I have to confess, I'm a bit insulted at the number of my readers (mainly lurkers, I know) who have not taken the extra little step of signing up with LiveJournal to continue reading my blog. Thank you to the 2 (?) of you who did! You are the wind beneath my wings.
But seriously. Fair weather friends. Who needs 'em?
Well, folks, I haven't come up with any clever solution to my blog-security problem, so for now I'm sticking with "Friends Only." This means that you have to sign up for a LiveJournal account and ask me to friend you. Just do it. Quit whining. You don't have to post anything. Just make up a blog name and get an account. It doesn't hurt. They won't send you email. They won't sell your email address. You can even use OpenID, which I don't quite understand, but is apparently the shit.
So if you just can't live another day without my bitter but entertaining ruminations on life, love, and real estate, drink the Kool-Aid at livejournal.com.
I've discovered a security flaw, and will be immediately going friends-only until I figure out how to handle it. I don't think the intelligence has been compromised, but I can't risk it. If you are a lurker and want to continue reading, you'll have to create a livejournal account and then ask me to friend you. I shall keep you apprised on a need-to-know basis.
Moments-later update: You can only change the security on multiple posts at once if you have a paid account. Fuckers. This is where I need an underling - to have him (yes, it would be a him so I could sexually harrass him) change every single post to friends-only.
Finally...Nam photos posted here. There are 100, but I culled from over 1,500, so deal!
I just haven't been feeling very bloggy lately.
Here's a short video from Vietnam.
Well, I'm home and despite some minor lingering digestive issues and a bad case of jet lag, I think I'm fine.
Some teaser photos here. I'm waiting until V and I exchange photo CDs to figure out how/where to post a photo narrative.
We flew to Nha Trang on Wednesday. Nha Trang is a big beach party town, and even though I hate the beach, I had figured, "When in Vietnam..." But the weather was shitty and there seemed to be no other compelling reason to stay in Nha Trang, so we decided to head straight to Phan Rang, about 30 miles south, where we'd read we could eat gecko. And visit Cham towers (since the Cham ruins near Hoi An were closed because of the flooding). We successfully eat gecko and visit Cham towers and then there is nothing to do in Phan Rang. And no one speaks a word of English. And tourists never visit there, apparently, which actually made us the talk of the town. Kids would shout, "Hello!" and then giggle hysterically and run away when we responded. People openly stared at us. Not hostile, just curious.
We decided to head to Dalat as early as possible the next morning (although we ended up sleeping until 9:30, the very latest we've slept the entire trip). We asked the hotel to call us a taxi to the bus station. As we're heading out the door, the receptionist tells me the bus should cost between VND 40,000 and 60,000 (prices can be rather flexible here). The taxi picks us up, and as we're veering left off the main road in town - which, according the map in Lonely Planet, is where the bus station is - I figure the driver knows a short cut.
He drops us off at what may or may not be a bus station, but either way, right outside the gates is a minivan with a "Dalat" sign in the window. Before we know it, our luggage is on, and we're being shepherded into the van. I say, "Hey, wait, how much?" The door shuts and we are alone with 4 men who speak no English and one of them pulls out some cash and waves 2 100,000-dong notes in front of each of us. We say, "Two hundred thousand each?! No way. 100 for both." He starts yelling at us in Vietnamese and then waves around 3 notes. We are still not paying 150,000 each. He's still yelling, and now we are driving up the road. We say, "No, forget it. Let us out. No Dalat!" We are ignored by the driver while the other guy continues to yell. We're a little scared at this point. Are they going to rob us? Kidnap us? Kidnap AND rob us? Kill us and dump our bodies and steal our money? Finally, dude comes down to 150,000 for the 2 of us, and we agree.
However, we continue for the next half hour to drive up and down the main street of town, trolling for additional passengers. They stop at actual bus stops, the yelling guy yells at women at the bus stop, they exchange words and the women ignore him. We think the conversation goes like this:
Yelling Guy: Hey, get on this bus! Is cheaper!
Women: No way, Jose, we ain't gettin' on there with you skeevy guys.
Yelling Guy: We go to Dalat! We drop you wherever! Is cheaper!
Women: Those American girls might be stupid but we're not.
The eventually drum up a few additional passengers and off we go. Once we got on the road, though, everyone calmed down. (Yelling guy actually stayed in Phan Rang, probably to yell at people to get on the bus to Nha Trang.) One of the guys seemed to be trying to reassure us, and when we stopped for lunch, the very drunk guy in the front seat insisted we get out and at least sit at the roadside restaurant.
We made it to Dalat, alive, each in one piece, and with all our money and possessions still with us. And they even dropped us off right at our hotel. Which is another story in and of itself.
Here in Hoi An, the thing to do is have clothing made. The streets are lined with shops, mannequins in the front, shelves and shelves of material just inside. We studiously avoided them all of Sunday, but then yesterday, I started seeing a jacket I really liked. Our hotel is connected (business-wise, not physically) to one of the shops, where we'd get a 10% discount. Last night, we stopped in, and before I knew I it, I was being measured for a reversible jacket, two tops, and two pairs of pants, in black and orange silk, for a total price of $167. This is a lot more than I normally spend on clothes, being generally a cheapskate, but um, they're tailor-made! And even crazier? They'll be ready today. That's 24 hours.
Hoi An "Ancient Town" is quiet and lovely (well, quiet is relative in Vietnam, I've discovered), but it's flooded. The water is up to 2 streets next to the river, and all those businesses and I guess houses are closed. I read something that said that several of the old houses are listing, and there's been some mobilization to shore them up. Frankly, I don't see how the entire town doesn't need to be completely rebuilt every 3 years or so, it's so wet. The only thing wrong with our hotel here is the intense musty smell in our room, and this is a modern building. I don't know how wooden structures have survived more than 100 years.
The happy news of today is that we got a flight to Nha Trang for tomorrow. It's a 12- or so hour bus ride and I really wasn't that excited about it. But since everyone is bypassing the central coast, all the flights to Nha Trang were fully booked. We got our names on a waiting list and this morning, were told we got seats.
I may have to do a whole 'nother post about how many things here seem to happen as if by magic. I mean, yesterday, we told a guy here at the hotel that we wanted a flight to Nha Trang. He made a few phone calls, then asked us to just write our names on a piece of paper. This morning, another guy came over to me while I was on the internet a little while ago, and said, "You in room 403, right? You get flight to Nha Trang. You want me to book?" And 10 minutes later, we've got a taxi to the airport and a flight booked. And even though we have no actual tickets or electronic receipt, when we get to the airport tomorrow, everything will be fine.
V was sure she had spotted some fetal duck egg here in Hoi An, and when we went on a tour of the market this morning (before our cooking class), our guide pointed it out and said, "Just don't look when you eat it."
I followed suit, we took some pictures, and we went for it. We had a guy sitting at the same stand take a photo of the two of us with our snack, which I will of course eventually post somewhere. (Consider this a warning.)
We obviously had fairly undeveloped eggs, as there were no obvious bones or beaks. There was some stuff that may have been baby feathers, and there was definitely something that was a "part" in mine, but overall, it was totally fine.
Conversations with the Black Hmong in Sapa:
Two girls, arm in arm, make a beeline for me. It is 8:00 in the morning on a Tuesday.
Them: Where you from?
Me: America. [We tried "New York" in Hanoi, but were always met with "Oh! America!"]
Them: What's your name?
Me: Jaime. What are your names?
Them: Zo. Ku. How old are you?
Me: You tell me.
Them: Um, 26.
Me: No, 41.
Them: No! Young!
Me: How old are you?
Them: 14. How many brother sister you have?
Me: One brother, one sister. How many brother sister you have? [Yes, it took me about 20 seconds to start speaking pidgin English]
Them: 6 brother, 3 sister. You married?
Me: No. You speak English very well. Did you learn it in school?
Them: No, from tourists.
Me: Hey, why aren't you in school?
Them: Finish. No high school in our village. Maybe you buy this purse?
Me: Er, no.
Them: Bracelet? Pillowcase?
Me: Um, uh... no, thank you.
Them: Earrings? Music? Belt?
Me: Okay, maybe later.
Me: I'll be back tomorrow afternoon.
Them: Okay. Promise? You buy from me? (You buy from me too?)
Me: Okay, I promise.
Them: This for you. (Zo gives me an embroidered bracelet, Ku gives me a tiny pillow ornament. Zo makes me entwine pinkies.)
This conversation was repeated ad nauseum for the next two days, with the following variations (starting after "Maybe you buy this..."):
Maybe you buy this.
Maybe you buy small thing.
Maybe you buy two? (You buy from me too!) (You buy from me too!)
No, thank you.
You say before maybe.
Yes, I said maybe.
So, maybe yes. You joking me?
No, I not joking you. Maybe yes, maybe no.
No, I said maybe.
No, I said maybe.
No? Yeah! You buy small thing.
This went on with gaggles of women, ranging in age from about 5 to 40 or so, surrounding us. Their pleasant tone never wavered, although a few did eventually tell us how their babies were hungry and how they would follow us "long time."
I did buy a wallet from the 40-year-old woman who practically carried me down to to Lao Chai (another story) and the next day, Ku and Zo both found me and I bought stuff from them. And Zo gave me another bracelet. I hope V got pics, they were beautiful girls.