Friday, November 18, 2016

Messages From Myanmar #23

Messages From Myanmar #23
20 November 2016

Hello there, Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:
 “Ha Long Bay/Hanoi”

For my generation, “Vietnam” was definitional. In 1968, the Tet Offensive was raging when I reported to Navy boot camp, and the war would not end until 1975, three years after my discharge. I served, rather undramatically, on ships in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea, facing only the quotidian risks of naval sea duty. I was not involved in combat and never went anywhere near Vietnam, which was just fine with me. Understandably, my view of the country itself, while not uninformed, has long been quite abstract.

But when you take up residence in Southeast Asia, a trip to Vietnam is definitely in the cards. A.J. and I decided to go to Hanoi, with a side trip to Ha Long Bay, over the Veterans Day weekend, seeking respite from the recent American electoral unpleasantness.

[Post-Election Sidebar – I have successfully made the transition from a state of debilitating sadness to one of simmering fury. Yeah, I can work with that.]

Cue the highlight reel.

Motorbike Madness - We arrived at our very nice, and not too expensive, hotel in the Old Quarter, an area that has been inhabited for over 1000 years. The scene was chaotic. Hanoi has a population of 7.6 million, and, like, 4 million motorbikes. (By comparison, Yangon: 6 million people and, due to a military ban, 0 motorbikes.) Intersections in Hanoi are not for the faint of heart.

Ha Long Bay - A UNESCO World Heritage Site and big-time tourist destination, roughly four bumpy hours by bus from Hanoi. It is spectacular and peaceful, and enormously popular. If you’re in the ‘hood, you really should go. We spent a night on the water, paddled to a fishing village, and ate ridiculously well. Speaking of which…

Vietnamese Food - Now officially in my Top Five World’s Greatest Cuisines (along with Iberian, Louisianan, Mediterranean, and Peruvian). It is fresh, healthy, and evinces “proper balance.” Of course, this does not necessarily apply to street food. Speaking of which…

Street Food Tour - Our exemplary hotel staff booked a guide who took us and four other touristas on a three-hour tour (insert Boomer musical reference here), stopping in who-the-hell-knows-how-many places; each unique, each delicious. Plus, it was Sunday night with a full moon and everyone in Hanoi was out in the streets. The effect was downright lysergic.

Museums - The Vietnamese Women’s Museum, the Viet Nam Fine Arts Museum, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Each was very well composed, being both entertaining and informative. And if one were anticipating some commie propaganda, one would not be disappointed. What we call the “Vietnam War” is still a BFD in Hanoi.

[Ho Chi Minh Status Sidebar - We considered going to see “Uncle Ho” lying in state, but as his remains had been shipped off to Russia for periodic maintenance, we demurred.]

Other Attractions - The Special National Vestige Sword Lake and Ngoc Son Temple: Hanoi's most visited temple sits on a small island in Hoan Kiem Lake, connected to the shore by an elegant scarlet bridge. It also houses the stuffed remains of a much-revered giant turtle, reputedly several hundred years old when it died as a result of wounds sustained during an American air raid in 1967.

Lotus Water Puppet Theatre: Traditional Vietnamese water puppet show, featuring traditional Vietnamese music. Absolutely charming.

[Bonus Veterans Day Sidebar - We were walking by the lake and I passed an old Vietnamese gentleman proudly wearing his military medals. I nodded to him in respect. He responded with a smile and a salute. A good moment.]

Finally, in other news… since some of you apparently really want to know, here’s the word on our next (and last) State Department assignment, scheduled for fall 2017: