Freakin’ internet. Just wrote a complete blog only to have it trashed by the shitty connection here in Hoi An. Just when I think I’m getting used to this place, it throws me a curve ball that makes me long for the reliability of other cultures. Oh well, what’s another hour in front of a computer? Needless to say, this time it will be a shorter entry.
Hoi An is a place that time and war simply forgot, only to be discovered by the tourist trade in the 90s. It was an old trading post for the Chinese and Japanese around 150-200 years ago, and their old trading houses and homes are still around. So now it is a handicraft and artist center, buoyed by the reputation of being the place to get custom made clothes made. Much like Hong Kong quite a few years ago, you can walk into a store, select the fabric, select the style, get measured, and return the next day (same day in some cases) for the first fitting. So, knowing that I bought my last suit over 12 years ago for grad school interviews, I have ordered a new suit and two shirts as my remembrance of Vietnam. Everything will set me back around $100, so I don’t think I can go wrong. It was great putting on a shirt that actually fit both my neck and my arms at the same time! Now I’ll have additional items in my closet that say Vietnam, and chances are you have plenty as well, giving that Vietnam’s largest growth industry is in clothes and shoes.
I have to say that it is also really interesting watching grungy backpackers go into the changing rooms and come out in business attire. Makes me realize that most of my fellow travelers will have to enter the reality of the business world eventually.
Since Hoi An doesn’t have much of a reason for being outside of its architectural treasures and the tourist trade, they have tried to create an atmosphere of a constant festival. The have a "Full Moon" festival once a month, and then they started a "Saturday Night" festival, and now have added a "Wednesday Night" one. So essentially, you’re guaranteed a night of incense, no motos, and traditional music twice a week. The incense seems to be a major addiction here. Everyone burns it everywhere, all the time, and I do have to admit I have started to get used to it, being almost startled when I smell a fresh breeze without it. Ron – I may be joining you in your hobby.
I’m learning to take occasional breaks from the penny pinching world of budget travel, letting myself enjoy a few indulgences. Here’s a section of my journal describing one of them in a local pattissarie run by a local French family:
"Sitting in a rattan chair, breezes from the ocean drifting through the cafe, watching the condensation lazily roll down my iced coffee as the sharp cocoa taste of the chocolate tort slowly mellows in my mouth, only to be replaced shortly by yet another cream topped morsel"
This indulgence, followed by a sugar and caffeine buzz that lasted well into the evening, cost me $1.80. It’s a rough life….
And now seamlessly blending the Made in Vietnam theme with the food thing, my other discovery here has been cooking classes. In my mad preparation for the back-from-Vietnam party, I came across this wonderful idea and have enjoyed two classes so far. Not only are they informative, entertaining, and delicious, they’re a great way to meet
attractive single women other people and to practice my flirting conversation skills. One of the pictures shows my fellow classmates from the second class, Ronna and Anna. I now have the knowledge for preparing the cuisine, but I’m still trying to figure out where to find banana leaves in the Bay Area.
I was adopted by an Australian group during my trip to My Son (say mee suhn), the "holy land" of the ancient Cham culture, and heavily Indianized culture that thrived in Southern Vietnam until the Nguyen dynasties. I was eavesdropping with their guide, and was slightly amused at the indignation that the Australians exhibited after being told that the US bombed the area during the war (and showed the "bomb craters") and destroyed most of the temples that had survived for almost 1000 years. They found out I was American and after I told them what the guide had left out (that the VC were using it as a camp thinking that the US wouldn’t bomb it), we proceeded to have a great discussion on global politics and armed struggles. They were all old enough to remember the war and told me that they were told they’d be at the end of the domino stack, which puts the reason for the war a little closer to home than most Americans. I loved talking with them, as they seem to grasp the idea that Vietnam was and is a very complex place and that there are no simple explanations or analyses that do the subject justice. Martin – you would have been right at home here, as they reminded me of your intelligent views of the world.
I’m off to a couple of days R&R in Nha Trang tonight, on yet another overnight bus trip. I just can’t get enough of the small seats and cheesy Vietnamese pop music….
After that, it’s on to Da Lat and some more mountain exploration. I hope to have more reliable internet connections, and for those that are thinking of traveling here – avoid Yahoo email and go with G mail or something like that. There’s either a filter on Yahoo domains here in Vietnam or the sheer number of Vietnamese that use Yahoo email overwhelms the pipe to this part of the world.