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VietNam



Hoi An

Date: Wed, 29 Nov 00 05:21AM EST
> My friend just got back from Hanoi and said it was pretty cool seein capitalization sneak in the back door there.
> Keep yer eyes open and yer fingers flyin!

More to come in the update, but ...

heh heh heh. capitalism is rampant everywhere, and we've seen only two towns, Danang and Hoi An. Hoi An is a tourist ghetto, but Danang has real city culture, and it's crazy. Like Nepal, or Thailand, people just dragging your arms and legs their direction and being general pests. Ahh tourism. We walked off the strips in hoi an, by just a block, and were soon on sandy paths behind people's homes, and all of a sudden, they were not only nice, but mannerly and reserved. Tourism is crazy. But if you ever want to spend a completely free vacation, after travel, in Thailand, I recommend working with the asoke folks. They even have cool river craft of all sizes. The food is vegan, and awesome.

more in the news, best wishes for rain and fun, Tom

Date: Wed, 29 Nov 00 05:20AM CST
and here we are. welcome to dot dot dot vietnam and the red star. will they let me through? there are geckos wrestling over territory on the ceiling. they make an amazing amount of noise for little critters. and looks like they bite hard. i think this place has been the most difficult to adjust to. folks actually grab at us for our attention. and boy do they sell hard. we flew into danang spent a day walking it, taking in a museum dedicated to cham sculpture. then taxied to hoi an, a small seaside town spared during the war(s). lots of quaint pastel french rather mossy architecture. most everyone rides bikes, 50%with motors.

on the way we stopped in at marble mountain, i tried to watch the folks chiseling the statues, but the salesfolks would have none of that, gots to buy. there were some beautiful dragons and dogs, though a three foot tall marble statue'd be right hard to lug around for the next couple weeks......and i can't imagine the shipping cost. we had talked about staying longer, but home dog and such beckon. tom and i are hoping to take you out to good italian on the way back from the airport. we've been dreaming about good bread, pasta and a nice bottle or two of red wine---great stuff for jet lag i imagine(?).

mushiness mona

Date: Wed, 29 Nov 00 05:41AM EST
There are still more to come, and thanks for forwarding the news.

I have wondered about a comparison of asoke buddhism to zen buddhism. I don't know much about zen, except maybe that they also focus tasks at hand. The only real meditation in Asoke is work. Hence, Buddhism with open eyes. I'll try to say more in a dispatch. there are some fanatics, but am told that usually the newer members are the most fanatical. it was simply impressive how we were able to live with a devout religious community and be allowed to live our own lives. contributing labor must of course help in that regard.

So far, in two days, we are shocked by the overwhelming capitalist tourist economy in the two towns we have visited. quite difficult to breathe. I am becoming convinced that international volunteerism may be the only way to visit another land without the stupidity of tourism.

thanks for writing, and hello to the family, Tom

Date: Wed, 29 Nov 00 06:01AM EST
> more about how you decided to make this trip sometime.

That's easy. One morning, as I was distilling some poppies and hacking your corporate WAN, I said to Mona, "Hey wife, let's go to Asia and become communists." The rest is a matter of planning, saving, and traveling. And we were already communists anyway. Now, I'm not so sure. The tofu tastes better in the land of genetically modified soycows.

As for thanksgiving, most people here seem to do it daily, before each meal. quite an interesting concept that might catch on in the West. There is some christmas decoration in Thailand, but most of it is related to new year's. Except for the massive Jesus Claus Tower which showers down myrrh balls and pokemon figurines to hopeless street children on their way to the Bangkok rice peeling factories.

One friend did have a wheat bird-shaped ball while on the commune, but we simply enjoyed the love and generosity of our new friends. It was all right. I mean left. Green.

Omnipotent love and omnipresent goofiness, Tom

Date: Tue, 05 Dec 00 05:17AM EST
Some of the hill tribes of VietNam still practice a circumcision ceremony, at age 13! The shaman holds the dinger and performs an air-cumcision. Not a blowjob, but a fake snip. Must have been the AIDS scare.

Hanoi rocks. totally. Cool ass place, with very interesting perspectives on various wars in the national museums. going on one last trek in the hills soon, then making our way back across the sea...

As we say here in Hanoi, Stay Radular, Tom

Date: Tue, 05 Dec 00 06:51AM EST
Subject: next country

ahhh..... the last days at the asoke. we spent time at the vegan restaurant in town. those ladies can cook! and they've great senses of humor-- at least 20dishes and small treats fly out of the kitchen until it closes at 2p, amid much laughter and english/thai language trading. they discovered i liked to garden and cook, i was piled with passion fruit seed and a new flower i've never seen before and tugged over to watch the making of "ghost balls" tofu-curries and the like. tom and i figured the best method to escape the 4am blare of monkly love was to get the hell out of bed and onto the early bus. the restaurant crew put us to work chopping mountains of veggies while stuffing us with this and that. for a commune that espouses eating only twice a day they made sure we were always stuffed. as we gathered up to leave that last day bags of bananas, bread, passion juice, and smiles descended. felt like leaving grandmom's house. our packs were stuffed to dragging weight.

and we dreamed our way to bangkok in styling berths clacking along the rails, too bad the us rail system isn't as user friendly. in bangkok we soaked up the western treats. settled in mall land--sucked down some pasta (with creamy sauce), a brew or two, a bit of hollywood. mmmm.... guess we're not cut out to be full time asoke members, opulent day. we checked out the branch of the asoke in bangkok, listened to bhodirach, and bowed down to buddha's bones at the top of the temple in progress-- a waterfall splashes down the center and flows through the tropical landscape, the place is a small oasis of green in the midst of bangkok's cement and traffic-- odd thing, that temple, not really in keeping with the simplistic life style of their sect..... but it is beautiful.

the next morning we were flying off to vietnam. culture shock has been ours. right out of the airport the touts are grabbing my arms and tugging me toward their taxis "where you go!?" the hard sell here rules. papers and passports are left at hotel desks-- a leap of faith, don't like to be separated from the all important paperwork-- so that we may be checked in with the "proper authorities". even the desk clerks push the sell, and to get off the tourist circuit must take explosive implements. cyclo drivers, peddle alongside us for blocks awaiting our imminent exhaustion either from physical exertion or a mental breakdown from their constant badgering. once in the cyclo, they continue to sell this and that, or better yet take you where they think you should go, rather than where you'd requested. even so, the people are not at all negative about our history. when told we're american they have all smiled and said, "we're friends now."

and just when i start to feel like everyone is leading into a sales pitch we run into a student who just wants to practice his/her english. the french influence makes for beautiful architecture in the old sections of the towns. faded yellow, blue, red, and green houses with shutters, tile roofs, geckos flick here and there, the walls rampant with blossoming vines. there are few cars here, most get around on two wheels about fifty percent with a motor attached. to cross the street is a bit like ferrying across a river, smooth steady progress- because there are 10 or more objects hurtling toward you at various speeds with wildly varying masses and it isn't possible to find a clear break or even keep track of what is where. 1-5 people may be aboard a bike, no helmets, they may have colossal loads of bricks, bananas, chickens, a baby or two, one guy may be peddling while the fellow in front sitting side saddle on the crossbar steers-there aren't lines in the middle of the street to indicate oncoming's lane- cars just start up with the horn blowing (the doppler effect is wild- especially if you're riding in the cyclo with pieplate eyes looking at the oncoming honking vehicle-- the weird fade out means they missed...)

the women do wear the conical hats, and pajamas, they carry their loads to market balanced on either end of a pole resting on their shoulders. here in hanoi we keep seeing men in the green viet cong style helmets. the market food is awesome, and the coffee they serve up could walk down the street on it's own--then they add a wallop of sweetened condensed milk--- it's intense, but good. we took in the air force museum today--- words like glorious, shining example, imperialist were frequent. the slant against the americans and for the communists felt so cliche'd-- surreal. meanwhile i'm reading a book by a north vietnamese soldier that could have been written by any of the vietnam vets i've spoken with while working at the VA. wars make governments happier than people as always i suppose. tom pounds along beside me--- filling in the blanks.

hope all is well! mona

Date: Tue, 05 Dec 00 06:58AM EST
Subject: Hanoi Rocks

Chaa! That's something like hello, thank-you, or comrade. Still working on the simple bits, here in Hanoi. Thankfully, the big city is big and bustling enough to provide some relief from the standard tourist towns that we went through. But more on that after a final update from Asoke world. As you may recall, Mona and I had escaped from the rice farms for a couple of nights R&R at the Tokyo Hotel in Ubon Ratchathani, the Lotus City, in far East Thailand, near Cambodia and Laos.

The next morning we met up with our other volunteer friends, and we hired a van for the trip down to Phra Wiharn, an ancient Khmer temple ruins, sitting impressively on the escarpment overlooking Cambodia and southern Laos. the park entrance is in Thailand, but the ruins and the gate to them are in Cambodia. We never quite determined for which side the military folks worked for, since they both have black uniforms, and the ones we asked gave conflicting answers. Regardless, none of them would allow us to mess with the artillery poised along the edge, aimed at Khmer Rouge country. more interesting interactions were with the hawkers. young men from Phnom Pen would ride up for the day and offer to take polaroid snapshots, or to sell us postcards, or maybe even join in a game of cards. the women sold defunct Khmer money, which was indeed beautiful, but not worth even the lowest prices. They also sold opium pipes, buddhas, hats - all the standard tourist goodies.

What they might not have expected, was my sitting down with them to enjoy some chili spiced apple kind of fruit, and watch them work. We exchanged names and then began what has become for me a fairly typical conversation. Ask how you pronounce everything you can see, then start asking about family, and in this case, ask about the recent wars. It was a good location for this, because I could learn to speak not only Thai and Khmer, but also Lao. Of course, that's all mostly forgotten now, which is a good thing. If I still knew Khmer, that might mean that I ended up with a Khmer wife, which was part of most the offers that day. Not that having more than one wife is a big deal in Thailand. After the first, you collect minor wives. They have all the same legal privileges as the first, and I won't even pretend to understand any more than that. But it brings us back to week two in Ratchathani Asoke. Asoke Buddhism was begun in the mid-70's as a reform movement to bring the state sponsored monks, the Sangha back to the teachings of Buddha, and away from the hedonisitic tendencies of the general Thai populace. Asoke monks practice a very strict buddhism, in that they avoid sex, intoxicants, animal products, nightlife, possessions. they also, as I mentioned before gain a great deal of respect by meditating through work, hence the title of the book , "Buddhism With Open Eyes". 

Since we took not one, but two days off, we missed the final days of the rice harvest. Rats. We suggested that we would greatly enjoy working in the Asoke restaurant in town, so that is where we worked for most fo the week. We chopped vegetables, pressed tofu, and joined in the next harvest, passion fruit. A dump truck had unloaded a full load of the little fruits behind the restaurant, and those without anything better to do, including a few monks and nuns, spent their days slicing the fruits, then scooping the guts into plastic buckets. These gallons and gallons of juice were then frozen for making juice in the coming months. the machine to make the juice is interesting. It's a cheesecloth sack hung from a couple of bars that swing back and forth while a person stirs the inside and prods from the outside. It is the same machine that strains the soy milk during the tofu process. We also spent one day converting a boiled herb into instant tea, much like the sugary instant tea in the US. We bagged it, as well as ginger, and chrysanthemum tea, but I can't remember which one we actually cooked down. First you boil a huge clump of it in a giant wok, then you scoop portions of that tea into other giant woks, and add about 20 pounds of sugar per wok. Boil this down, which is a wonderful study in nonlinear turbulence, until poof, all of a sudden the wok is full of crystals resembling gooey sand. Sift these into a bucket, and off they go to the bagging area, where we filled each little plastic bag by hand and ran them through a bag sealer.

It was a fun education in the industrial sides of Asoke, but not the kind of work I would gravitate towards, should I return. We also loaded a truck with about 150 100-lb sacks of rice, and sent it off to Bangkok. It's was gratifying to partake in the ages-old process of shipping the agricultural goods to market. All in all, we had a wonderful second week. One of the key changes was that we would awake at four, once the loudspeaker cranked up, and would catch a bus into town or somewhere - anywhere! We have learned that loudspeakers are not only common in communes, they are also common in many agricultural areas in Thailand, and of course, in most parts of Viet Nam, and likely throughout southeast Asia. In time they will be replaced, I am sure, by Karaoke. Mona and I caught another sleeper train to Bangkok, and this time stayed in Siam Center, which is a part of the city reminiscent of Times Square. So much for nonmaterialism. We did travel up to the Bangkok branch of the Asoke, though, where we enjoyed one last day of Asoke living. they have built an amazing compound on the outskirts of the city (actually still well within the urban area).

Within a couple of city blocks, they have created a little garden paradise, complete with a two-story waterfall, swimming ponds, and sandy pathways. After the visit, we went back to Siam Center, and watched a funny movie, Nurse Betty. Some of the best parts were the previews. Plenty of sarcastic episodes of people dealing with body odor, bad eating habits, and then we all stood for a tribute to the king. The flight to Danang was uneventful, customs a little slow, and a fairly cheap taxi ride to a hotel we chose from a guidebook. Then came a whole new round of culture shock! The Vietnamese are relentless capitalists, those who make their living selling stuff. We were hounded, prodded, greeted, and cajoled until we would duck into a cafe, or the hotel, to catch our breaths. And we are told that things have really mellowed out since '97!

Danang is a nice city to fly into, though. It's along the river, and there are plenty of non-tourist businesses, all over town. The main one seems to be mopeds. The streets are packed with mopeds and motorbikes, and the sidewalks are packed even more with new ones waiting to be sold. there is a museum there that we visited, the Cham Museum, that is worth seeing. Many of the impressive features from the centuries old Cham temples of central Vietnam, those that hadn't already been removed, reside there, and it is an excellent introduction to yet another culture that I never heard of before. We then hired a car down to Hoi An, an old port city, with Chinese, Japanese, and French architecture, vying for attention under the roar of hustlers luring us towards any of a hundred shops where they make fine suits and dresses.

Mona and I are both a bit burned out on buying things that locals think we want, especially lame euro food, and we decided not to have any clothes made. That freed us to tour the various homes, bridges, and pagodas that were up to three hundred years old, while people cajoled us to go anywhere, but where we were going. It's a beautiful town, but I would say that to enjoy central Vietnam, you should probably just fly there for a week or two with the intention of buying everything you see, or else, move there and hide out in a straw hat and bandana mask. Good luck either way. They're crafty people! We then caught an aircon bus up to Hue, the ancient capital. More of the same. The bus would only take us to hotels they approved of. I finally got off and hired a couple of cyclo drivers to haul us across the river to our chosen hotel. even they drove us past, to a hotel that they approved of! At that point, I refused to play anymore, and insisted on going to a hotel that was supposed to be cheap, clean, and friendly. It actually did look like a dive, but it was cheap, clean, and quite friendly. It was also next to the ancient citadel, and away from all of the tourist hawkers, so the location was excellent. By the way, a cyclo is a three wheel bicycle, where the driver sits atop the lone rear wheel and pushes a little wagon in front. It's very much like riding in a stroller, and is a wild way to weave through Vietnamese traffic!


Hue

Most of the drivers in the south are re-educated sophisticates from the American War, so they are quite friendly, and speak English well. From our super-tourist cool location, we enjoyed the massive market, streetside soup stands and cafes, and even walked (no cyclo! crazy!) to the Citadel. The Citadel is a fortress within a fortress where the Ngyuen King used to preside, I think before abdicating to Ho Chi Minh. My history may not be perfect here. I think it also changed hands between the imperialist dogs and the communists. Most of it is now actually community gardens, but a few buildings remain. Even there, young men would follow us around and ask us why we didn't have a guide. Again, I might suggest to the reader that you simply give in to the VN way, and always have a guide with you. You are then someone's turf, and everyone else leave you alone! Sort of. The train up to the north country was different from the rides in Thailand. first of all, there's cages on the windows so that kids can't throw rocks at the glass or into your car. The screen wouldn't be too bad to peer through, except that it makes cleaning the windows an impossible task, so the windows are now thick with dust and some mold. We could still enjoy a french impressionist version of the countryside.

Quite beautiful, and not overwhelmingly destitute the way parts of Nepal and Thailand look. Most of the ride we slept through, and we awoke in Hanoi. Hanoi is beautiful! Old buildings, stone sidewalks, lakes everywhere, and the capitalists can take "no" for an answer! Of course, there are pleasant internet cafes, cool nightclubs, and some English bookstores, which are quite hard to find elsewhere. There are many variations on the spring roll and noddle soup, paintings, sculpture, and pleasant music. We watched a performance of the centuries-old water puppet theater, which is beautiful and entertaining, but I will save Hanoi for the next note, when we will look back on it, our stay with Joe Peters, and our upcoming trek, from, once again, Bangkok. Until then, happy half-moon!

Tom

Date: Wed, 06 Dec 00 06:03AM EST
hi ho! the travels have been refreshing, and all locations fun and interesting. time soon to pack it all up, load that jet airliner with baskets, buddhas, and fighting cocks, and sail for flyover country - good ol bloomington! I have run across a few interesting job adverts in the classifieds, but I reckon we'll hang out in the boring ol US for a while! Jorke at one time referred to the US that way, way down south in San Jose. best wishes for a happy snow season!

Love, Tom and Mona

Date: Sat, 09 Dec 00 07:45AM EST
still coming home. vietnam has helped with trip separation woes. the hard sell-tourist circuit makes me feel tired. though it is still lovely. did three days of tourist laden limestone karst, national park, and pagodas. really lovely, lots of rice wine, an excellent guide-- finally i have some understanding of all those statues of mandarins in the vietnamese pagodas are...... but the three hour boat ride with the lady selling embroidery, t shirts, postcards and the ubiquitous colas almost did me in. these folks make their real living selling once you've gotten into the boat (it was about 10feet long and 4 feet wide, no escaping her). any way. more monday

mushiness mona

Date: Tue, 12 Dec 00 23:51PM EST
looking forward to seeing you! and thanks hugely for coming to fetch us! if we're still coherent we're hoping to enjoy dinner with you. culture and temperature shock coming on soon. see you soon, sleep well! thanks again!

love mona


Hanoi

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Date: Wed, 13 Dec 00 17:10PM EST
Subject: Work is Glory. Happiness to Everybody!

Hi Friends, I know you have all been waiting for weeks now for the end of this craziness, what with the constant updates and spin emanating from both camps. However, I must inform you that there will be no resolution to this entire affair until we arrive in Bloomington and prepare a closing address. Both parties are presently in duty-free limbo as we await our passage back to the square office.

The recent tour through Vietnam was at times enlightening, at times excruciating. I can sum it up this way. If you are considering a visit, consider doing so either as a volunteer or other mode of work. Tourism is generally a massive funnel into a few massively over-toured traps, filled with hawkers of generally uninteresting items. The national parks seem to be pleasant reprieves from this madness, especially if you can walk far away from it all. Our most enjoyable moments were when we were in someone's house, either JoeDai's in Hanoi, or the Muong villager's house near Cuc Phuong National Park. It is a beautiful country, with beautiful people, but the capitalist fervor surrounding the average tourist can be difficult to breathe through. More later, with a conclusion, from the home base. In the air again,

Tom and Mona


Date: Mon, 18 Dec 00 07:46AM EST
Subject: UNSUBSCRIBE

Our most recent journey landed us in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. The people here seem friendly enough, although they sure do wear a lot of clothes. The food is a bit greasy, but at least it doesn't have that undertone of sweetness prevalent in most Thai and Vietnamese dishes. We were met at the airport by our good friend Cheri, who was thoughtful enough to help us fit into the local culture by bringing puffy feather-filled garments. We drove down to the quaint little town that could, Blooomington, and quaffed some of the local pub brew. We then drove home, where a big fluffy black dog greeted us. I gave her some secret, knowing scritches, and she welcomed us into her - and our - abode.

We've spent a couple of days recovering, and are presently working on getting the cars to run and some photos developed. The blankets of snow are beautiful. Thankfully, the house is warm. I am sure it will be another brutally challenging winter for the people of the Himalaya. As we fix the truck up for the journey down to Florida to see my family, we will recall the hundreds of options available to Asians who travel overland: buses, trains, pickup trucks, cars; far more than available to us: one bus, one train, drive away car or rental car. Cars are a preferred mode for obvious reasons, but they would be much more preferable if they ran on coconut diesel, a fuel being used now in Thailand, during their petrol crisis.

I don't have much more to offer by way of conclusion. People are people so why should it be you and I should get along so awfully. America is beholden to the permanent corporate government. Greed and desire are no more natural human tendencies than sharing and cooperation. Christ was not the only enlightened human. Some even say that the holy man Yesu died much later, in India, long after his crucifixion and departure from his tomb. So, have a merry Christmas, and remember all of those around us with lesser fortunes.

This is the final transmission to this list from my account. Thanks for reading! Mona may have more to say, on her list. Thanks also to everyone who wrote. Your words made our travels even more exciting, as we incorporated the world a half day behind us - whatever that means - into our daily adventures. Wishing you a new year filled with good health and strong friendships,

Tom and Mona

Date: Fri, 19 Jan 01 11:32AM EST
sorry i'm so slow. after the travels i've been loath to spend time with email. doesn't help that our computer is getting older and more cantankerous --- its most recent method of protest is to be incredibly slow pulling up messages and such -- just checking email can take a good 15 min even when the inbox is empty. yup, back home again in indiana. which is truly fine, the trip was incredible, but i was ready to be still and try to absorb the experiences. i think more volunteer/work time would be my goal for future travels...





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