China Beach without Dana
At Danang station, we avoided the touts and managed to pull a good WT move – a hand off of a driver by one departing crew to us, the arriving crew, based on instant reference- “He’s Great!”
Passing China Beach on the coastal drive to Hoi An, scenes from TV’s show of the same name flickered through my mind until the very real remnants of the DaNang Air Base loomed into sight – concrete hangars designed to withstand incoming barrages and years of neglect..
I am immersed in city names: Saigon, Danang, Hue and more. Still familiar from two generations past and yet weighted with old news. I toured Europe with my family only 20 years after my Dad had fought there. How clear his images of war must have been everywhere we traced his footsteps yet, as kids, we were not privy to the horrifying cinemascope in his head. I never realized, nor empathized, with what he must have felt…though now I was gaining insight long after he was gone.
We may have missed the China Beach TV set, but we walked into a movie set at the Vinh Huang 1 Hotel. The Quiet American movie crew used one of the bedrooms for the lodging of Michael Caine’s character. An historic home built for a Chinese businessman, the place was as remarkable as any of the spots on the local self guided tour. Through the open living space, we passed through the courtyard and past the private well to our room. Dark wood walls were brightened by a window onto the courtyard, and lighting that created a warm atmosphere. Cool stone floors dissipated oppressive heat.
Too late for reservations to the highly rated restaurant Morning Glory, we dropped into a artisan shop, Reaching Out, where merchandise is produced by people with disabilities. I was curious, having known and worked with US citizens and recent immigrants with disabilities, what efforts were being made to support those usually ostracized in their own culture and in an adopted culture. The work environment appeared conducive to creative work but this was such a cursory glance.
Vinh Huan 1 Hotel
143 Tran Phu Street
Hoi An City Center
Hoi An , Vietnam
We Have Separation Houston!
Sipping juice and savoring fresh pastries at our hotel lobby, we slowly watched the quiet street open up…scooters and motorcycles are banned in the morning (and 2 other times during the day in this old historic part of town). As an elder man slowly placed bird cages on outdoor hooks, and begins sweeping the front steps, a canine orgy is taking place in the narrow street. One poor wretched critter is locked in coitus with no exit plan. Other dogs join the conga line and the elder man tries kicking the two headed beast…to no avail. Only after washing down the steps does he twist the hose and spray the two dogs, and “Houston, we have separation”.
It dawned on us as we strolled the village streets that we were in a Vietnamese Disney World with stage settings that created a retreat from history and war, from poverty and disease, greed and envy, from autocracy. This was becoming, not a workers paradise, but a tourist fantasyland where only the workers were in on the illusion. Oh hell, it was relaxing. Give in to the plan, Man. The dogs had to be real. Let’s hope they don’t end up on the menu. And the birds were singing a sweet song from captivity.
Besides I had my priorities, finding a bank that would actually cash a Traveler’s Check. Perhaps the traveler’s check is an anachronism, yet I relied on American Express back in the 70’s. Now as we sat in the bank, each check is scrutinized, personal identity papers copied, multiple papers signed. Maybe it is time to leave home without them, but I still find American Travelers Checks comforting. They may not be seen as cash anymore, yet I like their feel of security in case of dire emergency.
Over chicken Tiki masala and mango lassi drinks at Ganesh, we watched tourists come and go at a tailor’s shop, and the clothes horse in me wanted to be suitably attired.
Two cheap suits are better than one. That is what I told myself as I stood for fittings in two separate businesses, one recommended by our hotel manager and the other rated #1 by Trip Advisor. Again, I justified this strategy by telling myself I needed to compare costs and quality. I was asked to strip to the waist at one shop as the cool tape measure wrapped my torso. Given my thin frame I thought perhaps I should take a big breath (like a horse resisting the tightening of the saddle cinch) and expanded my chest size. To avoid looking like a scarecrow in an oversized suit, I punched my ego and Whoosh, I exhaled.
Hoi An at night is better than the Magic Kingdom, lanterns from both sides of the river glow and reflect creating at least a thousand points of light. Across the river, a young girl’s street urchin smile was the lure to buy two floating candles. Michele and I bought into the romantic mood by slipping the luminaires into the current. But the current was not cooperating or feeling the love. While trying to avoid pitching into the river, I steered the two beacons of love past eddies and all variety of detritus near the shore.
A politically correct dinner at Streets completed the day, as attentive young men training in the hospitality business, served lovely beef curry. There seem to be an extraordinary number of young people being trained in hospitality as waiters, tour guides, desk clerks. We are helping the country move into the 21st century. They are moving boldly into the future of the service economy.
Thanks for the memories, Tricky Dick
Crossing Route 1 towards Cats Tooth Mountain and My Son, we passed young girls in blue and white school uniforms, pedaling in pairs and threesomes, with upright posture and pony tails swinging back and forth in synchrony. Then just down the road, a Vietnamese military team was scouring the landscape with a metal detector. Nothing bucolic in these hills, just a danger zone. Shards of innocence crunched under the tires.
We were alone in the morning sunlight. Spider webs glistened with dew throughout the forest perimeter and the My Son site. You can be transfixed imagining what the site was like during the Cham dynasty. Then you are faced with detours on the path where bomb craters collect rain water and you suffer recall whiplash to a time when Nixon tried to blow this Viet Cong hideout right off the face of the map. Inside one building were fragments of carved stone displayed next to large US made, shell casings. We stopped by a stream for lunch yet wisely sat on the cement path, since warnings are posted that mines are still buried in the rich forest litter along the way.
Trying to use up our Hoi An historic district tickets, I happened upon ablutions being performed on the figure of Thien Hau at the Hall of Fujian Chinese. A caretaker was carefully combing out his beard, a private ritual for a very patient statue.
We talked our way into the Museum of Trade Ceramics and were surprised to find a display on Hoi An architecture. We seem to be visiting historic sites back-ass word. This was the place to come first, to understand the period building styles and depictions of restorations.
I had purchased my two wool silk suits.
I will say that this was not the first time I had clothing made for me on the road. In Bombay, I was so low on cash that I ordered a Nehru jacket from raw silk that I had selected…but I could not afford to pay for silk yardage for the sleeves. I asked the tailor to make it into a Nehru vest. Once completed and as I tried it on, the tailor asked if he could borrow my design. This time Michele was with me and got to invest in a locally designed organic cotton dress.
At another Hoa An epicurean treasure, Ms Li’s, the proprietor’s husband told us we just missed seeing the Mayor of Chicago at the restaurant by a week. Bourdain came and went. Emanuel came and went. What’s left to explore? Hoa An has been found.
Hot chocolate at Mermaid buoyed our spirits. We launched two more floating lanterns from a much better strategic location, mid-bridge with the help of an elder woman. The romantic flames managed to navigate down a direct path to the sea…at least as far as our eyes could see. Flares arched over the waterway…though this display must be disconcerting for some Vietnam vets with PTSD since night illumination did not always bode well and often preceded night terror. On the brighter side of life, I started humming the tune to “When you wish upon a star.”