Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Dragons tale ...

Ok so it's been a few days since I last blogged and I do apologise profusely for the fact that I may not remember everything that has happened since Thursday, but I will try to recall the most salient facts. However, the most important things to know are:

1) I have been taking my anti malaria drugs for a couple of weeks and still haven't started hallucinating!
2) Finally succumbed to taking anti-biotics for my stomach after 5 days of eating boiled rice and veg!
3) Having a problem accessing Facebook whilst in Vietnam! It seems to be highly monitored and restricted! In fact we have been warned that if we try to access it too many times there is a chance our computers may crash! 'They' are watching us.
4) Despite my bad stomach, I still haven't lost any weight!
5) There are some very interesting facts our Guides have told us about many of the sights we have visited out here ... and then there's the truth!?
6) I still haven't managed to find any hair gel!!!

Right, now lets go back to last Thursday ...

We had arrived in the Capital city of Hanoi where we spent the night at The Hong Ngoc Hotel in the Old Quarter.

Our tour guide for the next few days, was a lovely guy called Trang (pronounced Chang) who gave us a brief bit of history on our 5 hour coach ride down to the boat. Apparently, there are four 'spiritual' animals in Vietnam: The Giant Turtle, The Unicorn, The Phoenix and The Dragon. Legend has it that after King Ly Thai Lo, defeated the Chinese, he stepped from his Royal Barge onto the River bank and a golden dragon flew past him and up towards the heavens.

Thus he named the city Thang Long (City of the Ascending Dragon), a name still often used in poetry, however after many changes through the ages, we now know it as the city of Ha noi (City within the Rivers). Because The Red River runs surrounds it; the biggest River in the north and second biggest in Vietnam (remember The Mekong?)

After stopping off at a Craft Village for a 'Happy Break' as a previous guide called it, we arrived down at the port and boarded the waiting Junk (Chinese sailing ship) and set off along the South China Sea towards Ha Long (Descending Dragon) Bay.

Legend has it that the gods sent down a family of dragons to protect the Vietnamese people at the beginning of the country's development. These dragons spat out jewels into the water which in turn grew into tiny islands dotted around the bay, but when linked together, formed a protective wall against any invading enemies.

Halong Bay is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and as we sailed along we passed by many of the tiny limestone islands, all of different shapes and sizes. There are approximately 3,000 of these scattered around the bay, some totally hollowed out inside, creating enormous grottos.

Our Junk pulled up along side a couple of others that were also off loading their cargo of tourists onto one of the Island. And we proceeded to climb the steps into Hang Sung Spot, also known as 'the surprise cave'. It was enormous inside and seemed to go on forever - apparently a sum total of 1,000 steps from one end to the other!

Whilst walking through and admiring the unique surroundings; appreciating the beautiful shapes and markings made by centuries of waves washing in and out and the huge stalactites and stalagmites that are still growing. I took the opportunity to educate Caroline (from Paris now moving to London) on the finer colloquialisms used in the UK. For example, she was telling Jamilla (from Germany) and I about a young gentleman that had walked past and caught her eye. She tried to describe how he looked: "In France we say 'Une armoire a glacé', you know, like a wardrobe of Ice", I looked over at the male in question then turned back to the girls and said "In the UK we say 'Built like a brick shit house' and don't ask me to explain why". They both laughed, looked very impressed and have managed to use the expression on various occasions since - along with 'totes appropes', 'well jel' and 'amaze balls'. Nowadays, these conversational phrases will get you far, hanging out with 'the youth' on the streets of London.

Thoroughly knackered having walked through the giant cave and trying not to lash out at the various tourists pushing past to get to a strange formation of rocks that look like a giant tortoise, in the hope they could rub its head and have all their wishes come true. We finally made it back to our boat, where we were staying for the night.

The rooms, sorry I should say cabins, were great: twin beds with ensuite bathroom and air con! So after dinner and a few rounds of Karaoke, (and I was sober!!) it was off to bed. All was quiet and calm.

Friday we were up and sailing back by 8am and within a few hours had returned to the The Hong Ngoc Hotel in The middle of the old quarter, with hundreds of motor bikes zooming up and down the streets, honking their horns, while street sellers would come rushing over to us, selling their latest batch of doughnuts, fruits, t shirts etc ...

Everyone in the group were impressed with how well Karen and I coped with crossing the road and avoiding the looming bikers, we just looked at them and said 'we live in London' they all nodded in agreement.

That night we were off to see the local puppet show! But not what you would expect. This was a WATER puppet show. A form of entertainment that has been a tradition in Vietnam from the
Red River Delta, for centuries. It all came about in the Rice Fields when the farmers put on these little show to try to keep the spirits entertained and therefore have an abundance of crops that year.

Tough originally performed in the pools and flooded rice paddies, this was in a theatre. The stage filled with a waist deep pool and surrounded by bamboo screens behind which the 8 puppeteers would stand and operate their puppets from the end of long bamboo sticks.

The show was quite entertaining, it told us various little stories about life in the fields, courting and their way of life.

However, as soon as it ended some old bastard sat behind, leaned forward and said very loudly in my ear: "fucking hair!" I turned and looked at him, he repeated himself, then made some gesture with his hand of cutting my hair off!

I looked at him in shock and he did it again, then his wife turned to me and said in broken English "he hardly saw any of the show cause your hair was in the way", then her husband repeated his earlier comment and gesture!

Trying not to cry or even shout, I looked at him calmly and explained that he didn't have to be so rude, all he had to do was ask me to slink down in my chair and I would have.

Then he repeated his one line and gesture. I told him he didn't have to be so disrespectful ... He repeated his one line and gesture and so I tried to explain to him that in the end it was his fault he lost out. You may be surprised to hear that his response was exactly the same as his previous ones!!

I walked off, feeling pleased with myself that I didn't do the British thing and apologise for something that wasn't my fault. But that night I couldn't sleep as I kept going over and over in my head, all the other things I could and should have said!

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