brace yourself

I have been a couple of days blogless.  Two days ago I went on an 11-hour excursion that turned out to be a twelve-hour tour to Hanoi: a four-hour bus trip each way and about four hours in the city - and well worth it.  The guide said summer was just beginning and they weren't used to it yet and no wonder. It was 98 degrees Fahrenheit, probably hotter in the sun.  We learned a lot about Ho Chi Minh, another one of the world-renowned leaders who was embalmed for posterity. Fortunately, we were not allowed into the mausoleum to see his body. I've seen Lenin and Chairman Mao and they both looked ghastly. Like other leaders HCM paid his dues: 30 years in exile, time well spent in Europe learning languages, and forming the party. I took a picture of his big yellow palace, not sure whether I'll manage to get it here - not very attractive, anyway.  He didn't like it either. He preferred to live in what is now called the House on Stilts, a simple wooden house, but with a conference room on the ground floor. I took a picture of that, too, not sure how it will look.  We received a brochure with photographs of the palace and the House and they look much better than mine.  Actually I took too many pictures (for me) and I began to question the wisdom of it.

More anon.

We went by the mausoleum  for a photo-op (?) and I enjoyed the Temple of Literature's beautiful gardens. I took a picture of a huge pot of calla lilies, and bought a few postcards with better pictures than mine. Everyone's pix are better than mine. As you may remember, Vietnam was occupied and developed by the French, long before the infamous war the US was involved in.  The result was that the city is charming, looking quite French, especially in the old French Quarter, with trees and boulevards and evocative architecture.  We were taken to a French restaurant looking very French, but we were served a delicious Vietnamese lunch. 

I was too hot and too squeamish to go into the central prison to see the solitary confinement cells and the instruments of "persuasion" and a genuine guillotine. I stayed in the AC bus as it drove around and gazed at the busy streets with their sidewalk vendors and tonnes of motor bikes.  Ditto with the market, a place teeming, so my fellow travellers told me, with tschotschkes. I am too old to accumulate stuff. 

But I loved the city of Hanoi. It has 20 lakes, reminding me of Regina (with one lake in front of the Legislature), Minneapolis (Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, if memory serves), and Hamburg - don't know the name of the lake or lakes, but it reminded me of Minneapolis. But twenty! Wow.

One of them is huge, the West Lake. I'll look it up. One of them, the Green Lake, also known as the Lake of the Recovered Sword (King Arthur anyone?), has a story attached.  The guide told me that some of the smaller lakes are black, totally polluted with the sewage pumped into them. 

The other part I loved about the trip was coming home (you know what I mean).  It was dusk and people were finished with work, preparing for their evening. The guide described the custom; he said "a noisy family is a happy family."  

The style of the houses is distinctive: three-story brick or concrete with flat windowless walls on the sides. The front entrance looks like a garage door but stylish, grill or ironwork, closed. In the cities, more populated areas, that is, not in the rice fields we passed,  which were huge and numerous. There were often little stores of some kind in front of the "garage doors", selling food or drinks or tschotschkes. The second floor have windows on the front (and back, I presume) and the third floors have balconies open to the air. the widow frames and balconies are beautifully  decorated according to the means of the owners. The guides said the most ornate ones belong to millionaires who are "corrupt." I'm just telling you what he said. 

Well, at night, they open the garage door and turn on the lights and you get to see inside. I must have the instincts of a Peeping Tom. In fact, I strained my neck peering down and into front rooms, which went went way back, the depth of the house, with in the centre of each home, a beautiful staircase -  carved wood, spiral, modern, grand - leading to the second story. In every home, the television set was already turned on and people were seated at table, eating their evening meal. 

I was late for mine, with the cruise director, Andy Heath and his wife, Tammy, plus my cabin mate and two other people on an anniversary cruise. I wasn't tired, not then, but I fell asleep during an evening entertainment buy a ventriloquist.  I could have been his dummy. 

The next day I had a hot stones massage to ease my aching, stiff neck.

The rest of that  day and today, remain to be seen.  We sailed into Hong Kong this morning as I swam - about 6:30 a.m.  Easter Sunday morning.  And Passover, too.  We are so blessed.