Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thailand - Lovely Island of Phuket

(click photo to enlarge)

Phuket (pronounced pook-it)

Calm waters today on the 5th anniversary of the Tsunami

(see link)

Hello little tuk-tuk * island taxi

A view from above the island looking west across the Andaman Sea

roadside altar at night

The Phraphuttaruup (images of the Buddha) cannot be bought; they are "rented" for one can never "own" an image of the Buddha

I hiked out of town one day and up an oh-so-steep hill to watch the sunset

and saw this sign

and five minutes later, I thought I heard - why yes, an elephant snort behind me!

At some places in the Phuket and Phang Nga provinces, elephants were used to move and lift heavy wreckage to search for Tsunami victims and to clear the roads. On one beach, a man was leading an elephant to entertain tourists and when the tsunami came, he put several children on the elephant's back and saved them from the flood - an elephant ark


It was almost dark on the way down but I saw this baby eating palm grass by the side of the road ***

Jaclyn, what do you think about that?

So, really Phuket was a lot of this...

in front of me,

above me,
and beside me.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

More incense...

From a Chinese temple in Chinatown (yes, HCM has a Chinatown)

The temples and pagodas and the many altars along the road have definitely charmed me -- the vivid colors, the peaceful interiors, the offerings to Buddha (flowers, tangerines). And the Buddhist monks. I have met a few including a young Vietnamese monk who sat next to me last night on the return flight from Thailand. He was studying his German verb tenses and patiently explained to me why he liked to compare the German language to his study of Sanskrit. At the airport, I had to renew my visa in Customs so I told him to take the taxi without me and waved goodbye. One hour and twenty minutes later (arrghhh), I exited the airport and there he was, in his flowing robes! He waited, he said, to be sure that all had gone well.

I reflected upon his kindness all the way home.

These incense baskets hang from the temple ceiling and burn for seven days

(Sanskrit) -- Sarve Bhadrāni Paśyantu Mā Kaścid Duhkhabhāg bhavet...

"May all perceive good, may not anyone attain unhappiness"

Cu Chi Tunnels

Preserved by the Vietnamese government, the Cu Chi tunnels are located about two hours outside of HCM. They were part of a vast and complex network built throughout the country during the war and served as the base of operations for the Viet Cong guerrillas during the Tet Offensive in '68.
Who was fighting whom? Forces of the National Liberation Front for South Vietnam (Viet Cong guerrillas) and the People's Army of Vietnam (North Vietnamese) fought against the forces of the Republic of (South) Vietnam, the United States, and their allies. The Tet Offensive was named so because it began during the early morning hours of January 31, 1968, Tết Nguyên Đán, the first day of the year on a traditional lunar calendar and the most important Vietnamese holiday. Tet, year of the monkey.

I crept through one tunnel, alternatively crawling and crouching for about 15 minutes. They were not built for tall people.

"U.S. soldiers used the term 'Black Echo' to describe the conditions within the tunnels. For the Viet Cong, life in the tunnels was difficult. Air, food and water were scarce and the tunnels were infested with ants, poisonous centipedes, spiders and mosquitoes. Most of the time, guerrillas would spend the day in the tunnels working or resting and come out only at night to scavenge for supplies, tend their crops or engage the enemy in battle. Sometimes, during periods of heavy bombing or American troop movement, they would be forced to remain underground for many days at a time. Sickness was rampant among the people living in the tunnels; especially malaria, which accounted for the second largest cause of death next to battle wounds." (WIKI)

Me and some Viet Cong guerrillas -- the soldier on my left is drinking malaria medicine. It was hot and airless in the tunnel that I investigated with the temperature in the Cu Chi woods that day hovering at about 90 with high humidity. The whole place was eerie. At the end of tour, you could pay a small fee to shoot an AK-47 into the hillside...

Ultimately, despite several efforts at fighting the Viet Cong on its own terms, U.S. operations remained largely unsuccessful at eliminating the existence of the tunnels.

War Remnants Museum - HCM

(click on photo to enlarge)

The Vietnam War or as it is known in Vietnam: The American War

The Museum opened in 1975 (after the Fall of Saigon when the Communist North Vietnamese stormed the Presidential Palace in Saigon in South Vietnam. The North and South eventually reunified under Communist rule and Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh after the North Vietnamese war leader, Ho Chi Minh. The Museum has had various names beginning with the The House for Displaying War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government of South Vietnam. Later it was known as the Museum of American War Crimes. Later still, The War Crimes Museum --- The current name followed Vietnam normalization of relations with the United States, ie, let's change that name, we don't want the Americans to feel uncomfortable.

U.S. tank

The museum has several themed rooms including Historical Truths: The Causes and Origins of Aggressive Wars. Requiem: Collection of Photos by International War Journalists and Vestiges of War Crimes -- These specific rooms contain numerous large size photos documenting the deaths of soldiers and civilians, My Lai massacre victims, the tragic effects of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese people, torture techniques and imprisonment. Stark. Grim.

The graffiti on the jail wall is a poem written in Chinese:

The body is in the jail,
the spirit is outside.
To accomplish great things,
the spirit has to be greater.

The Museum delivers an unabashed Vietnamese perspective. A lot of period military equipment is lying around the museum grounds including the tank that stormed the Palace gates and a number of unexploded devices are stored in the corner of the yard, supposedly with the ignition charges removed.

This piece of equipment was used to spray Agent Orange

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hoi An

Hoi An, located in the middle of Vietnam (18 hours or so by bus, I flew) is on the coast, a small and charming town dominated by tailors - a tailor shop every few feet. What do you want? They can do it in a day or two - any design, any material, shoes, boots, bags. I walked around my first afternoon looking at the silks and cottons and wools, the styles, the prices, the possibilities. Eventually - it's big work, all that dreaming up and envisioning - I found an iced coffee (Vietnamese - an expresso cup amount with condensed milk and lots of ice) and got a grip.
Checked the $ dong in my wallet, expanded my Hoi An budget and came up with this little number - black silk pants and a purple silk sheath with my own personal design of 3 dragonflies *** they are considered to be lucky in Vietnam, a sign of rebirth and renewal.

Hoi An, down by the river

Woman at work, pulling vegetable greens in thigh deep water

Beautiful temple in town and quiet temple waters

Incense burning in tailor shop and row of tailors

Incense is always burning somewhere in Vietnam - in Hoi An, they have a piped in music system in the tailors' section of the Old Town - sort of a soft Asian fusion muzak thing. I'm sure now that it is a strategy to calm the beating hearts of customers overwhelmed by the piles of material and endless design visions of dancing sugarplums in their heads...

Vietnam wins!

Final Playoff Dec 17 --- Vietnam vs. Malaysia

My landlord knocked on my door at about 10p last night and asked me if I wanted to "go out in the streets and celebrate Vietnam's win" (soccer ie football) - Of course, since it would involve riding on the back of his motocyclo!

Thousands of people in the streets, no cars could pass - balmy weather, Christmas lights, Vietnam flags and happy fans...


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mekong Delta

Floating markets in MK - every Sunday, all the boats in area float their produce, it's all for sale on the water... Also visited several small businesses in open air buildings under giant tropical coverage - the work goes on each day in the heat and humidity with an endless parade of tourists poking around and snapping photos...coconut candy making, rice paper (noodle) production, incense stick preparation within the grounds of a pagoda, honey products (the workers also offered a side of banana, snake and rice wines with the honey tea) Adventurer that I am, I opted for the rural family homestay - with a few others. The bus ride was 3+ hours to the first low slung boat ride which was 40 minutes to the 15 minute motor taxi to the 60 minute second low slung boat down a river with a moon and swaying coconut trees...we finally arrived - oh wait! I forgot the 20 minute single file walk between the taxi and the second boat ride which was along the highway (in the dark) against traffic with cars, buses, motocyclos, bicycles, people. The family served us fresh fish from their pond with various vegs and rice paper, we wrapped whatever we saw and ate it up then off to bed early since we were to be woken at 5:30a to visit the community watermelon farm. Sleeping -- I think my bed was one of the kitchen tables since we were missing one at dinner! Adjusting myself across the length of the plank, I pulled my mosquito net over me, eyed the 4 lizards racing across the walls and hoped for quick sleep.

One of the many roadside altars to the Supreme Buddha