March, 2010 browsing by month


Friday March 12 Saigon

Friday, March 12th, 2010

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My friend Mike of “Saigon Then and Now”, former owner of Vien Dong in Tacoma, gave me one of the new bright yellow polo shirts his crew wears in the restaurant. Then they had me serve a table of a German couple who spoke little or no English and tied on one of the waiter’s aprons. Everyone got a good laugh out of it when I removed the shirt I was wearing.

Just had a beer with a Macedonian-Australian, Yani, who teaches English here. He explained to me a lot more of the Balkan history, the area I will be spending time in on my way to the Black Sea, down the Danube. Talked my ear off but I did learn a lot. Next to him sat a Polish German bus driver from Duisburg, who did not speak any English and we used my German and his Italian, since Yani and the Duisburger both know about as much Italian as I do, to keep a conversation going. This watering hole is a French hang out, so I had my immersion for the day.

I am still waiting to hear from my favorite travel agent to know when and how I can get back to the West Coast. I’ve got three days left on my Visa.

March 11, Saigon

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

The nearly 24 hour train trip went well. I got plenty of sleep. The Vietnamese R.R. system works well. So, I spent as much as I would have paid for a hotel room, about $ 17.00 and it took me from Nhatrang to Saigon. I retrieved the bike from the train station and put a for sale sign on it for $ 40.00, wanting a quick sale. My good Vietnamese-American buddy, Mike, who I met in Saigon on the 1st day here, bought my bike. Partly for sentimental reasons. He has been a great friend and I look forward to see Mike when he visits the N.W. in April. I had a wonderful evening with him at his restaurant “Saigon Then and Now”. On this theme I decided to spend another evening on the roof of the “Rex” hotel. Possibly my last night in Saigon. The same entertainers were there as I reported in the week prior to “Tet”. The Spanish singer hauled me onto the stage for a duet of “Tears in Heaven”, which I happen to know almost all by heart. Afterwards I found out that he is 100% Vietnamese and he does not speak Spanish. He fooled me. I thought he was Puerto Rican. He looks Latin. The Greek Canadian singer introduced me to the audience when he was telling them the history of the Rex Hotel. I told them that I was part of the very first customers of the Rex when it was still being finished in December 1961. I told the audience that we cooked our Thanksgiving dinner on the roof with our own field kitchen; and that most of the troops had never seen a Bidet before.

I spent most of the day shopping for trinkets and gifts to bear with me to the USA and Holland. Should have had my first wife with me she had that totally emotionless bargaining power that drove the Vietnamese merchants to tears when we lived here in the early sixties. I’m a push over.

I took the laptop to the local doctors but they had no way to help other than to wipe what’s left of my files off the computer. That would be a disaster. All my 3 months travel pictures, new friends’ addresses, the articles I wrote would be going up in smoke. I am resisting and I am hoping for better news in the USA.

So, I’m trying to fly out of here in the next couple of days If I manage to find the address of my favorite travel agent.

This hotel’s computer does not have a slot for my camera memory card or a USB port, so, no pictures.

Wednesday March 10 Back to Saigon. Laptop Crashed

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

I have had a serious crash and lost my drivers altogether. I am writing this from another laptop. Not sure I’ll be able to survive mine. I’ll try in Saigon. I am taking the night sleeper train from Nhatrang, taking the bike with me. I’ll be handicapped trying to re-list my flight without skyoe, the phone numbers and e-mail addresses, etc. If you happen to get a phone call from Sea-|Tac in the next days that is the reason. I still have the tooth abscess issue to deal with in either Saigon or take my chances that it will go away. 

I am reasonable certain that I might have accomplished a good part of my second mission, to try and make it easier and cheaper for cruising vessels to visit Vietnam. An insider here gave me a rundown of the actual costs and it turns out that the major expense is the agency fee and that the “under the table” expenses to the various agencies are not all that high. I expect to be able to have the positive information corrected on in the next week or so.

Dick and Dung McKenzie had me over for lunch today. Gerard and Nam Mollenhorst also joined the lunch. The Mollenhorsts wil be back in Lelystad in three weeks.

I am not sure I’ll be able insert pictures from this borrowed laptop and not certain I can read my e-mails.

Tuesday Feb 9. Another sunrise in Paradise

Monday, March 8th, 2010

It’s not 7 a.m. yet. Just hang up some laundry on the balcony and then had to close the doors and windows and turned on the a.c. as the sun is already baking the east side. I’ll have breakfast and then gather at the “Beverly Hills” coffee shop with the “regulars”, next I’ll have coffee with Chien and Chau of the Falcon Shipping Agency. Yesterday afternoon I rode out to the south side of town, across the Anh Binh bridge. In 2006 I took some photos of the fish drying along the river bank. There were none at Tet and there are none yet. T.J. has the best Cha Gio spring rolls and that’s what I had for dinner. The “El Coyote” was alive, with a dozen young Swedes and a similar group of Australians. I wanted to get a picture of Andre Rochette. We met in 2006 when he was building floats in the Boa Dai summer residence bay, where I was anchored. Andre’s life is a colorful as he and his paintings look.  He was born in Vietnam in 1958. His father, a Cheyenne Indian from North Dakota served in the U.S. Special Forces, he went missing in action in Laos in 1962. His mother is half French half Laotian. He grew up in France and took his grandfather’s last name, Rochette. In his father’s footsteps, he joined the French Foreign Legion and made several jumps as a paratrooper over West Africa. He is a talented painter, the walls of his Tex-Mex restaurant are full of his paintings of American Indian scenes. According to Andre the below photo of him and a Cheyenne Indian comes very close to a photograph he has of his dad and there is undoubtedly a resemblance. So, if you happen to be in Nhatrang this is the only place you’ll get a good Margarita and  a good story in Vietnam. 

Monday March 8

Monday, March 8th, 2010

It is International Women’s Day. And it does not go by unnoticed in Vietnam. Last night it was celebrated even more than today. Boys and men were buying their sweethearts and wives a red rose, wrapped in cellophane. The flower vendors were wall to wall on the beach. The restaurants and bars were packed. But the young who could not afford a restaurant formed parties on the beach. The below picture is of a group of twenty year old students at the Tourism college, just down the block from the hotel.

I am fading fast and will probably do the rest tomorrow morning. I should have never mentioned anything about my tooth ache/abscess, in yesterday’s blog. I woke up in the middle of the night with a worse ache than before. It took a while for the Codeine to kick in. I plan to have it checked in Saigon. I am now planning to take the Wednesday night train. I posted the package with my Basket Boat manuscript and pictures on a CD and the letter to the minister of Culture, Sport and Tourism.

Beach party for International Women's Day

Sunday March 7 Nhatrang. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

I managed to come up with a reasonably good story and pictures of the basket boats and boat construction in Vietnam in general. Very little historical facts are available on the internet in any other language than French, my third language. I have a couple more projects to work on but I am getting restless and I have decided to try and get back to Gig Harbor/Tacoma earlier than my original plan, March 23rd. The main reason being that I will otherwise miss too much of the choir practice for the Easter Sunday mass at St. Nicholas in Gig Harbor. I plan to be back in Saigon this Thursday evening and I should then be back by the 21st, possibly the 14th., depending on the space available and possible appointments in Saigon.

But “partir c’est mourir un peu” as the saying goes. I will be leaving with a heavy heart, I love Vietnam, the people, the culture, the food and the climate. I will be back. It has been a wonderful experience and I am very grateful to my friends, father “X” and his St.Nicholas consort in Cambodia, my travel companion Iris,  Judy B. for her help, my Hanoi companion Maud and the many new friends I made here.

Mass today at the Cathedral was another treat. It was dedicated to all the Nhatrang high school and college students. The first reading today was from the book of Exodus, Moses being told to lead his enslaved kin out of Egypt. God identifies himself as “Iam who I am!”. Dumb question? Coincidentally Moses was put up for adoption in a …. basket boat on the Nile River. I made friends with a Dutch cruising couple in the South Pacific in 2005.  Stephen and Maria Boonzaaijer. Stephen is a Reformed minister. They named their boat after this Exodus passage: “Yo Soy”. Maria grew up a few blocks from where I grew up in Amsterdam,in the Waalstraat. She was raised Catholic. So she is my Antipode. Maria converted to Calvinism I went the other way. Maria and I are a balancing act on the tight rope to salvation with the same Safety Net. I wrote it before but language is not an issue when I can be part with myVietnamese brothers and sisters in the same rituals I am accustomed to and see and hear how everyone participates and knows the liturgy by heart.

I stopped for another cup of coffee afterwards at “le Petit Bistro” and visited Lionel and Thoa Abbondanza and their almost one year son, Lucas. I met Lionel on the train ride back from Tuy Hoa. They live just a couple of blocks from the hotel. Lionel works as a guide for a French travel company and takes groups on a 13 day tour through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. His office is in Hanoi. I could spend months listening to all that he knows, because of his work and interests, about Indochina.

The tooth ache is still not gone away all together but I have had no need for pain killers for the last week or so. I continue the antibiotics.

Friday March 5th. I’m on a mission and therefore in omission

Friday, March 5th, 2010

The spirit is moving me. I started on an article about the basket boats. Rode to town for my Salade Nicoise and had a bowl of Pho for dinner.

Febr 3 and 4 Tuy Hoa

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

I took the local train to Thuy Hoa, about 70 miles North of Nhatrang to try and see how the basket boats are made. It turned out that they are not made in Nhatrang but brought in from the next province north of here. These unusual boast just fascinate me, ever since I ran into them far off shore in 2006, and I want to try and put a story together for Dutch and American boating magazines. I found what I wanted but it took some searching and help from Vietnamese-English interpreters. I checked on having an “Easy Rider” take me on a light motor bike to Tuy Hoa. $ 60 and they did not like to go there, its not a tourist destination. But after my two day visit I predict that it wont be long off the tourist itineraries. The train ride was 36 thousand Dong, one way, just under $ 2.00. The bike went in the baggage car for 55 cents. Contrary to the long distance trains this local service was something like the Fourth Class in Europe in the thirties. Wooden benches. Squat toilets directly onto the tracks. The windows were chicken wired, which made it hard to take any photos of the gorgeous scenery. There was already some rice harvesting taking place. At several of the stations I saw these enormous piles of gunny sacks with a content that I could not identify. A very nice young lady on the train tried to explain it to me. Her name was Trienh something and it translated to Blue Skye. She goes to high school in Tuy Hoa. I managed to understand that it was a root and that it was used to make bread. Today at the station I picked up a sample. And now I concluded that is Cassava from which Tapioca is made. Tapioca is one of the main starch addatives to make noodles. I came upon a noodle factory today and they use lots of tapioca. Now I need to see how Cassava grows. Cassava originated in Brazil. In Tuy Hoa I headed for the fishing harbor. But after a wild ride on the passenger seat of a motor bike and spreading my wealth I was told that Tuy Hoa is not the place but to try Tuy An, 33 kms to the north. No Easy Riders and too far on the bicycle. The local bus. Another new experience another 55 cents. Then another short ride along the river on theback of a motor bike and at last: pay dirt. I was able to make pictures of the mini (about 150 cms in diameter) being made and another of the ocean going 250 cms diameter size being finished.  I think I have my story. I could not quite figure out what concoction they used to make them water tight. Part of it is cow dung. But then today I had the fortune to run into another young student who happens to be from Tuy An and she wrote down the three ingredients in Vietnamese. By the time I got back to Tuy Hoa the train back to Nah Trang at 2.25 p.m. was gone. So, I had to stay overnight. Fortunately the hotel provided shampoo, toothbrush/paste, comb but I had not brought a change of clothes. I never saw another white man on Wednesday. I had a great steamed clam dinner on the beach and this afternoon I had 3 decent size crabs and a beer for $ 5.00. The hotel was brand new and the best accommodation I have had sofar and it was $ 7.00 I had breakfast, a rice noodle soup with meat, for 25 cents. Since there was nothing else with the crabs I decided to stop and have some starch and vegetables I ended up in the “Varella” a coffee shop that had a few lunch/dinner dishes. This place was a small oasis with orchids and a waterfall ina beautiful court yard setting, and the service, food and presentation would make this place the envy of the State Street eateries in Santa Barbara, California and this just in the middle of nowhere Vietnam… While riding through the back alleys near the river I came upon a cock fight going to happen. I got a bunch of great shots of it but I did not want to stay to the bitter end after I saw what happens to these birds in Hanoi. Tuy Hoa also has one Cham Tower, similar to the Cham Towers here in Nhatrang. I hiked up to it. Great panorama of the town and surroundings. The hill it sits on is a beautiful park with the trees and palms identified with their botanical names. The below butterfly pictures are taken on the hike down. I encountered the first other white man today at the local market. Pavel Mnantsakanov, a Russian who speaks good English. He lives and works in Tuy Hoa he met his Vietnamese wife in Russia. Later on the train back to Nha Trangh I met another white man, Lionel, a Parisian who lives and works in Nha Trangh and is also married to a Vietnamese. He lives very close to my hotel and he has invited to his home.  

I am glad that I missed the train yesterday and got to see more that way of Tuy Hoa.

March 1 Nha Trang

Monday, March 1st, 2010

This week’s, Feb 26 , Radio Nederland Cryptogram:

“Tegenover de achterdeur”

It took me 5 minutes to figure out. Laat me eens weten of het jullie ook lukt.

I have spent a good part of the day putting a letter together to the minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism bringing to his attention the frustrations we have as cruisers trying to visit Vietnam and documenting what obviously points to a bunch of corrupt bureaucrats here. At the same time I am flogging this to a few newspapers here.

Michel, the French American Viet-Vet I met on the beach told me about a daily “kaffee Klatsch” of a number of ex-pats. I met with half a dozen of them this morning at the “Beverly Hills” on Hong Bang street. Retired, mostly married to Vietnamese. There is one Dutchman, Gerard, from Lelystad a retired merchant marine. With the help of his wife he helped me on my search to find where I can observe the basket boats being made. Not in Nhatrang. So, I plan an excursion a 100 k.m.’s up the coast this week, to Tuy Hoa.

The below pre-nuptial photographs are a fairly common site. You saw some earlier at Kiem Hoa Lake in Hanoi. These were taken right in front of the hotel, this early morning.