Tag Archives: travel blogger

Version 0.39 (A Coffee Spot, and Dinner at a Buddhist Temple)

02-20-19

The atmoshere at Tranquil is superb for writing, which is why I am here—peace, quiet, thoughtfulness, and… writing.
Once again, though, what am I writing about?
I do not know.

Whatever comes!

Had one of the best coffees of my trip so far at Kafeville today, a micro-roaster tucked away down an alley near Bach Thao Park. After meandering my way from Tay Ho, along busy, and not-so-busy streets, then through the park, which contains a large pond; tall trees; wide thoroughfares for walking, running, or cycling; places designated for badminton, soccer, or any other game one could imagine; exercise equipment; large cages filled with a variety of birds—peacocks in one, and pigeons or doves (enormous, white ones, at that) in another—and men and women alike (mostly older) on said exercise equipment, I exited onto a busy road and took a left down a small side street that had me skeptical if the location was pinned correctly on Google Maps. That is until I arrived at my destination. It is a miniscule shop front almost all the way at the end of the cul-de-sac. The space is split about 50/50 between a seating area in the rear, and the barista’s work station and roast area up front, with a few stools for bar seating, and a low bench against a wall; as well, there is a small porch out front of the shop.

I hate writing like this, meaning purely descriptively—somewhat soullessly, but not completely soulleslly—because it’s meaningless, to me, and not enjoyable. I mean, what’s the point of describing an arrangement of chairs, or the color of the wood of a table, or the order flow in a cafe? This isn’t a magazine article, it’s a journal, a diary, something, hopefully, with soul, spirit, verve. What is written here must go deeper than surface details because otherwise there is no point. May as well throw the pen and the paper away and stick my head in the sand. It’s writing for the sake of writing because I feel like I should be writing. But why should I feel like that….

Everyday so far has seen at least one beautiful occurrence. Some days after my experience with the tobacco (which is what I found out later it was), and providing a story for a Vietnamese family to tell their friends about the foreigner they invited for a smoke and dinner, I was offered to have a free vegetarian meal at a buddhist temple I was exploring and photographing. While walking around the grounds, or, rather, while standing in place looking around, my head swiveling around on my neck, my feet doing a little dance as I turned around slowly on the spot, taking in the various structures, the layout of the grounds, the children running around playing hide and seek, the piles of shoes and sandals outside the thresholds of building entrances, the sounds of voices emanating from some of these buildings, the large grey flagstone tiles of the courtyard, a man came up to me speaking in Vietnamese, but also gesturing in an eating motion and pointing beneath a distant awning where a number of long tables were set up at which people were seated. He led me over and gestured to a series of maybe fifty or sixty bowls which were filled with veggies, stacked neatly and with purpose. I was to take one of these which I was then to give to a woman seated behind an enormous stock pot within which was more vegetables and of course a broth. This she ladled into the bowl and returned to me, and from there I was guided to a blue plastic stool at one of the tables. On the table were other dishes, one with a salad of greens and herbs, and another with some sort of small, bitter citrus fruit and fresh birdseye chilis sliced thin. These one adds to his soup to taste. There was no donation or payment accepted. It was, I thought, a generous act on the part of the man to invite me to eat, and generous on the part of the temple to provide such an abundance of food, particularly if this is something they do every Sunday to anyone who may be hungry. Besides that, it was just another wonderful example of the friendliness of the Vietnamese people. There was a woman who sat near to me and with whom I exchanged a few words in english. If only I was a french speaker we may have been able to have a conversation so that I may have come to a greater understanding of what these food donations were all about. Alas, I will have to satisfy myself with this rather unique experience that likely few westerners get the opportunity to partake in.

Version 0.38 (An Introduction to Vietnam)

02-17-19

I’m back at the sandwich shop that I first visited the day of my arrival in Hanoi, and I’ve just finished eating the second-worse bahn mi of my life. I suppose that’s neither here nor there though, as I didn’t open this journal to complain about a bad sandwich.

Weather is rather dreary today: cool, and raining on and off. Out on the rear patio of the cafe a soft light suffuses everything. The whitish walls of the surrounding buildings glow cool and gentle, and the wet leaves of the plants out here glisten invitingly. Yet everyone that works here looks miserable. Probably doesn’t help that there are exactly four customers, excluding myself, and more people than that on staff.

Yesterday was something else. Had a wander around this magnificent city filled with such a frenetic energy. A crazy energy! It’s amazing that anyone can find a spot of peace in the chaos, but they do, because it’s inside each and everyone one of them, thus it’s everywhere they go, rolled up a like a light jacket or a sweater, and tucked away in a backpack or beneath the seat of their scooter.

But the city! That energy I mentioned! Everything in the world happening all at the same time constantlyconstantlyconstantly! And everyone and everything packed so damn tight that we’re all on top of each other: chickens crammed in cages or strutting around the sidewalks, dogs lying on the pavement and sidewalks, scooters everywhere moving or not, all honking and the honks have different meanings from “get the hell out of my way” to “go ahead” to “I’m just behind you”—all sorts of little subtleties—and then the cars in the way slowing things up some, but really they have rank over the scooters, so if you’re on a scooter you better get out of the way, and after the cars there are the buses, particularly in the old town, and they really back everything up and cause traffic jam after traffic jam in an area that’s already enough of a cluster fuck so that one can hardly move even if he’s just walking.

Trash just seems to get tossed about anywhere, and the washing of pots, pans, bowls, cups, utensils gets taken care of on the sidewalks which is where most people eat, and you figure that soapy water goes down the gutter into a drain and out into a lake or river likely.

But there are quiet places to be found, external to one’s self. It’s just necessary to look through every doorway, every alley, and every side street.

Last night on my long meandering walk home I came upon a fellow seated on a plastic stool, as all Vietnamese sit on low plastic stools for eating or just relaxing and watching the world spin by, and so this fellow was relaxing and smoking something, something quite strong I suppose, out of a sort of bong. As I’m walking past he waves me over and pointing to the “bong” offers me a smoke. Now it’s not something I normally partake in, but I have smoked a bit of weed in my life and so I thought this might be a fascinating experience to add to my Life List of Fascinating Experiences and so I obliged him by taking a long, deep draw. A very much too deep, very much too long draw, so that I damn near fell over almost immediately after, and had to hold myself up by the wall—my head was spinning so crazily I thought I was going to pass out—until the man offered me to sit down on a stool and brought me some cool water, which helped my slightly dry throat but didn’t do anything for my wretched light headedness and the queasiness of my stomach. Of course the man thought this was funny, and I can see why, and presumably his son thought so as well, but they were nice enough to invite me in to share with them their dinner, wonderfully simple fare even if I do eat primarily plant-based, but the humbleness of the meal was of something beautiful, and that it should be shared with me made it even more so. Chunks of fatty pork and quail eggs in some sort of chili oil, rice, and cabbage with a sort of brine to dip in. He cracked open a beer for me and we cheers’ed but by this point I had broken out into a cold sweat and had begun sweating through my shirt and was dripping from my brow, and my stomach was feeling particularly bad so that I had no appetite even though I was starving five minutes ago, and was struggling to keep down the food and beer. My mouth was cotton dry, and there they were trying to feed me more, adding morsels of meat and eggs to my small bowl of rice. Eventually though, and unsurprisingly, it became too much and I had to run out into the street and puke everything up. I felt a good deal better after that, but we all agreed that it was best that his son drive me home on his scooter, as it was only five minutes away, versus twenty-five if I walked. I attempted to get a broom or something from the lady of the family to clean up my mess but she would hear nothing of it. Was probably just disgusted with me and wanted me out of her sight. I managed to snap a few pictures of the spread and my new friends before hopping on the back of the boy’s scooter and being whisked away home. The flow of the still warm air over my skin was quite bracing, considerably more so because my shirt was soaked through completely by this point, and I was feeling good, so good in fact that I managed to shoot a couple videos on my phone while weaving through traffic. I was then left in front of the alley. We shook hands and he sped off. I stoopled down the dark alley and took my time getting the key into the padlock on the other side of the gate, crept up the stairs into the apartment, cleaned the rice from my sandals, took a cold shower, and fell into bed.