately see that this apartment was renovated into becoming five individual rooms. I chose the room with a window.

My room is tiny. There is only room for a lofted bed and a bathroom. My bathroom is also tiny. A sink and toilet is smashed into it so that when I take a shower I am nearly standing in my toilet.

But, the view from my room is fantastic. I honestly feel like Im in the movie Blade Runner. The apartment building across the street from my window is a massive concrete block of grime and filth. Hundreds of air conditioners that are decades old extend from nearly every brown tinted window on the building. I honestly feel like Im in the China Town of New York in the year 2040.

After relaxing a bit and figuring out how to use the air conditioner I took a long, long stroll down Nathan road. I was headed north. Away from Hong Kong and into the guts of Kowloon. The road is lined with shops, shops, and shops. From where I started there were plenty of designer shops but the farther north I traveled the less I saw of these types of shops. Instead I found Chinese restaurants, massage parlors, clothing shops, and game centers.

The amazing thing to see with my very own eyes was the construction done on buildings. Buildings are built and renovated with the aid and use of bamboo! Yes, you will see elaborate grids of bamboo tied together all the way up the sides of buildings so that workers can construct or fix buildings. Absolutely fascinating.

Massive neon signs jet out from the sides of the buildings as if trying to attack the air above the streets.

All in all though Hong Kong reminds me very much of New York and Tokyo. It has the feel of Tokyo in that their taxi's are the same (in Tokyo they are black Toyota town cars, and in Hong Kong they are red and white Toyota town cars), there are neon signs popping out from the sides of buildings advertising everything imaginable, coporate skyscrapers lighting up the night sky, etc. It has the feel of New York in that the people shot, honk their car horns, and that the buildings are old and brick and faded after decades of use. In Tokyo buildings have a life span of about 30 years - so everything looks new - not old.

So, Hong Kong.
It is simply this. Three parts Tokyo and two parts New York.

Now, the Hong Kong skyline. At night I walked to Star Ferry Pier and saw the most amazing city skyline I have ever seen in my entire life. Yes, it was amazing. i have never seen a city skyline as impressive as the Hong Kong one. It is a marvel and a tribute to what man may accomplish. I sat and stared at the fine work of architecture before me and all the corporate logo's seeking my attention - AIA, Sanyo, Sharp, Sony, Panasonic, Epson, TCL, Nikon, LG, Hitachi, Olympus, Allianz, Philips, Canon, Onward, Marriott, CMG, Principal, Renesas, citigroup, and Cosco.

I need to rest these fingers from the keyboard.

Hanoi: Part II - Ho Chi Minh and Me, June 6th

This was the day that I would begin my "Tour of Dead Communist Leaders". The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum faces the Hanoi Citadel. The Hanoi Citadel - from what I could tell - is a military fortress of some kind. I wanted to cross through the citadel via Cua Dong street but was deterred by Vietnamese soldiers guarding a gate entrance into the citadel. As a result Frederick (a friend I met in Saigon and was rooming with back at my hotel) and I walked south on Ly Nam De. Along this street I saw a fine example of Hanoi architectural charm. The street - as most streets in the Old Quarter of Hanoi - is lined with tall and beautiful trees. A few of these trees on Ly Nam De had grown dangerously close to a few apartment buildings and in some cases grew straight into a few balconies and buildings. But they were not viciously cut down by the city of Hanoi or by the residents of these buildings. There was a nice compromise in which the branches of the trees were simply permitted to grow into the balconies - damaging them a bit - but adding to a sense of harmony between these man-made buildings and the curiving and creeping nature of these trees.

As I continued to walk looking at these trees meld into these buildings I began to think of what Hanoi would be like when man has left and nature has retaken it. After seeing the glorious temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia - once a magnificent Empire but now an awesome ruin - I began to wonder if in the centuries or milleniums to follow if Hanoi would be forgotten and one day re-discovered. What would be left of it if already the trees of the Old Quarter are slowly conquering it? The city, as I imagine it, would be a horrible ruin of jungle forests attacking and reclaiming this once pleasant city. The narrow roads would be torn up by tree roots and thick tree branches would interweeve straight into the buildings ripping apart their walls until they came crashing down. Yes, one day all cities must fall. You never know what the future may bring. A Roman Empreror would never have thought that all the glory of his Empire would one day fall . . . be forgotten and rediscovered.

It is a curiosity to think about the fact that perhaps one day in the far future Hanoi will be deserted and one day rediscovered. That one day it will become a tourist attraction for apathetic school children who would rather be doing something else than to see the famed "Ruins of Hanoi". Will people far in the future know how the determination of Hanoi and its Nationalist/Communist government defeated the unwinable war the great Empire of the U.S. tried to wage against it? How the Vietnam War plagued the hearts and minds of so many Americans for two to three generations? Perhaps not . . . this simply goes to show that all things must end, and be forgotten for a time. No matter how glorious the feat or accomplishment, no matter how significant the win or loss in war, no matter how many lives were lost, no matter how rich or powerful the government or country . . . it is all temporary and in the end . . . holds little meaning to the infinite bounds of time and nature.

My thoughts just went off there . . . my apologies.

It was my first time to a Mausoleum. I expected something huge and incredible. The mausoleum though is not that. It is sad and dark and unimpressive. Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum is not large. It is perhaps four storeys at the most. It is made mostly of black stone, as well as red stone. What is impressive though is the fact that there was a massive number of Vietnamese citizens lined up to see the man who had freed them from the grips of the West. That is what touched me the most. 30 years after his death there are still so many people who come to see what remains of this man who stood up against two powerful nations: France and the U.S.

Frederick tried to find the end of the line. We did not succeed. After checking in our cameras and buying a brochure that we were told was a ticket - but was not - Frederick and I ran in search of the end of the line. When we thought we had found it we simply found that it was simply curving around a corner. Beyond the corner the line extended on and on. Luckily foreign visitors are given precedence and we were allowed to cut into the middle of the line.

The line moves quickly and efficiently like a conveyor belt. Upon entering the Mausoleum I was immediately struck by the air conditioner. Thank God it was freezing in there; a break from the Hanoi heat. The entrance has the feel of a corporate office entrance. I expected to find elevators to the sides. We followed the line to the left and continued up a ramp that eventually led into the darkly lit room where Ho Chi Minh's body lay at rest in a glass casket with an orange light illuminating his peaceful face. I was impressed. Extremely impressed. I have never seen anything like this in my entire life. Never in my life have I seen this odd tradition of preserving the body of a leader for all to see for decades and decades. It is moving, nearly inspiring. Ho Chi Minh's body was in perfect condition. I could not believe how well preserved he was. It was as if he was frozen in time. His white Chinese beard flowed from his chin to over his chest. He was at rest, in a peaceful slumber. You almost felt as if he would wake at any moment. Below his casket, at its four corners, were four guards dressed in white uniforms. And above him, on the wall behind him, was the Star of Vietnam (a symbol of Communist Vietnam) and the Sickle and Hammer of fomer Communist Russia.

After the Mausoleum Frederick and I rested at an outdoor drink shop. We both had some freshly squeezed sugar cane. We were soon approached by yet another Vietnamese tout who wanted to drive us around town for a small fee. I warned the guy that he was going to get no business from us. He ignored the comment and so I sat there making up the country of my origin, my occupation, etc. to have fun with him. We soon left and he grew upset that he had wasted 20 minutes of his time with us without making any money. Too bad buddy, I warned you!

We walked south to the Temple of Literature. We didnt enter it. I think I was suffering from Temple Burn Out Disorder. From there we were on a mission to find the Hanoi Main Railway Station. We eventually found it and Frederick got the info he needed about taking the train into China. From there we walked to the Culture Palace and found a restaurant to have lunch. From there we walked north until we arrived at the Hoan Kiem Lake. Soon enough we were back in our hotel for a rest. We then met up with two other Swedeish men (Frederick is from Sweden) and went out for dinner at a pleasant backpacker joint on the terrace of a building. I had two orders of a giant tuna sandwich. The beers were only 30 cents a pop so we loaded up on that as well. Since the beer was very, I mean very, week the Swedes popped out some old Swedish type of chewing tobaco known as Snus. I tried some. The tobacco is wrapped in a small packet that you place under you front lip. After about 10 minutes I felt the kick from the Snus. After 20 minutes I had enough and took it out. The other Swedes - who grew up on this stuff - kept in under their lip for the entire night.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel but along the way we stopped by several pirated C.D. and DVD shops. 1 pirated DVD was sold for just under 1 U.S. dollar.

The next day Frederick bough about 20 DVD's. Since we could rent a DVD player we decided to simply run errands on June 7th and watch as many DVD's as we could in the evening.

May the Force be with You . . .

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

My Dream and Hanoi: Part I

I have found my dream atmosphere. Yes, yes, yes. I have done it. I have found an air-conditioned internet cafe with a high speed internet connection here in Hong Kong. That probabaly means that Im going to be writing a lot while Im here.

Today is June 8th and I flew from Hanoi, Vietnam to Hong Kong. For me though Hong Kong is not apart of China. In my opinion it is a city-state that has very little to do with Communist China. As a result I will count Hong Kong as country number 9 on the number of countries I have visited so far on this trip.

the Country count for my 2004 Travelapalooza Domenico Freedom Festival Tour is as follows:
1. Korea
2. Singapore
3. Malaysia
4. Thailand
5. Myanmar
6. Laos
7. Cambodia
8. Vietnam
9. Hong Kong
and in a few days Ill be in China so that will be number 10

Now, Honoi - June 5-8

The comparison often made by East Coasters of the U.S. that have traveled Vietnam from north to south is that Saigon is New York and Hanoi is Boston. I will have to agree with this comparison. Hanoi is small and lovely and quiet and not so business oriented like Saigon . . . in appearance at least. What I love about Hanoi are the number of lakes that you will find and run into thoughout the city. It is a wonderful and pleasant sight to see these lakes scattered around the city.

I stayed in the Old Quarter of Hanoi; the old French colonial sector of Hanoi. The Old Quarter is defined by a zig-zag array of streets that seem to have evolved from glorified cow paths. In other words the Old Quarter can be a maze, a labrinth of streets that curve and twist and head in direction that make no sense. The only way to navigate from one part of the Old Quarter to the other is by developing an urban market knowledge of where certain products are sold. Every street is specialized in what it sells. Hang Quat street has an abundance of Mom and Pop shops that sells Chinese shrines and other trinkets needed for your own shrine, or for funeral rites of a deceased loved one. Luon Van Can is sun glasses and eye glasses land. The entire street only sells eye-wear. Need to shop for some food? Then go to Dong Xuan street where you will find the Dong Xuan market. The market is literally right on the street and off-streets that shoot off from it. Here again you will find that the market is divded into different specialized section. If you go east on Hong Chieu street you will find sea food sold: live crabs, shrimp, prawns, fish, fish, fish, frog skin, frog legs anyone? Further down the street you will find bloody meat hanging from hooks in the humid summer air - yummy? It is curious to see that these streets sell specific items and that they are sold right out of the homes on these streets. I guess if you have the misfortune of moving onto the fresh - or not so fresh - meat section of a street you are doomed to be a butcher for as long as you live there.

Literally, though - all these streets in the Old Quarter sell specific items straight out of their homes. These Mom and Pop shops have their store on the first floor and behind their store is where they live or on the floor above their shop. Its funny to walk past these shops in the afternoon and to see the clerks in the shop eating lunch with their families right in the middle of the store. You feel like you'd be intruding if you walked in to buy something . . . so I recommend that you do your shopping in the morning and the later afternoon so as to not disturb the people working in the shop while they are eating lunch in the early afternoon.

These types of products that you will find dedicated to specific streets in the Old Quarter include the following: iron bars, grills, and steel products for the home, toys, eye wear, Chinese shrine goods, medicine boths Eastern and Western, pirated C.D.'s and DVD's and computer software, tourist shops, clothing shops dedicated to gender and different ages (e.g. one street will only sell women's clothing where as another street will sell only children's clothing), shoes, etc.

The internet cafe is about to close so I will have to stop.
I will write more about Hanoi tomorrow.


Monday, June 07, 2004

Hanoi Notes and Final Thoughts on Vietnam - Hanoi, June 5th to 8th

If you have been reading the progress of this digital journal for the past two months you will have noticed that my notes during my time in Vietnam are a bit different. Some of the entries on Vietnam have been rushed or not heavily focused on recounting historical events prior to the 20th century. This is especially true for the time I spent in Nha Trang, Hoi An, and Hue.

As a backpacker I think that I am going through a two month burn out cycle. I think it takes about two months before a back packer begins to burn out on interesting cultural sites of the countries he or she is traveling through. If and when this happens the best thing to do is to stay put in one place for several days, build up a routine, rest, and clear the head. Once you have done this it is time to move on with eager interest to discover more.

Since I was spending no more than a day in Nha Trang, Hoi An, and Hue I was pushing the limits of my genuine interest in discovering as much as I can in these places. To put it plainly I was burnt out and really had no desire to take notes or discover the historical significance of these places. I was a numb traveler simply trying to get from point A to B. As a result of all that I decided to take a little break from the internet.

And here I am. I have been in Hanoi for three full days. I am feeling better now. And tomorrow I will be flying to Hong Kong where I will stay for three solid days. So Im begining to rejuice and get ready for my travels through China!

Before I get into Hanoi I would like to talk about Vietnam as a whole.

This is the first country I have come across in this journey where the people have exhausted me completely. It is a beautiful country but, to be honest, the people here ruin it for the tourist. Vietnam is cheap, extremely cheap! And as a result any traveler who walks into this country is seen as the richest person alive by the Vietnamese. They see you only as a money machine and they try their darnest to squeeze whatever cash they can from you.

One kid that literally begged me to buy one of his post cards or books finally said it best by explaining, "Look, just give me 10,000 dong. It is nothing for you. You are rich. You come from a rich country. I have nothing. Give me some money so that I can go to school and learn more English. So that I can buy some food and have a place to sleep."

I replied angrily, "Look! I have heard that story every day from 100 different people. I am not rich. And I wont give you 10,000 dong because I dont want to! You expect me to give you money. Everyone in this country expects me to give them money. Yes, 10,000 dong may be nothing to me but I cant give it to everyone so Im sorry - LEAVE ME ALONE!"

And he left me alone. But what he said pretty much sums up how Vietnamese people see foreigners traveling through their country. They dont really care why you are here or what country you came from or what you do or what you think of Vietnam. All they want is your money. And they will follow you, bother you, ask you "friendly" questions and God knows what else just to skim a buck off you.

Every freaking day there are men on scooters who keep calling to me, "Moto?" They want to take me on a ride around town for a fee. They are like an unofficial taxi service. But they are everywhere and they never leave you alone. Every 10 seconds you here, "Moto - Where you go? - Go to Museum? - I take you - 5,000 dong cheap for you," etc. This has driven me mad. I have considered buying a gun and slaughtering the next Moto driver that asked me, "Moto?"

I have tried various ways to be kind to them and to say no to them. In the end though I have become bitter and simply look past them with an angry look while shouting "NO!" At times when I feel like Im loosing my sanity I have fun with them and tell them all sorts of lies.

A coversation may appear like this:

M.D.: Where you go.
DOM: Alaska!
M.D.: You come.
DOM: How much?
M.D.: 10,000 dong.
DOM: Really! That is amazing. You take me to Alaska for 10,000 dong.
M.D.: Where you from?
DOM: Uzbekistan.
M.D.: Uz - Uz - Uz -
DOM: Uzbekistan. South of Russia.
M.D. (pointing to my ring): How much?
DOM: 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Turkish Dollars.
M.D.: Come, you come. I take you.

Due to my anthropological expertise I have been able to translate the true meaning of the same questions you will hear asked from every single Moto driver in all of Vietnam.

"Where are you from?" - When translated means - "I need to figure out how much money you have and by learning which country you are from I will know how much I can rip you off."

If you say you are from the U.S. or Japan or England its simply over for you. You are one of the richest people in the world for the Vietnamese. I recommend that you say you are from Uzbekistan or one of the -stan countries between Iran and Russia.

If they point to your jewelry and ask, "How much is that?" - it translates into - "By learning how much you spend on jewelry I can figure out how rich you are."

"Which hotel are you staying at?" - translates into - "Be learning how much you spent on one night in a hotel I can figure out how rich you are."

"Where are you going?" - translates into - "If I can find out if you are going to an area of the city where people shop I can figure out what you want to buy and take you to a place that sells it for cheaper so that I can get a kick back for your purchase."

"Moto?" - translates into - "I am just a regular person who has no taxi license but since I have a scooter I can take you anywhere you want in the city for a price that is 4 times local taxi prices."

"What's your name?" - translates into "I want to learn your name so that I can call you by your name and pretend that we are buddy buddy and fool you into thinking that I actually care about you when all I really want is your money."

I think that just about covers the basics what the Vietnamese will ask you and what it really means.

Although Vietnam is beautiful and enchanting I dont like being constantly reminded by every Vietnamese I see on the street that I am a foreigner. I guess they are more direct about that fact though, that I am a foreigner that they can make money off of. Im sure the people I met and came across in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand also see me only as a foreigner that they can make money off of but they hid their intent a hell of a lot better than the Vietnamese.

I got to run and grab some dinner so that I can watch about 100 pirated DVD's tonight in my hotel room :)


P.S. I will write about Hanoi in a day or two.
June 3rd - Morning bus from Hoi An to Hue, Vietnam

I took a morning bus from Hoi An to Hue. The ride was about 6 hours or so. On this bus ride several boxes were piled in the alley between the seats making it impassable for the passengers who sat in the back.

I sat in the back of the bus with a Vietnamese family. There was a young Vietnamese girl who was apart of the family. She was about 8 years old or so and sat just one seat away from me. Behind us there were back-packer back packs piled so high that they completely covered the rear window.

The view that we saw along this journey was spectacular. We drove high up a series of small mountains and down below we could see deserted beaches and turquoise waters. Most of the tourists within the bus were quick to pull out their cameras to take photos of the scenery. As for me I decided against it. By this part of the journey the little Vietnamese girl was sitting right beside me. About an hour before I had pulled out my M.D. player to listen to a bit of music - BIG MISTAKE!

The little girl wanted to listen to what I was listening to. Being nice I let her listen to the music by giving her my headphones. She kept pointing to the M.D. protective case signaling that she would like to open it. I constantly told her no. But, she did not give up. When I was not looking she took the liberty to open up the case and look through the three other M.D.'s I had in there. I then turned my head and saw what she was doing but instead of taking it away from her I let her investigate while keeping a close eye on her. She then pulled out the M.D. player from within a protective cloth and began pressing its buttons. She found the eject button and then decided to take out the M.D. and put in another one. From that point forth she would listen to one M.D. for about 12 seconds and then eject it and put in another one. She did this for about 30 minutes without getting bored. When it became apparent to me that she could go on forever like that I finally took the M.D. away from her.

I pulled out a book to read. She wanted to read it too. Never mind that she cant read English, she wanted to read it. I said no to her and she got upset. I then pulled out a mechanical pencil - I always read with a writing utensil in my hand to make notes - she then began grabbing at my pencil. I had to fought her off . . . nearly beat her off. All the while her mother simply ignored her and the torture she was putting me through.

So, by the time we arrived at the gorgeous view of the beaches from high up in the mountains I decided that it would be a horrible idea to pull out my digital camera for the Vietnamese girl would surely attack me to get her hands on it.

Sometime in the early afternoon we arrived in Hue and as apart of the whole "Get as much money out of the Foreigner" scheme that exists in the tourism industry here in Vietnam the bus took us to a hotel for us to have a look at. Too tired to go on a hotel hunt I decided to simply stay at the hotel and leave it at that.

After showering up it was time to eat. With an English couple who I had met way back in Cambodia we set out for food. We ended up at a cafe where we ran into Aaron Brumo. I first met Aaron in Saigon. He is an architect and is now traveling around the world on a University Fellowship from Berkley in California. He is maintaining a website at

I strongly recommend that you check out Aaron's website for you will find pictures of many of the places I have been to in Southeast Asia.

After eating we all made our way to the Forbidden Purple City. In order to do so we had to cross the Tran Tien Bridge. The Song Huong river cuts through Hue. It is an old and extremely large river and as a result as I crossed it via the Tran Tien Bridge I felt like I was crossing the Charles River back in Boston.

The Forbidden Purple City sits within a moated citadel. Construction began on the citadel in 1804 by Emperor Gia Long. The Forbidden Purple City served as the private residence of the emperor. In front of the southern gate of the citadel you will see a tall but unimpressive flagpole. This is the tallest flagpole in Vietnam. Most of the construction and design of the Forbidden Purple City seems to be heavily influenced by Chinese style and architecture. I must confess though that I was not heavily impressed with the royal buildings within the citadel. Most of it had been destroyed in warfare (but I do nopt know whether or not it was bombed during the Vietnam War or American War as the Vietnamese know it as).

After exploring the Forbidden Purple City we - the English couple and I; Aaron decided to stay a bit - decided to take two cyclo's back to our hotel.

In the evening we met up with Aaron in his hotel and then crossed the river again to have dinner at a place called Lac Thanh Restaurant where a big sign out front said that, "The Food is Awesome!" We sat on a small balcony on the second floor overlooking the river and the corner street night activity of scooters and people speeding and crossing according to the rules and laws of Chaos.

After dinner we walked south to the Phu Xuan Bridge and crossed it to return to our hotels.

June 4th - The Boat Tour of the Royal Tombs
To be totally honest by this time in the trip I was burnt out on temples, tombs, and tours. Whether or not it was a good idea for me to go on this tour - I dont know. But, I did it. The tour was a basic toursit trap of "You Buy, You Buy," every time we stopped to look at temples or tombs. I was growing more and more annoyed and pissed off.

To quickly sum this up for Im eager to dig into my final Hanoi and Vietnam opinions and rants on the tour I saw the Tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). When I return to the U.S. I will read up on these tombs, but for now . . . Im burnt out on taking notes on the history of another Southeast Asian country.

Yet again,
June 2nd - Hoi An

Hoi An is a pleasant little town. It is quiet and a break from the insane number of scooters running around Saigon. It is situated along the Thu Bon river. It is small enough to cover the entire town by foot in a few hours. From my hotel I walked down Phan Dung Phung street and found myself swatting away requests from the locals to walk with them to their tailor shop.

Hoi An is a popular stop for many tourist to get a tailored - and well made - suit or dress or whatever clothing needs you may have.

I did not have enough time to get a tailored made suit - I was only going to be in Hoi An for about 24 hours - but this did not keep anyone from telling me that yes indeed they could make and fit a suit for me in that small amount of time. Regardless the last thing I wanted was a suit. I dont find suits comfortable and for as long as I can remember I have always hated wearing a uniform - I went to Catholic school when I was a kid - and for me a "corporate" business suit is a uniform. No thank you, dont need a suit, or want one.

I turned right along Le Loi street and began heading down toward the river. Along Le Loi I discovered a unique display of old - and I believe French colonial - buildings. The paint was fading on many of the buildings and years of grim had accumulated on parts of their walls. This all gave these buildings their charm. Most of the buildings served as homes and shops. The shops located on the ground floor and the homes located on the second.

The road that run along the river is Bach Dang. It has some cute little Vietnamese restaurants that caters to foreign travelers. As I walked east along the river I kept turning my head from the river to the street before me to the buildings to my left. The river has various floating vessels: semi-large wooden ships, to small boats that can hold 15 people, to a round water proof basket that can hold one person. Men can be seen fishing in the river and as I walked further and further east I happened upon the Central Market of Hoi An.

After two months of traveling I think I am nearly exhausted of seeing markets. I nearly veered away from the market but I finally decided to enter it and see what I would find. The portion of the market located right next to the river was where all the fish was bought and sold; which makes sense since the boats along the river would park there and unload all their fish into the market.

The market runs from north to south so after seeing and smelling the fish portion of the market I walked north and found the products of the market swift from meats to vegetables to lettuce to roots to herbs and spices to products for the home such as tools and appliances. Again within the market I was constantly approached by locals to go into a tailor shop and get a suit. From that point forth I believe all I said in Hoi An was, "No . . . No thank you . . . I dont need a suit . . . because I dont need a suit . . . because Im a musician and I dont need a suit . . . no I dont need a rock and roll sort of suit . . . please leave me alone . . . For the love of God - LEAVE ME ALONE!"

Seeking to escape the constant want of the locals to sell me something I decided to cross the Cam Nam bridge to get to the Cam Nam village. To get to the bridge I had to go to Hoang Dieu street. The portion of the street near the bridge is dedicated to shoe shops. Every kind of show you can imagine is sold on this street. Shoes, shoes, and more shoes. Again all I said here was, "No . . . you see those . . . they are shoes . . . no I dont need another pair of shoes . . . yes my shoes are ugly but Im traveling so I dont care . . . please go away . . . Please - for the sake of my sanity - leave me alone!"

I spent about two to three hours walking around Cam Nam village. There really wasnt much to see there but it was quiet and no one bothered me verbally. They would stare though. But the kids were cute and at times I would hear a tiny sweet little voice say, "hello."
I would turn to face the voice and find a cute little Vietnamese girl or boy. Amazing how young these kids are taught to learn English . . . so that when they group up they too can charge the streets of Hoi An and bother the tourists to buy something.

In the afternoon I returned to my hotel and rested and in the evening I went out and had a small meal in a very darkly lit coffee shop. As I waited for my food a woman whose husband owned the coffee shop approached me and befriended me . . . soon enough though she passed her tailor shop card to me. I told her I was leaving the next morning and that there was no possible way for her to make me a suit in such a short amount of time. She insisted that I stop by her shop after I eat. I agreed just to entertain her and myself. She also insisted that I stop by the next morning before I leave for Hue to have breakfast. I agreed as well.

After I finished my meal I stopped by the tailor shop just to take a look. The woman I had spoken to in the coffee shop was no where to be seen. But, as soon as I walked in there was a commotion of activity. Two men came up to me and I asked for the woman. One of them then ran up to the second floor to get her. She then came down - I could see that she had been washing her hair - she greeted me and then began showing me all the clothing in their shop. I agreed that it was all very nice. She then pointed to some robes and said that I should buy one. Although they were nice I didnt want to buy one . . . I didnt want to carry it. I explained over and over that I didnt want to buy. Soon enough I was out of there.

I then walked a bit around town to get a feel of the night life there. I came across an interesting Chinese temple that was having some sort of festival celebration. So many people of all ages were walking into and out of the temple. There was a stage set up, and high above it was a buddha child that had neon lights flashing all around it. There was traditional music blasting from speakers and an announcer who announced the different dancing and singing acts. I stood and watched a couple of acts. The acts that I saw were of young Vietnamese women in traditional dress dancing in an ancient style. I, as long with nearly everyone in the audience - except for the young children who could have cared less - were enchanted by these young dancing women. For me there is nothing more peaceful or more beautiful than the sight of a woman dancing with slow ease and grace.

Many around me stared at me. I was the only foreigner within the crowd of people within the temple. I smiled to the young kids who would shy away by hiding their faces behind their parents legs.

When I had seen enough I left and walked back to my hotel.

Along the way I looked into the homes of families who all kept their front doors way open. I would often see children or adults watching television. And it all the homes I always saw a Chinese shrine right in front of the main entrance. The size of the shrines would vary from small to extremely large, some were so large that they would reach from the floor to the ceiling.

It was here in Hoi An that I was beginning to feel the strong cultural influences of China.

June 1st to 2nd - Overnight bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An

I had some time to kill on the 1st of June. My bus for Hoi An was not going to pick me up from my hotel until about 5 o'clock or so. I had to check out of my hotel at 12 and so I wanted to keep my cool - or stay cool - until my bus picked me up. So I decided against staying out in the sun for too long. I didnt want to sweat and be all sticky for the 12 hour bus ride to Hoi An.

I woke up early and decided that the intensity of the sun wasnt too bad, or not bad enough for me to keep from taking a stroll along the long beaches of Nha Trang. Close to noon I went into an Indian restaurant that had a decent curry but a crappy nan bread. After that I returned to my hotel, washed up, and checked out. I still had many hours to kill and so I went to the internet cafe and cleaned out my hotmail account and I believe I worked a bit more on my digital journal.

Other than all this it was a pretty relaxed and uneventful day. The bus ride as well to Hoi An was uneventful.

Final Thoughts on Saigon

What I forgot to mention in regards to my earlier descriptions of Saigon are the women and what they consider to be beautiful. Beauty is purity, or in other words purity of skin. The whiter the skin the more desirable the woman is to a Vietnamese man. I wish I could speak a bit of Vietnamese so that I could find out for myself whether or not men in Vietnam are really obsessed with white skin or if it is just a myth that all women here seem to believe. One indication though that "whiteness of skin" is beautiful are the advertisements here. Just as in the West (1st World Nations) the use of models who have extremely white skin are often, if not always, used for advertisements, commercials - and it seems that all pop-stars and actresses here also have extremely white skin. About every advertisement I have seen in Vietnam has always included a Vietnamese woman with perfect white skin.

This obsession for white skin has lead to nearly every woman, of ages beginning in the early teens to the late 50's and 60's, to cover up as much of their body as possible before venturing out into public and the glare of the sun. The heat in Vietnam is intense. I find that I need to take two to three showers a day; and Im walking around in shorts and a T-shirt. The women here though wear long pants and if they wear a short-sleeved shirt they put on thin and very long gloves that goes all the way up their biceps so that their entire arm is covered. Then to keep their face out of the sun they wear a hat, sunglasses, and a cloth that they use to cover everything below their eyes - which they tie behind their heads. You will see thousands of woman on scooters driving around the streets of Saigon completely covered up. It is nearly rare to see the face of a Vietnamese woman. It often makes me wonder if these women would rather prefer to live in Iran. They would feel at home there with all the other Muslim women who have to cover up every inch of their body.

This obsession for covering up to avoid being tanned by the sun is something that I find ridiculous. But it happens in all societies. Those of us who have a low self-esteem are quick to do anything a commercial tells us inorder to look more attractive of beautiful to the public eye.

Then there are all the skin whitening creams that are all the rave in Vietnam. Women buying and trying all assortments of creams to apply to their skin to maintain their whiteness or to whiten their skin.

So, the question remains. What do you find beautiful? What is beauty? What is beauty as defined by your culture, your society? There are all sorts of beautiful aspects of one's self. There is physical beauty, the beauty of one's character, of one's abilities, of one's thoughts and perspectives.

The women of Vietnam, and Thai women, look at Western Caucasian women perplexed as to why they want to ruin their beautiful white skin by laying out in the sun for hours on the beautiful beaches of either Vietnam or Thailand. Here we may understand the difference in what these cultures - East and West - regard as beautiful and its connection with wealth.

A woman I met from Holland was on her way to Indonesia. She expressed to me, "There is no way I can go back to my country after such a long vacation without a tan. I am going to Indonesia to relax after all these months of backpacking and to get a nice tan before returning home."

In the West (1st World Nations) it can be argued to an extent that getting a tan is a sort of status symbol. That you as a Western individual could afford the expensive trip to some exotic beach to tan and have fun in the sun. Here a tan is beautiful because for a few weeks it is apparent to all back home that you have traveled, relaxed on an exotic beach, and could afford it. Here a tan is beautiful because in some respects it can be equated with wealth.

In Thailand and Vietnam it is believed that only the poor are found working out in the heat of the sun. They are the farmers breaking their backs in rice fields and so forth. The rich are those who work within the comforts of an office. They are rarely out in the sun and thus have white skin. So here we can see that again beauty in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Vietnam are equated in some respects with wealth.

The Slums of Saigon
One thing that I was very shocked to find in Saigon were the slums. My initial image of Saigon was simply that of a city no different from the one's I had seen in Thailand or Malaysia. Of course all cities have their ghettos and so forth but the slums I found in Saigon were the worst I have ever seen in Southeast Asia. I have never been to Manila in the Philippines but the slums I found in Saigon looked like the pictures I have seen of the slums in Manila.

The slums are located at the corner of district 5, 8, 1, 4, and 7. It is there where the Kinh Doi, Rach Ben Nghe, Kinh Te, and the Rach Ong Lon rivers meet. At this intersection the rivers are black. It is so polluted that it is nearly beyond belief to realize and see with your very own eyes that the river is black, black, black. And along the sides of the river you will see the most decrepit homes made from pieced together pieces of wood and metal. Thousands of these shack homes are all piled on top of each other, stretching from the streets of Saigon to all the way down to the black polluted waters of the rivers. It is a horrible sight but one that you should see if you find yourself in Saigon.

May 30th to 31st - Bus Trip to Saigon to Nha Trang, May 31st - Nha Trang
This was to be the first of several interesting bus trips that I would take from the south of Vietnam to the north. My bus departed from Saigon around 8. But it was not just a bus transporting only people and their luggage. Oh no. It also doubled as a cargo bus transporting goods and so forth. On this bus giant wind surfer board was places between all the seats. It was clearly a hazard for it made it nearly impossible for the passengers to get from one end of the bus to the other. But, there doesnt seem to be many lawsuits in Vietnam so this "hazard" was of no real concern to the bus company.

The ride to Nha Trang took about 10 hours or so. We arrived bright an early in Nha Trang. Still waking up I decided to use the services of a tout to take me on his scooter to a hotel that he recommended and would get a "kick back" from. The hotel he took me to was just in front of the beach and was cheap and clean and so I took it. I took a shower and went to bed with the air-conditioner on. I woke up around noon and decided to simply take it easy in Nha Trang. There were no major sights that I had to see. Nha Trang is a beach resort sort of town. The beaches are beautiful and pleasant and most of the city near the beach caters to the Vietnamese and foreign tourists that flock there. Although I did not go to Mui Ne I heard from many that the town of Mui Ne and its beaches are simply the best and far superior to the feel and commercialism of Nha Trang.

So for the 31st of May I simply took it easy by eating and catching up on some emails and my digital journal. I was also trying to rest a bit since I was a little sick with a cold.