Friday, July 07, 2006

Chapter 10: For Every Down An Up -- In which some fun is had by all.

[J]

Well, Minh's passport is still going to take more time than anyone expected, but it looks as if that may not slow our schedule or change the original timeline. We leave for Ha noi tomorrow morning, and we can file the I-600 form with the US embassy even though we won't yet have Minh's passport. The passport will follow us on Thursday. At least because of having to submit the I-600 here, rather than in Chicago, we had already planned for an extended trip. If that were not the case, we would now be scrambling to make other arrangements for extending our stay in Ha noi.

Yesterday afternoon Minh had a good long nap and then we went to the beach and swam in the South China Sea. It was lovely, perfect waves for playing. We went to My Khe Beach (China Beach), but a bit further south from the really crowded area nearest Danang. It's only a couple of km from the city, but a bit too far to walk, so we took a cab. (I was all for renting a scooter, but the hotel staff thought that would be a bad idea, especially with Minh, and so I relented.)

When we got to the beach, at about 3:30, it was pretty empty, but all the folding chairs and umbrellas were set up, so we got a good spot in front. At first, Minh was very cautious about approaching the water, but that only lasted about 20 minutes. Soon, he was running in and out of the waves, screaming with the fun of fleeing from the waves as they rushed up the beach. Once he'd gotten over that hurdle, he let us pick him up and carry him out into waist-deep water, where the waves were even more fun to play in. In fact, when my arms began to tire, he made it clear that he didn't want to get out of the water.

Starting a little after 4:00pm, people began flocking onto the sand, and some beach guards appeared with whistles. They were not life guards, since they rarely even looked at the water. There job seemed to be to keep people from straying further south down the beach... perhaps to keep the riff-raff away from the very fancy Furama resort which was just to the south. However, we also read that there can be strong riptides along the beach, and so that may have been part of the motivation.

Eventually, many, many families were there... and with them, many, many vendors selling all sorts of food and drink. Lots of families also brought food and seemed to make a dinner of it on the beach. We would have done so, too, but we had told our cab driver to come back for us at a set time so that we could go to a restaurant up the beach on the way back to Danang. As it was, we bought some delicious steamed buns filled with meat, egg, and vegetables, some sauteed snails (with hot peppers), orange Fanta, and a slice of pineapple. The whole snack probably set us back about $2.50 (38,000 dong), with another $1.25 for our beach chair rental. (I don't think we were treated to a tourist mark-up, since all the vendors were selling mainly to locals. We were the only westerners there... and we did attract attention.)

I also got a free nip from a nice older gentleman's bottle of something strong. He stopped by our chairs while I was eating the spicy snails... poking them out of their shells with a toothpick... and offered me a water bottle (Aquafina, I think). I declined, since we already had our orange soda, but he poured a little bit into a small ceramic cup and offered it to me. To be polite I took it, still thinking it was water, and took a swig. Instead, it was something quite potent. I'm not sure if it was homebrewed or what, but it took me by surprise, which he seemed to think was quite amusing. He gave me a thumbs up, finished the remainder in the cup himself, and wandered off.

We went to My Hanh restaurant for seafood. It had been recommended by the hotel staff. There were tanks and tanks of all sorts of lobsters, crabs, shrimp, fish, snails, etc. Most of them had probably been swimming in the sea less than 8 hours before. We ended up not being able to finish our dinner of grilled shrimp (huge and delicious -- heads on) and grilled cuttlefish (a bit too chewy, but tentacles good). But Minh was good and let E. feed him quite a lot of fish and rice soup. And he ate quite a few salted peanuts. Then we went home, had a bath, and (we cannot thank God enough for this) yet another good night's sleep.

This morning, Minh had a nice long tantrum before breakfast, but then we went out and did some shopping at the large Han market. On the way back, we stopped for drinks and chatted with a nice family, at least the mother, older daughter, and 3-year-old son. And when I say chatted, you may imagine a lot of smiling and nodding. The daughter (about 11) did a little translating for her mother, but she really wanted to know which team I supported for the World Cup. I took a gamble and said "Italy," and she seemed to think that was okay.

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A few random notes:
  • Apart from some governmental type buildings and a kind of haphazard approach to infrastructure, one doesn't see much in Danang that screams, "You are in a (nominally) communist country!" There's a heck of a lot more entrepreneurship going on per square foot in Danang than in most US cities. However, I have noticed what appear to be government issue wastebaskets with catchy slogans and odd pictures. They all bear the perky suggestion: "Happiness to everybody!" The one in our bathroom says, "Challenge," and has a picture of a horse and jockey harness-racing. The one I saw in Hoi An said, "Bravery." I've also seen one that says, "Courage." I'll try to get some pictures of them....
  • Most people have no trouble pronouncing or understanding E's name, but they aren't sure what to make of mine.
  • The words "larger" and "lager" seem to have become oddly fused here in Vietnam. In one restaurant, you could order mineral water in two sizes: smaller and "lager"... though, of course, it was water, not beer. On the other hand, I've seen billboards advertising "Bia--Larger." (Bia=beer... consumed daily by men, not women, apparently, in the countless street stalls on every block.) I'm pretty sure that the signs weren't promoting a particular size of beer, though. -- BTW, most men drink their beer on ice, since the bottles are not usually refrigerated. Somehow, these street stalls manage to have ice to put in everyone's glasses, and there's always someone circulating through the chairs checking which glasses need more ice.

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