One Year Ago

Old woman sells small wooden toys in Hanoi park.

Old woman sells small wooden toys in Hanoi park.

One year ago, Melinda and I flew to Hanoi for Tet, the Lunar New Year. One Sunday, in the park near our small hotel, there were many vendors, mostly women, selling toys and souvenirs. This old woman was selling small wooden toys that when you moved your wrist chickens pecked up and down. At first we walked past, but decided to go back and purchase all her toys in the hope that maybe, once all her toys were gone, she could go home for the day. A young man stopped as I was attempting to pantomime what it was I wanted from the woman; I explained to him and he translated to her, although neither one initially understood that I wanted to pay ten times what she was asking for the toys (which, given the nature of the vendor/tourist relationship was already an inflated price). When the young man understood what I intended he smiled broadly and explained to the woman. She looked at me like I wasn’t in full possession of my faculties, but eventually agreed to sell me the toys. Melinda and I took the bags and walked through the park distributing them to small children (with their parent’s approval) until they were gone.

Day 252: Windshield

Day 252 Scooters are the lifeblood of Vietnam, here a passenger grips a plate-glass window while riding through downtown Saigon. What amazed me most about watching this dangerous stunt was that is was the second time that day I’d witnessed a large piece of glass being transported on a scooter.

Day 248: Coffee to Go

A portable coffee vendor in Ho Chi Minh City

A portable coffee vendor in Ho Chi Minh City

The small, gasoline powered scooter is the heartbeat of Ho Chi Minh City, pulsing down the streets by the millions, surging, slowing, swerving and stopping. Everyone it seems has a scooter and they use them for everything: to transport families of five, to nap upon, to lounge on with a newspaper and a smoke, to transport large loads and newborn babies. And to earn a living.

Day Thirty-Six: Monkeys in the Mist

Fishing boat sets out early on a misty morning

Fishing boat sets out early on a misty morning

Our second day on HaLong Bay dawned with delicious, Thai coffee and a 6 AM Tai Chi class on the top deck followed by an excursion to view monkeys in Hang Luon, a cove reached by rowing through a cave formation during low tide, returning to the ship for breakfast and then the cruise back to port. With sunshine and warm temperatures on the first day, the second day’s morning overcast and cooler temperatures provided an alternative, yet just a beautiful, view of HaLong Bay.

Day Thirty-five: Vinh Ha Long

Vietnamese women row their floating market stalls to tour boats in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Vietnamese women row their floating market stalls to tour boats in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam  ,a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to 2,000 limestone islets that have gone through 500 million years of formation.  After flying in to Hanoi the previous night, we had a mini-bus pick us up at the Calypso Hotel  in Old Hanoi and trek us the 3 1/23 hours northeast to Ha Long Bay where we boarded a Paradise Luxury  boat for a two day, one night excursion. We were greeted with an unexpectedly sunny and warm day upon our arrival and a warm, misty morning on the second day. Great crew on the ship, very attentive to passengers, delicious Vietnamese food and an intimate ship experience.

These women row out to meet the tour ships and offer everything from shells and pearls to Pringles and pop. The lift the merchandise with long-handled nets into which you deposit your Vietnamese Dong (~ 21,500 Dong = $1 USD). They work hard and live simply. Many row their young children along with them.