So, I spent yesterday touring the local area on motorbike, covering about 140-160 km total. on the back of a motorbike, in the rain, that’s quite an experience–fortunately i had the sense to bring a dry set of clothes, and a rain poncho.
We started out in the morning, when I got out of my hotel to discover that it was raining lightly. So we had some coffee while waiting for the rain to slow, then set off…on the way out of town, we passed the most amazing motorcycle I’d ever seen. It had clearly been tarred and feathered, with live chickens. at least a hundred of them. on one motorbike. layers and layers of chickens, arranged in overlapping shingled rows, hanging from their feet, draped over the back seat of the motorcycle like the world’s biggest rubber-chicken display (they were even bungeed down–the motorcycle must have been four feet wide with all the chickens on it). I was just preparing to risk sudden death and my digital camera for a photo, when we passed the motorcycle and I noticed the handlebars were also festooned with chickens. Damn, I wish I’d gotten a photo.
Shortly after this we stopped for a break, and while I was standing around I heard a bus come quacking by. I was naturally intrigued by this, since buses don’t normally quack, so I poked my nose out–the entire top of the bus was covered in ducks. (apparently the bus has been tarred and feathered by the same perpetrator. 😉 ) anyway, poultry are a very important (and common) vehicle decoration item around here. I think we should introduce this back home…just imagine eighteen-wheelers roaring by with live chickens dangling from the mirrors and a duck on the rearview mirror. puts those mudflaps with naked girls to shame!
(No, I’m not seriusly suggesting it. it would be terribly inhumane to the animals, after all. but, around here, animal welfare/rights isn’t a big issue–where you don’t have human rights, animal rights aren’t much of a concern.)
actually, I think some of my friends need to have their cars decorated with chickens. I’ll have to think carefully about this.
moving along…we went out and looked at a lake (very dull, in the rain) and also at a silkweaving village. at the lake, they had two monkeys in very small cages–I felt sorry for them, especially after I got a little too close and one of them grabbed my poncho, ripped off a piece, and tried eating it–obviously very hungry. (Side note: with wild monkeys, don’t get too close. they do grab things, and they also bite–very nasty.) So I fed them my leftover lunch; one was a red-faced monkey and quite fussy, preferring tomatoes and onions to the noodles (a fruit-eater, i think). the other was some sort of longer-limbed monkey (lemur?) and very greedy, grabbing at the noodles double-fisted and devouring everything. I took pictures of both, but because of the bars on the cage they realy didn’t come out. (I was not getting my camera within arm’s reach.) pretty cool, though.
The Vietnamese countryside is very beautiful, primarily rice paddies filled with water, with farmers in cute conical hats plowing the mud with yoked-up water buffalo. water buffalo calves follow their mothers–i’d never really thought about baby water buffalo before. They’re very cute, if anything the color of mud with big horns can be called cute. i saw some farmers plowing, some transplanting rice seedlings, some out weeding. individual rice paddies are quite small, maybe 30×60 feet–don’t know if farmers own multiple ones.
My guide turns out not to have been a vietnam vet, but a mechanic in the support crew–after the U.S. pulled out, he spent four years in a “reeducation camp”. (One of his two best friends committed suicide there.) He says it was very hard after the war, but it’s better now–though I gather there’s still a lot of discrimination against the South Vietnamese, and a lot of division between north and south. He’s got two daughters, one 16 and one 18, and a sister who’s an international tae kwon do champion (gold medalist) and teaches it in a nearby village.
I haven’t worked out yet who doesn’t like who. I’ve found everyone to be extraordinarily friendly, but I was told (by my guide) that the South vietnamese really don’t like Chinese (because they’re communist) and that about 50% of North Vietnamese don’t really like Americans. He actually told one group of people i was Japanese, for that reason. I’ve given up on sorting out who loves/hates america and who loves/hates china and for what reasons–the ideology gaps between south vietnamese, north vietnamese, private and individual, is more than I’ll be able to sort out in two weeks. In any event, it doesn’t affect me–everyone’s very curious about other countries, and I find people staring at me a lot. In general, people here think I’m Vietnamese.
this keyboard is driving me up the wall (definitely third world–it misses keys, sticks keys, changes at random to completely unfamiliar layouts, and so on) so i’m going to end this here. tomorrow I may go off to look at villages, and may head off to hue–haven’t decided yet. from there I’ll probably head over to Hanoi, and then either catch a plane to Vientiane, laos or try a land entry to laos. haven’t decided yet…
oh yeah–the guide, while showing me the lake, mentioned that the government had built it in the last three years or so by requiring everyone in the area to work for one month a year on it, unpaid. no wonder the government’s not too popular around here, despite the regular propaganda. (apparently there are three tv stations, and each of them plays the same propaganda loop in repeat, so at any given time you can see Uncle Ho (Chi Minh) repeating his declaration of independence, at least three times an hour, on each station.) the cops apparently don’t hassle westerners much, but often shake down the locals for fines. fortunately, I’m obviously overseas vietnamese, hence a foreigner, at least where the cops are concerned.