12 July 2009

Vietnam: Of Motorcycles, Beaches and Bamboo

A stroll through Hoi An can be quite therapeutic. Avoiding motorcycles while dreamily walking through narrow alleyways, dodging motorcycles in the small aisle between stalls in the canvas-covered food market while trying not to step on a display of jackfruit or vegetables arrayed on a woven rice mat on the floor, crossing the street with a mouth-to-toe covered woman with Vietnamese hat just swerving at high speed from one side and a motorcycle with a 2m tree on each side approaching fast from the other, drinking iced coffee in the shadow of a frangipani tree and an old woman with two large cardboards full of sunglasses strapped over the shoulder, trying to sell you one.

Walking along the riverside promenade and respectfully observing a motorcycle taxi with two rather rotund English girls holding on to the driver, laughing (probably only until her bum hits the handle frame while speeding over the next bump at 40km/h).

These are a few of my first impressions in Hoi An, an otherwise rather laid back place if it wasn't for the flocks of French, Australian and even Asian tourists and the rows and rows of shops selling everything from arts and crafts, cutlery to lampions and lacquer kitchen ware to communist memorabilia (red ties with yellow stars on them – the Vietnamese flag). Aike finds the whole place looks much more beautiful at night, once the art, souvenir and tailoring shops close and, as I should see later, it's true, as only then you can admire the slightly Chinese-inspired architecture. Some houses in fact reminded me of Melaka. And the city is being kept in just as clean by the town council for the tourists.

Mango juice, lemon juice over Cao Lao (speak: Gau Lau), a local speciality, while admiring the sunset over the riverside. Needless to say, on my first day I had already forgotten that I actually had a job to return to in a galaxy far far way.

Aike's flat is rather funkily situated at the back of a mobile phone shop you have to walk through. A sad lonely fish s swimming in a basin under the wooden staircase. I am sure it's throwing off enough fortune (Feng Shui!) for Aike's landlady is sure a rich woman (more on that in another post!). The family who runs the shop actually sleeps in the shop, on a mat on the floor. That does not necessarily indicate that they are poor, they perhaps just want to make sure their shop is not broken into. We sometimes see them watching the TV they put on a chair when we open the front grille to park the motorcycle in the house.

It's fascinating to see what people can carry on their motorcycles. Half a farm, a young forest and even a car full of timber. Least appetisingly, over-stuffed cages of pigs: another reason to go halal...!

A trip to the beach
If I hadn't read that Da Nang is also famous for its sandy beaches and warm, shallow water, you could have easily told by the popularity of the beach among locals, especially from sunset onwards, when there is less danger of getting a tan. If your lucky, you can spot a jellyfish (which they might sell on the side of the road for cooking), if you are less lucky, it will even touch you. Neither happened to me.

After paying to leave our motorcycles at the motorcycle stand (a very Vietnamese thing, you pay someone a few dong, they give you a piece of paper with a number and will write it on your seat with chalk), we head for a beautiful bamboo cafe/bar towards the quieter end of the beach. The roof, the fence, the supporting pillars, the bar, all made from bamboo. There is a bucket with water to wash your feet if you come from swimming with a bamboo cup swimming in it. The changing room/toilet at the back, while surrounded by solid wall and privately facing trees has a bamboo revolving door that you can lock with a wooden bar. You can put your clothes on bamboo hooks fixed for your convenience. The toilet seat itself is made of bamboo – no, just joking! Aike, Nhung and me lie on wooden stretchers, facing the sea and drinking mango shakes in the breeze. Nhung is reading Dostojewski, Aike is dreaming of a new European currency and I? I just feel very content with myself.

There is an admirable bowl-shaped tiny Vietnamese round boat (used for fishing) parked in the “front yard” of our hut, it looks more like an over-sized fruit bowl than sth you can actually navigate around in by sticking poles into the sand. It looks fun to try out but I wonder at the same time how many Vietnamese people were desperate enough in the war to attempt to flee hostile shores by driving these boats far out into the sea and perhaps died one or the other way in the process.

On the ride back, my hair flies in the wind and Nhung and me past the rice paddies...

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