Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hoi An

Today was our first riding day. Oh my, I was so ready to be back on the bike. I had been off the bike for a week! Huge amount of time for me.

I have found a new way to describe my riding: it is my primary spiritual discipline. Some people practice daily martial arts or Yoga, or journaling, or reading, or some other meditative practice. I ride my bike. I think describing my cycling as a spiritual discipline deserves its own post. So, back to our first riding day: Hue to Hoi An.

We were carried by van 15k south of Hue to get us out of the rush hour chaos of thousands of motor scooters (which,BTW, are all called Hondas, as are all cars called Honda, regardless of their true maker, much like tissues are universally called Kleenex, and soft drinks are called Coke).

Once on the bike, while the road was paved, it was often only 10' wide carrying bidirectional traffic, most of which was scooter and bike, but there were a few cars, trucks, and tour busses. Some games of chicken were at play, but most of the time it was us who would hit the unpaved shoulder before it was too late.

The homes we passed were pretty humble, no, they were very humble. Luc described it as a middle class suburb of Hue. We never saw an upper class suburb, but we did see rural hovels that became hovelier the further south we went. It seemed many were nothing more than tarpaulins strung up to bamboo poles.

After 20k (12.4 mi) we stopped for coffee, tea, a bio-break Vietnamese style. We had to scuttle around the scooters that cluttered the entrance, before we could scuttle up a staircase to the 2nd floor, to an open-air, warehousie kind of place operated by a late teenaged girl. Hard to judge young people's ages the older I get. This place hardly looked like a going concern, but it met our needs and off we went again giving the right of way to cows wandering across our road and farmers walking their water buffalo down the middle of the the same road. Just as I learned in Tucson that bikes yield the right of way to horses on the multi-use paths and that in Alaska everyone gives the right of way to a moose on or near the road or path you're on no matter if you're on a bike or car, so it is in Vietnam that right of way is given to the water buffalo.

I saw my first rice paddy worked by barefooted farmers wearing conical hats and barefooted farmers plowing their fields behind their one water buffalo. There were fields of arrowroot, taro, sweet potato, and pumpkin and, of course rice, rice, and rice.

And, everywhere there were children age 3-10, boys and girls leaving whatever they were doing to run to the side of the road shouting "Aloh", and, of course, we'd return the Aloh greeting. Quite a contrast to American kids who are a) taught "stranger danger" from birth, and b) who have lost the freedom to play outside unsupervised.

It took 20+ years before tourism even began to come to Vietnam, but when it did Westerners were called West Man by the locals. Then, the little children began to practice their English when one of "us" would come through their town by shouting out, "Hello" which soon became Aloh. Now Westerners are simply known as "Alohs".

When the kids grew more confident with their English, they would venture into bold new territory asking: "How are you?" or "What's your name?" or, "How old are you?" The latter is not a boundary breach, but rather in Vietnamese how you are addressed is determined by how old you are: so you could be younger brother, older brother, uncle, or senior uncle. I suppose the same applies to the female gender.

Before our lunch break we visited the most amazing cemetery imaginable. It measured 40k (24.8 mi) in length filled with Family Temples, home to cremains of many generations. Most temples ranged in cost from $100,000-200,000 USD! In time I'll be able to drop some representative pix of the temples. But for now, those of you on Facebook can check out some pix there.

After our little diversion to the cemetery Kirk and I were in search of a bathroom. The ubiquitous convenient stores are non-existent and neither of us was comfortable with public relief. We must have looked a bit like Alohs in search of something when a 30-something man, sitting on his porch asked what we were looking for: "A toilet." He invited us in to his house that had no electricity, handed us a weak flashlight and directed us through a series of rooms to a toilet bowl  on a wet cement floor. It worked well.

After lunch 6 of the 11 riders climbed Hai Van Pass which was about a 5% grade for 11k with many switchbacks at an 8% grade. I passed some bicycle tourists walking their bikes up some of the steeper pitches, their bikes loaded with heavy panniers. I asked one of them how much further to the top. His response was "China." There is not much English spoken over here. The descent down the Pass to China Beach was good fun.

It was by far the steepest and longest climb I've ever done on my upright/Bike Friday. Felt good about being the first person to the top of the grade only 5 minutes behind our guide who is 28 years my junior. Kirk did awesome! I think he's now ready for Gates Pass and Mt. Lemmon up to Molina Basin.

We passed through Danang riding in our van/bus. Darkness would have gobbled us up along with the rush hour scooter traffic.

Danang is a happening place now aglow with modernity 1 million strong. But during the American War, it was where all GI's landed for 2-weeks before being dropped off by choppers into jungle to fight for the cause, their lives, and hopefully to be airlifted out 1 year later still whole-bodied.

Danang was also where American GI's would come for r&r. When the war was over and all the American soldiers returned home, Danang was over run with prostitutes and war babies of mixed nationality. The Communist government invested 30 years of effort to re-educate, train and re-integrate the social casualties of the war into the new and proud fabric of Vietnamese life and culture. They have been effective.

Finally arrived in Hoi An about 6:00 p.m. a gracious town enjoying the benefits of global tourism including lots of Alohs. We were given a street map of the town proudly titled: "Hoi An: Vestiges of Interest". I think they would do well to invest in a native English speaker to check out their translations before sending their work to the print shop. Sometimes Google translations miss the essence of the message.

We spent the day, Thursday the 16th here in Hoi An, home to 132,000 people whose ancestors have called this place home for 2,200 years and where the average rainfall is about 6'. The outside of the houses are dark with mold. Owners expect their houses to be flooded with 6-8' of water each year.

Kirk visited a tailor shop and in 3 hours had two shirts hand-made of the loveliest material and with amazing quality. We did laundry today, too. I expected to do it American style in hotel self serve machines. But, that's not the Vietnamese way. For $7 USD we had 29 pieces of clothing hand laundered, folded, and returned to us 6 hours later. Those pieces that needed to be line dried were, those that could be machine dried were. The only downfall is that I ended up with someone else's T-shirt and underpants and someone else got one of my dearly beloved running tops. Oh well.


Dan said...

Though you didn't say it in your blog I'm assuming you're having a good time. I'm wondering if you have concrete schedules for distance traveled so that you can be prepared for departure.

Also, you wrote: "it was where all GI's landed for 2-weeks before being dropped off by choppers into jungle to fight for the cause, their lives, and hopefully to be airlifted out 1 year later still whole." Any thoughts as to the millions of VN deaths and casualties as a result of the "year" the GI's were fighting for the "cause?"

Susan said...

Yes, Dan, having a grand time. Our guide is amazing and our fellow riders are delightful people. Managing my dietary issues has been a challenge, though. So little English spoken here hard to query wait staff as to ingredients and then there is the whole issue of water purity which is bigger than just drinking bottled water.

Me thinks this would not be a tour you would put on the top of your list for many reasons.