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China, Viet Nam, Thailand,

 

China, Viet Nam, Thailand,

Hong Kong and Taiwan

Or

Mike and Marcy Explore the

Orient

 

 

Journals written by

February 17, 1995 to March 13, 1995                                       Mike Richards

 

February 12, 1995 Sunday       Los Angeles, California

 

To begin the journal now, less than a week before the actual trip begins,

overlooks the massive preparation that Marcy and I have already done.  I

first discussed my intention to visit the Orient after my trip to Russia

in mid-1994.  Marcy said that she'd enjoy going, but had never backpacked

before.

 

We talked about difficulties and perils involving my style of travel and

she was receptive to trying it.  We decided to take a short trip

somewhere more locally to test our collective abilities. Marcy and I

went to a sporting goods store, REI in Northridge, where she bought a

backpack.  She was astounded that she really bought one.  I noticed that

she put the receipt in a secure place, just in case she would want to

return it prior to using it.

 

We did make the short trip, an adventure in itself, to Cuba. She

surpassed both our expectations of her adaptation to a strange

environment.   Only one book, published in England, was available on

Cuba, so we had no knowledge of what to expect.  We had a great time and

a wonderful adventure unfolded before us.  She had proven to herself, and

me, that she would enjoy this casual style of travel.

 

Our original plan was to land in Singapore, about fifty miles north of

the Equator, then travel north a short distance to Kuala Lumpur and

Phuket or the island of Pei-Pei, which were described as beautiful but

touristy spots.  Then we would go northeast to Bangkok.  Cambodia,

although it is extremely dangerous  to go there, holds the wonders of the

temple complex of Angkor Wat.  I wanted to get there especially.  In

Vietnam we intend to see Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, its

northern population center.  Then into Hong Kong and China especially

Beijing and other east coast cities.  Possibly we'd go to Xian where the

thousands of clay soldiers were unearthed recently.   To have done all

that would have been a tremendous undertaking and probably would not have

been possible.

 

The many books we bought gave us plenty of ideas and were helpful in

getting overall ideas about where we should visit and why.

 

Marcy's manicurist, a Viet Namese fellow named Andrew, was most

instrumental in guiding us to seek advice and tickets from Voyages Saigon

in Little Saigon (Orange County). Marcy called him and was impressed

favorably with what he had to say.  We drove down to see him on a

Saturday in early January.  He warned us of the great dangers of Cambodia

in the same breath that he spoke of the beauty of Viet Nam (his home).

 

 

In mid-December there was the purchase of a $1,500 video camera -- state

of the art -- which would be much more useful than the huge monster of a

camera I took with us to Cuba. The cost of film and batteries are very

expensive, too.

 

 

 

We considered weather as a major factor as to when we wanted to go.  All

books said December to March were best to avoid because of monsoons in

Viet Nam and the deep chill in China. My son, Mark, won a trip to Hawaii

(from Financial Indemnity) so we must return on March 13, 1995 so my

office would get out of control.

 

Mr. Ching and Annie at Voyages Saigon called Marcy with a price of $1,620

per person that included several flights over areas, which, he felt, were

unsafe to travel by land.  He emphasized the dangers of Cambodia again,

and Marcy made up her mind at that moment she would not accompany me if I

went to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

 

To confirm, for our own sake, that this was the cheapest way to do it, we

individually called another travel agency and neither of us was able to

come close to matching costs.  I did read a book that suggested travel as

a courier that would cut costs very much, but several inconveniences

would have been heaped upon us.  This just wasn’t for us.

 

On Saturday, January 30, 1995, Marcy and I visited Ching and after a long

while we bought tickets from him.   We took him to lunch and he gave us

several Asian travel pointers to think about.  None of which I can

recollect now.

 

Marcy left her passport and I left mine at the travel agency because

Ching said we needed visas for China and Viet Nam. At the time we are

doing this, the newspapers issue daily reports of closer relations

between Viet Nam and the U.S. Full diplomatic relations are opened and

the American flag now flies again in Hanoi. Today’s newspaper says Los

Angeles' Mayor Richard Riordan wanted to establish sister cityhood with

Saigon but the City Council turned it down. Other stories in the local

newspapers told of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Two Americans were shot

and killed as they were on their way to Angkor Wat.

 

Annie advised me that I had to renew my passport since it would be valid

for only another three months and China insisted on at least six months.   

I went to the Federal Building on Wilshire, as Marcy did three weeks

earlier.  I got the passport two days later and immediately had it sent

next day delivery to Annie at Voyages so they could get my China visa.

 

 

About February fifth we went to a local doctor who gave us some shots and

pills to prevent malaria and other ailments very common in Asia. There

is no turning back now.

 

On January 22 the split with Poucette concluded when I moved out of Playa

del Rey.     I moved in with Marcy, whom I was spending most of my time

with anyway.  Now we have more time together, and we'll be able to talk

about this day and night.   Each night we discuss our trip, falling

asleep while reading about what lays ahead is common for either of us.  

Discussion about the trip was the focus point of most of our conversation

constantly.  Mr. Ching called to tell us he now has our flight plans laid

out and we should visit him to review or adjust them.

 

Yesterday, February 11, 1995, we went out and bought a bunch of stuff for

the trip.  Clothing, books, cosmetics.  We traveled to many stores under

some ill effects from the pills or the shots or both.

When we returned to the condominium, Ross was there to take us to dinner

but we were not hungry, and he was tired from a hard day of golfing.   

The February 12, 1995-edition of the Los Angeles Times newspaper says the

Exchange Rate is:

            Taiwan’s dollar:      .0434 / 23.01 per US dollar

                        Thailand Baht:        .0448 / 22.29 per US dollar

 

 

 

Voyagers Saigon

99 Bolsa Chica

Westminster

Mr. Ching and Annie (714) 775-

7884

Temperature

C to F = 9/5 x C? + 32

F to C = 5(F? - 32)

                          9

Distance:

1 Mile = 1.61 km

1 KM   = .6214 Mile

Centimeters to inches = .3937

Inches to centimeters = 2.54

Weight

Lbs. to Kg                  .37324

Kg to Lbs.                  2.2046

 

 

 

NOTES OF THINGS I'D LIKE TO SEE

          Thailand

          Temple Ruins at Pimai

          Near Nakhon Ratchasima

          Phra Pathom Cheddi in Nakhon

Pathorn

          Pattaya

          Bangkok

PRESCRIPTION FOR GLASSES

D.V.  O.D. - 0.75 - 1.50 X .098

O) - 1.25 - 1.00 X .088

                           N.V.

O.D. + .50 - 1.50 X 98

O.S. + .25 - 1.00 X 88

TEMPERATURE

                                    Hi/Low           Rain

            Beijing            45/24 18%

            Hong Kong 64/55 18%

            Taipei 67/54            23%                

 

 

 

 

 

February 17, 1995    9:45 P.M.                LAX

Tom Bradley International Terminal Gate 103, China Airlines

 

This flight is still on schedule to leave at 11:55 P.M. Ross, her

brother, drove Marcy and me to the airport.  I'm very tired.  I worked

until 2:30 P.M. then I drove out to Sherman Oaks to pack the rest of my

stuff.  I exchanged cash and traveler checks and put it in safe places

with a slit in the belt and other hidden-from-sight places.

 

I advised Mark about running the office on his own, but he knows how to

do it.   Everybody in my family called to wish to us a good and safe trip

(except Jessica and Michele, who hardly ever call anyway). Mr. Ching

asked us to be at the airport by 9 P.M., three hours early. So we ate at

a fancy Italian restaurant, Spumante, in the Valley, then crawled across

congested Friday night freeways to make one stop at Trader Joe's Market. 

We bought some Turkish apricots, English biscuits, American cheese, and

sausage -- all together costing $9.25.  As we left the market, the time

was 9:05 P.M.  The airport was very busy, especially the Bradley terminal

where it seemed like ants crawling over other ants.  We were assigned

seats, and then we walked to the Terminal Gate 103.

 

I hadn't slept, except the brief hour rest of last evening, so I fell

asleep while waiting the three hours before departure. Marcy woke me at

11:30 P.M., still 15 minutes before the mobbed boarding scene was played

out.   This was my first clear observation of “line cue etiquette,”

oriental-style.

 

While one of the stewards attempts some organization of those to board,

another steward reminds several of the passengers that they have too much

carry-on luggage, and they will be charged extra.   I noted that the

condition of "polite" was not especially omnipresent here; the steward

chose passengers randomly other than the passengers without luggage.

 

I fell asleep again quickly, after we put our gear away. I was awakened

by a pretty, round-faced stewardess who offered breakfast of "an omelet

or fried noodles,” your choice.  "Fried noodles," I replied.  I wanted to

get right into this thing.  The noodles had bits of seafood or chicken --

I wasn't certain -- but it was good, even though it tasted a bit oily.    

My watch is still set for L.A. time, and, according to it, the time is

now 6:45 a.m.  Just sitting, watching the time go by is a difficult waste

of time.

 

I am very tired but, because of conditions here on the plane (less space

per passenger, most things written in Chinese, etc.) I was a bit

withdrawn, and I tried to spend as much time as possible sleeping.  Most

of the movies shown were martial arts films.  All of them seemed the

same, and we were treated to an American movie (subtitled in Chinese)

with Steve Martin called "Simple Twists of Fate." It was terrible in the

beginning (I can't speak of the remainder of the movie because I didn't

watch it through).  We land now in less than five hours. 

 

They have flashed an information chart on the movie screen after the

movie was finished:

                        Time until Arrival:  3.11 Minutes

                        The plane is over Japan now

                        We have traveled 2,153 Mi.

                        The Flight Will Last 13 Hrs.

                        We are traveling at the speed of 331 KM Per Hour

 

Still Marcy sleeps, but when we land in Taipei we have about forty

minutes to catch the plane to Viet Nam.  I wonder how others who are

doing this similar trip?  The ticket agent had said seventy per cent of

this full plane will be going on to Saigon, why are there no direct

flights?  Fortunately, we have backpacks to move around quickly, so we

have no problem going directly to the connecting flight.

 

Marcy changed plans through Mr. Ching, who arranged for first night hotel

at Dong Ho Hotel for fifty dollars nightly.   Someone would meet us at

the airport and take our backpacks and us to the hotel (for twenty bucks

. . . Now that’s the ole American spirit).   Ching confirmed the train

ticket to Hue.  I reminded her that we chose to take this flight, rather

than an earlier departure time which was cheaper, so that we'd be

arriving during daylight and we could handle those details.

 

 

February 19, 1995            Sunday          Taipei to Ho Chi Minh City

 

Looking at my watch, now reset to local time, it is 9:50 A.M.   We should

land soon in Saigon (also called Ho Chi Minh City).  We've been flying

for over twenty hours now, with only a short pause in between.    I have

slept enough to exist and function normally, but the long night must have

affected my biological clock in ways yet unbeknownst to me. This kind of

change takes a couple of days before it really affects me.

 

The first hour of this flight was spent completing a massive compilation

of forms, handed to us by the stewardess.  After reading advice in the

tour books, the forms are pretty typical based on what the guidebooks

describe.  It's an unusual feeling to stand out as an obvious minority as

Caucasians do in this part of the world.  We should be landing soon; I

believe I'm prepared.  The meeting at the airport to check over the forms

at four different checkpoints was a little strange.

 

When we landed in Taipei we had forty minutes to catch the flight to Ho

Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon).  While waiting in this very clean

airport, I was amazed that none of the plants are real -- all plastic! 

Out of 70 people waiting for this flight only four other people were not

Oriental.  Many were fluent in English.  Language has not been any

problem so far.  The food on the plane was different from what I am used

to, but that is what I look forward to when I am traveling. Because of

the frequent time changes, I ate four breakfasts before arriving in

Saigon.  I ate the same thing because every time because each time a meal

was served the stewardesses gave me the same choices: stir-fried noodles

with a shredded chicken or egg omelet.  Unfortunately each time a few

hours had past and the passengers were scheduled for a meal we’d always

be in a time zone that dictated it was time for breakfast. Since I have

a slight aversion to eggs, I ate the noodles.  Apparently this is a

common choice for breakfast.  Both flights were on China Airlines.  The

landing of the second flight in Ho Chi Minh was smooth on the runway, but

the wait to get through Customs was slow, tedious, and uncomfortable.  

Marcy and I passed through quickly once we got to the front of the line.  

As we left the airport, all luggage and handbags were X-rayed. There was

a lot of pushing and crowding, but we muddled through.  I was surprised

to find the fellow waiting for us, according to instructions from Mr.

Ching in the U.S.  I was amazed that he found us through the throngs of

people.  His name is Mr. Ban.  He drove to the hotel somewhere in the

city close to the Floating Hotel. We are staying at a pleasant-looking

five story building called Saigon Hotel.  While we are on the fifth

floor, the view is not anything worth photographing.  Old buildings crowd

around our hotel to prevent any photo opportunity.

 

After spending around forty minutes regrouping and showering, we went to

the hotel lobby to meet Mr. Ban, who was waiting for us. He hired a cab,

and we began the tour of the city at one p.m. local time in Saigon.  We

drove along the very busy, wide avenues of commerce.  We watched

thousands of merchants transport goods, five feet high, on their rusty

bicycle or smoke-spewing moped.  The random action of all vehicles meant

constant near-accidents, at every turn, at every moment. Watching each

driver maneuver his or her vehicle through cross traffic was a phenomenon

that exists in other overpopulated areas of the world, but I don't

understand how they do it without frequent accidents. 

 

Our guide brought us to the Palace of Reunification, which is now used as

a memorial to the Reunification of North and South Viet Nam. The

President previously used the Palace.  Before him the King, having it

been rebuilt numerous times in its spotty history, used it. I found it

to be less than interesting.  The architecture was bland and ignoble.

Nobody lives here except a caretaker.  It had no life of its own despite

a crazy-quilt history.    When I told the guide I had enough, he was

surprised, but took us back to the colorful streets of Ho Chi Minh. 

Cloth Street, Cigarette Street, Coconut Street,  many of the streets of

commerce are entirely devoted to certain product sales. I had my first

roll of pictures developed at a photo store.  For 6" x 8" double prints

it cost 160,000 Dong, about $14.50.

 

We were tired so at 4:30 p.m., we went back to the hotel. We planned

to go out to the Floating Hotel for dinner.  Instead, I laid myself down

for a rest, and didn't awake until one in the very early morning the next

morning.    After writing for twenty minutes, I went back to sleep for

another five hours.  We got dressed in our small room.  The air

conditioner had been on all night because of the heat. I waited for

Marcy to join me, downstairs, for breakfast.

 

 

February 20, 1995,    Monday         Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

 

The restaurant in the hotel seemed good, even though I overheard a

hostess/waitress remark to another patron that she was sorry because they

had no napkins today.  I would soon discover that there were many items

that they just did not make available, only because they felt that the

item was superfluous and not important.  That list includes napkins and

knives.

 

We sat and read the menu that was printed in English, French, Chinese,

and Vietnamese.  I asked for the fried chicken with vegetables  -- oops!

No chicken yet today, the waitress said in faltering English. “Then,” I

said, “bring me the pork noodle soup.”   Marcy ordered an omelet.  During

our light breakfast the waitress brought a saucer and teacup over which

posed a silvery device that held coffee grounds and hot water. Slowly

the boiling water seeped into the cup.  It was very aromatic, but Marcy's

coffee tastes better, still, it was a good cup of coffee. The soup was

passable, so I ate it, quickly -- I was hungry.

 

Mr. Bahn, our guide from Voyages Saigon, was there to meet me at nine

a.m. as previously agreed.  I told him to wait for a little while, so I

could finish my meal.  Marcy and I had struck up a conversation with an

American from Michigan named Duke who was on a honeymoon with his bride. 

They were in Taiwan before this city and really enjoyed it. Our meal was

charged to the room.  Bahn brought us to the waiting cab.  We drove out

of the steamy city.  Motorbikes by the thousand, a few trucks, buses, or

cars and every remaining open space filled with bicycles or hurried

pedestrian.  Lines are painted down the streets for advisory help, but

few drivers paid heed to the advice, preferring to cut their own path to

whatever destination they were headed.  No driver hesitates to head into

oncoming traffic across the white line if he is certain he’ll be able to

force his way back into this line at the last possible moment.    I’m

sure every driver must have high blood pressure.

 

Our cab flew forward, occasionally having the roof of the vehicle

regularly pounded by the fist of a cyclist who felt we were too close to

him or her.  In the swirling morass of vehicles of every kind it would be

impossible for this not to happen. We drove through suburb after suburb

of Saigon.  Bahn said the name of one particularly attractive (in a

primitive way) village was called Potato Corner.  It was a common sight

to see a cyclist with a gaggle of ducks or small pigs within a cage

fastened to the rear of his vehicle.

 

After a couple of hours we arrived at Tay Ninh, a temple for Taoism,

which, according to Bahn, is now a dying religion because of governmental

persecution.  The ceremony, which, is performed daily was in process.   I

filmed much of it.  The temple and the rites seemed similar to Buddhist

rites I've witnessed before.  The colors seemed bright and eclectic, but

totally in harmony somehow.

 

The weather has been warm and moist.  The air conditioning in the car was

great relief from the heat.  Eventually it became too cold in the car,

and I had to open a window to escape the cold.

 

Next stop was a small village food stand, exactly the kind I was advised

not to go to.  Chicken parts and pork bits were lying in the cooking area

drawing a great audience of black flies.  There are many Vietnamese

enjoying lunches at one of the twenty small round tables provided for

their use.  Several patrons stood by the open kitchen, chatting with the

chef.   Bamboo leaves covered a large frame of robust bamboo poles,

providing shade for the customers.  Bahn explained this is his favorite

restaurant.   The guide, a youthful looking forty-seven years old,

explained that he often brings his grandchildren here. 

 

The first course served to us was a potpourri of local greens and weeds

piled high over one large platter for communal use by all those at our

table.  No dressing, but the flavors from the varied greens combined in a

uniquely bitter way.  I didn’t like it.    Bahn and the driver were

sitting at a separate table until we invited them to join us.  The next

course followed smoothly because the plate of greens was refilled.   The

procedure continued, as I eventually saw, to take an assortment of the

indigenous weeds, lay them orderly on a thin, limpid pancake made of

rice.  Then a white radish, two small chunks of pork, then roll it all

tightly to resemble an egg roll.  This is dunked into a vinegary fish

sauce and eaten, by hand, in the same fashion that I would eat a taco. 

For four people it cost 99,000 Dong, which about eight dollars.

 

Seeing Caucasians fascinated people.  They constantly stared.  I didn’t

have a problem with their curiosity, however they would come very close. 

I think they sniffed the air around me.  It is true that cultures with a

different diet will cast an odor that is just as foreign. The open-

air restaurant was pleasurable to a measure.  I had certain trepidation

about eating at an establishment like this.  It was probably ill advised

to do so, but we did it.

 

Back into the refrigerated auto we sat; it was refuge from the oppressive

heat.  We had to travel another seventy kilometers until we got to the Cu

Chi Tunnels.    These tunnels were used, successfully, to kill and harass

American and French troops who were entrenched in positions around

Saigon.  No other Americans were there.  The three levels of tunnels were

difficult to maneuver through because they were made for much smaller

people.  I found it hard to carry a camera and bag with me.  Still I

wanted to see it, more than the problems of mobility I had to deal with

as I scraped through the narrow corridors, so Marcy and I just stooped

down and did it.

 

The admission fee was $3.00 U.S.  A film played in English extolling the

virtues of several young Vietnamese children-heroes who earned a

military-decoration stars as great "American killers," a high honor.

 

About 120 miles of tunnels to the outskirts of Saigon, all for the

guerilla warfare tactics around several American bases near the city of

Saigon.  I explored, with a guide, many tunnels, each interconnecting

horizontally and vertically with other rooms.    Without a guide it would

be easy to get lost at each turn.  Punji stick traps were dug in many

rooms.  These are pits in which long slender sharpened bamboo poles are

dipped in water buffalo urine to create an infection if one of them

pierced a man’s skin.   Air vents went to each room from the surface

above.  Camouflaged vents on the surface of the ground were practically

impossible to see.

After leaving the area, we drove back to the city, leaving the tunnels

just before sunset.  We arrived back at the hotel, exhausted but still

unbitten by any mosquitoes (my major fear).   Since it was dinnertime, we

needed to find a good eatery.  Next door to the hotel was a restaurant

that seemed nicer and offered more interesting cuisine than at the hotel. 

For six dollars Marcy and I shared a large pot of delicious Tom Yun Goon,

a spicy sour soup with shrimp and chicken in it.  So many items were in

it for flavor that I found myself separating the inedible morsels on an

adjacent plate intended for some other use.  Marcy went back to the room,

totally exhausted.   I let her rest for an hour then I went out onto the

busy street in front of the hotel.    I hired two cyclocab drivers to

take us to the main market.  Because I speak no Vietnamese, and they

spoke very little English, the conversations were strictly limited to

items of high importance like Stop; Go; Over There; Wait. Each

instruction I issued was accompanied with appropriate hand and body

language. 

 

The main marketplace was closed.  Now I understood what the bicycle cab

drivers were trying to tell to me.  Eventually we found an open market,

and purchased goods we needed for tomorrow:  crackers, two boxes, a

toothbrush, and several other small items, including bottled water. 

 

After returning to the hotel we found our favorite guide, and I asked to

drive me around to photograph the nightlife.  I purchased a coconut for

Marcy for fifteen dong.  Marcy had gone to the hotel room, unable to

continue today for she was totally spent.   The Viet Namese people

frequently buy immature coconuts for the thirst quenching liquid they

contain.    I found myself losing focus and falling asleep in the open-

air bike seat.  Ten minutes later I was back at the hotel, and paid Hoa

4,000 dong (about $3.70).  He's a good cyclist and I enjoy his

enthusiastic company.   I went to the room and immediately fell asleep.

 

 

February 21, 1995         Tuesday           Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

 

I awoke at four in the early morning.  Hardly a soul, I observed from the

eighth story window, was walking the streets.  Many Viet Namese people

were "camping out," but all were asleep except a street cleaner slowly

and lethargically sweeping a small section of the trash-strewn street. 

It would have been an impossible task for him to gather all the garbage

on this short street and put it into the wheeled garbage can that served

as a receptacle for all he found.  An orange-robed monk and the young

disciple who accompanied him walked around the corner holding a small

wooden bowl.  The Buddhist inhabitants of this city would put food in the

bowl as a token of their faith and with the desire that the act would

bring them good fortune.    I walked back to the room because the

elevator seemed to be out of service.  I wrote in this journal after

unsuccessfully trying to sleep another hour.

 

Eventually Marcy woke too, and we went downstairs for breakfast. I had

the chicken soup.  At eight o'clock, this morning, we found Hoa, who

brought a friend to drive the other bicycle-driven rickshaw that Marcy

rode.  We packed our gear on the cyclocab and went to the Saigon Train

Station.  Marcy had an uncomfortable experience using the Turkish toilet

in the station.  She decried the filth and ilk that cluttered the public

restroom.  She vowed never to use such facilities again.

 

At about 8:40 a.m. we found the proper train car to board. The train sat

in the station for another hundred and twenty minutes before departing

for Hue.  It started with a metal-twisting lurch, but then it slowly

built up to its regular crawl of five miles an hour as it slithered out

of the train station.  There were areas that the train picked up speed to

fifty mph.  As I try to write, the jerky movement of my pen is not due to

some involuntary muscle contraction, but the usual side-to-side shifting

of the train as it tries as best it can to remain on the track. For this

I am thankful.  The track shifting is due to the initial inadequate

laying of track.  This berth is first class so the seats convert to beds. 

Within our compartment there are fold out cots with very thin mattresses. 

An employee of the train comes around to provide each occupant with clean

folded bed linen.  Blankets are stored in a trunk-like compartment built

into the wall of this unit. 

 

The dark pink linens have many holes and have been ripped, but every hole

has been patched and repaired, then crisply ironed.  Other less

comfortable units include other options like a hard sleeper that provides

a bunk, but no mattress or blanket.   I may elect to wander into second

or third class.  I can only imagine what hellhole slime pits they must

be.  I was told that a diner exists on this train; however, a Vietnamese

came around with a plate filled with numerous lightly browned baked bite-

sized cakes of varying shapes.  Such a tray was happily purchased and

quickly consumed by one of the two young Vietnamese men who are our

cellmates on this locomotive adventure.

 

Earlier I brought the video camera to record, for those who are

interested, the utilitarian value of Turkish-style toilets. While Marcy

is yet to visit it (and she will) she did not relish the less than

photogenic images she viewed with the video camera.  She vowed to neither

eat nor drink until we exited at our destination. Unfortunately, even a

yoga expert might have problems to accomplish that state of suspended

bodily functions for the duration of this long train trip.

 

At this point, it's only three hours into our journey, and I'm ready to

get off this train.  The hot, humid room we are in is cooled by one small

green fan that spins around wildly, frequently ceasing when it becomes

dirt clogged.  That has been remedied by a handyman who comes around to

all compartments to repair the undulating fan.

 

Our otherwise peaceful jaunt through the tree-laden jungles has only been

marred twice:  once by an errant ember of a "controlled fire."  It shot

into the room and landed on Marcy's bed, but I noticed it immediately and

scraped it to the floor where it could do little damage. The second

encounter began when an inch-long cricket errantly hopped through the

barred window opening and into the room.  Marcy was immediately drawn

away from this tiny life form, but I captured it in a teacup and let him

free outside the train.  I now found a new nuisance.  One of our roomies

is blissfully sleeping but has gradually worked a soft sleeping sniff

into a roaring snore, drowning out the din of the incessant rattles,

rocks, and rolls as the wooden rail cars are dragged along the track to

Hue.

 

Eight hours of this travel has not endeared me to it. The terrain has,

for the most part, been thick with trees and brush or flat farmland. 

Nothing else.  Only one hill of any significant size to break the

monotony until now.  We are traveling north along the coastline.  We just

passed Cameron Bay.  Views of the ocean now have made it all more

interesting, until now when we are cutting back inland.

 

 

February 22, 1995            Wednesday                    Saigon to Hue

 

I've been up since 5:00 a.m., but the Sun didn't cut through the early

morning fog -- thickly spread over the vast rice paddies. The sultry air

covered me during the night, and I slept soundly, from sunset till

morning.  I woke to the staccato beat of the clacking tracks and the

maternal rocking motion of the train.  

 

I was able to see the landscape this train bustled through as the rising

Sun pulled aside the curtain of darkness. It opened not at the beginning

of a scene, but in the middle of it, appearing suddenly when I had looked

away for two moments.  Through the faintly lit night people have been

working, starting their work day without more than what little moonlight

was cast their way.  Row after row of a myriad of vegetables or edible

weeds each small household could grow in their backyard plot made a

quilt-like pattern in each village.  Looking out over the myriad rice

fields, I am not certain as to why I haven't noticed overseers as the

people labored in the fields.  Everybody is working.

 

It seems everybody who has one has the exact same bicycle, the exact same

conical straw hat, the exact same two buckets suspended from a long

bamboo pole.  I cannot imagine a people more close to the earth (yet I am

certain they must exist somewhere I have still to discover).

 

Since morning's light I have noted attractive variations in the terrain. 

To have flown would have deprived me of this visual feast. Each movement

I see something rare or beautiful, but we pass too quickly for me to

capture it with a camera, but I'll never forget the lush visions I have

been granted . . . the opportunity to witness late yesterday and

extending through the night at each stop, regardless of the hour,

Vietnamese chatter abounded.  Many conversations crossed each other,

blurring one into the next.

 

The humid warm still air was made so much heavier at each stop by the

smell of stale urine wafting from the primitive train toilets.

 

At seven a.m. an attendant brought a bag of food containing a very fresh

French roll, sugar wafers, and two small triangles of aluminum-wrapped

semi-soft cheese.  Also, I was served a glass containing instant coffee,

boiling water and much sugar.  Somehow there were coffee grounds at the

bottom of the glass, but it was hot and I drank it.

 

Having to use the toilet is, in itself, something difficult, but add to

that the unpredictability of train motion and little to steady myself

save my knees, made a morning ritual into a test of my agility.  For

reasons I choose not to explain, I could only give myself a "C+."

 

We stopped in Da Nang at nine a.m.  After 30 minutes we pulled out of the

station.  A mid-weight metal mesh screen is over the window that I am

allowed to pull up when we are not in a station.  There is concern by

workers that the screens prevent some snatch and run crimes as well as

other crimes they have associated with "the Mafia." Regardless, I obey

basic rules of safety and keep the screen down.  I am a bit tired, but

the balance of this trip is supposed to be the most pleasurable and

scenic, so I'll wait to rest later.

 

Leaving Da Nang the front cars are now the rear cars.  Because of the

overcast sky it seems like we are headed south.  Vast areas are covered

with white sand and brown earth speckles are becoming larger and more

common as we get further from Da Nang.  We've stopped just outside the

city.  A light mist, not quite rain, is coming down, and intensifying the

color of the paved asphalt road. It generally runs parallel to the

tracks.  The earth and all greenery have a richer hue, now that it is

awash with the dew.

 

Traveling further north, the train tracks cut into the hillside

overlooking the China Sea.  The rough-cut boulders scattered along the

beaches and the old boats drifting along the waterline distinguish this

area uniquely from my own Pacific coast.  There are similarities, too,

but the pungent odor of fish, the indecipherable rhythm of the spoken

word overwhelms any thoughts of parallels between the two locales.

 

Finally we arrive at Hue.  A driver held up a sign with our names on it. 

Marcy spotted him right away.  Dirty, tired, and exhausted, we stepped

down three steep gray metal steps to disembark from the train. The

driver, after making hand sign contact with us, did not pick up any of

the bags we were burdened with.   Instead he beckoned us to catch up to

him as he moved through a sea of people who all too closely resembled

him.  It required a great deal of single-minded focus to maintain visual

contact with this "guide."  But we successfully followed him to the

waiting van, where he kindly opened the side door to allow us to stow all

gear.  He then disappeared into the nearby street.

 

The driver sat stoically waiting for all doors to shut, and then he

started to van and pulled off.  The street and buildings surround the

stations were layered in a heavy blanket of dust.  The van kicked up a

huge cloud behind it.

 

In less than five minutes we arrived at the hotel.  Not a word of English

was spoken since our arrival.

The Huong Duong Hotel is not quite finished yet.  I believe we are its

sole fare-paying guests.   Very, very new . . . some things haven't been

worked out yet.  English-speaking hostesses spoke French -- not English -

- but their smile was engaging.  Few ideas were I able to transfer from

me to them.  The dirty clothes will be washed.  No other channel except

the one run by the government that dealt exclusively with local issues

and events.  No world news here.

 

The room was large and modern.  The bathroom was attractive; however, the

toilet seems as though it will overflow with every flush. And mosquitoes

are sharing this room with us.

 

They looked about this size   ----------->  O                                

            (Actual Size)

 

While Marcy used the bathroom, I "spoke" with the receptionist/hostess. 

I tried to arrange a city tour.  She said it would take about two hours

and cost $25 US.  She called, and they told her $25 per person.  I

declined to use them.  Instead, I hired two cyclocabs, that were parked

across the street from the hotel, for $3.50 total for two people for

three hours.

 

The English-speaking driver's name was Ben --- he's 47 years old with two

young daughters, a wife and grandmother at home.  He worked with the

South Vietnamese Army till captured and brought north to Hue. He then

stayed around US Army camps after his release.  He wanted to go to the US

when the US pulled out of Viet Nam but, as he said it, he was not lucky. 

He knows that many did go to the US and make a lot of money now.  The

other driver, Vu, about 30, was the driver for Marcy.  He also had two

children, and both found the government oppressive, not even allowing

fireworks for Tet, the Chinese New Year celebration.  Ben, especially, is

unhappy to be here in Viet Nam, but he doesn't have a great chance to get

out.  Both drivers acknowledged what I was told previously.  You must

obtain a local government permit before you can have a baby.

 

A heavy mist came down.  We headed back to the hotel to get rain gear,

and then we went out to dinner at a restaurant within the walls of the

Emperor's Palace.  Before dinner I had my glasses repaired and put in

another frame for six dollars.  I gave the old frames to Ben because he

said he liked them.

 

For dinner the foods we enjoyed were beef wrapped in mint leaves, fried

rice Canton style, the local beer, and spring rolls. I had chicken

cooked with ginger, but because the skin and the bones were left intact,

I brought that meal out to Ben and Vu, who waited outside. The drizzle

stopped after we finished dinner, but the moisture from it made the

dining room in which we are smell strongly of wet dog. Not altogether

malodorous when mixed with the wafting fragrances emanating from the

steaming kitchen here.  Later we returned to the hotel.

 

According to Ben, the poor people sell outside; the wealthy merchants are

indoors.  We saw both.

The items for sale looked like a "99 Cent Only Store."  I filmed much of

this market, both in and out. 

Outside, the nearby boats that the fishermen had hardly seemed seaworthy,

but they provided the means for the poor fishermen to eke out a living.

 

February 23, 1995     Thursday       Hue, Viet Nam

 

I awoke at two a.m., wrote a bit about yesterday, and then retired again. 

The room was very warm, so the light sheet/blanket provided was very

adequate.  An occasional mosquito or other flying insect buzzed my ear

several times during the night, but I put on the gray netting over my

head, and fell asleep quickly without any concern of night attacks.  I

arose at seven p.m. as did Marcy, and prepared to meet Vu and Ben, the

two drivers of our cyclopedic vehicles.

 

I was able to convince the clerk to return one twenty-dollar deposit, so

we were able to hire Vu's brother to take us up the Perfume River for a

cruise.  The cost for a five-hour journey was 110,000 dong, about ten

dollars US. Since we were the sole fare-paying passengers, we traveled at

our leisure and left each historic site at our own pace. After a simple

breakfast outside a small local coffee/tea stand (five breads, three

coffees, five cheeses:  total cost, $1.60), where we sat in chairs more

aptly suited for children in kindergarten.  We walked close by to a spot

where the boat was waiting for us.  We boarded, and then traveled down

the river for about a mile to Thien Mu Pagoda, where there were more

people trying to sell stuff than there were tourists, and every seller

had at least three children acting as miniature shills to bring in the

potential buyers of their wares.  I found it difficult to manipulate

myself through the throngs of merchants and mini-merchants. Ultimately,

I gained entrance to the site.  Marcy and I viewed it, but the boat trip

and the overall earthy beauty it revealed overshadowed the monument,

which in itself was truly noteworthy and of beauty.

 

Making our way back to the boat through the crowd of hopeful sellers, Ben

and Vu accompanied us as a team and helped guide me beyond the guard at

the second monument, the tomb of Minh Mang.  It was set, idyllically, by

a corner of the river that was utilized as a prominent aspect of the

layout of this site.  While I meticulously recorded all of this adventure

as best I could on videotape and film, there was no way I could capture

smells and motion.  This was a truly beautiful cruise.

 

After some time we turned the boat back up the river. The air

temperature seemed to drop ten degrees immediately. I spent less time

filming and more time watching as we traveled back to Hue. It got still

colder until we exited the boat at the same spot we had boarded.   After

returning to the Hotel, I left three rolls of exposed film and charged

one battery that needed charging.

 

 

 

 

 

Ben and Vu drove us to a restaurant that I had pointed out to him.  Marcy

said she read about it, too, in the guidebook.  The owner, a deaf mute,

brought us upstairs; the downstairs was packed with patrons.  We ordered

several dishes, which we shared:  fried rice with meat bits, shrimp with

rice paste wrapped in a leaf, some sort of Vietnamese soft taco with

peanut sauce (extremely oily), and beef strips over crispy rice noodles. 

The shrimp in rice paste was served first.  The proprietor found it

exceptionally amusing when he returned to find I had tried to eat some of

this dish, but found the leaf rather tough and somewhat bitter.  He

laughed heartily, and still harder when he saw the chewed piece of leaf I

hadn't the desire to swallow.  He explained the leaf was not intended for

consumption.

 

After this $4 dinner we walked along the nearby shops. I bought a $25

watch, and Marcy bought a beautiful red jacket for $12. We had Ben and

Vu drive around a bit.  I bought a few packs of Vietnamese cigarettes to

take home.  Four packs cost $0.60.  Ben thought 60 cents was too much,

but I wanted Vietnamese cigarettes.

 

At six p.m. I went to the post office to exchange money, but while there

was only one person in front of me, after 30 minutes he was still in

front of me and yet to be served. I left; I will be able to get dong at

the airport tomorrow.  Usually they have the fairest exchange rate. 

Right now 11,037 for a dollar is fair.  Ben and Vu cycled us back to

Huong Duong Hotel, where we started to plan for our flight to Hanoi and

visit to that city and outlying Halong Bay.  I have a slight cold, but

have lost my voice partially.

 

At the hotel I had a disagreement with the hostess/receptionist as to

whether I paid for yesterday or not.  While I insisted that I had paid,

she more vehemently insisted that I didn't.  I did not prevail; she had

four employees in our room discussing merits of this case, and ultimately

requested another $30, which I finally paid.

 

February 24, 1995           Friday             Hue, Viet Nam

 

I woke up at five a.m. and listened to the soldiers do their morning

exercises loudly.  Yesterday workmen, finishing construction of this

hotel, got started by pounding metal strips into shape. I want to get

coffee and bread with cheese, but few stores are open yet. And it is

still not light enough outside.   I arranged for Ben and Vu to meet us at

nine a.m. to take us the five kilometers to the airport, but if they

don't show up we can rent a taxi, all government-run and more expensive

to employ.   Ben and Vu were there, right outside the hotel, waiting,

patiently, for us.

 

After a short trip into the market to buy six conical hats, we were

pedicycled to the airport about five miles away.  After about four and a

half miles, I switched with Ben and I drove him.  He really thought it

was great fun -- I did, too.

 

At the airport we had to pay a port tax of a thousand dong each before

boarding.  The flight lasted only about two hours, and we landed safely. 

Because Viet Nam Air has much smaller planes, we had to check in our

backpacks as luggage.   The conical hats were carried on board because

they are fragile.  We sat at the very rear of the plane and we were the

first to exit it.

 

After recovering our backpacks, now dirtied and soiled from this trip, we

left the airport and got on a bus going to downtown Hanoi. The cost per

person was $4.00 for the forty-minute bus ride.  The horn bleating

resumed, at every opportunity the driver (or anyone else for that matter)

could imagine.

 

We exited the bus and followed a German tourist I had struck up a

conversation with, to a hotel he was told by his friends that this is a

very good hotel.   After looking at the room which they wanted thirty

American dollars for, we decided to try elsewhere.

 

A young 18-year-old Hanoi student who was practicing his English pounced

on us as we left the hotel disappointedly.  I talked with him.  He said

there is a much better hotel nearby which costs half the price of this

one we just turned down.  I boarded a cyclocab to travel with him to the

hotel about 2 miles away.  It was better, the Phonog Lan Hotel at 7 Dong

Thai St., fifteen dollars a night.  We checked out the room.  It was fine

with a shower enclosure -- you could take a shower -- and a European-

style toilet. 

 

 

Nobody speaks English over here, but we were able to communicate with

their limited English and my total lack of Vietnamese. The young man who

brought us here was given 15,000 Dong as a tip, then he brought me by

foot to the Lonely Planet Cafe, which seems to be a meeting place for

young English tourists.  For $22 x 2 I bought two tickets for Halong Bay. 

This includes lodging, meals, transportation, everything (it seems).  The

people are supposed to pick us up at six p.m. tomorrow.

 

The streets were littered with thousands of small merchants. At the end

of the day they all packed all their goods neatly in boxes and brought

everything home.  The wealthier ones had stores that were securely locked

when they closed at eight p.m. like almost everyone.  I bought a hand-

embroidered shirt for three dollars.  We were lost and hungry, so we

hired two cyclocabs to bring us to a restaurant.  After ten minutes we

arrived at one listed in the book.  We were taken to the second floor,

which was bigger but just as crowded as the first.  The English-speaking

hostess brought us to a vacant table where fresh herbs and rice noodles

were provided.  Soon a hot pot and charcoal-heated bucket were placed

before us.  The pan contained fish and vegetables and cooked at our

table.  The waitress ignored me often, but the food was fresh and tasty -

- just not enough for two people.  White fillets of fish fried yellow and

brown with oils and local greens.

 

The "Lonely Planet" guide for Viet Nam said that Hanoi was slower paced

than Ho Chi Minh City, but from what little I saw it looked quite the

opposite.  Several distinct differences . . . Construction of most small

buildings in Ho Chi Minh City were of bamboo, fronds, and wood with roofs

of tin corrugated sheets or fiberglass sheets.  Here most buildings are

made of varying types of brick with red brick being the most common. 

Much construction is happening between Hanoi and the airport. In Ho Chi

Minh it's mainly simple repair to existing structures.  The climate, as

expected, is colder here than 1,000 miles south in Ho. Hue is located

between the two cities, but it resembled Ho Chi Minh in attitude and

demeanor.   If my first day has given me the correct impression of Hanoi,

it is  the New York of Viet Nam.

 

 

February 25, 1995,       Saturday     Hanoi, Viet Nam

 

I woke at three in the early morning.  Because of the cold weather I

decided not to shower.  There is no heat in this hotel, but there is

plenty of air conditioning, so if I want cold I know where to find it.

 

Another pronounced difference between Hanoi and Saigon is the infrequency

of finding someone who speaks English in this northern city.  Very few

do, and those that do are usually very young students seldom over 20

years old.  Chinese and Russian used to be very popular, but now it's

English that is required in the schools.  French is much more common as a

third language as befits the tourist trade.  In HMC, Hue, and here in

Hanoi the most frequent tourists are French, followed by Americans.  I

find it astounding that the new growth industry in Viet Nam, tourism, is

fed most heavily by the two countries that lost wars here.

 

While I sat, alone in the cold early morning in the worn lobby of this

small hotel, I was greeted by the owner's wife, who graciously offered me

coffee and milk, but most welcomed was her smile and desire to make me

comfortable.  Like me, she is dressed warmly; the chill of the morning

passes through everything.  Though language is a barrier for many things,

we communicate effectively with sign language of the international kind.

 

It is now 5:27 a.m.  Since the bus is scheduled to pick us up at Gam I

must walk up the three flights of stairs to our room and confirm that

Marcy is on schedule.  Our backpacks should be stowed downstairs if we

don't want to be charged for the room tonight.  We should dress warmly

according to the owner's wife for Ha Long Bay.

 

For three full days I have not picked up a pen to diary my adventure

because I was ill.  It's easy to contract one ailment or another while

traveling, and I did.  I'll attempt my recollection as follows:

 

The bus arrived on schedule and picked us up.  It is a minibus, and I

noticed almost immediately its lack of shock absorbers. We were left

with the last two single seats, located directly over the rear wheel, and

it cut away from our foot room.   The hours stretched out to their

maximum.  Each hour seeming like two or three.   Every bump, jolt, or

stop was immediately telegraphed to us through our spine.  We felt each

pebble differently than each stone.  Finally, we arrive.  It was about

one o’clock in the afternoon.

 

The town was experiencing spastic growth; at this moment it seemed

everyone was building something, all without mechanical aid. Amazing to

watch the buckets of  being pulled up or the workmen manipulating their

way through a system of scaffolding that looked as though boards had been

cast randomly in a small area.  In fact, these boards hanging diagonally

were what the sandal-clad workmen used to ascend or descend the building,

regardless of height.

 

After an assignment of rooms at the elevatorless hotel (as were all of

the hotels), we scurried back down to catch the bus to go to the boat. 

Before going to the boat we were brought to a typical open air

restaurant, but we were taken, as a group en masse to a rear room and

seated.   It was here I began to notice that the temperature was even

colder than Hanoi.  Hanoi was about 50?, and here it was about 40?.  With

the slight wind it seemed even colder.  The room sheltered us from the

wind, but not at all from the cold.  We were served communally:  one

baked fish; one large bowl of rice; one large bowl of cooked greens; one

small bowl of squid.  I enjoyed it.

 

Back on the bus to the boat; short two-mile trip, and we were there. 

This is apparently a point where most tourist boats depart to travel out

through Halong Bay.  It was reminiscent of the Inside Passage through

Alaska except less colorful.  A blue haze covered everything.  The

mountains and peaks protruding out of the ocean were various shades of

blue until we were less than fifty yards away.  Since the large, main

flat bottom boat was too heavy, it was necessary to move into a small

flat-bottomed reed boat, which was tarred to keep it waterproof.  One

young man rowed to shore with slow deliberate shallow strokes. We docked

at an island mountain to explore a large cave. Surrounding the island,

the shell-encrusted reefs were razor sharp to the touch.   I soon found

out just how sharp when I punctured my hand as I clamored over the rocks.

Once inside the gaping mountainside hole,  I saw large stalactites and

stalagmites  growing within the cavernous innards.  Our small group had

as the only source of light being the three flashlights we had among us. 

I explored the singular large room then I climbed back over the rocks,

into the small dinghy and, when we were grouped together, we were rowed

out to the main boat.

 

The air seemed colder now as we headed back to shore.  I was anxious to

get to a warm room and have a hot shower.  The bus was waiting for us on

the road above the shoreline.    It brought us back to the hotel where

there was no hot water for a shower and there was no heat either.  The

floor was marble, and it was so cold I couldn't stand on it without

shoes.  The toilet, while western-style, wasn't able to flush properly;

yet it somehow leaked water constantly onto the bathroom floor.

 

To ward off the biting cold, the hotel provided each bed with two very

thick, heavy quilts.  Unfortunately, the quilts were significantly

smaller than the surface area of the bed.  So it took some geometry

skills to figure out how to have most body parts kept warm. Even that

was hardly enough.  Each room had air conditioning but no heat and there

were no controls to adjust temperature.  The air conditioning whirred

incessantly.  Two separate single beds were provided, we slept in one,

keeping each other warm and we could throw the second quilt over us,

somehow we made it through the night, but my cold had worsened from this

event.

 

February 26, 1995     Sunday     Halong Bay  to Hanoi

 

We awoke to a chilly morning, and I dressed quickly without showering or

shaving, only brushing my teeth.  Even that was too cold to enjoy.  The

boat would leave at one a.m.  I dressed as warmly as I could, expecting

the worst, and I wasn't disappointed.  It was even colder outside, and,

by touching the cold water from the faucet that often suggests ground

temperature, still colder.  Our breakfast of "Laughing Cow" cheese, the

coffee was served with thickened and sweetened milk-like syrup already

added.  Fresh pineapple carved into ornate spiral slices and orange

wedges.   This time, on the boat, we went out for four hours and went to

a larger cave.  I was very cold, and when we returned I wanted to go to

the toilet (because there were none on the boat) and warm up somehow. 

Instead, as soon as we returned, we packed up and left for Hanoi by the

same minibus that took us here.  Fortunately Marcy had stayed behind and

had chosen to not go in the boat, so she got us the best seats in the bus

for the long return trip.

 

The drive was just as uncomfortable on the return except that Marcy

assured me, at all costs, she would never surrender our choice seats

until back in Hanoi.  We were the only two passengers along with one

Norwegian, and the driver that stayed on the bus as it floated by ferry

across the river.

 

The bus entered the city of Hanoi about six p.m.  The family, Phlon, at

the hotel were anxious to greet us.  Offering us tea and the hostess'

smile.  We hurriedly scampered up the stairs to our room.   We would say

hello tomorrow. We were happy to be there.  We raced to the bathroom as

though this toilet was our long-lost friend.  Marcy got it first while I

went down the hall, with a travel book as reading material, to a communal

toilet.

 

I had wanted to get our Lonely Planet tee shirt, but there just wasn't

time.  It was included with the price of the tour.    Happily, we had

warm water to shower, but also no heat in the room.  I was happy to be

back in Hanoi.  We had no dinner tonight, just small packages of snacks

we had saved during the trip to Halong Bay.

 

 

February 27, 1995       Monday      Hanoi, Viet Nam

 

We woke up a few minutes after six o’clock and prepared for our trip to

Bangkok today.  I paid fourteen dollars for the taxi to the hotel owner's

son, who called to arrange a taxi to meet us at the hotel in ninety

minutes.  The cab was there a few minutes early and patiently waited

until we had fully prepared to leave.  The whole family except the Father

walked upstairs to help us bring luggage down.  The straw hats purchased

in Hue were the only fragile things we had to worry about damaging

because everything else was securely packed in our backpacks.

 

The custom of tipping the help in a hotel is ingrained in me. Even

owners of small hotels are not insulted by a gratuity. The family was

very nice to us and treated us very well.  I gave them five dollars after

I had paid the hotel bill.    As we left the hotel ten minutes later the

wife of the owner, with her young son standing at her side, gave me a

parcel wrapped in newspaper.  It was heavy and already we had enough

excelsior gathered to fill the backpacks to their fullest, so there was

no place to put this unexpected gift.   In the taxi we opened the

package.  It contained a one foot tall red plastic, rectangular vase. 

While the thought was appreciated, the logistics of bringing this bulky

item home would have been close to impossible.

 

I watched some of the videos in the car going to the Noibai International

Airport.  We stopped on a nearby street in the center of Hanoi so I could

get some more tee shirts.   The prices for many of these shirts were

terribly low, often only two dollars, and maybe four for a hand

embroidered shirts. 

 

The forty-minute drive in the Russian car was not smooth; for two dollars

more, I could have gotten an American or Japanese car, but I didn't

realize the comfort difference at the time in the hotel. Nothing worked

on the control panel of this car -- no speedometer or anything.  The

doors were held shut primarily by rusty hinges and twine.

 

Once at the airport we had to show our visa to Viet Nam and an

import/export paper which we didn't have, so I had to pay the Military

Officer ten dollars twice (for both slips).   I paid an Exit Tax of seven

dollars per person, but everybody had to pay that. Now able to board,

the plane operated efficiently and on schedule.  We took off on time.

 

On landing in Bangkok after a comfortable one and a half hour flight,

Marcy had to call Sarah which she could do on a U.S. credit card. The

modern airport was slow to get us through Customs. Marcy wanted a hotel

with a bank so we went to the Alpine Hotel, supposedly in the center of

town and near everything.  The hotel touts at the airport lied about it

being close to everything.  The main part of town was always a taxi ride

to anywhere we wanted to go in this huge sprawling city.

 

The hour taxi ride cost 100 Baht -- a little over four dollars.  The

exchange rate is 24 Baht to the dollar.   After bringing everything into

our room, we left to go see this city.  Many of the overwhelming number

of vehicles in this city seem to always be stuck in traffic. There are

many cars, many motorcycles and many tuk-tuks.  Tuk-tuks are three

wheeled motorcycle devices with a surrey in back for two passengers.  I

tried to find a Tuk-Tuk driver who spoke English since it is not a common

language here.  One young man professed to some knowledge of English, so

I arranged to use him to show us around Bangkok for three hours for a

price of 150 Baht, half of what he originally asked.

 

I wanted to see the floating market, but he wanted to take us to several

places where he gets free gasoline.  It was a struggle to see the city --

but I got to smell it constantly.  He insisted on bringing us to places

that he would get free gas.  He would have been better off if he had not

taken us.  I found him to be remarkably detestable, struggling at every

turn to pimp us to some vendor or another.  After one refusal after

another by me,  he brought us to the Floating Market without mentioning

to us that it is only open during the early hours of the day -- pimping

us to his boat owner friend.  After we struggled to avoid a ride on the

boat through the city we walked along some shops.   Both of us were

amazed that prices were not much cheaper than a good bargain in L.A.,

which hardly justified making purchases to be hauled around Asia for a

couple of weeks.

 

For some strange reason, still unclear to me, we didn't discharge the

Tuk-Tuk driver and find another of the hundreds that were available, and

possibly one with more honorable intentions.  Instead, we reboarded his

three-wheeled vehicle and asked to be brought without delay to Siam

Square.  He promised . . . but we went to his jeweler friend (he was on

the way to Siam Square)-- ”AAUGH!” I said, “NO!  SIAM SQUARE!” Later we

will visit one of his "over inflated, high-priced merchants."  So, when

he realized the futility of it all, he brought us to Siam Square.  We

told him to wait about thirty minutes while we ate. Nearby was a

wonderful Thai restaurant where you could watch into the kitchen as they

prepared the food.

 

We ordered some soup, Thai chicken and cashew seafood, fried rice, and

tea.  Dinner took about an hour, but we went back to look for the driver

who had not yet been paid for his terrible performance, but he was gone -

- so we waited about ten minutes before giving up on him, and getting a

regular cab back to our hotel.  The meal was the only good part of our

visit to this city so far.   The food was just great.

 

The grit and heat built a strange waxy coating over my body, which I

blissfully relieved by some scrubbing and a hot shower. Sleep came

quickly, although interrupted frequently by a slight alimentary disorder

I possessed at the moment.

 

 

February 28, 1995         Tuesday           Bangkok, Thailand

 

Yesterday we arranged the confirmation of a tour through the city and we

wanted to see the famous Reclining Buddha.  The temples were beautiful. 

I recorded the sights on video and photos extensively. This would have

made the trip to Thailand worthwhile itself if this would have been all

we were to see.  Sandy (probably not the real name of our Thai guide)

spoke English well and encouraged the tour to continue to The Palace

which we did to see more spectacular architecture.

 

I talked with Sandy about how much more enjoyable this tour is since the

driver yesterday kept trying to drag us in to see local merchants.  She

smiled blithely, and then the engine of the minivan was turned off.  We

were at our next destination.  A jewelry merchant friend of hers.  Marcy

bought some small items as souvenirs and gifts.  I bought nothing.  Back

into the bus.  Our next stop -- some fine Indian tailors -- other friends

of hers.  We stopped for a quick while and walked into the nearby

wholesale garment district -- some real bargains on clothing. I bought

two Thai silk shirts for eight dollars.

 

We walked back to the hotel after changing American Express money orders,

$120 into Baht.  Walking by all the sidewalk food vendors tempted both of

us greatly, but so far we've been careful not to buy from such merchants.

 

Back to Siam Square by taxi, not Tuk-Tuk.  We shopped in Tokyo, a huge

department store merged with individual merchants selling their wares in

competition with the store.  It was easy to see the high quality of

merchandise from the store compared to the smaller vendors’ stuff. 

 

 

 

 

We wandered along Bangkok's busy streets until we found a nice looking

Thai Restaurant.  Delicious food.  Then back outside in the heat and

grime.  After an hour we had to struggle to get a taxi -- unsuccessfully. 

But with all the tuk-tuks, we took one of them back and prepared for an

early morning to the Floating Market outside of town, which (we are

assured) is much better than that in Bangkok.  I feel like everybody here

is out to skin every tourist of all they can.

 

 

March 1, 1995           Wednesday           Bangkok, Thailand

 

Today is my son, Mark's birthday, but I must wait to call him till later

because the day is yet to start back in L.A.  I woke early to meet the

guide, who was to bring us to the Floating Market.  We left at 6:30 a.m.

on a bus with six sleepy people and a sleepy guide.  The bus moved

quickly in open spaces and cut roughly into lanes as is the custom here. 

As he does this lane hopping, edging out the other driver already in that

lane by a millimeter or so, he holds up his hand as if to say “thanks” 

to the other driver whom he just cut off.

 

Amazingly the other driver must decide to stay in the same lane or try to

take the place that the cutter just vacated.  All “good” drivers do not

show anger as a "face-saving mechanism.”  I am told this is ingrained in

the inscrutable Oriental cultures.  The (collective) Thai man must always

act pleasant.  I think even stricter rules apply to women, who quietly

accept a subordinate role here.  I noticed few exceptions to these rules.

 

After three hours of driving, we arrived at a coconut farm. This was not

a big thrill.  It might have been a good day trip for school children,

maybe.  I watched as they demonstrated skills at squashing the coconut

pod and drying the seed pulp into coconut sugar.  It tasted and looked

like Mexican sugar candy.

 

Back on the bus, we went, for another thirty minutes to the Floating

Market.  The reason I elected to take this tour was that I was

anticipating less touristy sights.  In this quest, I now realized I was

unsuccessful in this tour.  The parking area was inundated with buses

filled with one homogeneous cultural group or another. Lots of French,

many Brits, but few Americans.

 

All the foreign subjects were funneled like mice into cues to efficiently

and quickly load them into a waiting yellow longboat resembling a large

canoe.  Ours comfortably seated all ten of us, including the guide and

the boat driver.

 

 

The boatman started his 25 horsepower engine and took off. We sped

through the walled river rapidly, pausing only at a close and difficult-

to-maneuver corner.  Then the speed resumed, stopping in a quay where we

were (gently) plucked out of the boat and taken into a large, covered

market area where tourists flooded the area.  Tee shirts, hats, huge

hand-painted fans, and small wooden carvings were offered for sale. Sweet

pineapple quarters, juicy and speared with a thin bamboo rod were very

good, but not refreshing, at thirty cents for two speared quarters.

 

The moist ninety-degree weather was too hot to travel outside the leaf-

roofed marketplace, and the merchants knew we were captives and not able

to leave because we were lost without the aid of our errant guide.   If I

touched any article for sale, the vendor will quickly come over to beckon

me to come further within his domain.  "How much you want to spend?" I

was asked when I caught the young apprentice-vendor's eye. "Nothing," I

said, "I'm just looking."  He looked puzzled.  "NOTHING, I'M JUST

LOOKING!" I repeated loudly.  He came forward still with the brashness of

youth, intent on making the biggest sale of the day with me. Words could

not deter him.  He hung within inches from my face studying each of my

facial expressions as I TRIED to browse quietly and unobtrusively.

 

I decided to use a tactic I developed in Viet Nam.  Out came the video

recorder, and I filmed his face until he could no longer stand it, and he

hurried away to another unfortunate victim.  I was able to quietly look

around without further disturbance.

 

The entire marketplace scene was clearly staged for the benefit of

tourists.  Fruit was neatly displayed on open trays, left uncut until

needed.  We gathered our group together to travel to the next point, a

center for woodcarving and paper making.  Everything at the center was

for sale.  Usually all items were priced in US dollars, not Baht, so this

is not a shop that locals would go to.

 

Back in the bus and off at a cultural center where Thais performed native

dances (with Western flourishes), performed an exhibition of crocodile

wrestling, and we watched an elaborate reenactment of battles where

elephants were used.  We ate lunch there, buffet-style.  

 

The heat and humidity were increasing.  I drank bottle after bottle of

water, bloating myself but not quenching the heat-induced thirst.  We

rode the bus back to Bangkok in two hours and we were delivered to our

hotel.  That night at six, we walked through the downtown area by the

hotel.  An accidental turn down a couple of the right streets brought us

into the middle of the commercial district.  It was tough to realize that

goods here were priced fairly for us.  I bought two shirts; Marcy bought

one.  We traveled through its five stories of mostly open shops.  No

"Bangkok" tee shirts -- they all had American logos on them.

 

We walked through the supermarket.  Again, this was more than one store. 

It was one main store and fifty or a hundred small merchants all within

the same compound.  Wandering through the endless aisles, I was

discharged onto another area of commerce.  All this, we discovered,

within two kilometers of our hotel.     

 

At eight p.m. we searched for good Thai food for our last meal in

Bangkok.  After walking the broken, dirty, and vegetable-strewn street,

we came to the "Rose" restaurant.  It looked friendly and clean.  We sat,

and somebody came immediately to bring water and the menu (written in

Thai and English).  Problems occurred with ordering the food.  I asked

for shrimp -- they didn't have any; ordered a beef dish -- not available

today; ordered Thai iced coffee -- got hot tea.  I can't recall the other

errors they made, but it wasn’t a professionally run restaurant, it

seemed that members of a big family operated this place. Each of them,

at different times, spent ten or twenty minutes talking on the phone. 

Trying to run the restaurant seemed to be a burden they couldn't deal

with as a priority.  A Brit was angrily trying to get them to remove

something he claimed he hadn't ordered, but ate.  The young manager

smiled and listened attentively, but refused to remove it from the bill. 

We sat at the table, after ordering, for fifteen minutes. Only coffee

for me and tea for Marcy was served.  I asked for the bill, and we were

only charged for these items. 

 

As I reached into my pocket for money, the waitress hurried over to bring

us the food she had forgotten to give us.  I ate it after sitting back

down.  We left no extra tip, only paying the six-dollar charge.

 

 

March 2, 1995        Thursday                    Bangkok to Beijing

 

I prepared for the early departure to the airport.  The hotel had not

removed a laundry charge for my white clothes they turned gray, and I had

to battle with the manager, who finally contended they shouldn't be that

color.   I had to pull them out of my backpack, which was filled to

capacity now and it was no easy issue to get them back in the pack.

 

The driver drove the one-hour trip for fourteen dollars, leaving us at

the international section of the airport.  We paid the seven dollars per

person tax to the Airport Office, and then they gave us a small blue

stamp on our tickets.  Now we went on to Gate Six.  The airport was clean

and efficient, selling all kinds of goods.  , I have been chocolate

starved, so I bought some Swiss chocolate.  We boarded amidst the masses

that were pushing to be first to board and get storage space for their

carry-on.  I joined in the melee.  It wasn't too tough, being that I'm

twice as tall and three times heavier than most of the little people I

was in competition with.

 

The plane was about two-thirds full, so everybody was comfortable for the

four-and-a-half hour flight.  I especially enjoyed the meal, typically

Thai, but there were several items served that were not edible (to me). 

I found a seat on the plane in the rear smoking area to relax and write.

 

Quickly the time passed, and the plane was landing in Beijing (Peking). 

Soothingly, without problems, everybody, including Marcy and me, passed

through Customs.  Before approaching the Customs official, however, it

was necessary that five forms be completed. Fortunately the forms were

written in Chinese and English.

 

A local Chinese spotted me as an American and began talking to me. 

Knowing to take care at the airport for such people did not prevent me

from accepting his offer to drive Marcy and me twenty-five kilometers

into town to the hotel.  Cost about twenty dollars.  A bit overpriced

probably; a fair price would have been less than ten dollars. This is

the dilemma faced by all travelers.  So I got ripped a little more.

 

We got to the hotel, checked out the room -- the lobby looked great.  It

was fairly priced at forty-five dollars per night.  The room was on the

top 15th floor with a view of the main street; unhampered by commercial

overgrowth, north or south views.

 

It's chilly, about 40? F, but the air is clear and crisp. After putting

our stuff down and using the bathroom, we left to go out scouting around

town.  We also wanted to enjoy a Chinese dinner at a restaurant suggested

to us by somebody at the hotel.  I hired a cyclocab to take us.

Obviously (it soon became known) that the cab driver didn’t understand

either he or me didn't know where the place was.  We drove in the open

air cab for over an hour until we finally just had him stop at a place

that looked good.   The meal was nothing noteworthy.  We walked a mile

then taxied back to the Chong Wen Men Hotel.

 

March 3, 1995        Friday              Beijing, China

 

I woke up at ten a.m., I dressed leisurely because there was no place we

had to go to, and it was time we took a day to just enjoy the sights and

smells without the need to accomplish something.

 

We went for breakfast, but we were too late, they had stopped serving

until lunchtime.   I asked for shrimp soup when I was told they had no

chicken soup.  The coffee we requested came with milk in it even though

none was requested.  The soup came, but it was fish soup.  I sent it back

again, asking for the shrimp. The soup was corn chowder with some

minuscule shrimp in it.  Fortunately, it was not expensive for it wasn't

deserving of a high price.

 

We left the restaurant and went to the lobby to buy air tickets to Guilin

for $320.  I had to change dollars into Yuan, the Chinese monetary unit.

The exchange rate is 8.24 Yuan per one U.S. dollar.  Then into town to

Tienamen Square. The day was colder than yesterday and the wind made

everything still colder.  I didn't see the main entrance, so we walked to

an adjacent marketplace lined with hundreds of small vendors of food and

clothing.  There were few other items available here.  It is usual to

find merchants with similar types of products to gather together.  The

vegetable and meat market was about a mile away, each on a specific

street for their specific commerce.

 

I was attracted by the pleasant odor of cooking meat on a barbecue.  I

spotted it nearby, and it magnetically attracted me. Once there I

watched as many people ordered a skewer or two.  On closer observation I

saw what I had mistaken for meat was actually fattened crickets skewered

head to butt, three on a stick.  The resemblance to a human embryo made

me ill.  I bought a very heavy and warm army-green jacket for eleven

dollars, gloves cost five dollars, a lighter was one dollar. Like most

places in the world, the merchants were happy to take American dollars

rather than Chinese Yuan.  We returned briefly to the hotel room, leaving

all newly acquired things except those that added to our warmth in the

chilly air.  We went back to resume shopping in the same general area.

 

Marcy had read that the best shopping and broadest range of goods

available would be at the government run Friendship Store. While there

we spoke with the CIT's Office of Tourism to go to the Great Wall and

Ming's Tomb.   We must meet the tour bus at the store tomorrow at eight

a.m.  It will be even colder out there by the Great Wall, the ticket

agent told us.  I bought a harmonica in the store, then we took a minibus

to the hotel.

Across the street was a restaurant that was recommended for its Peking

Duck by the concierge at our hotel.  We walked along the street for a

while, then into the restaurant.  I noticed that this, as well as other

restaurants we have visited (regardless of menu prices), doesn’t find an

overwhelming need to change tablecloths with anything approaching the

frequency of eateries in the U.S. and Western Europe.

 

Along with the duck, we ordered chicken with chili and peanuts.  Tea, the

ordered chicken, and utensils came very promptly, but the duck took over

thirty minutes to arrive.  We requested the duck, and whole it was,

including the head and feet.  It was served brown with a slightly crispy

skin and over a millimeter of body fat covered the edible meat. The duck

was carved entirely by a chef at our table.  The cost for the duck was

forty yuan at 8.22 per dollar, making the duck cost about $4.80 U.S.  We

took pieces of duck meat, scallions and smeared some salty plum sauce

over this concoction, then wrapped it in a thin crepe-style pancake to

eat it like a burrito.  Too much plum sauce can easily make the food much

too sweet and salty.

 

I am starting to enjoy tea without sugar.  I might as well get used to it

because that is how it is served all over Asia.  Asking for sugar will

get me strange looks from casual observers here.  I was drinking cup

after cup of it.

 

Since we had to pay prior to being served, we could leave when it was

convenient for us.  Before we could stand up, we were served the final

course.  Duck soup. The carcass and head were cooked in a ladle of soup,

all at our table.  The Chinese feel that the soup is medicinal and will

improve alimentary digestion, so it is served traditionally last.  I had

none because I was full already and wanted no more.  It was left

untouched.  Marcy ate none of the soup either because of the appearance

of the head was detractive.

 

Back across the street we walked.  Our hotel was a warm relief from the

biting cold of the streets.  Soon it was lights out, after watching a

little Sherlock Holmes and America's Funniest Home Videos on Chinese

television -- all in Chinese, of course.  Then, tired as we were, we

slept soundly while the city still bustled below.

 

I awoke at seven a.m. to leave the hotel a half hour later. The tour

bus to the Ming Underground Palace and the Great Wall leaves from the

Beijing Friendship Store at 8:15 a.m.  We took a motor taxi there,

leaving plenty of time to waste since stores are not open until 9a.m. 

The adjacent Baskin Robbins store served coffee and pastries, so we went

in.  Cappuccino was 6.50 Yuan, and the pastry was two Yuan.  Part of this

store was a minimarket too, so water was purchased for the long

anticipated journey.

 

The guide appeared to take us to the aforementioned sights.  After an

hour we arrived at a plant that makes vases of copper and enamel.  

Watching the steps of manufacture was amazing.  First, a general design

was hand-drawn on the copper vase, and then a worker would inlay small

narrow strips of copper, using a special adhesive, along the lines drawn. 

Someone else would, using an eyedropper, fill in certain areas with the

enamel.  The overall design would first be noticeable at that step. 

Next, the vase would be hot-fired in a special oven. After cooling,

another worker would buff the base until it was smooth as glass.  While

the vase was not appealing to me before seeing this, afterward I took

great interest in the intricate designs.  I bought some bracelets which

were made by the same process. After an hour here, we got back into the

bus and we were off to the Ming Tombs and Underground Palace about an

hour away on open well-paved roads.

 

The Tombs dotted many locations, starting at the very foot of these

sacred mountains.  Peasants were prohibited from coming close to the

mountains for centuries.  One of many complex tombs had been unearthed,

but the remaining tombs were left intact for future exploration. The

maze of the tomb pathways was designed and created to mislead the unwary,

but this tomb was fully unearthed to allow us, and hundreds of Chinese,

to go down three levels into the main chamber.  Because scientists have

been exploring this tomb complex for over twenty years, it has been fully

unearthed and, they believe, all passages have been discovered.  So many

tourists here!  Mostly Oriental tourists, but few Caucasians -- maybe

five of every hundred -- swarmed through the widened tunnels.

 

Throngs of merchants lined all areas outside the tombs to hawk every kind

of goods to the tourist, from fur hats to fruit, travel patches to film,

and everything else I could think of.  They were really persistent if I

stopped to admire anything in their little wooden kiosk.

 

Back into the bus we were herded.  After an hour drive we got off the bus

at the most significant section of the Great Wall. Again, the masses of

merchants selling everything they could think of -- jackets to juice.  A

book about the Great Wall in paperback, silver coins depicting the Great

Wall, were two often displayed items.  Our guide had moved on but  we

knew to meet at the bus in 1½ hours.  Since he wasn't around to pay our

admission fee, I had to pay the 60 yuan (30 apiece) to climb the

‘Monument to Chinese Defense’, as they labeled it.

 

After awhile Marcy sat waiting for me to make the climb to the peak of

this Wall.  Along the windy passage, domed with snow or ice I encountered

several persistent merchants.  Especially noticeable was one who wanted

to sell me a silver coin.  I didn't want it.  He persisted for much of my

journey up the steep area of the Wall.  I made care to think of the

possibility each time he bumped me of a pickpocket.  All my valuables

were secure under two layers of clothes in a zippered pouch hanging

around my neck.  Merchants were all over the Wall trying to sell tee

shirts, sweatshirts, books, coins, etc.  We finally got off the Wall.  It

was very cold up there; snow still lined the edges of the Wall. I bought

two fur hats that, I suspect, are made of dog fur. Another persistent

merchant sold me two dark green, heavy sweatshirts that say, "I climbed

the Great Wall" in Chinese.  Next, Marcy decided, after some insistence

on my part, to ride the camel.  It was necessary that I continue the

strong encouragement or Marcy would have changed her mind about getting

atop this unfriendly creature.  It wasn't easy to climb on his back, but

she did it.

 

The bus was waiting for us to return to Beijing.  The two-hour ride back

delivered us to the Friendship Store.  While the Friendship Stores are

all over Beijing, and there is always one in all of China's larger cities

and towns, their prices are usually among the most costly of all stores

or merchants.

 

We took a taxi back to the Chong Wen Men Hotel.  We dropped all extra

gear in the hotel and went out to eat.  I bought some barbecued meat on a

skewer, gave the seller ten yuan and he waved to me like "OK - now we are

even."  But the posted price indicated only 2.50 Yuan, and I waited for

change that he reluctantly gave to me.  A popcorn merchant was selling

bags for two Yuan.  I bought one.  Marcy wanted another for later.  It

didn't taste like American traditional popcorn.  Very slight sweet taste

and each kernel was three times as dense as what I am acquainted within

the U.S.  I gave him a ten-yuan note, expecting eight back.  Instead, I

had to struggle with him and insist on money returned.  A crowd gathered;

finally, he gave me the money.  I'll remember to carry smaller bills for

such persons.  Back to the hotel, after we stopped at a small restaurant,

and I had bony chicken parts with extra skin and heavy on the fat.  I

thought I was ordering something else, but this is what came. The menu

was only in Chinese, so I told the waiter I wanted to eat what I had seen

on another patron’s plate.  Marcy and I had a good laugh over this. 

Outside the little restaurant on the cold dark boulevard, I was still

hungry so I bought two skewers of beef from a street vendor. Marcy ate

nothing.

 

March 5, 1995         Sunday          Beijing, China

 

I woke up at 10 then sun was already out fully and it was a warm day.

Marcy and I got dressed quickly.  We drove in a cyclocab to the south

gate of the Forbidden City here in Beijing. Accidentally, we walked

through the wrong gate into a separate section that is a child’s park. 

After discovering our error, we left and found the correct entrance just

to the west of this park.  After paying seventy Yuan each we got an

English tape version of the Forbidden City, so-called because it was only

for the Emperor's wife, children, courtesans, and royal slaves. The

audiotape explained much of the history of this palace and courtyard from

thirteen points corresponding to numbered signs posted, to signal a stop.  

We walked through the main portion of this huge graveled arena. It had

been destroyed several times and rebuilt each time, using the original

plans, so it looked like the first.

 

As we walked through the courtyard, Marcy pointed out a young child's

clothing outfit that was common around Beijing.  The pants had no rear so

the two-year-old boy (in this case) could squat (a technique not yet

perfected by Marcy) and do what children must do.  The design of the

pants was cut so there would be no obstruction in the child's performance

of waste elimination.

 

After exiting the courtyard I thought about how impressive the intricate

and labor-intensive work was.   I purchased a Styrofoam box filled with

eight or ten pot stickers (pork, I believe) for four Yuan. They tasted

so good; I went back for some more, which were being cooked as I watched. 

We took the cyclocab to a nearby shopping area with many fancy shops

mixed in with the not-so-fancy.  I bought a silk casual-wear jacket, as

did Marcy, for five dollars.  They were happy to take American dollars.

 

We stopped in at a McDonald's Hamburger Restaurant, which was terribly

crowded even though it was very, very big.  People crowded into the line

sideways with little regard for any order -- except making theirs.  With

all the pushing and shoving I was amazed that I finally got hot coffee

and a chocolate milkshake for nine Yuan.  All the tables were occupied,

but when I saw that some people were about to leave, we waited a couple

of minutes for them to vacate and then we sat. 

 

A cyclocab took us back to the hotel, and then we went out to buy a few

harmonicas from the Friendship Store and just look around. The cab

driver offered to give me change for an American twenty-dollar bill in

Yuan, which I was willing to accept.  He took the money from me as we

stood on the sidewalk and then he just sped away through massive throngs

of people.  

 

We wandered through a produce section.  Most of the fruit and vegetables

appeared to be second grade or worse.  We bought none, but we did go into

a wonderful Szechwan Chinese restaurant.  We ordered spring rolls -- pork

with sizzling rice, shredded chicken, and beer to drink. While the food

tasted great, it was cooked using too much oil.  I kept trying to remove

some of the grease, but this was no easy task. We walked the short

distance back to the hotel.  The weather today was especially pleasant

from morning to night; the temperature was always in the 70's.

 

I exercise more caution now with cab drivers that don't want to give

change.  I ask for the change first before I give them the money.  This

last cabbie wanted my money, but then "realized" he had change.  So I

gave him 24.80 yuan instead of twenty-five.  He would have gladly taken

the thirty yuan and left.  Not again, not to me.  I'll be careful.

 

 

March 6,1995     Monday Guilin, China

 

In the morning we went to the airport to catch flight to Guilin.  I hope

for warmer weather.  However, I have a heavy eight-dollar coat, good

gloves, and a warm dog-fur hat  -- just in case it's not warm.  I ate

very little on the plane because I had difficulty in determining which

food groups the little things on my plate belonged to.  We landed after a

three and one-half hour flight.  A cab ride cost fifty Yuan to get to the

Hong Kong Hotel in the heart of the city of Guilin.  The drive was about

twenty minutes through a shabby, but very typical for smaller cities in

China, business area.  Everything was for sale.  The hotel was at the

other end of town, small in comparison to Beijing; probably less than

300,000 people live in the metropolitan part of the city.

 

Marcy successfully negotiated the price from ninety (posted in dollars)

to fifty dollars by showing the price printed in the Lonely Planet Guide

to China.  Our room, on the 14th floor of this circular hotel, had a view

of construction to the East.  We purchased air tickets to Canton and a

boat ride down the River Li, supposedly a very beautiful trip. We spent

the balance of the day looking around town.  We had taken a cab to the

Cave of the Seven Sisters   and walked two miles along the Lake it

followed.  Many Chinese scripts were carved into the caves, which were

dotted with limestone stalagmites and stalactites. The path led us by

many barking vendors, all selling the same merchandise as the vendor next

to him.  I only purchased one small cigarette holder of bone for fifty

cents.  We walked toward the general direction of our hotel, but neither

of us knew exactly where it was.  Fortunately, I had a business card from

the hotel, so in the worst case, we’d have to take a taxi back. Along

the main street we followed was a post office where I bought several

stamps for postcards.  Marcy called home from the post office because

that is the only place in town that we could make an international call. 

She found that Sarah was in the hospital after an hour of talking with

Ross, we left the post office and resumed our journey toward the hotel. 

Immediately as we exited, we walked through a maze of fruit and vegetable

vendors with most of their wares spread out on a clearly delineated area

which they marked well, usually by use of a straw mat or a blanket or

two.  The fruits were not ones I could identify immediately, but with

close inspection I could tell what fruit they might be related to.  I was

surprised to find that their produce had little in common with the

vegetables and fruits I am familiar with.  Especially notable was a large

yellow gourd-like fruit that split apart and was eaten like grapefruit. 

It tasted and smelled akin to grapefruit as well.

 

Further north along the street were the butchers and vendors of fish,

animals and eggs.  Because it was cold today, a rarity in this city, the

meat looked clean and untainted, but when the normal heat and humidity

resume, the air must smell putrid.  Dogs and large bamboo rats, snakes,

all kinds of living and dead fish, and other water creatures were for

sale.

 

As we walked further, two young men with bicycles approached us.  They

identified themselves as teachers at the local college of art, but they

said they were always looking for a chance to practice English.    They

introduced themselves to us as Lee and Tang.  These two twenty-year-olds

had purchased a large freshwater fish at the local market and were riding

their bikes home with the still-gasping live fish in the front basket on

the bike.  While Marcy was looking for quiet, the young teachers

persisted in talking with me.   We began to take a liking to the two men,

who asked us to go out to dinner with them -- we pay. Yes, we accepted. 

At eight o'clock we met them in front of the hotel and exchanged ideas

about our differences and similarities.

 

The local specialty was the local fish, which was served "sweet and

sour," very solid, tasty meat and easy to pick from the bone.  Chicken

was fried.  It was snipped into squares about one and one-half inch, with

the bone, skin, and everything.  The first piece of chicken I took was,

on close inspection, the fried head.  Tang told me that the father always

gets the head.  I still declined, opting for more traditional body parts

to consume.  They had given me small samples of other meat that I wanted

to taste.  A square of dark meat that looked smooth with wide grains

through it was bamboo rat.  I did not like the meat because it was tough

and sour.  Next they gave a piece of meat that was still on the bone. 

This small piece was bitter, but the meat had good texture. Tang said

that I had just eaten dog.  They were careful not to upset Marcy by

explaining what I had eaten in anything other than very low tones and

whispers.  I appreciated this culinary adventure which I do not intend to

repeat.  I had the offer of cat meat, which is a delicacy here and very

expensive, but the restaurant owner did not have any now. I didn’t want

to wait until she caught one.  As we walked by other restaurants, they

had many different animals encaged in front of their eatery.  Other

creatures that were there waiting to be eaten were fish, large insects,

snakes, and other animals for which Lee and Tang could not recall the

names in English.

 

We returned to the hotel by way of city bus.  One Yuan per person.  The

next morning we wanted a wake-up call so we could be on time for the

river boat trip.

 

 

March 7, 1995       Tuesday           Guilin, China

 

After dressing, we went upstairs to the revolving restaurant to have dim

sum and coffee for a light breakfast.  We went downstairs and the bus was

waiting for us.  At eight we boarded the bus going to the boat, about 5

km. away.  The weather was cold, damp, and very foggy.  The boat quickly

engorged itself to capacity with passengers.  It pulled away from the

dock, and the engine was locked in gear.  Off we were.

 

The limestone rock formations around the river were pretty, but because

of the bitter cold and the light clothing we wore, it was too cold to

really enjoy to its fullest.  The fog misted over the rocks and cliffs,

which lined both sides of the river.  The farthest field of view was up

or down the river.  The fog especially gathered over land and around the

huge rocks.

 

This trip finished in Yuangzou at five p.m.  We immediately caught a bus,

which traveled less than enthusiastically to the town of Guilin.  The bus

driver stopped for five minutes so he could buy three grapefruit from his

favorite roadside vendor.

 

Once in Guilin the bus straggled past what appeared to be our hotel. The

bus driver opting to travel another four miles so that the Japanese

tourists and we could enjoy a free museum of costumes. All speaking and

all signs were in Chinese and Japanese.  I couldn’t understand a word of

what it was all about.  The cold weather and the drizzling rain were

enough to stop Marcy from even leaving the bus.  We wanted to get to the

hotel soon because we were very tired. It didn't appeal to me or Marcy 

to even get off the bus for this episode of pimping us off. Naturally

there was an abundance of gift shops -- here, signs were posted in

English here, but they spoke a limited vocabulary in English.

 

I began a conversation with one of the curators of the museum.  He showed

me some items that were owned by this small museum, but will be sold

soon.  I asked several items I had an interest in.  Before leaving the

old man, he had convinced me that a particular mask was an exceptional

buy at two hundred dollars.  I explained that I am on a very limited

budget . . . apparently that was enough for the price to drop to fifty

dollars before I bought the large bamboo mask of the Wise Man of Guilin -

- a mystical being.

 

 At seven in the early evening, the driver, having lost his way once,

finally was able to deliver us to the hotel.  Tang and Lee were waiting

for us at the hotel as we had agreed the previous night. Strangely, they

were both very reluctant to venture from the darkness close to the lights

from the glassed hotel lobby.  This made me feel uneasy, as though they

were known unsavory characters that the hotel wanted kept away from the

guests.  We went anyway. 

 

Our first stop with Tang and Lee was to their professor's house, where we

drank tea and looked at several water colors he had drawn. All offered

to us at one-third what we'd have to pay in a hotel or fancy store.  We

didn't buy anything and felt that we were being pimped again.

The four of us took a taxi to the local playhouse, where we watched some

acrobatics, several interpretive vignettes about a marriage ceremony, and

some other scenes of Chinese life.  We were served small peanuts salted

in the shell, an apple, and two orange slices for sixty yuan per person.

 

After this hour long bit of local entertainment, we walked through dimly

lit streets to a local restaurant to enjoy a spicy late dinner. Later

that night, around 9:30 p.m., we returned by taxi in the cold and damp

weather to our hotel.  Sleep came quickly.

 

March 8,1995     Wednesday     Guilin, China

 

We had gotten our tickets for Canton to leave by plane tomorrow morning

at 10 a.m.  I had a Chinese breakfast, dim sum, which was mainly egg

rolls and coffee; then a taxi to the airport for forty Yuan.

 

Once at the airport, we found that the flight was delayed for a long time

because of bad fog.  After three hours now, we are still waiting for

departure to be announced.  Marcy is getting emotional about calling

home.  Unable to get through, she is meeting with a great deal of

communication problems for which I could only suggest she wait till the

large airport at Canton.

 

Meanwhile, as I pen these lines, waiting in the airport terminal,

standing alone while Marcy futilely attempts to call home, numerous

Chinese -- mainly older men -- have boldly looked over my shoulder to see

what it is that I write.  I'm certain none have been able to read a word

yet.

 

After three hours, I'm still stuck at the airport, not even able to find

a place to sit.  The time goes so slowly.  Because of the heavy fog the

flight may be canceled, which would further complicate issues of time and

scheduling.  Already it seems the best part of the day has been wasted

here.   If the fog is the condition preventing takeoff, then I would

prefer to wait for a safe moment before our plane is venturing into the

sky.

 

Anticipation of warm weather in Canton almost prompted me to dress

lightly, but good sense momentarily seized me, and I donned my heavy

jacket.  After four hours in the airport, heavy fog caused every flight

to be delayed.  It should be noted that none of the flights were

canceled, even though no flights have left the airport in two days.  It

is likely that we won’t fly out today; the fog is still very heavy.  I

brought our tickets to a service window and was able to get a refund.  

For five Yuan we took a cab to the train station.  The cab left us close

to the train station, but not too close because the traffic was jammed

and we didn't exactly know where it was.  People were scurrying around

everywhere. 

Eventually, we traversed the wet and crowded parking lot, but the

doorways were so jammed that it was very difficult because we were loaded

with luggage.  Rather than fight through it all, we went to the Hong Kong

Hotel where we purchased train tickets for tomorrow. There was little

chance to fly out tomorrow because the fog seems to thicken with each

passing moment and the fog is predicted to be heavier tomorrow.   We paid

six hundred Yuan for sleeper booths on the train, and, the travel agent

said it could be more.  She will go to the station to try to get the

tickets soon.   I am ready to leave this burg and now.

 

After stowing all gear back in a newly assigned room, we drank some hot

tea, then left to visit the town once again.   We walked about four

miles.  During the last two miles a Chinese man who claimed to be a

librarian at the University dismounted his bike and walked with us.  It

was difficult to decide if he truly had an interest in us as Americans or

a desire to get a free meal or some other reward for accompanying us.  I

enjoyed the exchange of ideas, but when we wanted to be left alone he

would not leave, instead he acted oblivious to Marcy's perturbation.  

Admittedly, I was passive because I enjoy an exchange of thoughts as we

were doing.  We walked into a department store for videotape for the

camcorder.  They wanted twenty-six dollars for what would cost fifteen

dollars in L.A.  I have enough film to last till Canton or Hong Kong

probably, except I never know when I should film until the moment is upon

me.  We took a cyclo back to the hotel, and then went upstairs for dinner

in the revolving restaurant in the Hong Kong Hotel.  The view was

wonderful as we circled around; able to see most everything in the city .

. . the fog seems to be lifting.   Including two alcoholic drinks, the

bill was less than twenty dollars; agood value in a nice restaurant. 

Both of us enjoyed the food too.

 

I was tired, so I went to bed.  I turned the TV up rather loud because

our "neighbors" were very loud, so I thought this would help get the

message across quickly to them.  Our neighbors had about six Chinese

women all of them talking at the same time; each trying to speak louder

than the other women so they would be heard.   The cackling laugh, coming

from their room, was the worst I have ever heard.

 

 

March 9, 1995    Thursday    Guilin, China

   

Because we had nothing we had to do except leave Guilin, and the travel

clerk was unable to purchase railway tickets, we decided to try to get a

flight.  Weather conditions were much better, although still foggy; it

had lifted above ground level to about three hundred feet. With some

good luck we'll depart on the newly arranged tickets at 9:30 p.m. to

Chenzhan, near Canton.

 

 

 

Rather than spend the afternoon lounging at the hotel with nothing more

than hope, we'll be able to fly out today.  We went to a cave located

about twenty minutes outside of Guilin.  Hordes of vendors selling the

traditional chatchkas came down like locusts on a rice field.     We

wandered past the camel chewing his cud, waiting for the moment he must

stand up.  An older Chinese woman encouraged us (for forty Yuan) to ride

her bamboo raft across a small lake close to the mouth of the cave.  The

Reed Flute Cave cost thirty-four Yuan (but only twelve, if you are

Chinese) per person to enter the tour of the cave narrated thoroughly

albeit only in Chinese.  The cave and its tunnels were well paved and

well lit.

 

 The colored lighting dramatized well, the unusual formations within this

mountainous domed arena.  The taxi driver we hired brought us back to the

hotel quickly without stops at his favorite jeweler or anywhere but the

hotel.

 

Once back, I paid for the new plane tickets, and we went upstairs,

neither of us was feeling in the peak of health -- both with aching feet. 

Marcy was feeling overall malaise, probably a cold, but she went

everywhere with me just the same.  She’s a great traveling companion.

 

We had some coffee and tea.   I hired a taxi to bring us to the

department store to buy some video film that would work well in the video

camera (about 50% more expensive than in the U.S., and it seems to be

designed for PAL. systems).

 

While I slowly walked through the store, I noticed the wide variety of

goods for sale.  Household appliances -- like washers, dryers,

refrigerators, and stoves -- looked like they came out of the fifties. 

Still, all sorts of household goods were for sale and being bought or

inspected by many patrons.  After you select merchandise, the clerk

issues three carbon copy tissues that are brought to the cashier then,

after, payment, two copies are returned to the clerk, who wrote out the

slips.  I put the tape in my pocket without a sales ticket.  The cashier

kept both, and I walked out.  Theft doesn't seem to be a very common

problem.  Since guns are outlawed, few vicious crimes are committed. 

 

I rejoined Marcy and the cabbie where I had left them, and off we were to

the airport.  I wasn't certain the bellboy had properly advised the

cabbie of our intention, which was to get us to the airport after the

department store.  He did it without much further comment from me.  The

ride was arranged to cost fifty yuan, but we gave him sixty since he was

a good driver, taking fewer death-defying maneuvers than anyone we had

yet driven with.

 

It was startling to note the driving etiquette here. Remarkably few

vehicles were damaged from accidents, but all drivers -- regardless of

what vehicle type -- would inch their vehicle in front of others in cross

traffic.  Pedestrians had few rights, followed closely by bicyclists. 

Somehow traffic constantly continued without any accidents I witnessed,

except one bicyclist who fell after being brushed by a car that was

trying to squeeze by him.  I didn't witness the cause of the mishap,

however he just loaded his gear back onto the bike, didn't even bother

dusting off the back of his dark blue suit.

 

At the airport it seemed we were faced with very similar confusion like

last night.  Our flight is delayed, as are all others because of weather. 

What a calamity, what chaos!  The local Traffic Police must have designed

the airport, without much thought.  When a service window opens,

everybody pushes and shoves to the front of the line. Since only one can

be truly first, positioning changes each minute. Location is everything. 

The airport employees change which line should be used for each

destination.  Incredible as it seems, we acted in a way that reflected

Western customs of cuing in an Eastern world.  We happened to be standing

in the right place when they opened the line for our flight. We were

first.  Within a few minutes a tour guide leading thirty Chinese put her

luggage right up front before ours.  Part of the rules in China is that

if one person in your group is in line that entitles you to get in line

with them.  Often people push and squeeze their way even if it means

pushing someone aside.  When the leader of that group reached over to put

her luggage before ours, I could see that Marcy was going to do

SOMETHING.   I'll admit to standing by idly while Marcy, single-mindedly

of purpose (i.e., getting out of Guilin), would not allow any obstacle to

stand in her way.   First, she didn't let language become a communication

barrier.  She advised the line cutter that she can't get in front of her. 

She said it with such determination that it transcended any possible

misunderstanding anybody nearby might have had.  She moved our luggage

right up front before the stunned tour guide. 

 

After a brief wait while others tried to manipulate a more favorable line

position, Marcy firmly guarded her position, body blocking any of these

smaller people that wished for a luckier spot in line.

 

The big surprise was when the mass Marcy led, suddenly ran crazily

elsewhere to another counter with their luggage, climbing over people was

permitted for this migration.  When Marcy saw this, she bolted to the

head of the new mass “line” and summoned me with the luggage. Somehow

she made it, herself, to the front of this new line. I think it no

accident or coincidence she was there.  I dodge and bang a few hapless

souls who stood between Marcy getting our tickets and luggage posted to

the flight.  I was visibly impressed by her determination.  She lost much

face in Guilin, but I don't think she would have cared if she lost all of

it.

 

Finally through the pushing and shoving in a new line farther into the

boarding process with less than aplomb we found our seats and placed the

straw Vietnamese hats safely in an overhead compartment. Well, we

thought safely -- we had to fight other patrons to prevent another bag

being jammed into the space.  The tightly packed plane is uncomfortable

because of limited space and the varied fragrances that waft my way. 

Chinese often carry a glass jar filled with some fluid Oriental.

 

Next stop in forty-five minutes should be Shenzhen near Canton if all

goes well.  The cabin is flooded with loud Chinese work songs to get us

all in the proper spirit.  After midnight we arrived at a hotel at least

thirty miles from the airport in Shenzhen.  As we rode through the city,

I saw that this is no minor burg.  Plenty of large hotels, all very new. 

Flashy lights on numerous buildings somewhat reminiscent of Las Vegas

(Chinese style).  Few signs were posted in English.  If we would have

taken a taxi, it would have cost over 200 yuan, but the bus into the city

cost for both of us forty-eight Yuan.

 

The driver's assistant dropped off everybody but us, and took us right to

a very nice hotel.  Cost: fifty dollars, but they wanted Hong Kong

dollars, not Yuan.  The driver’s assistant helped bring all the luggage

in and would not accept a generous tip which I felt he certainly

deserved.    I gave him my business card.  I was very tired and worn out. 

I hobbled up to our suite on the 19th floor of a 24-story building.  Took

a couple pills for my feet, then I went to bed.  Marcy was already

asleep.

 

 

March 10, 1995        Friday          Shenzhen, China  to Hong Kong

 

After a late rising, we checked out of the suite that overlooked the

railroad station.  The fact that we were only a quarter mile from the

station didn't prevent the taxi driver from taking forty-five minutes to

get there in his metered cab.  Traffic was thick during this ten-dollar

drive.  This was the same procedure to move through the many lines as we

have experienced previously.  Pushing, shoving, and edging into the front

of the line by large Chinese families was too common. Rather than a

straight line, Orientals obviously prefer the semicircle huddle. 

Customs, passport control, tickets . . . each was a new line. Finally,

at the train it was comfortable, modern, quiet, and cheap. Off at the

tenth stop, Kowloon.  Without a hotel we hoped to explore with a

knowledgeable taxi driver. After a fifteen-minute wait in the line for

taxis, we were rewarded with a taxi driver who had little intent to help. 

It seemed he wanted to just leave us off anywhere without any interest in

our welfare.  He was rewarded by being shortchanged, he got forty Hong

Kong dollars from us.  We were lost in Hong Kong.   We had to figure out

where to go from here. 

 

 

I wanted to go to a nearby Center for Tourists six doors up the street in

the center of the Kowloon district. Instead, Marcy spoke with a clerk in

a nearby clothing store.  She suggested to Marcy the hotel across the

street -- Park Hotel at $150 a night; way too much.  But she wanted to

check in, so we did.  After discussing the issue of "no rooms right now"

we left our bags and went to check out the shopping Mecca we both had

heard so much about.  Electronics and fake watches were bargains, but

little else.

 

We walked about four miles before we found a Chinese restaurant that

seemed good.  While expensive (a small bowl of soup cost $30 HK), the

whole meal was $170 HK.  We got a little lost on the way back but

eventually found the way after two stops -- once to buy a tee shirt, once

to buy a ten-dollar Chinese watch.

 

We walked around the Kowloon business for a couple of hours.   The warm

night air was perfumed with a myriad of competing smells. Fish frying,

vegetables, cooking, onions, mystical unidentified fragrances were

seeping into my nostrils at every turn.  Oceans of odors drifting by--not

all of them pleasant.  A Chinese man was stirring chestnuts which were

roasting in a large black wok heated by a thick smoky charcoal fire.  I

bought a bag and we shared the sweet, soft, wonderfully tasty delicacy.  

Back to the hotel to sleep.  The walk through this beautifully lit city

was charming.

 

 

 

March 11, 1995   Saturday      Hong Kong

 

I awoke by wake-up call from the concierge at six in the morning.  I

slowly dressed and showered. The efforts are thicker and more deliberate. 

The long journey is taking its toll on me.  I am ready to end the trip

and I am anxious to go home.   Today is Saturday, but it is Friday in LA

would mean that Mark has already left for Hawaii.  I'm certain he

deserves it after the long period he had to run it by himself. Enough

thought as to what awaits me with family and friends. I have grave

concern for Sarah who is ill now, and I easily can sense the effect on

Marcy.  Today in Hong Kong we toured the city by boat with its harbors,

bays and delicate canals intricately decorated with hand crafted Chinese

junk that have seen finer years of service.  Hot food is cooking in a

blackened metal wok over a charcoal filled buckets.  The wok looks as

though it had been passed through several generations being the central

point where a poor Chinese boat family has found warmth and food, day

after day.

 

At nine a.m. we boarded the boat, not certain if this will be interesting

and reveal another side to Hong Kong we haven't felt yet. So far Hong

Kong seems to be the New York of the Orient.  Big and brutal with a

fancy, expensive sheen covering a hard currency mentality. Too

sophisticated for most visitors and certainly so for China. The oceans

of people drawn to the supposed "great deals" are to be disappointed. 

All the deceit and malice found in every metropolis can be found here. 

An enormous number of skyscraping architecturally elite monoliths wear

the neon hats which proclaim the name of their owner.

 

We watch the city through the fog-shrouded sky.  All things look gray,

save an occasional blue, green, or red fluorescent billboard. The hurried

growth that this city is paining to digest with each new building does

little to add to the vapid business flair of this megalopolis. Instead

it makes Hong Kong assume character found in every other large city

throughout the world.  Each building is straining to out do the others in

its attempt for some elusive architectural haute cuisine. The

competition is sniffling and totally overbearing.  The streets are filled

with smaller merchants who have decided the best way to sell their wares

would be to not post prices but to field the inquiry of every prospect. 

The elusive prices had to be plied from the vendor after he asked me how

much I would spend for an item.  As we wandered through the littered

streets, we stopped at places, looking for nothing in particular and

everything in general.  Throngs of Chinese and Japanese holding glossy

paper bags emblazoned with logos like Chanel or Gucci and such. 

 

I fought my way upstream along the cracked and stained sidewalk

struggling to maintain a moving motion against the yellow hordes coming

toward me. Here, in this city, there were many white people. Being of

white skin quickly identified me as not a native, because Hong Kong

residents are overwhelmingly Han in their roots.

 

At noon the ferry we are passengers upon, arrived at a small island that

is named Cheng Chen still used as a safe harbor during typhoons and heavy

storms.  The Chinese junks were docked here in droves, at least two

hundred from where I stood.  A splash of every color could be seen on

each boat.  The layers of cheap paint peeling off the vessels in one-foot

sheets.  The boats were never painted with the same color as the current

layer.  Each coat of paint is to be in contrast with the last.   The

motley foray was treated with veneration, for it indicated somehow the

agedness of the family water bound vehicle.  And age is revered

throughout Oriental cultures.  The geriatric inhabitants of this

particular island outnumbered, overwhelmingly, post WWII members of this

community.   Most of the items for sale were in one way or another tied

to the ocean.  Many sellers of the fruits of the sea dotted the narrow

walkway along the dock, often displaying such creatures, alive and well.

 

As a small group of ten we followed the guide to an ancient Hindu temple

that is still in use.  Delicate carvings quickly identified the type of

religious worship I expected within its small interior, which is slightly

larger than a one-room house. 

 

In front of this sacred temple, the townspeople were constructing a large

dome like structure of which I watched some laborers assemble and cut the

frame from large sections of dried or wet bamboo.  Dry bamboo was used

for straight walls and ceilings.  Wet bamboo was used for the domed roof

frame and bent into shape.

 

We walked back to the boat and sped over choppy water to the Queens Pier

on Hong Kong Island, then the pier in Kowloon where we were the sole

passengers on the vessel to exit.  Back to the hotel, it was late in the

afternoon.   I left all photo gear in the room and walked around the

local shops for two hours.  Back now to the boat we went, to spend four

hours on an evening cruise that promises to show us the evening light

show of all the buildings in Hong Kong.  Few were easily visible through

the fog (which hadn't lifted all day), but the water scenes I saw were

akin to New York’s most famous borough, Manhattan.

 

Seas were choppy.  Our vessel docked along side a very well lit ship

claiming to be the largest floating diner in Hong Kong with four floors

available to patrons.   They offered a free visit to a "seafood

exhibition" with numerous types of fish and other denizens of the sea. 

All either living (or recently deceased and yet undiscovered by the men

who tended these creatures).  Since we had eaten earlier at a Korean

restaurant prior to getting aboard, we weren't too hungry. All drinks

were free aboard the boat but I only drank soda.  The desire for peanuts

that were also offered aboard came over Marcy. With the aid of my

flashlight, I prowled through the unattended dank rear quarters of the

boat the first can I shook when opened revealed about twenty dollars in

bills and change.  I left this poorly disguised hiding place for an

unopened can of nuts that I retrieved and brought to Marcy. We wanted a

snack, not a meal.

 

I had some too while we waited for those who paid to dine there.  Those

who I spoke with who had eaten there described it as a uniquely

disgusting meal.  I inwardly felt gratified that I elected to not include

the meal with the tour.  During the stop Marcy and I sat on the upper

deck with four people on holiday from India.  They were not very happy

with Hong Kong.  They found it, as I did, overpriced and not easy to find

good value here.  We spoke for quite sometime.   Two of them, a married

couple intend to travel across the U.S. in August.  We went back into the

pier in Kowloon.

 

 

After a thirteen HK$ ($1.70) ride back to the hotel we walked around the

block to a Japanese restaurant.  We ate some meat filled pastries.  Back

to Park Hotel and asleep quickly.

 

 

March 12, 1995       Sunday     Hong Kong to  Taiwan

 

The next morning we ate breakfast in the hotel then left for the airport. 

Traffic was heavy especially since today is Sunday. Several hours were

spent in the modern busy Hong Kong Airport.  We got on the plane and

within an hour or so we landed in foggy  Chang Kai Shek Airport in Taiwan

-- Taipei.   We talked about the meal on the plane coming here.  It

included a peanut porridge and other unfamiliar items. While I tried

most everything, one taste was enough.  I was not satisfied with this.

It was difficult to arrange the hour drive into Taipei that is about

thirty miles from the airport on vehicle-clogged streets. The room is

$85, but with a van to pick up and deliver us to the airport the price

changed to $150.00 US, which we paid.  The Hotel China was downtown and

central to many things, including shopping.  We walked around for a while

then, back at the hotel, we ate a buffet style dinner for $350 Taiwan or

$14 US.  The exchange rate is currently 25 Taiwanese dollars for one US

dollar.  About half of the items offered were recognizable but I tried

most of what was offered.

 

Walking during the early dark hours through the ancient city of Taipei

was chilly and wet.   Prices were similar to Hong Kong, but quite often

they were posted.  Very few medicine shops here.  Thinking back about it

the Chinese had innumerable medicinal stores offering an endless array of

ginseng and antler horn.  Tiger Balm and other western style cures were

available as were acupuncture tools and books.  This was a sharp contrast

to the western-style drugstore.

In Taipei we found many vegetarian restaurants; often they were decorated

with a swastika for good luck.  Probably Hindi spots with much of the

huge menus offering only fruits or vegetables, no meat. I bought a

skewer of pork slices from a street vendor who was barbecuing sticks of

this delicious smelling meat.  He was marinating the meat then after five

minutes it would be pulled from the smoldering fire and delivered to me. 

I also had some very large mushrooms skewered, basted with butter then

laid close to the red embers of charcoal.  He sprinkled paprika or black

pepper (or some other spice I could not identify), then gave the

mushrooms a final searing grilling and handed me the wooden sticks upon

which fragrant mushrooms were impaled. 

 

Marcy purchased two small pastries from a nearby store. While I noted

the large number of patrons making purchases therein, it did nothing to

bring the flavorfulness of these rolls beyond a low level of

acceptability.  The Chinese have a different palate, so that probably may

be one explanation for the clamor to buy the small loaves as they are put

into the respective display basket.  That was it for tonight, we were

tired and went to sleep quickly.

 

 

 

March 13, 1995 Monday   Taiwan to Los Angeles

 

The final day of this adventure.  It is time to go home.  I plan the day

to include the Taiwan Museum but because it is so far away (over forty

minutes) we couldn't get there in the morning after a late rising.  Our

flight leaves at four p.m. so we arranged with the taxi driver to take us

to the Chang Kai Shek Museum and to the Hard Rock Cafe in Taipei.  The

rain was coming down harder than it was yesterday evening. Walking

through the museum grounds while cold and wet were very beautiful.  The

taxi driver took us to the airport where -- after checking in and

confirming seat location -- we took the mile walk through various gates

and lines.  We stopped to eat lunch and pay the airport service charge of

twelve dollars a person.  Lunch for me was one final Oriental fling

loaded with noodle-shaped carbohydrates and small bits of vegetables and

meat.  The meal, while lacking the spicy heat of Schezuwan cooking, was

satisfying.  I left food on my plate, a rare occurrence for me when I

enjoy the meal.  I employed chopsticks as I did often through this tour. 

I believe my proficiency with them may have considerably improved. 

 

After boarding this thirteen-hour flight that leaves at four p.m., but

arrives at 12:30 p.m. at LAX thirteen and a half hours before departure. 

Of course all times are expressed in local time, and we gain back the day

we lost when we flew here.  The flight will last eleven hours, it was

just announced.  No matter, it was long and tedious.   Even with choice

seats it was less than comfortable.  Each of the two dinners served were

lackluster to my palate, but typical of favorite flavors the Chinese

enjoy.  I was glad to be able to refuse the bulk of this Chinese meal,

knowing within ten more hours I will be able to rejuvenate my flavor

sensors with the actualization of a desire I have had for the last week. 

I want an “In n Out” hamburger and a chance to enjoy Marcy's wonderful

cooking.  Eleven hours after departure, on schedule, we land safely at

LAX.  The exceptionally long wait to deboard the plane is stretched out

with each minute ticking away in slow motion.  Final moves are made,

Chinese-style, to push me off the plane through the crowds. This is still

acceptable social behavior.  (I am still amid the Chinese!)

 

After collecting our luggage, we pass quickly through customs. I call

Mom and Dad who are waiting for this call at my office. They arrive

within ten minutes and drive me to the office.  The lack of sleep is

becoming a great burden, but I struggle through it long enough to see the

piles of work awaiting me tomorrow.  I left the office and have Mom and

Dad take me home which they gladly do.  I am anxious to unpack and view

the treasures I collected.  Few of the items I collected were of any

value to anybody but me.  With rare exception I seldom purchased anything

that exceeded ten dollars US.  Tee shirts from almost everywhere.  A few

knickknacks, hundreds of scraps of papers, and small inexpensive

memorabilia, coins or paper money.  But lots of film and tons of

memories.  So concludes another excellent episode, this wondrous visit to

the Oriental part of the world.

 

 

            REFLECTIONS OF VIET NAM

 

 

As is every trip or adventure I take, it is not entirely remembered by

me, some details escape me shortly after I have experienced them -- only

short pearls of time, brief vignettes, if you will, are what I am able to

easily recollect.  Those that I recall quickest involve our time in Hue,

more than all others.  The boat down the Perfume River will be remembered

fondly, above all else, although Viet Nam was a beautiful country.  The

scars of the last war can still be seen easily, but the people are tied

so closely to the earth.  You can see the griminess of it in the eyes of

every farmer and under every street vendor's fingernails. The people of

this country, while poor by American standards, have the humble pride you

can only expect from the oriental cultures.  A stubborn yet quiet

insistence that they will live here as they have for centuries. And no

one can move them.

 

Politics is above all of this.  People are generally oblivious to the

government.  Of course they had those times when it was forced in front

of them.  Some more educated Viet Namese spoke quietly to me that to

complain is forbidden.  They lack certain other intellectual assets taken

for granted in most other countries.   They can improvise well to solve

problems, but they prefer tranquility more than an overwhelming desire

for the ubiquitous more.

 

As I viewed the photographs and the very long unedited first showing of

the videos, I get a very different "feel" of everything we had seen and

done.  No struggle, no problems, no cold wet weather, no constant tagging

along by street urchins or their mentors -- none of the grief or urgency

to respond is there.  None of the malodorous alleys or kitchen fragrances

to enhance the images stained on film are present.  This has, overall,

enhanced the sum total of the journey.  Reducing a month of traveling to

twelve hours of video reeks of editorialization.  Generally the hours of

waiting, the tediousness of planning, negotiating prices and methods of

travel, and more waiting were easily deleted by not starting the video

camera or not pressing the firing pin of the camera. Others and myself,

each will be rewarded by witnessing the recording of events with only the

highlights -- the lowlights will pass to oblivion even, for the most

part, in my brain.  Yet, this country was the country I enjoyed greater

than the others for many reasons.

 

 

            REFLECTIONS OF BANGKOK

 

Noisy, polluted, filthy -- that comes to mind first, followed quickly by

the unswerving desire of every cyclodriver or cabbie to take every out-

of-town visitor to his or her favorite jewelry store or clothing store. 

There was no shortage of jewelry or clothing stores or small gift stores;

I almost forgot to mention the street vendor who would practically cling

to you to get you to buy some post cards (mainly) from them. Even in

cases where I had purchased from a vendor that same person would continue

to hound me to buy more.  A certain flair for brutality works very well

here.

 

While all books and previous travelers to Thailand assure me that

outlying burgs and townships resemble Bangkok in very few aspects.  I

only experienced the limited view of the city and a field trip that was

as touristy as it gets.  It may happen that I pass this way again --

moving further west from Singapore up to Chiang Mai and then directly

west toward Tibet, but the fact that I would intentionally avoid Bangkok

should only confirm my overall distaste for it.  The beauty it possesses

in its palaces, statuary, and waterways were overshadowed by the seamy

side of it.

 

The food was phenomenal.  The pleasures of the palate reined supremely

here.  I loved the spices and intricate flavors.  The odors wafted from

every restaurant and barbeque stand.  Everything I ate was delicious.  

The way food is prepared here rivals Italy or Turkey (my other favorite).

 

 

                  REFLECTIONS OF CHINA

 

 

While a vast country and bearing the burden of several satellite

countries, China plods on in a slow deliberate fashion that only recently

has begun to accelerate as a larger and more stable, middle class rises

up.  The country, as a whole benefits.  They anticipate, hotly, the

recovery of Hong Kong on June 1, 1997.  Since the Communists have told

businesses that things will not begin to change in Hong Kong until 2047,

building continues, as does commerce. 

 

Most often I will think of the rushing, pushing, and shoving along with

general disorder when people must stand in a line.  It was difficult to

understand why disorder was so frequently allowed.  This same disorder

prevailed in traffic, too.  People would push and shove as pedestrians. 

A red light brought no fears to the frailest Chinese. They weaved

through waiting or moving traffic like a spider spinning his web.  This

has had as great an effect on me as the admiration I have for this

culture.

 

The drivers are all up to the challenge of pedestrians and maneuver their

cars to either edge into another lane or to block someone who was trying

to edge into another lane, especially yours but not only.

 

Amazing that with traffic being what it is that few cars had evidence of

an accident and very few body shops.  The food was cheap, varied, and

often very flavorful and it was more consistently oil-drenched.  I

frequently tried to quietly wipe some of the oil off what I was about to

eat, but it was an impossible task.  Everybody eats with chopsticks, and

I was no exception.  I adapted quickly since no other alternative was

available.

 

Difficult as it was to communicate, pictures worked here too. Often the

only way I could express myself was with a drawing. Listening to the

locals speak, I heard distinctly different dialect of the Pekinese.  They

spoke with a sound often included with many words.  It sounded like

"Aargh" with a Norwegian lilt to it.  The other districts of China spoke

differently all, with the exception of Beijing, sounded whiny. Like they

were constantly complaining.  Definitely annoying and on Marcy’s nerves.

 

 

 

            TRIP EXPENSES

 

Prior to Departure:

 

Airfare Tickets (2 x $1,620)                                                

            $3,240

Shots                                                                                                  160

Visas (not Passports) prior to departure                                                          250

Books, travel                                                                                                200

Clothing, Marcy                                                                                         200

Clothing, Mike                                                                                            40

Cosmetics, toiletries                                                                                  100

Pens                                                                                                   10

Film, 35 mm $ H. 8                                                                           100

Passport, Marcy                                                                              50

Passport, Mike                                                                                             80

Ho Chi Mihn                                                                                     268                

Trader Joe's (snacks)                                                                                 9

Extra Passport, 4 x 2 Photos (Mike & Marcy)                                      19

Money/into Traveller's Checks                                                               18

Hidden money pouch for Marcy                                                                       12

 

Arrival:

 

Saigon --

Room                                                                                                 50

Saigon City Tour                                                                             25

Cycloped, Several trips                                                                            13

Room                                                                                                 49

Tour                                                                                                    80

Lunch                                                                                                            10

Dinner                                                                                                              6

Train Tickets (2) to Hanoi                                                             136

Chu Chi Tunnel (2)                                                                                      6

Toothbrush                                                                                        4

Train, groceries                                                                                               8

TOTAL                       

$4,875