juliet: (Default)
It is currently absolutely *bucketing* it down outside - proper torrential rainy-season downpour, next to no mopeds on the streets (this is highly unusual to say the least!) as everyone shelters. I am (obviously) in an internet cafe and thus can watch from inside. I would like to think that it'll clear the air a bit but sadly I doubt it.

Today I have spent pottering round Saigon, and in and out of cafes whenever it got that bit too hot. It's a nice enough city but it's not really grabbing me, so (when the rain stops...) I'm off to buy my bus ticket to Phnom Penh for tomorrow morning. (0630, to be precise - I guess it'll take 6 or 7 hours to get there.)

I was intending to go to the Fine Art museum this morning, but it's shut on Mondays; and did go up to the zoo & botanical gardens, but it turned out to be mostly zoo and very little botanical gardens, when I was vaguely under the impression that it was at least 50/50. I do not like zoos, so I headed off again.

Saigon is however pretty good for vegetarians, which is pleasing. I fear Cambodia will be less good, but never mind. PP does have plenty of international cafes so I can always get Western veggie food.

I'm not quite sure why I haven't been as keen on Vietnam as on previous countries, but it definitely hasn't enthused me to the same extent. The best bit has probably been the train journey down through the country, getting to go through jungle and paddy fields and all sorts. I suspect that if I was coming here again I'd want to spend more time out in the countryside and less in the cities - but of course I am supposed to be getting from A (the UK) to B (Australia) here, so I haven't really had the time. I might be able to manage an excursion whilst in Cambodia; we'll see.

edit: there is actually a river running down the street now, although the rain is easing off a bit. Maybe I'll stay put for a while...
juliet: (Default)
It is currently absolutely *bucketing* it down outside - proper torrential rainy-season downpour, next to no mopeds on the streets (this is highly unusual to say the least!) as everyone shelters. I am (obviously) in an internet cafe and thus can watch from inside. I would like to think that it'll clear the air a bit but sadly I doubt it.

Today I have spent pottering round Saigon, and in and out of cafes whenever it got that bit too hot. It's a nice enough city but it's not really grabbing me, so (when the rain stops...) I'm off to buy my bus ticket to Phnom Penh for tomorrow morning. (0630, to be precise - I guess it'll take 6 or 7 hours to get there.)

I was intending to go to the Fine Art museum this morning, but it's shut on Mondays; and did go up to the zoo & botanical gardens, but it turned out to be mostly zoo and very little botanical gardens, when I was vaguely under the impression that it was at least 50/50. I do not like zoos, so I headed off again.

Saigon is however pretty good for vegetarians, which is pleasing. I fear Cambodia will be less good, but never mind. PP does have plenty of international cafes so I can always get Western veggie food.

I'm not quite sure why I haven't been as keen on Vietnam as on previous countries, but it definitely hasn't enthused me to the same extent. The best bit has probably been the train journey down through the country, getting to go through jungle and paddy fields and all sorts. I suspect that if I was coming here again I'd want to spend more time out in the countryside and less in the cities - but of course I am supposed to be getting from A (the UK) to B (Australia) here, so I haven't really had the time. I might be able to manage an excursion whilst in Cambodia; we'll see.

edit: there is actually a river running down the street now, although the rain is easing off a bit. Maybe I'll stay put for a while...
juliet: (Default)
For really. Hot. I arrived at about 0530 this morning, when it was only a bit warm. Now it is midday and I am about to retire to my air-conditioned room with some kind of cold beverage. And possibly have a nap - see above re arrival time. I do however *have* an own room, which is pleasing me greatly. It has its own shower! And a little fridge! Awesome.

So far today I have visited the Independence Palace - which was the place from where the South Vietnam state was run, and has been left intact as it was in 1975 when the N Vietnam troops took Saigon. At least, they say "left intact" - they seem to have tidied everything up a bit and taken away all the really interesting stuff from the basement bunker (which is obv more interesting in itself than all the posh receiving rooms/banqueting halls/etc upstairs). There are some good maps, though. And there was a splendid video about the Vietnam War with lots of patriotic communist turns of phrase regarding the American Imperialists and so forth.

Then took myself round the corner to the War Remnants museum, which was predictably depressing, but also very moving in places.

And now I am going to have a nap.

(It's Sunday today, isn't it? It is getting complicated to keep track...)
juliet: (Default)
For really. Hot. I arrived at about 0530 this morning, when it was only a bit warm. Now it is midday and I am about to retire to my air-conditioned room with some kind of cold beverage. And possibly have a nap - see above re arrival time. I do however *have* an own room, which is pleasing me greatly. It has its own shower! And a little fridge! Awesome.

So far today I have visited the Independence Palace - which was the place from where the South Vietnam state was run, and has been left intact as it was in 1975 when the N Vietnam troops took Saigon. At least, they say "left intact" - they seem to have tidied everything up a bit and taken away all the really interesting stuff from the basement bunker (which is obv more interesting in itself than all the posh receiving rooms/banqueting halls/etc upstairs). There are some good maps, though. And there was a splendid video about the Vietnam War with lots of patriotic communist turns of phrase regarding the American Imperialists and so forth.

Then took myself round the corner to the War Remnants museum, which was predictably depressing, but also very moving in places.

And now I am going to have a nap.

(It's Sunday today, isn't it? It is getting complicated to keep track...)
juliet: (round the world)
(Disclaimer in advance: this following is largely speculation/rambling on my part based on very little direct experience and similarly little information. Factual correction more than welcome, as well as any other thoughts generally.)

Also it got a bit long )

I am aware that this is a ramble, without conclusion. In part this is because I simply don't know enough - enough political history, enough political theory, enough political present - to come to any conclusions[6]. And in part it's because I'm not sure there are any conclusions available. If forced to make a prediction, I think my tentative one would be: things will continue to change gradually at the bottom and in practice, and less so at the top and in theory. I think there probably will come a point when the current system cracks under the contradictions; but with the potential global political/economic changes we're facing, it's far from clear how inevitable that is, or whether it'll be overtaken by other things.

[0] A side-note: last time I headed off to Foreign for any length of time was India in 2002, and I didn't take a phone or Walkman (this was pre-MP3 player, or at least pre-me-having-MP3 -player), as I was concerned about waving Western tech around, inviting theft, etc etc. This time, phones & MP3 players, or possibly phones that are MP3 players, are ubiquitous. I'm sure this isn't entirely true in, say, rural Chinese villages or similar, but it's a very obvious change nevertheless.
[1] At least it does until you've nationalised enough banks. Man, that is all very weird.
[2] Well. For "might" read "would", as at least some of you will know from bitter personal experience ;-)
[3] Which I would strongly recommend. I gather that his book "A Bright Shining Lie", about the US & the Vietnam War (which he covered extensively at the time as an on-the-ground journalist in the South), is famous, & after reading this one I intend to locate & read it. "Two Cities" is about him returning to Hanoi & Saigon in 1989, and the changes and lack of changes that he saw.
[4] One of the great things about taking the train - you get to see things!
[5] I also made many interesting observations about field/plot shapes & how this relates to hand-cultivation! Which I will refrain from sharing with people who aren't interested i.e. nearly everyone, I expect.
[6] Reading suggestions welcome; and I promise that this is the last footnote.
juliet: (round the world)
(Disclaimer in advance: this following is largely speculation/rambling on my part based on very little direct experience and similarly little information. Factual correction more than welcome, as well as any other thoughts generally.)

Also it got a bit long )

I am aware that this is a ramble, without conclusion. In part this is because I simply don't know enough - enough political history, enough political theory, enough political present - to come to any conclusions[6]. And in part it's because I'm not sure there are any conclusions available. If forced to make a prediction, I think my tentative one would be: things will continue to change gradually at the bottom and in practice, and less so at the top and in theory. I think there probably will come a point when the current system cracks under the contradictions; but with the potential global political/economic changes we're facing, it's far from clear how inevitable that is, or whether it'll be overtaken by other things.

[0] A side-note: last time I headed off to Foreign for any length of time was India in 2002, and I didn't take a phone or Walkman (this was pre-MP3 player, or at least pre-me-having-MP3 -player), as I was concerned about waving Western tech around, inviting theft, etc etc. This time, phones & MP3 players, or possibly phones that are MP3 players, are ubiquitous. I'm sure this isn't entirely true in, say, rural Chinese villages or similar, but it's a very obvious change nevertheless.
[1] At least it does until you've nationalised enough banks. Man, that is all very weird.
[2] Well. For "might" read "would", as at least some of you will know from bitter personal experience ;-)
[3] Which I would strongly recommend. I gather that his book "A Bright Shining Lie", about the US & the Vietnam War (which he covered extensively at the time as an on-the-ground journalist in the South), is famous, & after reading this one I intend to locate & read it. "Two Cities" is about him returning to Hanoi & Saigon in 1989, and the changes and lack of changes that he saw.
[4] One of the great things about taking the train - you get to see things!
[5] I also made many interesting observations about field/plot shapes & how this relates to hand-cultivation! Which I will refrain from sharing with people who aren't interested i.e. nearly everyone, I expect.
[6] Reading suggestions welcome; and I promise that this is the last footnote.
juliet: (round the world)
I am back on two wheels again: today's steed was a blue single-speed, reasonable in all ways other than that the saddle wouldn't stay quite where I wanted it. Ah well.

Hanoi traffic isn't *quite* as insane as it at first appears, although this afternoon's rush hour ride was - invigorating. I even saw a couple of people signalling! Traffic where I've been (up to about 3 miles out of the city centre) seems to be 75-90% moped, with the balance made up about equally of cars (primarily taxis) and bikes. Cyclists tend to be one of: poor, a street vendor (often pushing bike, heavily laden with goods, rather than riding it), a schoolkid, or me - I assume mopeds are cheap to own & run. Anyway, the fact that most of the traffic is two-wheelers is helpful (they're more maneuverable than cars & more likely to notice cyclists), but the absence of normal road rules is less so.

Thus, in case you too find yourself in my position, I present the guide to traffic in Hanoi:
* Turning right on a red light is OK (this may in fact even be legal).
* Do not bother to look over your shoulder, except possibly when pulling away from the kerb. Signalling should be considered as an optional extra.
* Do not give way, ever. Just keep going and assume everyone else will steer around you.
* Steer around other people doing this.
* Sometimes, like when you particularly want to, it is OK to ride the wrong way down one-way streets, on the wrong side of the road, straight through red lights, and so forth.
* At really, really busy crossroads, you may wish to observe the provided traffic-lights. However, since the lights also include a handy countdown display showing the seconds till they change, you probably want to set off at about t minus a second or so.
* Beep your horn every few seconds, just in case there's someone in front of you who hasn't already heard it.

Amazingly, this all seems to work perfectly well. It is actually enormous fun - all about paying attention and anticipating what other people are going to do with very little real evidence to go on. I had a splendid time, but suspect that anyone who doesn't enjoy traffic-jamming in London would probably flee to the kerb in panic within seconds of setting off.

All of this excitement was in aid of a visit to Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which was very fine. They have a selection of examples of traditional houses outside (there's a map here - the house marked Nha Rong Ba Na was particularly awesome, having a roof some 20 metres high), and standard tribal-life-information exhibits inside. But they were all v well presented, and all the captions were in Vietnamese, French, and English, which meant I actually got to read about things rather than just looking at them.

They also had a water-puppet show on, which was handy as I had vaguely been thinking of going to one of them anyway. This is a traditional Vietnamese art form which takes place on water. So the puppeteers hide in a little house, up to their waists in water, and the puppets do their thing on top of the water (and make use of it, e.g. in scenes showing traditional farming, with water buffalo and rice that grows out of the water when the stage produces "rain" - unnecessary in this instance as the weather was providing already - and a fishing scene). It was in Vietnamese, but nevertheless entertaining. Especially the bits where they had water dragons charging about the place, and firecrackers coming out of their mouths! There was in theory a little English explanation before each scene, but I couldn't make out very many of the words, so continued in blissful ignorance.

Hanoi, like Beijing and Xi'an, seems to have life very much being lived on the street. There's loads of tiny pavement cafes: just someone with a kettle, or a portable stove, or a box of bottled drinks, and a couple of plastic stools for customers. I'm tempted to try one of the ones that does pho (soup), but despite the fact that Vietnam does have a vegetarian-aware culture (due to Buddhist influence), I suspect that these places aren't. There are however plenty of slightly more upmarket (i.e. in actual rooms) restaurants that *do* do veggie Vietnamese food, though, so I'm off to one of those tonight.
juliet: (round the world)
I am back on two wheels again: today's steed was a blue single-speed, reasonable in all ways other than that the saddle wouldn't stay quite where I wanted it. Ah well.

Hanoi traffic isn't *quite* as insane as it at first appears, although this afternoon's rush hour ride was - invigorating. I even saw a couple of people signalling! Traffic where I've been (up to about 3 miles out of the city centre) seems to be 75-90% moped, with the balance made up about equally of cars (primarily taxis) and bikes. Cyclists tend to be one of: poor, a street vendor (often pushing bike, heavily laden with goods, rather than riding it), a schoolkid, or me - I assume mopeds are cheap to own & run. Anyway, the fact that most of the traffic is two-wheelers is helpful (they're more maneuverable than cars & more likely to notice cyclists), but the absence of normal road rules is less so.

Thus, in case you too find yourself in my position, I present the guide to traffic in Hanoi:
* Turning right on a red light is OK (this may in fact even be legal).
* Do not bother to look over your shoulder, except possibly when pulling away from the kerb. Signalling should be considered as an optional extra.
* Do not give way, ever. Just keep going and assume everyone else will steer around you.
* Steer around other people doing this.
* Sometimes, like when you particularly want to, it is OK to ride the wrong way down one-way streets, on the wrong side of the road, straight through red lights, and so forth.
* At really, really busy crossroads, you may wish to observe the provided traffic-lights. However, since the lights also include a handy countdown display showing the seconds till they change, you probably want to set off at about t minus a second or so.
* Beep your horn every few seconds, just in case there's someone in front of you who hasn't already heard it.

Amazingly, this all seems to work perfectly well. It is actually enormous fun - all about paying attention and anticipating what other people are going to do with very little real evidence to go on. I had a splendid time, but suspect that anyone who doesn't enjoy traffic-jamming in London would probably flee to the kerb in panic within seconds of setting off.

All of this excitement was in aid of a visit to Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which was very fine. They have a selection of examples of traditional houses outside (there's a map here - the house marked Nha Rong Ba Na was particularly awesome, having a roof some 20 metres high), and standard tribal-life-information exhibits inside. But they were all v well presented, and all the captions were in Vietnamese, French, and English, which meant I actually got to read about things rather than just looking at them.

They also had a water-puppet show on, which was handy as I had vaguely been thinking of going to one of them anyway. This is a traditional Vietnamese art form which takes place on water. So the puppeteers hide in a little house, up to their waists in water, and the puppets do their thing on top of the water (and make use of it, e.g. in scenes showing traditional farming, with water buffalo and rice that grows out of the water when the stage produces "rain" - unnecessary in this instance as the weather was providing already - and a fishing scene). It was in Vietnamese, but nevertheless entertaining. Especially the bits where they had water dragons charging about the place, and firecrackers coming out of their mouths! There was in theory a little English explanation before each scene, but I couldn't make out very many of the words, so continued in blissful ignorance.

Hanoi, like Beijing and Xi'an, seems to have life very much being lived on the street. There's loads of tiny pavement cafes: just someone with a kettle, or a portable stove, or a box of bottled drinks, and a couple of plastic stools for customers. I'm tempted to try one of the ones that does pho (soup), but despite the fact that Vietnam does have a vegetarian-aware culture (due to Buddhist influence), I suspect that these places aren't. There are however plenty of slightly more upmarket (i.e. in actual rooms) restaurants that *do* do veggie Vietnamese food, though, so I'm off to one of those tonight.
juliet: (round the world)
(well, it had to be done, no?)

I have arrived in Hanoi, where I am in a youth hostel that appears to be full of Youth wearing very short shorts and discussing the bars they visited last night etc etc over breakfast (this is not necessarily the case with all youth hostels - the Beijing one was very quiet). Obviously this makes me feel incredibly old. Hostel does also have free breakfast, free internets, and cheap laundry service, so. It's rainy here but very warm (25deg already or something equally ridiculous).

Before leaving Beijing I spent Sunday visiting the Post Office (btw: thank you to lovely people who have sent me letters!) and sitting in Beihai Park looking at the lake and watching people dancing to some bloke playing Chinese songs on a harmonica. All very pleasant.

The train down from Beijing was fine; although crossing the border between about 1 and 3 am was less enjoyable. Lots of sleep-deprived foreigners wandering round Dong Dang station clutching forms. I was the first person called up to the health check desk, and thus got a little thermometer thing stuck in my ear; apparently my passing this thorough examination did for everyone else on the train, as they were all simply sold the little form without further inspection.

Plan for today: wander round Hanoi a bit, possibly visit Women's Museum this afternoon. Also book train ticket to Saigon for later in the week - my original plan involved a day spent in Hue en route, but I have concluded that this is getting into "it's Thursday so we must be in..." territory & I'd be better off pottering round Hanoi for another day instead. Especially as Bangkok to Singapore (in a couple of weeks) is going to be a bit of a rush.

Right, off I go to navigate another city, language, and currency...
juliet: (round the world)
(well, it had to be done, no?)

I have arrived in Hanoi, where I am in a youth hostel that appears to be full of Youth wearing very short shorts and discussing the bars they visited last night etc etc over breakfast (this is not necessarily the case with all youth hostels - the Beijing one was very quiet). Obviously this makes me feel incredibly old. Hostel does also have free breakfast, free internets, and cheap laundry service, so. It's rainy here but very warm (25deg already or something equally ridiculous).

Before leaving Beijing I spent Sunday visiting the Post Office (btw: thank you to lovely people who have sent me letters!) and sitting in Beihai Park looking at the lake and watching people dancing to some bloke playing Chinese songs on a harmonica. All very pleasant.

The train down from Beijing was fine; although crossing the border between about 1 and 3 am was less enjoyable. Lots of sleep-deprived foreigners wandering round Dong Dang station clutching forms. I was the first person called up to the health check desk, and thus got a little thermometer thing stuck in my ear; apparently my passing this thorough examination did for everyone else on the train, as they were all simply sold the little form without further inspection.

Plan for today: wander round Hanoi a bit, possibly visit Women's Museum this afternoon. Also book train ticket to Saigon for later in the week - my original plan involved a day spent in Hue en route, but I have concluded that this is getting into "it's Thursday so we must be in..." territory & I'd be better off pottering round Hanoi for another day instead. Especially as Bangkok to Singapore (in a couple of weeks) is going to be a bit of a rush.

Right, off I go to navigate another city, language, and currency...

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