Last Day In Country

Checked out of the hotel and did some last minute shopping. Going off the grid for lunch. Meeting Emma at Hanoi Taco Bar.

Tacos in Vietnam, it turns out, may have been a bad idea. Experiencing a touch of tourista. Enough said about that.

It was really tough for me to say fair well to Emma. She is truly a remarkable young woman. She seems happy here in Hanoi and appears to have good friends and enjoys the work she is doing. This may not be the life I would choose for myself but I am going on 72 and am from another era. I often say that we raised our children to be capable and independent. Easy to say but the internalizing the reality puts a knot in my stomach worse than the Hanoi taco I ate.

Jim picked up his suit, it looks great on him.

I think Jim is beginning to like to dress well. That would be another characteristic he will have gotten from his grandfather. Dad always dressed well and was never without shined shoes. By the way, it is truly uncanny how much Jim looks like Dad.

We made it to the airport early. There are so few international flights (in USA we are told to get to the airport three hours ahead) that we were not able to check in until a little less than two hours before the flight.

Made it to Korea. Tina saw a gal from Porter’s getting on another flight. There were also some students from Suffield that Jim recognized. That must have been the prep school special.

Twelve hours to Chicago, that says it all.

Layovers in Inchan and Chicago seemed endless. Cab to Grand Central, Metro North to New Haven and Ubered home. Thirty six hours of travel, ugh!

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Ninh Binh

Today we did a tour of Nimh Binh. Ninh Binh is geologically like Halong Bay; except the mountains stand on farmland instead of water. A two hour bus ride gets us to the area. Tina booked the tour yesterday evening. This would not have been an issue except for the fact that it is New Year’s Eve, which is big travel holiday, so many of the tours were booked but tour she got us was great.

The tour guide was named “Hi”. This young gal, like Tony in Halong Bay, was from a rural farm village. She lives in Hanoi while working and going to university full time. She is also supporting her two sisters who live with her, another testimony to the industry of the people here.

There was only one other Western couple on the tour. They were from Reims, France. Their limited English and my lack of any French limited the conversation.

First a visit to Hoa Lu, the first capital of Vietnam. The temples are beautiful and the history is, in Tina’s words, almost old testament.

Next we went off on a river tour through some spectacular scenery and also some river caves. The boatmen often paddle using their feet. I cannot imagine doing this for an hour and a half. I also felt much less than chivalrous letting a Vietnamese gal do this for the three of us, so I was compelled to give a nice tip.

We also had a quick bike ride through the town, which seemed to be an odd time filler in the tour.

Then we had a climb to a shrine at the top of a mountain. 500 treacherous steps. Jim is agile enough for it, I am not.

Then back to Hanoi in the middle of New Year’s Eve traffic.

We went directly to dinner. Jim chose to go to “Chicken” street. He had heard of it from Emma. The food was delicious! Guess what we had… chicken. They must use the white meat for Pho because they only had legs thighs and wings here. And chicken feet, Jim ate a foot.

The traffic back to the hotel was spectacular.

Went to bed before midnight. Happy New year to all.

Last Day in Phu Quoc

We are off to the other side of the island today. The hope is that we will not encounter another downpour.

ATM’s are intermittent things here. One will work one day but not the next. I had the guy at the hotel take me to one this morning. There were three in one place. The third one worked on the fourth try. I was getting a little concerned because the restaurant last night didn’t take credit cards due to a power failure earlier. However, it makes me feel like J Paul Getty to pull 1,000,000 out of an ATM machine. Bye the way, there are no coins here.

Opted for a beach on the northwest part of the island at a resort called Gold Coast. We are truly fortunate, the beach is beautiful with white sand and a gentle surf and lined with coconut palms. The mountains of Cambodia can be seen to the northwest.

Emma was weary so she did not join us for dinner. Had pretty much the same fare.

It is easy to see the ugliness here. There is a lot of poverty and squalor. Trash is everywhere. But, there is great beauty as well. The beaches are beautiful the sky is spectacular with cumulus clouds in the distance and the water is clear and blue. The people are friendly happy and hard working.

The wedding next door was still going full blast when we got back to the hotel. Heard that there was a happening regarding the wedding. The music stopped later.

Traveling to Hanoi on another Vietnamese airline. I will be so happy to board a US plane. Boarding a Vietnamese plane is the definition of a cluster. Whats the hurry? the seats are assigned. Have I missed something? Does the first person to reach there seat on each row get a free beer?

Arriving in Hanoi we encountered the coldest weather in ten years. We left 80 degrees in Phu Quoc and landed in 40 degrees in Hanoi.

Jim went for the fitting of his suit when we got back. I think it will really look great on him.

Jim will be able to pick up the suit the day we leave.

Tomorrow we will be taking our last tour. We will go to Nimh Binh.

Tina bought a North Face jacket for the trip, Well, a knockoff like mine. If it lasts the Nimh Binh tour, it will be good. I think it actually looks great.

Phu Quoc 2

Put on your leathers and start your Hogs. The Vietnam Hell’s Angels have arrived. Which way to Sturgis?

While the guys are off to explore, Tina and I are going to spend time at the pool, and perhaps back to the beach.

I will have to admit that I am the one that had a crash on my scooter. It’s counterintuitive to me that exceleration is twist down. I was making a turn and wanted to slow. I twisted the wrong way and the scooter came out from under me. No harm but mightily embarrassing.

Jim and Emma ventured out to the center of the island to see some sights

Tina and I stayed by the pool. We met some interesting people pool side from all over the world.

  1. Arizona
  2. UK
  3. Germany
  4. Denmark

It was good to have a down day, and it was good that Jim and Emma were able to get away from parents for a while.

On our way to dinner

Made it to dinner OK. Great meal again.

Then the rain started. Had a delay getting the bill. There was a great soaking on the way back to the hotel on scooters.

There is a wedding at the facility next to where we are staying. I was asking the front desk about it. Here, a wedding is a two day event. We are fortunately at the opposite side of the resort, and they appear to be a lively bunch.

At home we sometimes respond to someone’s trivial complaint by responding “well, that is a first world problem”. Here, we have come to appreciate the meaning of that response. We are very blessed people. We can get anything we want when we want it. We have opportunities for education, and we can advance ourselves with hard work, some smarts and a little luck. Here life is hard, and it is a struggle to make a life for yourself and provide an opportunity for your children, unless you are part of the elite. Yes, there is an elite class here in the comunist workers paradise.

How very blessed I am to be able to send my children to elite schools and world class universities, to send them to foreign lands to study what they please. This blessing comes to sharp focus when, here in Vietnam, I see a child acting as a waitress in her family “restaurant” to get a little practice with English. I learned that English is taught here in high school but there is a lack of resources. It is mostly taught at home. It is, I believe, a universal truth that the first principal of being a parent is to do the best one can possibly do for your children.

Speaking of education, I was remarking to a fellow that the penmanship of the locals is very good. He pointed out that the Vietnamese alphabet is so complex with it’s dots, dashes and squiggles that good penmanship is a necessity. It is a complaint of mine that good penmanship is lost in US, and our devices are making it irrelevant.

The policies of the government appear to be bringing opportunity to the struggling proletariat. I am sure that there are some negatives that come along with this expansion. I pray that the decision makers are wise, considering of the less fortunate, and extending some of the largesse to them in ways that will be good for their children’s future.

I encounter few references to the American War. I was talking with a self proclaimed history buff from UK at the pool. (Well, where else do first world people discuss the finer points of the state of the world). Anyway, he pointed out that the American War was just the end of a seventy year struggle. We were just one more comparatively small step in their national history. That was enlightening to me as the Vietnam War looms so very large in my mind and I believe it was so very important in our national development.

I was reading today some old essays by Charles Krauthammer, pool side of course, I was reminded that Vietnam, like Korea, were hot spots in the extended Cold War. Although we eventually won the cold war, these two hot conflicts came to unsettling ends. In the case of Korea, a cease fire at the original boundary and for Vietnam, our pulling out in accordance with the Paris Pease Accords.

Would you believe it, I have a first world problem to deal with, we are low on toilet paper in our room. I do not believe I will complain mightily about this catastrophy.

Phu Quoc

If we were not remote enough in Hanoi, we are today heading to the island of Phu Quoc. It is off the southern coast of Vietnam, very close to Cambodia. We planned to go to Phu Quoc to get some beach weather. However, the weather here in the north has been really good. I understand that Phu Quoc is developing really fast and prices are rising tremendously. Again, it looks like we will be at the last affordable time. We shall soon see.

We have left a bunch of our gear at Emma’s apartment. We are still, in my opinion, lugging too much stuff.

Before we left, Jim got fitted for a new suit, his first tailor made one. The suits are really affordable in Hanoi. We had measurements today, and a fitting when we get back from Phu Quoc. The suit should be finished the day we leave. It should look pretty good if the display ones we saw are any indication. Jim had fun with the process and plans to wear it home.

We will be taking a local Vietnamese airline. Emma arranged for the tickets. She had to pay for them at the local K Mart. Interesting.

Well, we found that we were unceremoniously pushed to a later flight. No big deal. Boarding was a grand happening. Everyone gets into line then the Germans and the Chinese rush the flanks to get better spots. What a cluster, it was either orchestrated by P T Barnum or the three stooges. We all got on OK, and then the real show started. The flight attendants shunted individuals and groups around the plane. I don’t know what that was all about but fun to watch.

Made it to the resort, seems to be a good place. We are a short walk to a great beach.

We spent most of the day at the beach today. Did not take the phone so I was not able to take photos. Maybe I will be able to get one from Jim or Emma. It’s a typical beach scene, mostly Scandinavians and Russians on the beach. There is great food served from some locals on the beach.

I do not believe that there is a lot of multitasking here. It took an hour to get lunch from the gal on the beach. Emma just ordered a fruit plate when we returned to the pool, twenty minutes. Things are done precisely and one thing at a time. Not a problem if anticipated beforehand.

We went for dinner across the street from the resort. A very small family place. The children were doing homework on the main table when we arrived. The daughter was the waitress, nine years old and in her pajamas. A giant thunderstorm started; we were moved under a shelter. Had a wonderful home cooked meal.

I am truly blessed to be able to bring my family here. What a great experience for me and, I hope something positive for Emma to be able to share the country and people she has come to admire.

Halong Bay

Today we are on our way to Halong Bay where we will be doing an overnight cruise.

The first thing I will do is check the name of the boat. If it is the “Minnow” I am going to start lobbying to be Gilligan. I will lose that part to Jim who always gets the lead role. Tina and Emma will both want to be Maryanne. Tina will get that part as Emma will be cast as Ginger – alas, that is what happens when you dye your hair blond. So much for my pathetic try at humor.

The boat was named “Camilla,” by the way. The other passengers included a family from Texas and their friends, a family living in Ho Chi Minh City – the Dad is at the US State Dept there, a couple from Italy and a couple from Ireland. This is a small boat: they served copious amounts of food and our guide was a fellow named Tony, that cannot be his real name. Tony is great, very personable, funny and knowledgeable.

The tour we are doing of Halong Bay starts in Lan Ha Bay. This is supposed to be less crowded. It’s still touristy but the spectacular beauty of the place Trump’s anything negative. We were able to kayak in a sheltered bay and go through sea caves. Lucky travelers are able to see monkeys in the area. We did not see any monkeys.

Below are some pictures of the area. They do not adequately relate the beauty and serenity of the place.

Tina and I did tai chi and we all took a course on making spring rolls. Tina was the star.

We returned to Hanoi on Christmas Eve. We will be having dinner with Emma and her friend James who also works at her school.

The next day, Christmas, was spent in Hanoi. We spent some time shopping in the old quarter. We did not find much to buy, everything blurs into a sameness.

Had an early dinner with Emma and her friend Pearl.

I retired early. Jim and Tina joined Emma later this evening.

Tomorrow we are going to Phu Quoc, a new adventure

Spa treatments

Today was a day to get things done. We did the laundry, and shopped while waiting for the expedited wash to be completed. Later Tina and Emma went for a spa treatment. Jim and I had street food. It was really good, and I did not get sick. Jim got a shave and haircut. I thought it would take maybe half an hour as it is at home. It turned out to be quite a treatment. I suspect that he was not expecting such a production either. The hot towels after the shave took forty minutes.

Tonight we had dinner with Emma and a bunch of her friends. What a great group of young professionals. Pearl is a native Vietnamese educated in England. Pearl has a lovely BBC accent, which was initially a surprise when I first met her. Her grandfather fought in the American war. Davin and Kaylin are Canadian, she is from Toronto, and he is from Vancouver. They are both educators and their love of what they do flows out of them to all. It is truly pleasing to me that Emma has such great friends.

Dinner was at a place that is operated by a guy featured on Top Chef. Pearl chose the menu. It was a highlight of the trip. We must have been interesting patrons because the staff came to the table with Ruou Gao a Vietnamese rice wine to do a traditional toast – Mot, hi, ba, yo! “One, two, three, drink!”

We will then get ready for the trip to Halong Bay.