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A few random thoughts from Hoi An

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We're down in Hoi An at the moment - a little south of Da Nang. I'm feeling a bit better now, still not back up to 100% though. We biked down to Da Nang Monday, 108km of mostly flat, with one big bump in the middle called Hoi Van pass. The climb wasn't bad at all except for the usual endless parade of diesel belching horn-blowing trucks. We met (another) Dutch cyclist who had been all over northern Vietnam and said he liked that area better, so we are hopeful things will improve as we hit the mountains. As we stood next to traffic his face briefly contorted into frustration and pain and he said "I am sick of those HORNS!". We told him of the peace and quiet that is Laos and he looked envious. Over the top of the pass the view was nice, but we were immediately assaulted by 3 vendors shoving various goods in our faces, so no rest for the wicked up there. You can't say "no" to the vendors just once, 3 times is the absolute bare minimum, 5 really before it starts to sink in that you don't want whatever cheap kitschy shit they're peddling, no matter how hurt they look. Probably takes more than 5, but we usually leave first.

Da Nang is a big (1M+) city, which required wading through about 10km of very heavy bicycle and moped traffic with the occasional truck. Once you get into the groove of cutting everyone else off and accepting that there really are no rules, you just go, the traffic works out ok. Da Nang is a big, sorta-modern, industrial city with all the tourist appeal of say, Cleveland so it was just a short night stop with a museum in the morning. Today we went to the beach! Big beautiful, and mostly deserted. We spent an hour - long enough to swim and sunburn, and then moved on to Hoi An with a stop at marble mountains. Hoi An is a charming place, and would be nice to spend more time, but that's not something we've got much of. Tomorrow morning we fly to a central-highlands town who's name i forget, and spend 3 days biking down to Dalat; another touristy joint high in the hills a bit north of Saigon. In the meantime, a few random thoughts on Vietnam:


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noise. all noise. noise all the time, the busses honk, the mopeds honk, and everyone shouts and screams - presumably because they're all deaf by now. Last night we passed a theater playing (I'm not making this up) "The Quiet American" starring Michael Cain. Compared to this culture, we are very very quiet.

Napkins are now completely obsolete; they are either missing, or have been replaced by small, non-absorbent squares of paper, artfully presented in a stack impaled on a single nail through a small block of wood. don't even try blowing the nose on one of these.

You'll notice I've been complaining about the trucks & busses - that's because these comprise 98% of the "big vehicle" traffic; cars are extremely rare. Mopeds make up the rest of the motorized traffic and serve as the family vehicle transporting a family of 4 (or even 5), with 4 chickens, the day's produce, and a spare culvert for the road project down the way. Katy Warran - another Seattleite in Saigon has written many a humorous thing about mopeds which can be read at: www.travelerkaty.blogspot.com

There is trash everywhere. The phrase "fetid pools of stinking refuse" came to mind for no particular reason the other day as I stood in a small market, swarmed by flies, and surrounded by shallow, fetid, trash filled pools of stinking, uh, refuse.

I don't understand how these internet cafe's can be so cheap. The one in Hue was 3000 VND/hour, which translates to roughly 20 cents. Now software is free, if you steal it, and labor is cheap, but hardware isn't free, nor is an internet connection.

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Fixed Gretchen's front bike tire for the 5th time. Decided that the inner tube was chafing on the rim, and replaced the rim tape. This, as with all bike repairs here, required the local people to "help" me by yanking the wheel out of my hands (or trying to) to show me just what I was doing wrong. In Laos they'd just sit and watch, here they have to help. Just another example of the "IN your FACE" approach of this country. Another foreigner who had stopped to watch me fight back 5 Vietnamese while patching a bike tire explained that they were confused by the rubber cement; the local technique is to put a little gasoline on the tube, light it, and then SLAM the patch on while the rubber is still smoking. I'm sure this is the preferred method because it makes the most NOISE. Sure enough, one of them eventually grabbed the tube away and proceeded to pound on my freshly glued patch until he pronounced it healed.

There's many other pithy comments built up in my little journal, but they'll have to wait for Dalat since this net cafe is now closing.

cheers, M<

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