Triplogue - Vietnam III

Featuring Wendy Anne Tucker, Honorary BikeBrat

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Wendy flies into town


Hanoi (wat)

Imagine flying into the airport in Hanoi, a woman alone, a child of the sixties who equated Vietnam previously with Walter Cronkite, MIAs, and napalm and seeing rising above the sea of dark hair….Fred Felman! This was my introduction to Vietnam and my brief foray into the life of the BikeBrats. Flying over Vietnam into the airport in Hanoi brought a lump to my throat. This country is astonishingly beautiful, fields of rice and vegetables broken up by villages and cities full of lakes and trees. It made me sad and embarrassed to have been alive during the era of America’s participation in the destruction of this country. It is hard to make sense of why we would see a need, especially 30 years ago, to get involved in a conflict in a locale so disconnected from the rest of the world. I feel very far away from America here. I can only imagine what the U.S. boys felt so far from home and during a time with so much less of an ability to connect.

It is a city of profound contrasts of the old and the new. There are very few cars and the bike repair shop for the hordes of cyclists is an old man sitting on the sidewalk with a bicycle pump! There are no fast food shops yet…thank god! But every one seems to be cooking pots of bubbling creations and setting up small tables in front of their homes. And then as a monument to the growth of tourism here is the magnificent five star Sofitel Hotel in the middle of town. It is still somewhat easy to stand out here as there are not the huge packs of tourists and perhaps because we have rented junker bikes (yes I can proudly proclaim that I rode with the brats!) and cruise the streets with the masses thinking we are blending in with our straw hats.

The images are somewhat surreal…walking down the street with Fred wearing his Castroville T shirt and a man walking by fist in the air proclaims "Viva Fidel!". Eating lunch at an upper class restaurant on the lake with a drag queen eating fried shrimp claiming she is from Norfolk Virginia! Visiting the maseleum of Ho Chi Minh and walking single file without talking past the eery waxy body of Uncle Ho. Buying the local Vietnam water which through some strange translation glitch is called "La Vile". And watching Fred consume a minimum of three to four ice creams a day is unreal in itself!

It is time for the bikebrats in room yoga class as if we haven’t lost half our body weight already sweating like pigs on the street.

I hope I have conveyed my wonder, excitement and gratitude at experiencing Vietnam with brats.

Being a BikeBrat is not lonely at rush hour


"Who yo' callin' a ho?"


Corner barber shop, or was it mid-block?

The 96 year-old monk


The author and Andy at the Perfume Cave


Poling to the Perfume Pagoda


Hanoi Continued – No Water Retention

Today the theme was rivets, pools, drenching sweat…it was hot as we took a 3 km uphill trek to the Perfume Pagoda outside of Hanoi. To get there we first had to travel over a canal in a metal boat propelled by a local woman rowing us for an hour. Our next step was the "Heaven’s Kitchen" Pagoda where one of the highlights of my trip occurred…we shared water and took photos with a 96 year old monk. Apparently he gets much joy out of having his photo taken in his full monk regalia (complete with a red crown like hat) with tourists. We were concerned that the only thing we had to show our appreciation was my Toasted Almond balance bar but again we learned that money makes the world go around. We were surprised to have the monk happily take 30,000 dong out of our hand and tell us joyfully that he will use the money to buy rice wine that night. I guess when you are a 96 year-old monk you have already traveled far enough on the road to enlightenment.

Yesterday we tooled around on our trikes generally enjoying Hanoi bike freeway traffic insanity with the masses and then abruptly shifting gears to have a $35 brunch at the Sofitel Hotel. We also enjoyed wonderful deep massages at our hotel although Fred was frightened when his massage friend touched his private parts…the real problem was her gender I think, Fred claims he just wanted an innocent massage.

Much of our trip involves quickly switching gears from upper class experiences to the real life of a local Hanoian…it keeps us on our toes and never sure of our true place in society. Tomorrow to beautiful Halong Bay for a few days of Vietnamese R&R. I hope we see some of the Chinese junk boats that are in all of the travel brochures.

P.S. I am happy that I could truly bring something to the brat experience…I have explained to Fred that eating three to four ice creams a day will surely cause flatulence…it is only very annoying when you are in an elevator with him.


Are Gucci Shoes Necessary for Survival?

The last few days on the road have caused me to examine the definition of life. I define my life by so many factors…love, travel, experience, work, adventure, family, success, Gucci shoes. My friends and family also have very full definitions of life. The individual componets may be different but we all have colorful fabrics that we weave individually and then in concert to create our lives. We just ended a few days on the road between Hanoi and Halong Bay. We were in buses for 4 plus hours on two different days which made me realize how so much of the world has a very different much narrower definition of "life". We drove through mile after mile of dusty villages full of the same stores selling identical goods and rice fields tended by people power and water buffaloes. The definition of life is very different…I am not implying that the Southern California/U.S. definition is a better one, only that our lives leave so much more room for experiencing other lives.

We also realized again how much Vietnam is on the brink, teetering on the brink of the modern age. They have the façade of tourism in place but clearly have not completely grasped the intricacies of planning and the hospitality industry. It is both charming and frustrating! We spent two lovely days at Cat Ba Island and trolling the waters of Halong Bay. There are 3000 islands in Halong Bay and we were all astonished by the beauty. It was a strange feeling seeing island after island after island and having this sense comparable to starring up at the stars on a cloudless night in the desert that the islands never end. Unfortunately, part of the excursion includes a night in the scummy town of Halong Bay which everyone universally agreed was no great shakes…everyone just wandered around the grimy streets after dinner believing that there had to be some where to go but no one ever found that place. It is hard to comprehend that there are tours arriving here every day…

Finally we were relieved to discover that the reason we felt that we were dying from heat exhaustion and dehydration is that these last few days have been the hottest in Hanoi since 1956! I could not understand why the local people kept saying that they were hot, I assumed that this heat was the norm in Hanoi. The one benefit has been my skin which is well moisturized, soft and supple from the gallons of water I drink every day and the sauna like qualities of the air. I rarely need to utilize the non flush toilets because amazingly the 3 gallons of water I drink leaves my body as sweat and never as urine!!!

Captain and crew of Halong's barf-boat


Boat-bound vendor


On the beach at Cat Ba

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