Tuesday, June 24, 2008

more on the adventure.....

We arrive in Loi Cho and it is crazy again and for some reason no one can seem to find our driver. We meet with some hotel staff and they tell us that they have arranged a journey to visit ethnic minority villages today. We get into a van with our driver and guide and trek 3 1/2 hours by car to a Flower Hmong market. The Flower Hmong are very colorful and the market was certainly busy. They had everything for sale - crafts, herbal medicines, weavings, Pho' (noodle soup) and even puppies that you could take home and cook up for yourself. We spent some time at the market and I purchased an amazing wall hanging.
Back into the car to make the 3 1/2 hour trek to another village. The roadfs in this region are not very good and in fact are one lane and mostly rock and dirt. We pass by some very colorful villages and scenes. We get out of the car and trek about 45 minutes by foot into another minority village and we are greeted by a local man and his son and wife who invite us into their home where he prepares tea for us and she boils us some peanuts. The son is about 5 or so and very cute and very shy. We really enjoyed participating in the ritual of getting the tea ready.
We set off on foot again to the banks of a very swollen river where we get on a boat for 45 minutes and go down river to a resting point for lunch. Back into the car and off to our final village of the day for a walk through the village. Most of you know that I am not all that fond of walking but I have to tell you that walking in heat and high humidity about did me in.
Finally we trek back to Sa Pa which is high in the mountains. We get to the hotel at 4 p.m. and find that they do not have a room for us. They put us into this room that is under renovation and tell us to wait for them to callus with another room. We get to our room finally around 5:30 and I shower and fall asleep and sleep until 6 a.m. the next morning - guess I was tired!! Oh - did Imention that there is no air conditioning in the rooms at this hotel? Yeah.........
We get up on Sunday and are feeling much better and ready to meet our guide for a trek into 4 - 5 more minority villages. This time almost all on foot. The one village that really stands out for me is the Red Dao village. The women greeted our car with shouts upon arrival and walked with us for miles. They wanted us to buy from them but our guide had warned us not to. So I made the remark -"no buying today. today we walk and tomorrow we are going to the market". I learn that this remark probably was not wise......All of the vilages we go into are so colorful and the people so friendly and they want to practice english.
We get back to the hotel around 1 or so, meet with the guide to plan the student trip and get prices and have an early dinner at the hotel.
Monday morning....
Because we are catching the evening train tonight we decide to keep our room till noon. Right before lunch we decide to go to the town and explore the markets. We walk out of the hotel and there sitting on the curb are the 4 Red Dao women that I told yesterday that I was shopping today. They had walked to town just to meet us. ANd of course to sell us stuff!! They had baskets and baskets of stuff to sell us. I bought some things from them and we head off into town.
About 7 p.m. we catch the shuttle bus down the mountain and get to the train in time for a 9 p.m. departure. This time we a sharing a room with a couple - both Norwegian - she works for the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka. We get into Hanoi at 5 a.m. and after some confusion about my missing back pack we are off to the hotel where we are informed that we can't check in till 10 a.m. So, we sit in the lobby reading, dozing, looking like bag ladies till they give us a room. Finally showered and rested we are off to do one final shopping trip and to meet with the booking manager of the hotel we are going to use with students and hopefully meet with one of the parents of our UWL Vietnamese students.
Our last full day......I have more thoughts I will post later on that.

Monday, June 23, 2008

What an Adventure!!!

Seriously - we have been on an adventure!! We left Hoi An (central Vietnam) by car - 3 hours up and over the mountain to get to Hue. En route we nearly crashed head on with a large van who decided that our lane should belong to him. It rattled our driver so much that he needed to stop and get some water. Anyway - we get to the Hue airport and it is eerily empty. No one and I mean no one is in the airport. I find someone from Vietnam air and he says that they have cancelled our plane and that we will not get to Hanoi till very late at night and that they will put us up in a hotel in Hue. I remarked that this was not going to work since we neede to cach the train to Sa Pa that evening and there was not a train leaving on Saturday. He remarks that the only option we have is to take a cab to Da Nang and get a plane from there and the cost would be about $600,000 dong. We pay the man and we proceed three more hours in the car back over the mountain and around the ocean in a very stinky car with very limited ac to Da Nang. We check in to find that had we arrived 10 minutes earlier we could have caught an earlier flight to Hanoi - but alas - we are to sit 5 hours in the airport and wait. The airport is interesting - they close EVERYTHING down between flights. No services at all. So we get on the plane to Hanoi for the hour flight and land in pouring rain - grab a cab and find that our driver has no idea where the train station is. He deposits us outside some tour company next door to the train station where we wade through flooded streets to get into the train station.
After what seems to be an eternity - but really was only like 3 hours - we board our train. We weer not able to secure a private sleeper so we shared with two Australian men - both who live in Hanoi and work there. One as a doctor and th other as a kindergarten teacher. I fall asleep right away and do not move till they wake us in Loi Cho - which is on the Vietnamese/Chinese border.
I will continue with the rest of the story tomorrow since I appear to be having internet difficulties.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hoi An

We made it to Hoi An. What a journey. Up at 4 a.m. for a 5 a.m. cab ride to the airport - kind of scary as we had a real creepy taxi driver. Anyway - got on the plane without any hassles at all and did the hour flight to Hue. Our hotel driver was waiting for us in a new mercedes car!!! Imagine our surprise. BUT - imagine the surprise we he told us it was a three hour ride to the hotel! Yeah!
We passed through DaNang and then over a mountain pass where the old border between north and south Vietnam was. We saw some old war relics and also stopped along the way and took a ton of pictures. Then we finished the trek into Hoi An to the hotel. Very nice place. Right on the ocean.
None of the bars or restaurants here have a.c. - so we are hot, hot, hot. The hotel lobby does not even have a.c. I think we are getting used to that as well because it does not seem nearly as bad as it was early on in the trip.
I refected today on what I can remember of history and the importance DaNang played in the war. It was surprising to me to see some of the old war relics and how old they appeared to me. That must mean I am a relic too! The property we are staying at is right on China Beach. I recall seeing stories on the news on China Beach and of course remember the old TV series that was set there.
This are is really undergoing a major transformation as there are new resorts going up all along the drive from DaNang to Hoi An. I wonder how that too will change what this place becomes in the future.
I know that when I return home that I am going to the library to get some history books some I can read even more about this wonderful country.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Ha Long Bay

The Ministry of Science and Technology arranged a vehicle for us to travel the 3 hours to Ha Long Bay. Ha Long sits on the Vietnamese/Chinese border. It was not too long ago when UNESCO was conducting a worldwide vote to determine what the new seven wonders of the world should be that Ha Long was on the list. I can see why after visiting. It is a beautiful - HUGE - bay that has 1,000's of islands rising up out of the sea like giant mountains. We boarded a private boat to tour around. Our first stop was at a docking area where we climbed what seemed like a million stairs to tour this incredible cave. The cave had amazing rock formations and lots of bats. Back to the boat for a short ride into a floating city and a stop at a floating fish market where the crew selected our lunch. Our lunch consisted of clams, crab, fish, shrimp, and other assorted local favorites. All very tasty. We continued touring around the islands and just relaxed. This is a very amazing experience and I think students would love this!!! Not far from where we were is the Bay of Tonkin which was a site for the war.
I think that we will need to have a professor come in to our group prior to departure to provide students with a foundation of the war and the historical perspective for their visit. I think that their journey here will have much more of an impact if they have that historical perspective and foundation.

An incredible adventure.....

Yesterday we took the morning to tour the War Remnants Museum. I can not even begin to describe the experience. The museum is in the central area of HCMC and has numerous tanks, aircraft, weapons, etc. on display outside of the museum and inside the museum are many, many photos from the war. It was interesting that I remembered many of them from youth and from the news. We observed a lot of US Veterans touring the museum as well and this was a very powerful experience as at the same time there was an older Vietnamese man outside the fence and he appeared to be in mourning. The song going through my head all morning at the museum was the Michael Franti song, "Bomb the World" where he says that you "can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb it into peace". I am having a hard time understanding why we can't all get along and why we hate so much. (If you haven't heard that Franti song - you need to check it out. His words also resonate with what is going on in Iraq).
After the museum we walked over to the Reunification Palace where the President of South Vietnam lived. We hopped on to a tour and saw where all the major decisions were being made about the war and how the President and his family lived. The grounds are beautiful and they too had numerous war items on display around the grounds.
After that we walked over to the Notre Dame Cathedral and the HCMC Post Office which is a huge tourist location because it was built by Gustav Eiffel. A remarkable building!!!!
Our afternoon was spent meeting with individuals from Saigon Technology University. They were a delight to meet with and we shared information about both of our programs and talked about the possibility of working together in the future. They provided a tour of the campus and Bill was given the opportunity to speak with a class of students about UWL.
I haven't written much yet about our journey to Ha Long Bay. I think I will post this and then open a new post and write about that. Thanks for reading!

Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City

We arrived yesterday. This city is beautiful and wonderful. After getting checked in to the hotel we gathered for a working dinner at the Sheraton which has this world famous Sunday evening buffet. We had everything: black caviar, shrimp, lobster, crab, steak, lots of salads, Pho', excellent breads and the best: amazing desserts including ice cream!
We had spent the afternoon wondering around the city and we ran into these students who have been here a month in Vietnam doing service work and touring. It was so helpful to speak with them. We actually later in the day met up with their professor who organized the trip and their Vietnamese guide. Once we get home we are going to contact them and see what else we can learn about how they organized their trip. They are from the University of Michigan. We also toured the hotel they are staying at and it seemed like it would work out well for students.
It is Monday and we are off to meet with a technical university to discuss programs and services and then to dinner with them. I will post more tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

more from Hanoi

We are having an amazing time. It is so different here. Last night was this big dinner with UWL students and alumni and also prospective students. They took us to this just amazing seafood restaurant and they had special reserve blue label scotch - it is one step up even from blue label. The women this time were not spared from doing shots and they just kept producing bottle after bottle of this stuff. When that ran out we moved to Vietnamese vodka. Not as good as the scotch - but good.
Yesterday, the Minister of Science and Technology took us to the Museum of Ethnology and this university that closed 1,000 years ago but is still scared and it has buddhas and is a very spiritual and calming place. It and these concrete turtles that if you rub their heads they are supposed to bring you luck on your exams. There were 1000's of school children there to do this - they had come by buses - and I guess that is the way it is every day. We got to also go by Ho Chi Minhs tomb - but I guess he is in Russia right now getting refurbished.
It is sooooooo hot here. I have never ever felt anything like this. You can not be outside for more than 10 minutes before you feel like you are melting. I have never sweat so much in my entire life.