Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Vietnam 2014 – Day 8 – Sun, sun at last!

The morning is glorious! Gone are the fog and the overcast, the drizzle and the icy wind. I am a happy man.

The ride today was superb. The countryside gleamed under the sun, and a balmy breeze kept me just on the right side of cool. I was enjoying taking my small motorbike through its paces, and at the same time reflected on the love affair between the Vietnamese and the scooter. The scooter here is what the minivan is to the US. An all purpose, all terrain vehicle for the family, for the farmer, for the pretty young thing, or for the executive. Everything gets transported by motorbike. Start with your average family, where the little boy stands between his dad’s legs, while mom and big sister ride on the back carrying the picnic basket. Then there is the local butcher, who carries two slaughtered pigs and a crate of chickens, and the mason, who is bringing two sacks of cement and a load of bricks to the construction site. One of the most interesting views are the scores of people who are carrying trees; yes, trees. I am not quite sure why, but I passed dozens and dozens of people hauling leafless trees, maybe with the intention of selling them to urbanites for landscaping purposes. The list goes on and on: Big rolls of cyclonic fence, 16-foot bamboo poles, a half cord of wood, four bicycles, a 50-inch plasma TV, and even a motorcycle! Truly, there is no end to the inventiveness of the Vietnamese when it comes to loading a scooter.

I topped a wonderful morning with a delicious lunch of fried fish, a type of roll, veggie stir fry and the ever present mountain of steamed rice. Speaking of rice, I had been passing through valleys where rice paddies seem to extend forever, so I have been able to study them in great detail. The walls of the terraces are built out of the same muck they turn to plant the rice in. The fact that these terraced fields are now all over the place is a testimony to several lifetimes of hard work.

After lunch I moved into a different ecosystem, where the main crop is tea. Tea is grown in rows of small hedges that are kept perfectly trim by the harvesters, who lovingly clip all the new growth. It gives the land an aspect of perfect care.

Unfortunately my road eventually reached the lowlands, and right away I started feeling the magnetic pull of the capital. This make navigation even more complicated, because instead of signs to the next bigger town now all the signs now give the direction and distance to Hanoi. I was resisting this magnetic pull, so I kept taking the exact opposite direction. Eventually I made it to the neighborhood of Viet Tri. My first instinct was to avoid it, because the approach was less than pretty, but then I came to a big boulevard and decided to take a look.

It is quite the handsome city. Parts of it could easily be imagined to be a suburb of Paris, with wide boulevards, tall maisons, small lakes, and all sorts of shops. Traffic is light, so it doesn’t have the crazy feeling of Hanoi, and every open space is used for small vegetable gardens. I could definitely live here. It also has the first superstore I have seen so far. It looks a lot like Carrefour or a super Walmart, with both department store an supermarket sections. I went in to buy a couple of necessities, and then enjoyed myself seeing groups of two or three come out loaded with bags and cardboard boxes, that were then inventively loaded on the scooter for the ultimate trip back home. I cannot wait to go shopping with my scooter back home. 

No comments: