Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hanoi Dispatch

Fourteen hours on China Airlines left us pretty exhausted. The leg room is for Asian people, not those they call "long noses" -- or long legged caucasians. My luggage also arrived on the right flight, but a day after us. Otherwise, no problem.

We have been in Hanoi now four days, taking day trips each day to villages outside of the city. We are going to small places where they don't often encounter foreigners. So when we walk through the village we are typically trailed by dozen young children. We are visiting various craftsmen like a master flute kite maker, where we spent three hours with him assembling a kite.

Today we visited with an old war veteran who lost his leg just below the hip. He was a spy, fighting the French and was captured and tortured twice. He was quite proud of the fact that he fed the French misinformation that they believed. His medals hung on the wall below an old photo of him in uniform. He is a master hat maker in a village where everyone makes the traditional conical hats seen all over the country. He is one of the only people who knows how to make a ceremonial version that is large, round and flat -- like his grandmother showed him how to make.

We also visited a settlement of 150 people who live in shacks that float along the Red River, which flows through Hanoi. They have a well from Unesco, but no other improvements. They power their televisions with car batteries, sleep in hammocks & mats on the floor, and cook with coal briquets. One woman, who served us a bitter tea, said that her husband had been killed in a border skirmish with the Chinese about twenty years ago, and she was forced to leave her village. She survives by collecting garbage. The village elder said he lost his land in the redistribution after the war.

In the flute kite village an old woman with teeth red from chewing beetlenut, peered at the back of my camera through her cateracs and suddenly realized she was looking at a picture of herself. With surprise she giggled and slapped me on the shoulder! People seem very willing to engage us, and are not shy about having their photo taken so they can see their digital image.

This is Judy in the conical hat making village. The woman pictured with her is exceptionally tiny, but it does illustrate that these are small people. They were facinated with Judy, and even without a translator, communicated how impressed they were with her height. Click on the image to get a better view.

Tomorrow we leave for the northern Hill Tribe country, where access to the Internet will likely be unavailable until we return to Hanoi on Sunday, June 2nd. We're enjoying the trip, although Judy is already on Cipro (from her cooking class). The people are great, and our guide, Thao, has delivered for us a very good off-the-beaten-track experience.

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