Monday, March 7, 2011
Hello Hello Hello Hello
When we arrived in Hanoi we were greeted by our Hanoi/Halong Bay guide, Lon. He is a very nice man who typically only addresses Jim. Lon and our driver got us to the Hilton to check in. It is crazy driving here. Scooters outnumber the cars and trucks, driving lanes are merely a suggestion, and the horn is used for "here I come" more than "watch out". Timo would feel very much at home with the honking custom. I will endeavor to never cross the street here; Lon has told us we just make eye contact with the oncoming traffic and proceed slowly across the street - "the scooters and cars will just go around you". Yikes!
We had an incredible dinner at a French restaurant called Verticale last night. There were three a' muse bouche's - 1) fish sauce shooter with cucumber dipped in chili salt and some fried squid 2) a two soup combo of corn & pumpkin and mushroom tea soups 3) miso soup with prawns and scallop. We also ordered chilled pea soup which was served with pea ice cream, a cooked egg white, fish roe, prawn, and a rice cracker. Next was fois gras with tamarind sauce (a dream come true), duck 4 ways, and cobia crusted with almonds in a coconut milk. Delicious and a wonderful welcome to Vietnam.
Today was a wonderful day. We met Lon and our driver at 9:00 and set out for the countryside north of Hanoi. Our first stop was in a town called Bac Ninh. Here we were treated to a performance of Quan Ho folk music with two musicians and 4 singers. We were served tea as they preformed about 5 romantic little songs. It was a very special moment. I think my favorite part of this visit was the school, though. The tiny square where we stopped was in front of the window of a little school. The children crowded in the window and chanted "hello, hello, hello, hello" for quite a while. Jim took their pictures and a video of them. When he showed them the photos and video they all giggled like crazy. It was the most charming and adorable thing I've ever seen.
At our second stop we had to take a small ferry across a river to a little village. In this place the villagers make rice wine and rice paper for spring rolls. We dropped in on a couple who showed us how the coal heated machine converts the rice to paste which they spread across a 1' x 4' basket like screen and leave leaning against the outside walls to dry into rice paper. Here was also a Communal House and Pagoda where pilgrims happened to be in the middle of a ceremony honoring their ancestors. There was a monk ringing a bell and chanting and praying in front of a Buddah.
We made two more stops this afternoon- we visited Dong Ha known for traditional painting. We met Che who is world famous for keeping this art form alive. Finally, we visited the Pagoda of Quang Minh and the Tho Ha Communal House. This is the main pagoda for the province North of Hanoi. There were pilgrims there from south of Saigon having an annual ceremony. Jim took lots of pictures - the structures and altars and sculptures are very old and quite overwhelmingly ornate.
Throughout the day it was strange being such a center of attention. The people were very interested in us, particularly the children everywhere we went. Also, it is the time of the year for planting rice. We passed by miles and miles of rice fields with people leaning over in 6" high water planting baby rice plants. We also saw cabbage, mango, tomatos, corn, etc growing. When passing through "towns" there were streets of a bizarre variety of small businesses - barbers, welders, butchers, appliance shops, etc. all under small tarps or overhangs very close to the busy road.
We're having a quick glass of wine before a traditional Vietnamese dinner. Tomorrow we stay in Hanoi for tour of the city, water puppet performance, etc. We're feeling well and having a great time - I've been a little too excited to sleep and hope some sleepy time with come soon.