Monday, 14 December 2015

Hoi An (or Visiting a vast outdoor shopping mall recognized by Unesco)

I e-mailed Motorcycle Man My yesterday whether he would be available and willing to take me to Hoi An today. No reply though. No despair either, I do have a scooter after all ;-)
 I've developed a routine here already, even though I've only been here for 4 days.

1) The dawn beach walk.

The colours are amazing this morning. By now I'm a regular. 

There are the young men assembling for their morning volleyball game (it's still too dark, so they watch the horizon as well) and there are 4 or 5 quite old ladies who sit in the wet sand, wiggle their toes for more than half an hour, and leave the second the sun's leading edge rises over the horizon or thick clouds. 

 Looking at them repeatedly, I start wondering whether there would be a sunrise today if they had fallen ill and not been able to come here. 
But today they are here; the sun rose; and they are washing in the fresh light.

I feel like a pervert watching them during their morning hygiene.

2) Breakfast

Strange: The baguette is tough, instead of 1 butter and 2 jams I get 2 butter and 1 jam today, and someone put sugar in the tea today. WAAAY too much sugar.

3) The morning swim

In the 1 hour since sunrise, the sun has become hot. According to the weather forecast, this  is my last sunny morning here, so I might as well hop into the ocean before showering.
No  undertow today, just a gorgeous monochromatic ocean.

4)  Shower
Google Maps tells me that the distance from my hotel to Hoi An is 27.5 km.  That should be easy riding on the Hotel scooter and the scooter rental cost of 150,000 Dong (CAD$ 9.70) is also much lower than My's bill.  Everyone rides a scooter here, so finding gas for the thing along the route should not really be a problem either.

Before  I  leave for the long trip,I swap helmets at the hotel. Yesterday's number was a bit too tight, pink, and helmet-hair generating for me.

Good thing I stopped RIGHT HERE. Because this spot is ideal  to show what is happening in Da Nang RIGHT NOW.  Above  is the view of the land side, a tourist hotel in the last stages of construction.  You'll be able to sleep here in the fall of 2016.  Below, the 2015 view of the beach right in front of the hotel.

I am reminded of the Cat Stevens song "But where do the children play?" 

But where will the ladies fish?

I stop briefly at the Marble Mountains.  I'm sure just a few years ago people went up  some hidden steps but now they built an elevator for the tourists.
Li from House # 148 insists that I park my scooter at her family's house, but I can feel pressure sales again, so I tell them I will visit the Mountain on the way back from Hoi An.

Along most of the 20 kms along the beach my heart bleeds.  The entire coastline is divided into HUGE construction sites hidden behind building fences. SHERATON and friends are not even ashamed to claim ownership to the VAST construction lots that rip up the oceanfront land.  Oh poor Vietnam.  Again, it is good for Vietnam, sucking up to tourists and working in the tourist industry will increase their living standard. But I'm afraid that their unspoiled natural behaviour will not survive the transition. But you never know; the Vietnamese have survived worse and came out a smiling and delightful people.

The tourist malls are in place already and vendors will show up as soon as the resorts are open:

The Vietnam of the near future keeps alternating with the old Vietnam.  I know which one I prefer

On the way into Hoi An I stop at a restaurant.  French people already eating there (only tourists eating there) say that the food is excellent.  I peruse the menu and order Set Menu 1. 

 First the waiter brings me RED Da Lat wine instead of WHITE. I've never tried the red so I keep it. It's chilled and it is better than the white ;-)   Moral: Try new stuff whenever you have a chance ;-)

Instead of the FISH grilled in Banana Leaf, I get PORK. Ah well, I HAVE been eating ENOUGH seafood during the last few days ;-)  The stuff is DELICIOUS; those noodles taste divine!

Then arrives the fish baked in banana leaf. The pork dish was an appetizer.   OMG I'm supposed to eat all that? This restaurant has adapted to tourist quantities of food but without charging tourist prices for it!  OMG, even the steamed rice on its own tastes great. This is the BEST food I've eaten in Vietnam. Flavours explode on my palate and I don't even have the slightest clue what any of tthem are ;-)  What the colour indigo is to my eyes, this food is to my taste buds.  The place is called Restaurant Basil or Rau Hung Basil or Nha Hang, must remember to leave a Tripadvisor comment!!!  If this is the only thing I see of Hoi An, the trip here was already worth it.

A leg-challenged person hand-pedals his trike into the restaurant and offers me a copy of  Viet Nam News, the national English language Daily.  My initial hesitancy of pointing at my computer and stating that I don't read the news, is quickly overcome by him pointing at his legs and saying "Help Me". I hand over 40,000 Dong and we shake hands and exchange Cam Ons.  A backpacker might miss those $2 but I won't. 

It's only 11 am, I had a fabulous lunch, and I'm stuffed and content. And I haven't even seen a single attraction that I came here for ;-)

I forgot about dessert: I'm not sure what kind of sauce is on them,  but these bananas  are boiling HOT.  The sauce: Rum and Chocolate ;-)   I don't want to leave!

I try to make it absolutely clear to the waiter/owner that the reason I did not finish half the dishes was that I'm stuffed and that the food was GREAT, 

His wife shows up and when I say the same to her, she points at my  laptop and only says Tripadvisor.;-)

Again, I remember to take pictures of where I park the scooter. A hotel name AND street intersection will allow me to find the bloody thing again.

It looks like I'm wearing Errol-Flynn style tights, but NO, it's a stairs-related distortion
There is a local market here, but most of the vending stands in the streets are aimed at tourists.  Most of them sell crappy T-shirts for exorbitant prices.

I walk along and have to fight off several women trying to sell tours and wares and possibly their sisters. One even starts the sales pitch with You very handsome.  Thanks Hon.

What my gut has been trying to tell me, but couldn't put into words, namely what exactly is so very WRONG with this town, a kind Vietnamese soul has written on this blackboard.

An OLD lady carrying one of those scale-thingies proposes that I pay her 20,000  Dong to take a picture of her.  When she says "I hungry" I can no longer refuse.  

This would be pretties if they weren't re-inforcing the canal

Pretty much every single house contains a store. Some offer good wares, clothes, or leather goods, but most just cheap T-shirts or crappy tourist stuff.

I finally find what Hoi An is famous for. The Japanese Bridge.

I am under-impressed, especially since they demand money to walk over the bridge.

I spend the money on ice-cream instead ;-)

On the way back  I get lost.  Which is not a bad thing, because I end up  at a beach.  But there  is  no way I could have got here according to Google Maps.  The bridge  came over does not exist on Google Maps. 

I head back along the coastal route,stop at one of those by-the-road glass cylinders dispensing gasoline (when I say Cam On, the lady gas jockey pats me on the arm), and then some passing scooterist points below my scooter.  I stop and see the speedometer cable dragging on the ground.  I wedge it somewhere over the right rear wheel, but next time I'm taking a left turn I can feel resistance in the steering and when I check the cable again it is nowhere to be seen; I must have ripped it out the front fitting as well and dropped it on the road somewhere.  Ah well, the speed indicator wasn't working anyway.
Once this is finished and you're behind the gates, you can't  really tell anymore whether you're in Da Nang, Cuba, or Costa Rica.  So what's the point?

I'm sitting in the outdoor lobby sitting area of the hotel with a bottle of red Da Lat wine and start to feel odd.   This is the last evening I will be here!  In EXACTLY 24 hours I will be on a Khalifa Airways flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia.  I like Da Nang. It's the nicest place I have seen in Vietnam so far and I can feel melancholy building when I think about leaving here. Ah well, I can always come back and maybe I'll even discover a more fabulous place tomorrow or the day after.  

Now is the time when you HAVE TO start playing THIS SONG

At 7 I head over to Be Man B again.  
Good food, The Best Internet, and yes, eye candy as well.

But this time I’ve come prepared.  For ordering the food, I mean.  I’m in a seafood restaurant by the beach and yesterday I saw a lobster tail on a plate. I’ve eaten bits of lobster in Cuba and I loved it but I’ve never actually eaten a whole lobster tail. Tonight’s the night!  So to speed things along and not having to drag servers into the kitchen again (the cooks gave me funny looks last time) I used Google Images to get pictures of an order of French Fries and of a lobster tail.
I get to the place and 5 waiting staff start grinning and waving when they recognize me from a distance.  The perks of being the only Westerner in a restaurant with more than 100 tables.  They even point me towards my usual table, #36, but that is occupied.  Good thing too. Otherwise, similar to The Man in Seat 61, I might become known as the White Guy at Table 36.  I get the table right across the aisle from my usual table though, table 100.
I draw my laptop and as soon as I have a basket person I show her the picture of a lobster tail and French Fries. NO PROBLEM! Pictures are the universal language ;-)  

She points at a bucket right next to us and there is a MONSTER in there.  Friggin HUGE is that lobster. I use two fingers to indicate shrinkage and she quickly  finds me a smaller but still just as ugly crustacean.  How could the first lobster eater ever have thought of eating THAT?

A bit later it gets delivered to my table.   When  I start poking around to find where the edible meat is, one of the Viet serving kids (they all look 18 years old) skillfully stabs a fork into the end of the tail and pulls one solid piece of lobster meat out of the shell.  Cam On!  I learned something new.  And the lobster is delicious. 

 I end up paying CAD 32 (< US$ 24) for the lobster fries, and 2 Bia Larue.  Not too bad for the first whole lobster of my life.  I also notice that my expenditure of money is still low in comparison to what some of the middle-aged Asians with larger waist-sizes leave here.  Fat Cats.

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