Saturday, May 12, 2007

North Vietnam Solo Trip

The text from this point on is unedited thoughts on the page from my journal. Apologies in advance for the poor structure, punctuation, grammar and spelling.......

Taxi to Airport from Saigon to Hanoi. Driver turned on Ace of Base "It's a Beautiful Life". Proper omen and optimistic sign of times to come. Since living in Asia I know now where all the one hit wonders go. Still alive and kicking right here!

Flight delayed. Arrive in Hanoi at 2:30am. Haggle cheap taxi. Drunk dudes. Tried to rip me off.

To Melia Hotel to Meet Anne's friend Lena to pic up my train tickets. Woke her up, felt bad. I was so tired I forgot to pay her. paid her next day and gave a bottle of wine as well. Got tickets and had to find a hostel in the dark. Entire city shut down. Found a place and had to wake them up to get in. 8 USD slept till about 10am next day.

Tofu, rice noodle and herbs breakfast. Funky viniger and duck blood sauce. 10,000 VND.

Full day tour, American B-52 crashed in lake and made into memorial, Pagodas, ethnology museum, pottery makers, lakes. Back to hostel for my pack, brushed my teeth and on to train station.

Xe Om (motorbike driver all day) changed the price we agreed on at last minute. Got other Vietnamese guys to shout at me. Don't know what he told em. Ripped off 400,000 VND. Never again!

Board train followed by some crazy guy onto train. Vietnamese seem to just let the riff raff come and go as they please. Crazy bum on a train trying to steal my stuff, wounded beggers in restaraunts and loud drunk dudes with a giant turtle in a bag at the climbing gym. (yeah)!

9hr train. Air conditioned soft sleeper. Easy. Meet a nice guy from Isreal. Looked exactly like a guy I went to college with (Matt Bird). Funny. Metal squatter toilet with no door. Good to be a guy for this one....

Arrive groggy 5am-ish in lao Cai. Small bus into Sapa 25,000 VND. First glimpse of mountains and Hmong tribes walking around in the hills. (excited not tired anymore)

Found a guest house. 10USD and had to share with someone I would meet later.

No shower, quick breakfast and onto hike. To Cat Cat village. passed through around 7am. locals getting set up for the day, oxen, kids with no pants and a 2 hour long trek through the forest following a river.

Super sunny. Hot. Swam in clean river. Coldest water ever swam in. Jumped in muscles froze up and all air left my lungs. River runs from china and eventually meets up with red river into Hanoi/ Halong bay.

Peacful, happy, relaxed!

Trail ended, back through Cat Cat and further into valley past sapa/ plantations. 6hr trek through mnts/ valley. Amazingly beautiful. Several breaks. LOVE.....

Pat/ Vu great duo. Western guy and Hmong girl. he was on a 3 day homestay trek with her. Only westerner I saw all day. Good Feeling....Modern chaos and now, right now these people are living simple and true to root lives tending crops, water managment and craft.

Had to find a road again. Steep tiring hike. found a road and took Xe om back to Sapa. 30mn nap. rented a motorbike. Fog, rain couldn't see. cold and muddy. Maybe tomorrows ride will be better.

Beer, food sleep. I love pizza.
To Bac Ha tomorrow.

Night walk in sapa. hazy, sillhouettes creeping through town and glow of shop signs. surreal. Meet Be and Chi, Hmong girls. Taught them what emotion means. Back to room meet Sebastion my French roomate. Cool guy. I don't know what it is, but when I travel some how I always get paired up with Frenchmen. Always turns out good. Really funny guy. He lives in Hanoi. Told me about the Minsk bike. I will rent one tomorrow to carry me through the rest of trip. %10 Oil to petrol when re-fueling.

7am leave Sapa. First try on Minsk, stalled alot. Down for 1st, up for 2nd and 3rd and half click up for neutral.

It was a champion through mnts. Loud Comfy. Sapa-Lao Cai cool and foggy 38km. Lao Cai-Bac Ha Hot and sunny spectacular lowland plantations 75km.

Bac Ha arrive Hostel 60,000VND 4usd. Found out no atm's in Bac Ha and only have 400,000 to last me three days....Interesting!

Raining. just noticed my sunburn from trekking yesterday.

Bought an umbrella 25,000VND/ rain walk. baby frogs everywhere! Think I stepped on a few. 2hrs. ooops

Rain cleared, bike to Ban Pho Flower Hmong Territory. Too muddy for bike. parked and hiked 3-4hrs. Lush Quiet small shacks. (clean). Valley vista/ plantations and small village. Only sound of daily activity. Someone playing flute. Icing on the cake. Seemed to echo for miles.

Back to bike. Drove north as far as I could. Almost to China border. Could see it and ran out of gas. Coasted the rest of the way down mnt to Bac Ha 12km or so.

I'm Muddy!

Dinner. Jolly old couples everywhere. great. ask a Brit to say fantastic its fantastic.

Really good sleep! Hot Shower. woke naturally at 6am. Quick breakfast and onto market. Rain. waited under tarp. meet Gabriella (Swiss) Rain stopped and walked market with her for 2 hrs.

Muddy, but extremely vivid with color and noise. riverside. textiles, farm tools, veggies and meat. Many food stalls specializing in entrails. (yummy). intestines, horse mouth and testicles in the morning does a body good.

Purchased some goods limit 180,000 VND. dropped goods at guest house.(great stuff)

Gotta good video of the market. ask and i can email it.

Bought some fruit and water went for 2-3 hr hike. Villages flower Hmong. followed river out of Bac Ha. All dirt roads lead to someone's house/ farm. not ever-continuous like in sapa. lots of turn arounds. Area is so much more green here than Sapa. More growth. sapa still tilling and planting. Things are all near ripe here.

Xe Om back. Inspired by textiles. natural fabric hemp/ cotton and natural dye, fruits, seeds flowers etc. Could really start something. Brand based off sustainable material grown and crafted by Hmong. Naturals w/ electric quality look and color. (bold graphics and patterns). printed t's, head wraps, scarves, mittens and socks w/ style. Buy goods here and alter later. (backing and finishing)

Could do the same in many countries. travel for work, learn diverse techniques to garment making.

The little amount of Vietnamese I speak came in handy today. bartar directions etc. feelin local.

I love my umbrella tool!

Lunch at Cong Fu. Great food, fried rice with veggy and mushroom 10,000VND staple.


walk again for 2hrs. Nice people on this walk. (except) Usually wandering aimlessly gets me into some great experiences, it has this entire trip except this walk. Came to the edge of a village and saw that I could cut through a mud pit/ construction site development or go back the way I came. Of course I chose mud pit. Mud no longer amuses me! My shoe came off a few times. tractors, trucks exhaust and mean barking dogs.

Not sure if I have a subconscious fear of dogs or if its only in strange places, but I've been letting these alpha dogs show their alpha this entire time. Oh well. Grrrrrrr.....

The tourists have left (20 or so). town back to the way it used to be. descolet. I'll drive back to Sapa early tomorrow. Or after rain stops.

Life in Bac Ha: (sunday market)
Hmong seem to trade crop w/ other Hmong and even Vietnamese restaraunt owners. sell crafts for cash. cash for modern medicine, tools and other stuff. Quite interdependent here....

As much as I hate tourists I am one myself and I feel it is 60% good for the culture. Brings revenue and a social venue for each other once a week. They seem happy. Though some (not all) it seems to poison their minds. They can get greedy and mean. I can understand the drive, when a plump rosy cheeked westerner with clean white nike's and a $2,000 Nikon hanging from his neck is fighting for his 3 cents cheaper price it could be a bit much.

This is why I always like nature best. This trip has been great for that. I can push my body to the limit hiking. Every corner is a new sensory feast. the air is clean, sweet smelling and silent. And all day the only thing I say to anyone is hello, and thats to a montagnard that cares only to motion a greeting and move on. This gives me clarity and contentment. I can tell.

When I actually am talking in english to people, outcomes perfect sentences with carefully chosen words. Which for those who know me never happens. Its usually a ring around the rosie with adjectives and stutters. I make me smile.

Having this downtime is great. I never write.

Peoples skin here is so smooth. Must be the organic diet (hmong that is) Vietnamese have just as much acne and wrinkles as the west. Well thats not entirely true. I can think of a few times in HCMC when a local has told me his/ her age and have been blown away. Dunno, aveda should capture the gene and sell it for millions.

I like when tourists wear the things they've just purchased.

I like watching little kids play games they've invented and trying to figure it out.

I like that vietnamese hold hands and lock arms when they walk in public. men and men, women women, groups linked together etc.

I like that most people here sing in public. loud and good too! Seems no one does that in the states, just rappers and crazy people. Humming and whistling sure.

I think style-wise I prefer the Black Hmong & Dzao. Flower appears Peruvian almost (which is very nice) but it takes attention to detail to work such cuts, layers and gender/ status specificity into fairly conservative clothes. Dark color/ detailed up close. Many ways to wrap/ fix the hair. many hats too. mostly the round box kind though.

Flower Hmong I thought was a giant color clash, but quickly realized that was impossible because every color in the spectrum was woven in. even the fleuro end of the space color wheel.

Always when I travel my feet are the last priority. just means of transportation I guess. Lost footwear, barnacle lascerations, barefoot from north to south malaysia by bus, mud, snow, frostbite and one long ass middle toe taboot. Cori laughs at it.

Cori is gonna love her stuff. It's so nice to buy her things. She is always so genuine in how much she appreciates it. And completely blunt when she doesn't. I love that realness.

I miss her as I always do after time apart. Well needed time apart. I don't know why but I go a little stir crazy when I'm around someone too much. Even the people I love most. I hope they understand. I'm sure they do, when I return and squeeze the air out of them and talk their ears off.

Another memory of Cori. the weekend I went to see her in Superior. 1st time really meeting under sober and in person circumstances. I had a slide show of my first trip to Asia (GEEK!) but at the moment she wasn't into it. She just wanted that moment. So she showed me some rocks and we lay on the floor and talked about stuff. How rocks form over the years, music, our parents. I brought a case of beer and we only drank 2 the entire weekend. good sign.

She hates the word "so" in written english its cute........

I need to take more pictutres of engrish signs.

Night in Bac Ha...

I take back that comment about this town being descolet. It is anything but. Joy riding motorbikes around the small town, video games, karaoke, corn wine, plum wine and tobacco bong hits. Take part in did I? Hell yes. walked around town. nice light. can see mountains and clouds by moon. sat and ate barbacued yams and eggs w/locals. they bought. Strong tobacco, lasts about 15 minutes. not high just more aware.

Wish every night before bed was like this. In Bac Ha. Explored late into the night. Only westerner in town. For miles in that case. Could be happy never leaving this night. I feel alive!

Natural wake up at 6:48 am. total blue bird day! not a cloud in the sky. perfect for the drive back to Sapa. banana pancake and coffee breakfast. Onward. Coasted down in neutral the whole way. save gas. great view. ran out of gas at the base of the mnt and coasted into a gas station. perfection again! Drove slow, no rush. Saw 2 bad accidents on the ascent to Sapa. eek. Super fun rally up the mountain. Speedy in 3rd.

Turned a corner fast into a heard of ox, dodged a couple and came really close to one who was looking to his right. Just as I passed he looked left and his giant sharp horn brushed my right arm. Holy shit! escpaed a near chest hook going 30 mph. Fwew.

Made it to sapa. only a few wispy clouds at the peeks. Hands sunburned from drive. only $6 left. went to guesthouse where renting bike from. The bike and I were super muddy and I had my pack on. people were looking at me like where has that dude been. Dropped everything off and walked. found an ATM that worked. OOOowweeee back to financial hydration. I got lunch right away. veggie curry. largest portion I ate all trip. skipped lunches in Bac Ha.

walked more. down toward Lai Chau and Tran Tom pass. Hiked a steep hill to get a 360 panorama. Nice. Played my mouth harp twang thingy for a bit and enjoyed the view. Gotta good video of this. ask and i can email it.

changed. bus to Lao Cai at 4:30. 8:00 train. Now in Lao Cai two tear dining hall outside train station. This place is fucking Loud!!!! Can tell my ears have been lapping up the silence for a few days. Hundreds of Vietnamese getting drunk and feasting in one place can reach such a high pitched chaotic note that your brain seems to dissolve inside your head. I'm leaving.

New place half the amount of noise. ate with a family. ok. minibus meet aemrican dudes andrew and scott. living in Bangkok. Kid puked. Vina accident ampitheatre. Can't wait for Air Con berth.

Power went out on train. Hot and smelly. super..... arrived in Hanoi 4-5am ish... irritable

woke same people up at hostel. full rooms. they let me sleep on the couch and use the bathroom in the morning. refreshed.....

Hanoi looks really nice in the morning sun. (Old Quarter) Talked with a stamp and relief print maker. cool stuff. ate a Pho Ga breakfast. (chicken soup). Best Pho Ga I've had. I'm coming back for dinner. It's rediculous. MMMmmmmm.

Thats all folks. One of the best trips I've had. hope you enjoyed the random commentary and photographs. I hope to update you with my bag portfolio so ya'll can see what I've been designing for almost 1 year in SE Asia. I know I've been saying that for a while, but the catologues are almost finished. soon there will be pictures worthy of showing. Messenger and laptop bags, stay tuned.....



Tuesday, September 12, 2006

vietnamese independence weekend

Vietnamese Independence Weekend; a flood, a new apartment, crocodiles, Scotch tape, misinterpretations, fresh fruit, Buddha, smog, VietTexans, lightning storms, wood floors, mutant panda bears and three headed serpents.

It sure was a clash of the senses and thinking about it makes me want to take a nap. To start, this is the weekend when the Vietnamese people celebrate the date September 2nd 1945 when the democratic republic was formed.

Most of our workmates went out of town and we were left with James, Rebecca, Erin and Myself. I’ve mentioned James and Becca, but Erin is a 29 year old American that has been living in Asia for ten years. Her father owns a shipping company and is heading up several Asian locations. She studied business in the US, Mandarin in China and spent most of her time working back and forth between Bangkok and Saigon. Remember Loki in my first blog? That’s her dog. Actually Mokey, named after a character in Fraggle Rock. Hell yeah Erin.

We all had to decide what to do on this glorious occasion? Let’s do as we would assume any independent free thinking citizen would do. Head to the nearest amusement park. We had heard about this park from locals. They said there are giant Buddha statues, temples, roller coasters and fried food. HHmmm. I smell a dichotomy. Well, we had to see it for our own eyes. We arrived and I was looking at exactly what I was told, but there was no way I could have concocted this in my brain. It was beautiful and overwhelming at the same time. Sooooooo many people.

After about 4 hours or so, we concluded that we were the only westerners there. Did not see a single white face all day. In fact, people were walking up to us and pinching our arms. Because apparently when you’re dreaming your better off to pinch someone else. Especially someone you can’t believe your seeing. We had several random people come up to us for photographs, and eventually I felt I had to take on the pop star persona. I was doing some rediculous poses with these people and they followed suite. It was a blast. Six guns and peace signs, yeah man yeah.

The same weekend I moved into my new apartment. I should say our new apartment. Cori arrives on three days. Hell yeah. A diamond in the rough kind of place. Nice western layout with wood floors a great view and directly between work and the energy of downtown. Unfortunately our charming little neighborhood outside floods whenever it rains during high tide. Can’t win em all. Good thing were on the seventh floor.

At the end of it all I sat down for dinner at my favorite alley restaurant Ban Xeo. Fresh seafood barbeque, soups and cold beer. I sat next to a guy that has been living in Texas since the reunification in 1975. He’s here on holiday.

Went shopping for some odds and ends for the apartment and ran in to the 3M outlet store in City Centre. Took a little trip down memory lane. Eh it’s only been a month, but still. Miss ya guys. Thanks to Jon Kirschhoffer for making “Nice” a huge part of my vocabulary, Skulley keep on with the stories/ hope Ausie land was good for ya, Trotter, keep crushin it buddy. I miss the old power left. Sabbi, Va do you do.

Cheers to all.

Aaron stay safe on the rock buddy, how was the party? Congrats on Graduation, proud of you man. Mom’s, Dad’s, Grandmas and grandpas, feelin better and sure am glad we had the foresight to hook up with travel guard. Nick and sorelle hows sing sing? Lets get together and travel. Xmas, New Years? Pauly and JoeBro, you guys keep me inspired. Rechelda, patience is a virtue, stay chargin. Krissa cut cut snip snip, the best damn stylist in the Midwest for all I care. Malfunktional Andy, best of luck with the Burton gig. Jay are you alive? Dave and dennis what up stouties represent, I have a sweet flash site to forward you guys. It’s in French, but hilarious. You too Benji mashed potatoe Jones or whatever? Char, got bags? Julie, are you in San Diego yet. Yogi’s need love too. Mullins, keep designin posture love. Leggo maniac, strum the strings and spit on mic's. Love ya buddy. Cori, Loves see you in days. I’ll hit the rest of you on the next. Gotta rest up for tomorrow, Groove Armada is coming to Saigon. Not at the top of the list, but I’ll be there with bells on regardless.



Monday, August 14, 2006

saigon :: week one

Hello everyone,

I made it safe and sound. The flight was quick. I was picked up at HCMC airport and escorted to my hotel provided by crumpler. Silke, a designer from Germany was with to keep me company. She is an attractive 28 year old and was great to have conversation with. Her English was quite good and I was keeping up with the discussion, but was being distracted by the sights as we zipped by through the night. The air smelled surprisingly good, like lemongrass and jasmine rice. We got to the hotel around Midnight HCMC time ( if anyone is wondering the time here is an exact flip of US central time. your PM is my AM ). I'll be here for the first month and will have to find an apartment in the mean time. lookin for a quiet place that's near the energy of downtown Saigon, but close enough to work as well. Gotta have a kitchen though so Cori and I can cook. If you look at a map of HCMC district 2/ An Phu is where the crumpler campus is and across the Saigon river is all downtown mostly. Still need to explore though to get a feel for where I want to be.

my digs for a month

This morning I met with Joerg (the design director) his girlfriend and the dog Loki who they are dog sitting for a friend who is out of town. They treated me to a french breakfast near the hotel and walked me around the local villages as we talked about work, the design process, living here etc. As this went a long Loki poorly trained and living up to the name was splashing around in the not so clean gutter water. We later hopped in a cab and headed to the crumpler office and had a brief look. (I mean brief look by climbing half way over the wall and peaking in. Joerg forgot his key to the gate. looks really nice though. You all have seen it in previous emails I sent. We hopped back into the cab and Loki hopped onto my lap.Spreading all the crap that he had been walking in onto my shorts. Damn you Loki! I split with them and headed in to Downtown to explore.

I hitched a ride with a motorbike driver over the river and into city center. (the ride was around $1.50 USD). It was so cool on the back of this guy's bike as we spead by everything that I was seeing for the first time. As we entered the city I noticed an interesting blend of old and new harmoniously sewn together in a jungle environment. New buildings, old temples, hawker centers/ alleys sprinkled in with Banyan, palm and bamboo green ways. It's beautiful. I gave the driver a destination, but who knows where he dropped me. I just paid him and started walking. It's a good thing I didn't have a map or an agenda to adhere to because I knew right away that I was going to be lost all day. So much commotion. Motorbikes, vendors and people. AAhhh South East Asia again. Honestly, I didn't feel strange or intimidated if anything it felt like I had never left. Just moved on to a new country.

everyday saigon traffic

street sweeper taking a break

ho chi minh statue and museum

I walked around voluntarily losing myself for two hours or so and finally stopped off under the shade of a
canopy for some Pho. The famous Vietnamese dish pronounced "fur" with a soft "R". It was so delicious. Gotta love fresh ingredients and mystery meats. It all cost me a little under $1 USD. MMMmmm yeah gotta love that. After the grub i got lost again for an hour or so. A midst the aimless wandering I stumbled across a Chinese temple. I could smell the incense a ways away, but didn't see it until I was at the gates. As i entered there was a large figure statue with offerings of mandarins and lotus blossoms beneath. It went back pretty far and through out the entire temple conical spirals of incense hung from the ceiling. Something I had not seen in previous travels. It was unbelievably peaceful inside. It was a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the day. I snapped a couple pics and went on my way. Passed by an under bridge market and more alley ways. It's amazing how diligent everyone in this country is. This is mid-day on Saturday and everyone is working there ass off. Each stall along every road has it's own specialty. A guy who makes motorbike seats, next to him a guy who does motorbike body work and custom detailing, next to him a textile vender, next sheet metal, next kitchen appliances, next metal rod threading. well you get the point. Each family owned and specialized.


chinese temple incense

I was starting to fade a little on energy so I found a little shaded cafe for some Vietnamese coffee. This was a great experience. You say "Mawt Gawp gaa fe, spelled (mot coc ca phe)" and out comes four items. One is a tee pot with a glass of ice accompanying. This is to drink while waiting for the coffee. The coffee comes at the same time, but takes about 15 to 20 minutes to slowly drip into the cup. The arrangement is a small metal pot that rests atop a glass filled with a small dose of sugary condensed milk. Boiling water is poured into the small pot on top which contains the super finely ground coffee. It hypnotically drips into the cup creating an opaque black layer atop the white milk. After the percolating process is finished you stir the two ingredients and pour over a cup with Ice cubes. Ready to drink. And WOW is this stuff good. The best coffee I've had easily. All Vietnamese coffee is uber strong so i just got wacked afterwards. Next time I think I'll skip the condensed milk. I do ok on crack, but when i mix speed and crack i'm a mess in the come down.


I walked out of the cafe and hitched another motorbike to head back to the hotel. On the way the driver pointed out some war memorials and instead of saying thats a jet thats a helicopter he made the sound effects of each. As most of you know I am a guy of sound effects so after each one of his I made my own and added hand gestures. he seemed to like this a lot. We both laughed hard. We drove straight in to a rain storm and had to duck under an over hang. As we waited we tried to cut through the language barrier with conversation. It took a little bit, but luckily across from us was a Chinese motorbike dealership. he went on describing how bad the Chinese were at making everything. I think there might be some historical resentment involved, but I'm not quite sure. He said American, Japanese, German, Italian all the best. I said i am American and he got really excited. He started playing air guitar and singing. I mimicked. He said "hotel California", I agreed and sang, he said "Michael Jackson and billy jean". I agreed and sang. I then taught him the moon walk. Me and this guy were good friends by now. He was a quick learner and for all I care the best damn moon walker in Saigon.

moon walkin motor bike driver

After returning to my room I cleaned up and headed out with Gyonne my (French neighbor/ crumpler colleague) to meet up with the other designers for dinner. We ate at a rooftop vietnamese barbaque place and though a little pricy ($10 USD) it was delicious and worth it. The part of the team that I met was James and Rebecca, a couple from Australia, Bernard from Ireland, Katinka from germany, Tracy from the US, Silke from germany and Gyonne from France. After dinner we grabbed some ice cream then headed to the bars. We drank got acquainted and played pool. After a few rounds the girls took off and us guys went to a different bar called lush. i guess it is saigons premier dance club. It was cool and the music was pretty good. Heavy house mostly. James has a great lanky gangle dance style. Funny.

ice cream. bernard and katinka

james and i gettin down at lush. apparently this is my "this music is so on" face

I rode home with Gyonne around 2am and we exchanged mp3s until about 4. I woke up the next day around 10 am and headed back downtown for some more action. My first stop was the jade emporer pagoda. An incredible two story structure with multiple rooms, shrines and hallways. Out in the courtyard they have a pond with thousands of live turtles in it. On special celebrations wishes and prayers are written on the shells of the turtles and released back into the pond. Not 100% sure, but I think this is either to wash away bad thoughts/ actions or to carry messages to loved ones in the after life. since that is how they are carried into the next. By boat. Afterward I hitched a motorbike to Cholon Saigon’s China town to follow suite with my so far Chinese day. Walked through the open markets for a while. stopped for coffee and headed to Pham Ngu Lao/ the backpacker district for lunch. Met an English guy named Sam that has been living in Asia for six years. We drank some beers and chatted for about 2 or 3 hours. He gave me his card. I'll call him. He runs the trivia section of the Saigon newspaper. The man is a walking library of useless information. Not in a bad way these were his words. He ran a trivia bar in Ko Samui Thailand for 2 years and they called him Samui Sam. Now of course they call him Saigon Sam. guess he's destined to only live in cities that begin with "S". No worries, there's tons of those.

I 'll keep ya'll posted.