Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Vietnam, ever so briefly (Llama)

So I went to Vietnam for the first time last week. I left on Thursday and returned on Saturday. It was different...

I travelled to Danang, which, as I understand it, is quite a bit different from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. So all of these comments may not apply to other places in the country.

The first thing that struck me was, pulling up to the gate, my plane was the only one at the airport. None landing or taking off, none even on the tarmac. There was a parked helicopter, but that's it. And my flight only comes three times a week... Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, which, as I understand it, is a recent increase (previously the flight only came on Tuesday and Thursday).

Danang is not a tiny place... almost a million people in population... larger than Nashville and about the size of New Orleans pre-Katrina. But the airport was tiny... one gate only. And unlike Western nations, where the airport is filled with people trying to sell you goods (currency, taxies, food, hotels, whatever), this one was empty. NO merchants at all in the airport... I had to exit the building and go to a separate location to change money.

The currency is very, very small compared to the dollar. 1 Dollar is over 16,000 Dong! The Vietnamese handle this by treating most things in terms of thousands of dong. So the smallest bill is 1,000 dong, which is about 8 cents.

Very, very little english spoken. Only older folks (who learned it back when US forces used Danag for R&R) and the hotel staff spoke English. And the hotel staff! Talk about peronal service... I was paying about $25 a night, not a whole lot. But one of the front desk women must have been taken with me because she offered: 1) to give me breakfast for free, 2) to travel out on her motorbike to purchase noodles for me, and 3) to iron my clothes for me. I took her up on the breakfast offer, but declined the rest.

Walking around the city, I saw only one other white face the entire time. I was definately a curiosity. People would call out to me, come up to me, start conversations as best they could. I felt like an attraction at Disney world. One poor women almost crashed her motorbike into another because she was staring at me.

Speaking of motorbikes... it was surreal. The streets were very nice, very clean. The sidewalks were well maintained. I had very little sense of underdevelopment... I could have been in, say, the french quarter. But there were very, very few cars. There were many, many motorbikes, but no cars. It made me seriously rethink the attachment we Americans have to our vehicles. If everyone on the road in Danang had been in a car then there would have been major gridlock... the smaller motorcycle was a much more appropriate, and affordable, mode of transportion.

Finally I'll comment about my beach time. I went to China beach, just to have a look around. People everywhere were playing soccer... in anticipation of the World Cup perhaps. Like we toss frisbies at the beach in the US, these people were kicking soccer balls. There were probably 100 on the beach when I was there.

While sitting, having a coke, and observing my Vietnames hosts enjoy themselves, I heard the sound of a jet overhead. I glanced up and saw a fighter jet knifing through the sky. My first (erroneous) thought was, "huh, still an emphasis on military power in these communist countries." But then I realized what was truly unusual about that jet... despite walking along the beach for about 90 minutes it was the first and only airplane I had heard.

9 comments:

pacatrue said...

Because if I can allude, I must allude: "Danang me, danang me; won't you grab a rope and hang me?"

Sammy Jankis said...

I second paca's allusion, "Danang me", as well!

kristybox said...

Sounds...peaceful.

Sammy Jankis said...

Oh, and that sounds like a VERY cool place to visit. On a side note, and a curiosity, do you still have your head shaved? Or are you back in full llama guise? Just trying to fathom the cause of the "almost" motorbike accident. Of course, they probably don't see someone of your height very often either.

Sammy Jankis said...

Oh, and that sounds like a VERY cool place to visit. On a side note, and a curiosity, do you still have your head shaved? Or are you back in full llama guise? Just trying to fathom the cause of the "almost" motorbike accident. Of course, they probably don't see someone of your height very often either.

pacatrue said...

It's obviously just because the llama is a sexy beast that no one can resist.

Killer Llama said...

No, my head isn't shaved anymore. I keep it cut short, but not bald by any means. I also don't have my earring anymore... I've decided it was too 80's... or 90's... something not today.

I do think I look pretty good these days. Not sure why. I've put on some weight, have a little musculature (but not as much as that one summer, heh). Anyway, despite that I'm still a tall gawky white boy, so I'm sure the near miss of the accident was because I was... well, a tall, gawky white boy... in a land of short, lithe asians.

And yes, it was very peaceful. China beach was crowded but very nice. I understand there's a resort town a few kilometers a way. Would be a wonderful place to take a vacation.

Sammy Jankis said...

Ah, that "one summer", how fondly I remember thee. I do assume you are speaking of the summer of "disc golf" mania?

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