Tag Archives: travel

Version 0.85 (This Moment and Bai Dinh Pagoda)

07/08

I’m back in town, heading to dinner soon but stopped for a coffee, smoothie, and a scoop of ice cream at a cafe. The girl that owns it with her boyfriend (who happens to be French) makes the ice cream herself, simply because she likes ice cream and thought that making her own would be a fun, and potentially profitable, thing to do.

The sun has drifted down to a level now where its light is ever so slightly beginning to wane, and all it touches is burnished bronze. Shadows are getting ever longer, the temperature is finally beginning to cool. It’s an extraordinary scene when walking through town, or just beyond its frayed edges and that light bounces off the still water’s surface or falls softly between tall, rocky crags, refracting and scattering through the distant hazy air, shimmering diaphonously like some ethereal curtain. One might imagine that heaven is like that—sort of a soft, hazy, halcyon, shimmering, euphoric, wondrous place. A place in which one’d wish to be immersed, feeling those feelings for eternity.

Short walk to Tam Coc boat launch where I found a group of children, some in life vests, some not, swimming or learning how to swim amongst the flotillas of boats which where they were pushed together appeared as large, floating islands. Nearby is a woman doing her washing in a basin and the river which a cascade of steps leads down to. Here too is where the children are swimming in supervision of their parents.

The water is gently rippling with the thrashings of the kids reflecting brilliantly the colors of the sky which are still primarily blue, but some apricot skin and rosé accompany, with wispy grey clouds interrupted by the tops of palms and karst formations jutting out of the dark void like termite mounds from a plain.

A young boy whose name is Money or Mani? and speaks little english has sat down next to me. He is maybe eight or nine years old. He mimes something and asks my name, but that is as far as the conversation goes. Currently he is watching me write this. It has been ten minutes.

My big trip this day was driving out to Bai Dinh Pagoda, the largest buddhist pagoda in Vietnam, and wandering around for several hours in the sweltering heat that baked or wilted everything it touched (which was everything not tucked away in the shade). Truly an extraordinary place, and well worth the thirty minute drive beneath a blazing hot sky.

I arrived there, and like everyone else paid and parked on a dusty, dry patch of ground beneath a tent, so to provide shade for the black seats of motorbikes that everyone gets around on. I bought a bottle of water from a vendor nearby and began walking towards the most obvious landmark in the distance: a tall tower atop a hill pointing like a finger at the cloudless sky. I remember too thinking to myself that I should have applied sunscreen.

The grounds were seemingly deserted, though I don’t find that surprising as there is very little shade to be found anywhere, and to walk around is to be trapped without respite beneath the searing sun for great lengths of time, at least until arriving at the main buildings of the pagoda. I remember on my way back to the parking lot passing a group of French kids in their twenties who were quite obviously fagged out from the heat and the long uphill walk to the tower I first visited upon my arrival, asking how far it was to the tower and if there was any shade. Before even getting to the tower, however, one wanders through a gauntlet (there is always one of these) of vendors—essentially a market—selling various touristy knick-knacks and souvenirs, coconuts for drinking, snacks for eating, etc. With the general desertedness of the place the whole block felt like a ghost town with most vendors napping in a chair or hammock within the shade of their shops.

Beyond the tower one follows meandering paths and probably walks down some stairs, eventually coming to a gate or an entrance of a kind (there are numerous scattered along the shaded hallway that encompasses the three main temples on the grounds). Here one can walk for hours exploring the three temples, the courtyards formed by them, and the series of 500 Arhat, or Buddha, statues that line the halls. I passed several groups of Korean tourists, all with fans in hands, sweating profusely. One woman was even desperate enough to ask me for some water from my bottle.

I spent about three hours strolling the grounds and the temples contained within, taking pictures of other tourists and various objects while doing my best to stay in the shade, which was possible probably 80% of the time. Eventually, tired, somewhat dehydrated, and completely over the heat I walked back to my motorbike, passing the French kids I mentioned earlier.

Version 0.84 (Tam Coc, Ninh Binh Province: Recommended)

07/07/19

Did a bit of touristing today as well. Went out to Hang Mua, which is a popular area of enormous karst rocks that protrude from the earth like half buried treasures, and meandering rivers set within a landscape of green rice fields a short bicycle ride, or an even shorter motorbike ride, from Tam Coc town center. The main attractions are the two buddhist shrines built atop a particular couple of these karst rocks, and the long, undulating stone dragon mounted near the highest one. HOWEVER, in reality the main attraction is the view from high atop these things: stunning vistas where if the air were clear and dry one could see for many miles (though one can still see quite far even through the humid, smudgy atmosphere thanks to the flatness of the land), though much of what is attractive about the landscape is within the immediate vicinity; the distant landscape offers little to feast ones eyes on.

To get there of course you will probably ride a bicycle or motorbike, and then navigate the gauntlet of restauranteurs attempting to scam you into paying them to park at their restaurant by acting as though they are the official Hang Mua parking (not sure if there is a charge for bicycles at the official parking lot by the entrance). However, if you ignore all these people with their arms waving and flailing and signs for parking, you’ll find yourself at the entrance gate where parking is just beyond. If you fall for the ruse though, life isn’t so bad; you’ll just have a couple hundred meters of walking to do to get to the ticket booth and entrance.

Once you arrive and pay the entrance fee (100k dong) you will wander through a sort of wonderland (in progress when I was there) beside the enormous rocks with flowers and vegetation sprouting up from everywhere, a small, green lake for paddle-boating, and of course the ubiquitous stalls selling coconuts, beer, coca-cola, snacks, etc., until you reach a set of stairs that wind up, up, up quite steeply until splitting in two, one set going left, the other right, each leading up to a different shrine. The views from the top of the highest are quite dramatic, with a wide and calm river winding far below between the bases of the karst rocks, often with the small tour boats, that one can pay a sum to take a two or three hour ride in, gliding unhurriedly along the river too, like autumn leaves carried along by the current of a bubbling creek. Of course once you get up there you’re very nearly surrounded by the numerous tourists that climb the stairs in order to be photographed in a beautiful locale highlighted by an extraordinary backdrop, then later uploaded to the social media of choice (I often think this is the only reason anyone bothers visiting). It’s a bit strange, but nowadays so common as to be expected, so much so that if no one was up there posing for a photograph or taking a selfie there would be a dissonance as if one were listening to a symphony and all at once the members of the orchestra played a portion of it off key.

After leaving Hang Mua I thought I might drive back through town and just cruise along the main road watching as the landscape flowed by me, looking for what I don’t know, but looking at everything because everything caught my interest. Somehow, perhaps I took a wrong turn? though I don’t recall making any turns off the main road, I arrived at Bich Dong Pagoda, a place I was planning to visit, just not on this day. I thought I might possibly be turned back because I was in something like hiking/running garb, and not something that one would wear in a more conservative environment (such as a monastery!), but some old man waved me over and asked for payment of 20k dong to park my scooter. It was a relaxing way to end the day as there were very few people and the monastery is set into a cliff overlooking a pond, and surrounded by lush jungle. The monastery is lived in and used, as a few monks were wandering about in their drab, brown robes finishing up their daily chores. It’s truly a beautiful monastery that effused a calm and contemplative atmosphere. It was obviously quite old as the stone inscriptions were in Chinese calligraphy. Among the banana palms that grew in a grove at the bottom of the pagoda around some of the old buildings was a cat hunting, it’s tiny, shining eyes glancing up at me before running off through the palms. After meandering and sauntering around for about an hour, poking my head in and out of different buildings I finally felt the need to leave as the sun was falling behind the rocks and the shapes of things and the landscape were blending and taking on the hues of mauve and blue as the light dimmed.

Earlier when I had arrived and parked my bike there was an old stick of a woman trying to sell me souvenirs and incense. I didn’t then, waving her off and making gestures that I would buy something when I finished my tour of the pagoda. And so I did making a purchase of a small foldable bamboo boat (a small model of those which they paddle tourists along the river in), as well as a couple of bundles of incense from her. I would have felt a heartless wretch had I not. One only need see the state of this skinny, old woman, a woman who looked like she could have just earlier in the day made her escape from the Gestapo she was so frail and emaciated looking. Many people in Vietnam do not have a decent income and so it only seemed right that I do this for her; she was practically begging me to buy something, reaching out for me, cajoling me….

Today ended as an extreme success, despite the loss of my phone. Quite tired and excited to get back to my dorm which I am only sharing with one other: an amiable woman from Finland.

Peace. Quiet. Calm.

Version 0.76 (An Illusion of Prosperity, and the Joy of a Haircut)

06/24/19

I’m sitting at a bia hơi near the apartment where I’m staying, just a stone’s throw from the lake, watching a few chickens scratch and peck along the sidewalk and the park. The usual hangers-on of dogs are roaming about scavenging for scraps of food and looking for handouts, and up and down the streets the usual and constant parade of motorscooters, the occasional bicycle or car, families out walking (late evening, just as the sun is going down and the heat of the day begins to subside is when neighborhoods become most active), children are shouting gleefully holding their parents’ hands. The lights of highrises across the lake shine brightly reflecting in its surface like dreams of prosperity that should be so easy to achieve if only by walking down to the water’s edge and scooping up with one’s hands or a pail. And then I look around me more closely and see the lights hanging from the corrugated steel awnings, and listen to the chatter of the family having dinner behind me (presumably the family that runs the place) and I see that right here, on this unassuming street corner that is like nearly every other in Hanoi that prosperity of a kind has already been acheived by some, if not many, and that illusion of prosperity rocked gently by the ripples on the surface of the lake is exactly that—an illusion.

I was down around Old Quarter today to enjoy a coffee at a favorite spot, and to have a slice of banana bread that unfortunately wasn’t available. Very basic things, and I had some delicious fried morsels at a little street food stall near the famous cathedral as well as a bahn mi. I’ve been pondering a haircut for probably over a month now, and today it finally happened. Walking back to my apartment it was along a stretch of road by a park where there are always several barbers, their chairs, mirrors, and other accoutrements of the trade at particular spots day in and day out. Each man to his station. I just happened to be looking at a certain gentleman whose chair was empty when he turned and saw me. We made eye contact and he made a shaving motion across his cheeks whereupon I made a cutting motion above my head. It was a fine thing this, having my haircut out in the open, watching children play at the memorial park in front of me, and young girls pose for photos with friends. Something so wonderfully joyous and life-affirming having a haircut outside while the world whirls by around you. The cars, buses, scooters, horns beeping, children playing, people walking and photographing, shop owners selling whatever goods they’re selling on the strip behind me, the trees and the sky overhead, the grass and the sidewalk beneath. It seems almost a crime to force people indoors for a haircut. Here, under the joy of the sky I was able to get one for $5 or so, and I would have gladly paid twice that.

Version 0.73 (Cafe Doppio: Nexus of all Quang An)

06/14/19

Rereading messages from Jasper and now I’m not sure what to make of what happened to me in Kuala Lumpur. The only other option means it was just a normal attack that anyone with M.S. would have, and NOT as a result of losing my worms to sickness or food related issues, which it seems I have not. Yet it still seems obvious to me that if certain Indian foods or spices are not affecting my worm family they are at least affecting me. Because it always seems there is a trouble after partaking of the tasty stuff.

I so love this little, yellow cafe that is like a dandelion on a street corner from which I can watch the world whiz about in no apparent meaning, but to each of those lives out there zipping by on a scooter or walking past there is a sense of purpose, at least in the immediate present. However, if there isn’t, there certainly seems a good show of it.

The cafe sits at the confluence of two narrow streets and two separate gated compounds opposite those streets that contain offices, schools, apartments and a fitness studio in one, and government-related business in another. Sitting in here safely behind the glass, and looking out on all that goes on outside is a bit like watching two rivers flow together into a central pool which then flows outward to either of the two compounds, but sometimes in reverse order, or in any other direction so that there are nearly always near-head-on collisions and traffic jams, yet for the most part a regular flow is maintained and very rearely does traffic get so snarled up that it grinds to a standstill.

Sitting in this cafe and looking out through the glass it seems as though I am at the very nexus of Quang An, Tay Ho, that I am a little bit like God looking out at his kingdom, or that I am an eye located in some central vessel of a great body observing its movements, and the flow of cells and microbes through the arteries of this one central part, that I am in the world but not necessarily of the world, and even to say that I am in it is a stretch. The world is temporary and spins by an ever and always new cast of characters, but I am permanent. I am and always will be I am.

Version 0.72 (The Berryfield)

06/12/19

Back at The Berryfield, most certainly my favorite cafe in Hanoi. Up a narrow stairway to the second floor of a building, the first floor of which is used as motorbike parking in evenings, and as a kitchen and place to eat during lunch hour. The third floor is a roasting space.

The cafe is secretively tucked away down an alley off a side street off a main street a short walk south of the Old Quarter. On the second floor one finds the cafe, but no gargantuan espresso machine taking up counter space, and this leaves the intimate room feeling more spacious than it otherwise would. The owner says that he is not fond of the coffee produced by espresso machines, and so makes his “espresso” drinks with moka pots, a unique way for sure to be brewing specialty coffee in a shop. He also does pour-overs utilizing the V-60 by Hario. Opposite the counter where one would study the menu and order is a sliding door which opens onto a small balcony with tiny wooden stools and tables, enough to seat no more than four people I would judge. Photographs of landscapes of coffee growing regions adorn the walls inside, and a bench seat against the walls wraps around the interior with several square, wooden tables and a few more chairs free to move around in order to create the seating environment of your and/or your friends’ choice. The music normally played interestingly enough has a folksy, country tinge to it; very obviously American (sounding at least), but thankfully not the same American pop music that is played in most every other cafe popular with the younger generation in Vietnam these days. The space is comfortable and intimate, cozy in a way, and the owner is a wonderful, quiet and affable man whose love of coffee, and relaxing, comforting spaces has helped him to create the perfect cafe, in my opinion, for enjoying a uniquely and carefully made cup of coffee. It’s unfortunate that it is so far from where I typically stay when I am here.

I’m already a bit exhausted with being back here in the city. It’s just the thought of being here for perhaps a month that gets to me. Perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking about it, but it’s a fact that I will have to be here, for I have to have my hookworm larvae shipped somewhere that I may retrieve them as quickly as possible. And it is necessary to get my camera repaired, and that could take two or three weeks for all I know. However, I still haven’t settled on an apartment. A decision I must make quickly for it just delays shipment of the larvae otherwise.

Version 0.71 (Brief Moments)

06/11/19

A wind drifts over the lake, lazily, like the heat that wafts from an open oven. The supple, flexible ends of branches of trees sway in the dragon’s breath. Lotus blossoms protuding from the mud of the lake look like candle flames. And as the magenta giant sun falls away behind the clouds, the local bat population takes to wing. People are out, lounging in the shade or zooming around on scooters. Construction workers are busy laying down new tile for the sidewalks that line the perimeter of the lake, or hammering marble curbs into place. Daily there is something new to be seen here. The same same everyday. But different. The same motif painted in the same colors, but in different tones, like Monet’s Haystack, or Rouen Cathedral.

Version 0.70 (Feeling Ill, Ill, Ill, and One Last Memory of Kuala Lumpur)

06/10/19

Haven’t written anything in a long fucking time. Fuuuucking Kuala Lumpur. That past month was a total disaster, and it’s rolling into the present. But why, Scott!? Why was it so bad? Because, at least for the moment, my health has suffered tremendously. Well, what happened with that? Well, it starts with M.S. (almost certainly after this recent episode, though I’ve never actually been diagnosed by a doctor) which I’ve likely been “suffering” from for sixteen years now, but have treated with remarkable effect thanks to the efforts largely of Jasper Lawrence, and others, until my last two weeks in KL. I mean my whole time there I wasn’t terribly happy or feeling good physically, and there are so many reasons for that—the dump of a hostel I worked at and slept in, the selfish manager who I worked for, the food that while delicious I could feel was affecting my health in a not positive way, and my time spent working at the hostel which limited the amount of time I could apply to more preferential things (while also preventing me from seeing other parts of Malaysia)—but the last two weeks, when I suffered from IBS for a week from something bad that I ate or drank, and then the “attack” that I had the night before my last day there that had me exhausted and sleeping through the day because I was so weak and so tired that I could do little but sleep: that is what soured my time in Kuala Lumpu the most for me. Oh, and I left my Patagonia jacket at the hostel.

At this point I don’t even think I have any memories that I wish to put down which, when I was considering a final journal entry from KL, I thought I might. Now, I think not. Or I just don’t care to. It could also be that I am exhausted due to my current condition.

There is perhaps one small anecdote which I don’t mind jotting down. On the night of my “attack,” as I was out looking for my supper, an Indian boy approached me asking if I would be so kind as to buy him a meal, just something cheap, maybe from McDonald’s? He was wearing a backpack hung loosely from his shoulders, and he sort of shuffled along in an odd sort of Quasimodo-like way, but he had these brilliant, glowing eyes that shone like two polished gems with an unquestionable warmth and friendliness. He kept insisiting on sharing his food with me—a generous gesture but one which I refused over and over as McDonald’s isn’t my thing (though I can’t say I wasn’t curious to try), but also because I just wanted to buy him a meal and be on my way, alone. However, he insisted on following me around, or rather, guiding me to various places he thought I should see. I’m not sure if his asking for food was a pretense for finding someone to while away the evening with, although I’m quite certain he was hungry as he scarfed his food like a half-starved animal (offering to share with me all the while) once we arrived at “The Place,” it seemed quite plain to me that he was lonely. “The Place” was the Sultan Abdul Amad Building, a late nineteenth century colonial government building with simple gardens, beautiful tilework, and numerous fountains, just across the Gombak River from the Masjid Jamek Mosque, one of the more beautiful and popular mosques in KL. It was unsurprisingly a peaceful place as the two of us were the only ones there, though he ruined it a bit by talking so much. He couldn’t stop telling me how kind I was, and then went on a long rant about how self-righteous the muslims in Kuala Lumpur are, and how the Chinese don’t care about anyone who isn’t Chinese, but how I was so kind because I bought him a meal and listened to him. He said he has not been able to work for a long time on account of some sort of illness or inury that he is only now recovering from. We continued walking together mainly because I was too nice to tell him to get the hell away. I only wanted to buy him a meal; I wasn’t paying for his companionship. And while he was a very nice guy, I simply wanted to be alone. Eventually I told him just that, that I wanted to be alone, no more and no less—to eat alone, and to walk alone. He told me several times how sad I looked, which, while not entirely inaccurate, was not what he was seeing. His interpretation of sadness in my visage was simply my desire to be without his company. It’s rather sad that in order to achieve that, my solitude, I had to insist on it in such a forceful way.