Saturday, February 19, 2011

You sure clean up good.

Well, I have realized how many entries I will have to write to get caught up to today's date, and with another trip planned in a week and a half, I will be getting even further behind. Thus, I am going to rush a bit more and give you the abbreviated Readers' Digest version. I left Halong Bay and hopped on a sleeper bus to Hue. I grabbed a room in a charming hotel with a French balcony overlooking a small courtyard and rested my weary self. Hue is the former capital of Vietnam with the ancient relics of a kingdom. I visited the citadel in Hue comprising the imperial city and forbidden city of ancient Vietnam and the tombs of the emperors. I walked around the old and ancient grounds under the overcast sky. It lightly rained with the small drops falling down on disturbed waters of lily ponds making subtle ripples of small circles, dot, dot, dot on calm ponds of decorative waters. After my days of wandering Hue, I hopped on another bus to Hoi An, a charming place with the old city built around the river. Vietnam was also once a French colony and the cities display colonial times in building and alleys. I like the architecture, the flowers draping down from houses in thick blossoming vines and bushes, the shutter windows and balconies. In many towns, the buildings remind me of the homes back in Huntington Beach, long, tall, and skinny homes with layers of balconies. I liked the reminder. I loved the paper lanterns that hung about shops and posts throughout the city, how they lit up at night in bundles and clusters, the lights across the bridge, the shops glowing and gleaming contrasted against the black sky. I loved the alleys and the crumbling buildings, the vines and flowers, the balconies, the plantation shutters, and the immense colors. One side of the river was faded and falling, the other newer and refreshed. It was that faded side I so loved to walk around, the stained black walls and decayed buildings that stood tall in authenticity. Hoi An is known for its tailors, and I had several things tailored for me to take back home, some things I have yet even to wear, but hope to someday, perhaps when and if I return to my own country and begin a real life there. Hoi An was a shopper's delight and it was tempting to have multiple wardrobes made up, though I resisted best I could. It was nice even trying on clothes, and the suit I made, looking in the mirror and seeing again what I could look like dressed in nice and clean clothes. I went to a local barber and had them give me hot shave with a straight blade, the first shave in a month, and then I stood in tailor shops dressed in a fine 3 piece suit with a fresh shave and a face I had not seen in a month, torn out of my backpackers' clothes and places in the soft fabrics of something wonderful. It was fun for me, those few moments of being clean and respectable, and I did love Hoi An. It was a great time, and as I neared to leave Hoi An I wrote this in my journal: "You know, traveling is great for me. These are my happy moments. Life is best when I am backpacking. I feel like I can believe in God again. I can have faith. I enjoy the ability to believe, the ability to have faith. I am still unsure about so much, but I can feel a closeness and a belief. I seem to only feel it when I am traveling."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Poem Mountain.

" ... Here are laid half-made things

Mountains, islets, clouds and stones are disorderly scattered

In their game, the ancient giants threw the stones.

From the trees is still smelt the after taste of ancient times..."

"Salute to Halong." - Xuan Dieu I left Sapa and took another night train back to Hanoi with another full day there. The next day I began my little journey though Halong Bay, the main attraction of Vietnam, sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world and a site the poet Nguyen Trai describes as "a marvel of the earth erected towards the high skies." Oh, such unworthy praise for a site as that, and if a national poet for an entire country cannot capture worthy words, then I am doomed to fail, and you are doomed to suffer through my failure. I boarded a junk (what the over night boats are called) and began to sail the waters, stopping to explore a cave and then venturing off deep in the bay and up through rivers where thousands of islands of karst mountains gallantly stood and towered in all shapes and sizes. Many of the islands are given names in Vietnamese, such as "Human Head Island," "Sail Island," "Dragon Island," and "Poem Mountain," so named for a a poem written by a king centuries ago, and engraved on the stone walls of a sacred mountain among sacred waters. We anchored in the water and spent hours jumping from the third level deck in to the cold water below, feeling the current drag me down stream as I swam and played, jumping and diving and kayaking through the waters of the bay out and around islets of rock and trees. I paddled around in the pleasantry of calm and silvery waters embedded in a soft emerald and jade colored bay. Dinner was a great meal of local food and a fish freshly caught from the bay by locals living on small floating huts in the bay, far from everything. At night, it was hours of karaoke, then hours of talk, much of which was anti-American. I have definitely noticed how many Europeans hate America and Americans, even though most of them have never been, and the only Americans they have ever personally known they admittedly like, but yet they all act like experts on American politics and culture, and it does grow annoying. It seems what they hate most is that we aren't clamoring to be just like them, and many the things they hate us for they are often the worst offenders for. After a night on the boat we went to Cat Ba Island and took a hike in the national park up a mountain and through slippery rocks and mud, and then climbed atop a tall and rusty watchtower overlooking all the mountains of the large island. The tower was corroded with holes abounding and stood high and tall, already above a mountain top with views out over the island and the sea of trees growing thick through healthy mud and strong stone and rock. I stood there above the canopy of cushioned leaves, above the bark of trees, the soil, the dark paths, the streams of filtered light. The hike looking out to a range of mountains sloping up and down in green hues was a worthy site separating the days sifting through the islands firmly fastened in the water. I gazed and breathed, and how I love to breathe that breath of adventure. It is an intoxicating purity. The next morning we set again, slowly sailing the emerald green waters of Halong Bay. There were thousands of them, islands of stone, brown, orange, green, silver and white, and both the sky and water slid colors from blue or green or purple, and the clouds loosely floated through the colors, dragging strings of the hues in slow motions as the sun awned and dawned. I ate well. I slept well. I partied well, and I saw the Vietnam I wished to see. There are many Vietnams to see. It is a country of great beauty and old charm.

" No dragon shadow appears on Ha Long Bay

Wave embellished by the dark blue color passes hundreds of miles

The June sky makes the water twinkle likes silver lusters

Like seas smashing into the hull

Our boat passed by sunny thrones,

Vong Phu stone woman waits for her far-away husband,

As mountains have no human breath, birds come to build their nests,

To help stone mountains calm

Their sadness..."

"Passing through Halong." -Che Lan Vien

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"People of the Mist."

"The mountain remains unmoved at seeming defeat by the mist." -Rabindranath Tagore From Laos, I took a 26 hour bus ride to Hanoi, Vietnam and spent a few days there meandering about, visiting the presidential palace and Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum. It was a crazy, overcrowded city packed with thousands of scooter driving locals oblivious to pedestrians. I spent a couple days there before taking an all night train to Lo Cai, a town at the tip of Vietnam bordering China. From there I caught a mini bus for a 90 minute journey to Sapa. It was raining, and as we drove the curving mountain roads through the mist and mud, I cleared the condescension from the windows with my sleeve and stared out at rice terraces steeping down the mountains and peeking out from the fog. We rose and rose through the green of trees and rice sitting soaked in water as the rain fell on the mud of dirt roads. I grabbed a room in a guest house and climbed the many layers of outdoor brick stairs. to my room on the top floor above the city. The room was quaint with wood floors, shutter windows, and a small wood fireplace. I wished for wood that night, to burn and feel the heat of flames reaching out beyond the mountain air to breathe upon my face and hands. It was a night for cuddling up in to the warm body heat of another, instead I lay wrapped in the comforter of a soft bed. There are moments in my travels I sometimes wish to share. Sapa, had those moments. It is a city nestled in the clouds high in the mountains, surrounded by small villages of hill tribes. Yes, I had such moments there. I walked the small streets graded through the mountains and watched the countless tribal people in their traditional clothes and costumes. As they trudged and traipsed I would sometimes catch the glimpse of one smiling as she turned, and at moments, with their costumes, and the lighting, and the creases in their skin, and contrast of teeth and face, those were such moments, the smile from a Hmong girl, or a young tribal gal not more than eight years old with a baby strapped to her back and wrapped up in a woven blanket, or the moment sharing the music of my Ipod with one who walked beside me down the street, the ear phones sticking out from under her colorful head robe. I had moments standing on my patio as the fog momentarily lifted to showcase the mountains surrounding the small town. The best moment of all was an indescribable moment riddled in simplicity. I was walking the streets and down an alley. The fog thinned and for some small moment, light escaped through small tunnels in the clouds to glean down on a building standing in the dirt. It was a scene that cold not possibly be real, how light and darkness and colors all played part in a harmonic visual tune. It cannot possibly sound beautiful, but that moment made the day worth it. I tried to grab my camera, but the moment was only a moment. The best moments, the best views always come without a camera. Will I remember all those moments? I have had many, and so many all on my own. I am a man too entrenched in solitude. So many moments sublime and glorious and no one will ever know them. I will never look to someone and say "remember that time when..?" Oft I like having thse moments of my own, knowing the moments belong to only me, and cannot be carved out by anyone else. My experiences cannot be taken. They are mine. I have them carved. I carved them. These moments are religion of my body, sacred and spiritual, and sometimes it is best to keep sacred things inside you. Sometimes, it is nice to share the sacred. One morning I went down the back side of the mountain into a valley of hill tribe villages. I joined a small group and walked miles down and across and up and over. We descended down below the clouds and could see the whole valley with the tops of the mountains still covered deep in the clouds. The valley was rich in farm-land green, dark and deep. Rice fields covered the valley floor and terraces staircased down the steep mountainsides. Cabins dotted the valley and a few schools built by the government stood as mighty centers to the town. We walked small trails of slippery mud up and down steep hillsides, led by a young Hmong girl, 18 years old, but looking more like 15. Various other local women in their traditional wear would join our group and walk with us for long stretches, some staying for the whole journey. The whole valley was a postcard, with the treed mountains rising tall to the clouds, the river that curved and darted through farms and the fields and terraces swamped in water. The village people carried on about their lives, working the field, planting, plowing, weaving, and playing. We stopped for a lunch at a small hut and enjoyed our noodles topped with eggs and continued walking. It was a great trip, and I loved Sapa. I loved the small, but touristy city built high in the clouds. I loved the hill trip people at the markets and the hill tribe villages. Sapa was worth the venture north. that night, I walked around the city in the dark, loving the air and the thick fog that turned my hair wet walking through. I loved listening to the locals play their flutes and watching the fog race past at jet speed. It was a glorious night in town tasting local treats and seasoned meats and watching the city alive in a gray darkness. On Sunday of that week I took a bus down to Bacha for the Bacha Sunday market. Bacha is 110 KM from Sapa and is known for its Sunday market when many of the hill tribe villagers come to sell and buy goods. They have the typical tourist items and also rows of moonshine alcohol, dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks, horses and water buffalo, all up for sales. Mangy dogs roamed the streets, scabbed and bony, and hill tribers bartered and sold, and sat in Sunday morning gossip. I also visited another of the hill villages, not nearly as impressive as the valley from the day before and the many different minority villages of Hmong, Red Dzoa, and others all scattered through it, but still a beautiful land of fertile soil and sun. Sapa was amazing, the city that stood high in the mountains dense in clouds and dipping in to valleys covered in the green of farms and fields and red-brown mud and the drizzle of a constant sog, gray but beautiful in a silver fog. The air I breathed, the very fog sifted in to my lungs in a wet calm. Oh, I did have my moments there, silly in simplicity, silent and solitaire. I walked small markets and side streets, rice fields and terraces, hills and mountains, and through a small mountain cemetery with candles and flames burning by headstones in graveyard gardens, painted in the blush of metal colored moisture of an omnipresent fog.

"I was meant to feel the fog wrapping around my ankles

I watched it obliterate all the details around me

I basked in the surrealistic glow."

"Fog." - Poetic Muse