Friday, December 02, 2005

I was fortunate to arrive in time to witness the fall rice harvest. Rice is harvested twice yearly, in the spring and in the fall. First, rice is tied in bunches, then pulled out of the ground. After harvesting, the husks are separated from the reeds through a variety of methods. In a later photo, I will show you a man using a spinning barrel full of nail-like structures that does this separation process. After the husks are separated, they are dried alongside the road in the hot sun. After drying, the husks, or chaff, are separated to reveal the actual rice grain inside. Don't worry if you bite into a rock when eating unprocessed brown rice---it's likely not road pebbles and may be a piece of clean soil---we need the mineral supplements, anyway! The rice you see here is usually sustenance rations for local families or barter.
A herd of cattle grazing with a tropical thunderhead streaming in the background....the transition from the rainy period was now shifting to the north part of the country, away from the Mekong. But later, did I find out that this tropical pitch, was in fact, a tendril of Typhoon Kai-Tak, which hit the central part of the country a few days later! These tropical clouds were moving to the west with such speed, rotating the equatorial pull as it began the Coriolis Effect in the jetstream. It was fun to watch them pass by; this particular one boiled westward like smoke from a huge fire miles away. Gratefully, in all the three days we biked, we either missed them within a mile or less or hit briefly during our lunch break. The evenings were always accentuated with lightning in the yonder horizon. Beautiful.

Self-portrait just before we started....
Vietnam: Day 4; October 25th ---First day of Mekong River Delta bike tour
So! We set off on very nice, shiny red bikes, and immediately, I knew I was going to be okay. After a week of worrying about not being fit enough to bike 40ish miles per day for three days, the ease and grade of the road, combined with the captivating beauty of the scenery made me forget and just let go....
The following photos will be very self explanatory and I will keep my copy to a minimum (...I think!)

Day 3; continued...

I was able to attend a folk performance at the Opera House, just off the street of Dong Khoi. I actually visited the ticket booth three times to purchase a ticket--as it was evident on the program easel there would be an event at 20:00pm. But each time the gentleman was confused at my request and tried to politely turn me down. Resisting his temptation to see me react as the usual white foreigner, I remained calm and composed, using gentle hand gestures---but all were in the negative. After the three attempts, it was about 7:55pm and I was at the doorway---a lady who was at the ticket desk was flattered at my persistence and just whisked a used ticket stub and gave it to me---and I was on my way! I was determined to see as much of the culture from Vietnamese eyes as possible. As it turned out, this was some sort of high budget (top-quality lighting system and respectable set design) school-age production. Now I know why I couldn't get a ticket---it was for the families and friends of the students only.

I was impressed. No offense to my readers who beckon from Southern Oregon, but its rather easy to supersede the high school auditorium in Central Point....The performance was visually interesting, but naturally the language barrier and a lack of knowledge in Vietnamese folklore made me a bit lost. The jetlag, combined with the day's amount of schlepping made it seem all the same after a good 15 minutes. But I took the time to really listen to the music and the singing---there was a similarity in the tones and notes---probably due to the 5-point system that is applied in most Asian musical arts. I wish I could answer this question with more technical knowledge, but there was a sense of uniform melody within a shorter range of notes.

Yes, my batteries needed replacing by the end of the show, but it was interesting to see where the emphasis was placed in terms of movement, character interactions, use of stage and lighting. The gestalt seemed to be a compendium of traditional components (movement, interaction, etc) that have been practiced in a similar way unchanged over time. For example, my high school's play was done in a 50's rendition of Shakespeare's "A MidSummer Night's Dream"---they would have done the same play, but in a way that stayed true to the original conception---not as a modern adaptation.

I was entertained by the painfully long lighting faux pas that kept me awake---but then as soon it was over, I was back at the hotel to rest for the huge bike expedition that lay ahead....

Thursday, November 24, 2005

After the devastating exhibit of the War Remnants Museum, the children's artwork helped inspire me about the rejuvenating nature of the life cycle...and I really loved the "Healing" image in the middle. I decided to push this further and go to the Botanical Gardens and capture some of the local flora. I was pleased to capture a butterfly in the act! They're very mischievous, always fluttering away at the moment I'm about to take their picture. Unfortunately, the sweet moment passed, and I went to marvel at the tigers and monkeys...."They looked so sad and imprisoned. Pick the lesser of two evils, face death by poachers or irate farmers or life in imprisonment - having to deal with people making weird noises and throwing things at them to aggravate them in the aims of creating a reaction. One of them looked sick and was breathing as if it had pneumonia or some breathing complication. I felt a bit heavy hearted at humanity - the war, the oppression of nature. I decided to leave and walk back to the hotel..."


This is a touching exhibit which shows a series of childrens' art in response to the Vietnam War. It's pretty explicit and doesn't need interpretation. Here is an excerpt from my journal: "...the War Remnants Museum was devastating. I wasn't necessarily grossed out by the graphic images - more in the sense of trying to grasp the moral breakdown of would think after such atrocities (were committed) we would learn. Oh no, of course not - and the participants of that era continue to be the current perpetrators. I pity the soldiers who had to witness, ordered to, and be involved with such atrocities. I look very closely at those photographs of the victims who are facing imminent death - it is written on their faces and eyes...I wonder what their spirits must be like during that awful experience...What helped me was the children's art installation. The images are just as emotionally devastating - but they'd have other images (in the next installation) that were uplifting and showed hope and healing for the future. With all the evils inherited into future generations, the goodness reincarnates itself. Hopefully this can become a more predominant force...

The Reunification Palace
This is the Reunification Palace; a building with a lengthy, storied history. It housed the former South Vietnamese government under the Republic of Vietnam, in which hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans died in vain to preserve. Before the fall of Saigon in 1975, this was the home of the South Vietnamese leader, Ngo Dinh Diem - who summoned a Paris-trained designer, Ngo Viet Thu to establish a very pronounced style replete with 60's-era modern furniture and lighting in conjunction with trademark Vietnamese gold leafing and lacquer workmanship onto fixtures. Throughout the French and Vietnam Wars (1950's - 70's combined) this palace has been ravaged by bombings and fire several times. Since 1975 the architecture and interiors have been preserved to such a degree, it feels as if history stopped and has an eerie feel.

Vietnam: Day 3; October 24th
Boys playing a board game not unlike the concept of Parcheesi...this was taken during the lunch 'hour', which ranges from 11:30 to 1:30, when everything stops and people gather to have lunch and a moment of leisure to beat the intense sunlight and heat during that time of day.

Cyclos are popular, three-wheeled vehicles that are driven by pedal power. Many of the drivers were doctors, lawyers, scientists and writers who were impoverished as a consequence of the war and ensuing Communist rule. Their intellectual level and knowledge of English make them the ideal impromptu tour guides. Most of cyclos are rather quaint and basic - constructed mainly of wood, but this one had a lot of chrome and 'bling' and just commanded to be photographed.

The noonday light and heat can be overwhelming. After a short lunch in a small cafe a few blocks away, I treated myself to some ice cream and tea. Actually, the tea was a bonus, and came with the ice cream. If I recall correctly, the flavors were (left to right) Taro Leaf, Papaya, Red Bean and Green Tea. The pink and white package in the back is a wet wipe. Wet wipes are very popular and handed out as typically like chopsticks. This is probably in account of lack of clean drinking water - and makes it easier to keep personal hygiene at optimum standards. Yes, I'm writing in my journal...

The cornucopia of foods and color at the vegetable section of the Ben Thanh Market. The Ben Thanh Market is a huge public space that is packed with cramped alleys and corridors within one huge building - selling wares from shoes, fabrics, home accessorizing materials, dried foods, meats and fruits. There were overpowering smells, especially from the salted fish and residual glues and chemicals to hold the shoes together. I found two gorgeous lamps that are now glowing rich hues of purple and deep red in the apartment as I type this....

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Vietnam: Day 2; October 23rd
After a long flight from NYC to Anchorage to Taipei - I almost missed my connection at Taipei with 20 minutes to spare due to a strong headwind from the Anchorage connection. I ended up running in the wrong terminal (Arrivals) with a Taiwanese airport guard running after me yelling, all the while I couldnt hear her---my backpack shuffling too loudly) Sweating, I finally find the right terminal (Departures) and board the plane to Hanoi, calming down somewhat. I just pray that my bags made it.
As we flew into Hanoi, I was struck at how polluted the air was. It was like a brown film, so thick and impermeable that it wasn't until we dropped below 5,000 feet that I could start seeing the surface. At first I was puzzled, as it looked barren, brown and dry. But as we got lower, the land was clearly a tropical green---just a lot of gunk in the air.
Once we landed, I felt a strange feeling of _____ - can't quite word it, but its like a soft if all the residual bad energy associated with the war is stuck in the 'energy fields' of that little universe; the rusty, garish Communist architecture, the pointy hills, the terse nature of the citizens...after all, this area was still sizzling with napalm around the time I was born, and thats not too long ago.
I get off the plane, imagining a big sticky slab of heat about to engulf me, but it turns out to be very mild - like San Francisco - muggy, but not hot.
I walked into the airport to see a big television screen showing ghostlike images of people walking by - it was a fever indicator to detect passengers who may be carrying the bird flu. This is gonna be fun.
I prepare to go through passport controls until the officer looks at my passport, makes a weird face and stops me. The visa sticker that was issued to me by the Vietnamese Embassy here in NYC said - Date of Entry: 10/23/2006. Aaack! He chuckled, told me to go to the passport office and get this straigntened out. The officers in the office are all cracking up and putting my paspport aside while huge tour grops with stacks of pre- approved visas are coming in. This is not good. They asked me questions about ho long, hwat I was doing and why I was here - I told them everything - by this time, a good 1/2 hour had passed and I was so nervous that my transfer representative with my name card would be...well he HAS to be there, he has to have my tickets to Hanoi, he is PAID to wait fo rme, and would report to the travel agency, World Expeditions, if I didn't show up - so my reasoning at the said time - to offset the fear that my bags might be gone (it was a helluva transfer at Taipei) - and the passport officer told me to sit down and they'll 'fix' it - but I couldn't understand him clearly. So I just sat calmly, ate pretzels and tried not to panic.
Finally, they gave me a new, approved visa sticker, and I was on my way. Looked for my bags - MIA. Sigh. Ran to the greeting section, found my travel representative - and went back to the baggage section, found my bags (they were being held - I don't know how, when or why---maybe the crazy transfer at Taipei had something to do with it) and sat down with the travel rep (his name was Prak). He gave me instructions, plane tickets and the paperwork for the Saigon/Mekong portion of the trek and left. I went upstairs and had lunch.
I've had a nice bowl of Pho Bo (ox tail soup; a Vietnamese staple) and a lemon milkshake and am taking in the scene/environs...I'm really here. Wow. People laugh at me - but hey - it makes them have their moment, so I'm grateful to provide that. Ohh...I'm so tired and in need of a long, long hot massage and to be in HCMC without drama. This sucked enough out of me for a bit. But this is international travel after all, and this...being on my own, to see the world, the freedom to be in yet another world so quickly - it is such a gift...I wish people would pursue and savor it in the aims of growing...
After a 5 hour layover, I am finally off the air to Hanoi. It is a pleasant flight, and the travel representative greeted me and I was whisked to the hotel with no problems. It was a gorgeous room with wooden floors. The hotel had been made over 95 years ago, following the French-style architecture (Vietnam was a French colony) and it was quite grand. I finally plugged in my brand new camera batteries and was anxious to take pictures. But the beautiful bed called me before I could do anything else. Timberrrrrrrrr......

The following entries will be comprised of a combination of a synopsis of each day's events with quotes from my diary in italics.
VIETNAM: DAY "1"; October 21-22
I finally left on a long combination of flights from New York City to Ho Chi Minh City (also called Saigon). In short, the time it took for me to lock the door to my apartment to turn the key into my hotel room in HCMC was an exact 36 hours. I was very grateful to be able to arrive safe and sound after a number of scares in frequent succession along the way. Here are some ruminations I had while on the plane....
I feel very purposeful to be on this journey, especially as a deaf person. I'm reaching a new level of enlightenment - I don't know quite what it is - or how it came to be - sometimes I think it's the late twentysomething hormones - but dear Alexa says it's wisdom blossoming forth. I can say its the experience at Sri Lanka, the tour, Lancaster, the tsunami and the studies I've been doing on South Asian Art has been seeding good crops for my soul.
I am nervous that the physical demands of this journey will take a toll on me - but I feel mentally sound to see it through and REALLY feel that I'll be fine.
The more I'm committed to this project, the more I'm seeing clarity as to what purpose its serving - its bolstering my confidence. I can live a life full of rich opportuinities that help me grow to new levels.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Goodbye, Sarah...

Hello again, dear friends---

It has been a very amazing, pivotal, poetic and thought provoking time in the last 14 days since I've returned from Vietnam. It has left me speechless at the inexorable cycle of life. Since I've returned, I was in the presence of my best friend's delivering her beautiful son on the 10th; being surrounded in the warm company of my friends for my birthday (on the 17th/18th)---the 'family' of my adult life; something I've been yearning for ever since I was little.

I am deeply saddened to inform the passing of a precious member of this family. Sarah Pack passed away yesterday morning---so now is a time where we are all trying to emotionally re-orient ourselves and come together and give support and reflect on Sarah's many qualities. Her biggest one was her firmly planted inner strength. Her journey covered a map full of numerous challenges---but she chose to be a happy person and pursue lofty goals (and achieving them). Another one was her praise of other people choosing to see through tough issues and rising to the challenge. She studiously recorded her thoughts, feelings and passion on to her blog. Ironically, her last entry (Nov. 7th) was a big welcome back for my return from Vietnam. Thank you Sarah for your inspiration, moral support and drive. You were one of the championing forces that kept me going on my journey in Vietnam---and I will continue to do so in honor of you. Again, thank you....

On a lighter note---Thanksgiving is coming around, and I have been blessed with some free time that I will devote to entering pictures of my Vietnam trek. I have been flattered by the increasing chorus of friends and family who are anxious to see my next entries and photos. Thank you. Please let your Thanksgiving be purposeful, safe and healing to your soul.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Phew! It's now 2am Tuesday morning, and I am utterly exhausted. Apparently the flight number connecting from LA to NYC didn't exist, so they basically put me on a much later flight (1:20am) and arrived at 9:30 this morning. I was so happy to arrive home safe and sound! I puttered around the house for a good two hours, then it was *sound of large tree crashing to the ground* All it took was closing my eyes for a brief second, and it was already 8pm! Ate some dinner, and really unpacked for the past few hours, and now the apartment looks decent! Washed the ceramic pieces I bought, organized the gifts to the supporters of this venture, and unwrapped some presents to myself! Fun! But now, the bed calls me and will start up another crazy, busy day tomorrow. I hope for stamina...

all my best,

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Hello again! Am in Taipei after a jittery wait to get on the plane in Hanoi. Sure enough, the passport /luggage weight/immigration form dramas unfolded, but in mild intensity---its the non-stop successive volley of kerfluffles that had me a bit harried. And the flight to here was right beside not one, not two, but THREE toddlers squalling and vomiting their lungs out. A gorgeous sight, my friends. Bought some japanese foodie treats for my upcoming birthday. May just have a nice evening at a quiet lounge with classy music and a fireplace. I've been making copious entries into my diary, in preparation for the trip journal that my sponsors are eagerly awaiting. The experiences, images, smells, sights constantly roll and flow through my mind. I feel so wealthy with life experiences, and am happily digesting them. I cannot wait to share them with you just as generously. To all who gave your support (in every sense) THANK YOU for giving me the strength to do this expedition. A strong sense of joy runs through my soul. I hope you feel similarly....*smile*

There's a sense of suspense in the air, electric with excitement. I am leaving for the airport in about an hour---I hope it is seamless with my overweight luggage and misspelled Visa (courtesy of the visa office)---in addition to my friend, who is entering labor as I type this passage. I wish her a strong delivery without complications. This experience in Vietnam has truly been amazing, with all its frequent highs and few, but educating lows.....this is my last passage until I arrive in New York. Thank you so much for all your kind words and support. I feel I am closer to my 'calling'. It's a very exciting and poetic time for me---a 'birth' if you will. As I mentioned earlier, I will document this trip in an upcoming photojournal and I can confidently say that this is NOT my last trip. I'm so inspired to do more work. All my love....

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Hello again! I'm back in Hanoi after three long, amazing days in the mountainous region surrounding Mai Chau---west of Hanoi. We were subjected to some pretty degrading conditions---but managed to laugh through the dark moments and get through the whole journey as a group---all members included! I feel a sense of sadness that my time here in Vietnam is closing---but also with a renewed sense of focus and urgency as to what my next step will be. There are doors that could be opening their opportunities in the near future---I will go further in detail when I return back to NYC on monday. This whole experience has been like an exfoliating scrub for the soul. I love to bathe my eyes with such beauty, and its like healing medicine for my spirit. I encourage everyone to passionately seize an opportunity to do something for others as soon as it presents itself. There will be powerful passages and photos uploaded on this blog as soon as I get back and get the photo files into my computer. Look for new entries in the upcoming week! Lots of love....