“Good Morning, Vietnam.”

I’m sure at least one of the three readers of this blog was expecting me to write that, at some point. So I may as well get it out of the way. I saw the namesake of that title in the cinema when it came out in 1987. Of course, since the US and Vietnam weren’t exactly on good terms at that time, the film was actually shot in Thailand. It’s worth seeing because it’s one of the few movie roles that allowed Robin Williams to do what he did best-improvisation. All of his DJ ranting was made up on the spot. When he was hemmed in with written dialogue, he often seemed rather strained, in my opinion. The film was “based on actual events” which is Hollywoodspeak for, “this movie bears little resemblance to actual events.”  But, as always, I digress.

It’s day two, here in Hanoi. Yesterday, was an amazing day spent mostly on the back of Soviet-built 1950’s era motorcycles traveling near and far. Yesterday, I miswrote that it was a Vespa tour. Also, the Russian-built jeep I mentioned, failed to materialize because it was “non-operative.” (Note: “Russian-built” and “non-operative” are often collocations.*)

My overall impressions so far: Hanoi is a fascinating city. Aesthetically, it’s nothing special to look at but I find it utterly compelling and charming. Much more so than Phnom Penh which has the same frenetic energy but isn’t nearly as clean or organized and I felt an inchoate unease when walking around there. Both cities have traffic patterns that are completely off the rails and make China’s city traffic look positively pastoral. But what has really struck me is how friendly the people here are. Everyone seems gracious, polite and eager to go out of their way to be accomodating. I will say more in the large array of photos posted below. It just makes me all the more enraged that America attacked this beautiful country because we didn’t like the way they wanted to conduct their internal affairs. In retrospect, I am all the more glad that I participated in demonstrations to protest that war to the degree that a twelve year old was capable of understanding and opposing a county’s foreign policy. Boy, aren’t we all glad that America learned its lesson from that disasterous episode and we no longer invade other countries because they aren’t enough like us.** My next blog post will include a visit to the “Hanoi Hilton” of John McCain fame. You won’t want to miss what I have to say about that.

*Apologies to the Russians. I couldn’t resist saying the joke. In reality, I have a tremendous (if misplaced) affection for Russia and Russians.

**That was an ill-tempered sarcastic joke, of course.

 

We began our day meeting up at a Catholic church (built in 1901) with a couple from the bay area, coincidently.

“Easy riders.” All set for our first stop. What else? Food.

A couple of our drivers.

We spent a fair number of hours sitting on these machines.

Our five motorcycles went through a maze of alleyways coming within inches of other cycles, cars and people. This was not for the faint of heart.

 

Arrivng in a market area. Sitting down to lunch at an outdoor kitchen. The food was outstanding.

Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. Thanks to the efforts of our guide, we skipped the line and got in without the usual hour long wait. Like with Mao, it was all very solemn and serious. We were ushered through a darkened room and Ho was in a glass coffin looking like he was asleep. Obviously, there are no photos of that.

 

“All hail Marx and Lenin.”- Firesign Theater

Getting ready to depart the Ho Chi Minh memorial to head out of the city into the countryside. It was at this point we were told we wouldn’t be taking the Russian jeep. We would be on the motorcycles which was more challenging than just kicking back and taking a relaxing drive. Thankfully, at the end of our day, we took taxis back to the city.

After about a 45 minute drive from Hanoi, we came to a delta and drove our motorcycles right onto a ferry for a short ride across the water. We were going to have lunch with a couple in their home in a small village.

“I’m going up the country…”

Getting ready to enjoy lunch with a local, older couple in their home.

Their backyard looked like a Fellini movie ready to come to life.

Lunchtime with the Thiệu’s. They were such gracious hosts. We drank an entire bottle of their homemade “moonshine” made from rice, which every rural family makes. Apparently, we were the first visitors to finish an entire bottle. It was quite good, actually.

Lunch was way beyond what we were expecting. Everything was delicious. There was simply too much of it.

After lunch, we enjoyed some tea with Mr. and Mrs. Thiệu. He is 76 years old (I had guessed his age to be 55. Yikes!) and naturally, I had to ask him about the Vietnam war. He was living here and said this area was bombed and a 500 pound bomb fell nearby but was a dud, fortunately. He has no hard feelings toward Americans.

When we were finished with tea, Mrs. Thiệu invited everyone to make springrolls.

After lunch, in the backyard of the Thiệu’s home.

Mr. Thiệu with my beautiful daughter, Sophie. He looks quite young for 76.

After we had lunch we wandered through a warren of alley passages…

Narrow alley after narrow alley, we made our way, to where, we had no idea.

When we finally emerged from the alleys we were in an area devoted to pottery making and selling. We visited a handful of pottery studios. Not exactly sure why, but it was interesting nonetheless.

After seeing the various pottery making shops we went into the nearby shopping area which was street after street and stall after stall of finished pottery. The entire shopping area was devoted to selling these types of items in countless varieties.

 

For our final stop, we made our own pottery. It wasn’t something we were expecting to do, but “when in Rome….”

This girl was also making a clay pot. She’s wearing a “badger” shirt from Sophie’s university. How random is that? Stay tuned for when I’m wearing my “badger dad” shirt

Sophie striking a pose.

After dinner, Sophie and I went out for drinks. We sat on the balcony of a bar overlooking the lake near our hotel in the Old Quarter. Even though this was a prime location, drinks were very cheap. $2.00 for a gin/tonic and $4.00 for a L.I. Ice Tea.

 

 

 

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