Down, Up, Down
26 May 2018 | Hue, Vietnam
Saturday 26 May 2018
Spent yesterday morning drinking Vietnamese coffee before going to pick up last of livery, then more coffee. Wanted to try every caphe in Hoi An - all of them - to compare the local brew just didn't have time. When you come, the Banana Leaf on Bach Dang by the river has the best we found. It's near the Clothes Mart. Go by and say hi to Chau and niece, Happiness (her name in English) at #45. Bring your charge card and blow off endowing the kids. Second thought, three nights at Beautiful Moon plus bus ride to Hue was 45USD. Knock yourselves out and still spoil the little ingrates.
Although going in the afternoon, bus was a sleeper, two aisles with three lines of bunks above and below. Took about four hours so slept fitfully for two. If driver hadn't had a nervous horn fetish would have done better. Arrived in time to veg a few (necessary after climbing with suitcase and backpack four flights to room - no elevator, but they practically pay us to stay here) then went out for drinks and dinner. This is a happ'nin' town - young backpackers, hip-hop, street dancers, lights and, among others, the Why Not Bar with longhorn steer horns over the door and waiters dressed as cowboys. Egad! Not sure Uncle Ho would have approved. East section, across river from Imperial City, is where the action is. Glad our hotel is away west.
Spent the most of day soaking up sights in the Imperial City, also called the Purple Forbidden City. Although many buildings were destroyed during the Tet offensive in February 1968 (America won a tactical victory, but just about then lost the war) it was quite impressive. Lots of serfs worked their fingers to a nub so the ruling elite (most of whom were puppets of China, France or for short time Japan) could live in splendor. Must have been something before the war - much like Forbidden City, cheek by jowl with Tianamen Square, in Beijing. Also saw a few museums, which were in fact pretty fascinating. Would have visited the odd Buddhist temple, but then the law of diminishing returns set in. Marginal utility of seeing one more was less than effort to get there. Plus there are no monkeys. What's a Buddhist temple without monkeys? Anyway it was hot, hot, hot. Hope Hanoi is cooler - forecast says no. Come for the coffee, but make it in winter. Hey, here's a question, why is an emperor and his empire spelled with an "e', but imperial is spelled with an "i". Huh? Huh?
Unable to find a convenience store to buy beer for taking to room, stopped at a bar for one... then another. Huda, the local brew, goes down awfully smooth with ice and we were, you know, hot. Figuring we'd never make it back out for dinner, went directly on to recommended place - closed. Second choice, just this side of hip hop heaven, was good. Jan promised only eight minute walk back to hotel. It took nine minutes, forty seven seconds... a minute, forty seven seconds longer!!! The imperial we were, although not disgruntled, somewhat short of gruntled. Back in for the night by seven pm... party animals.
Vive la Différence
24 May 2018 | Hoi An, vietnam
Friday 25 May 2018
Just discovered that WiFi transmissions on iPad work just fine with airplane mode switched on. Either such radiation doesn’t cause A320 brains to go berserk or we’re lucky to be alive.
Thought to revisit driving in Vietnam. Few intersections have control devices so it’s a free-for-all, but contrary to Western concepts this works quite well. Traffic moves along with directions alternating as density and confidence allow and no one waits long. Sure, a synchronized light system can get you through town quicker, but no one has to linger at a red light with no other vehicles in sight. Drivers seem completely able to organize themselves without help from police fund collectors. Often drivers, turning left from right lane, don’t go across traffic to get into perpendicular right lane, but turn immediately into left lane along the curb until a gap appears, then meander over to the proper side. This allows going on one’s way before flow changes. Have yet to see an accident. It’s amazing how easily one gets adapted to the seeming chaos. Also, concerning liberal use of horns, this differs from the iconic New York City cabbie in that he is saying, “get out of my way you moron or I’ll crush you like a bug” whereas here the message is, “hello everyone, here I am so please pay attention as I should very much like not to kill you”.
While Jan was at cooking school, rode bike east, west and across bridge south of island. To an untrained eye it seems that, if you’ve seen one village, you’ve seen them all, but in fairness expect that a foreigner unused to the subtleties of small town America would say the same. Come to think of it, I’m drenched in all the nuance one could hope for there and tend to agree.
Contrary to any reasonable expectation, not only re-found Clothing Market, but also correct shop within its warren of passageways. Jan found her way after school, too, but then she’s good at that sort of thing. Clothes are wonderful. Shirts are linen/silk, cool and will apparently require no ironing. Jan’s dresses are perfect. A pair of shorts and two shirts need slight alteration to be finished this morning, but would have been fine without. Almost wish we’d bought more, but really don’t have room for what we did. Probably paid twice what we could have, but a fifth cost in Oz.
Serious guzzlers (virtually all Australians) are no doubt aghast at the concept, but beer here is often drunk over ice. Although not a brew hound, initially was too, but the local stuff, which is very smooth, lacking the harsh carbonation of say, Pabst Blue Ribbon (ghastly stuff that was beer of choice in late teens and proximate cause of affinity for Scotch), lends itself well, thus stays cold and is delightfully refreshing. This is important because May is transition into the wet, hot season and as Robin William’s character in “Good Morning Vietnam” said, it’s beginning to get “hot, hot, hot”. Try it, you’ll like it.
24 May 2018 | Hoi An, Vietnam
Thursday 24 May 2018
After visiting several, museums, meeting houses and other heritage sites yesterday we went back to Shamrock. Hey, know what you’re thinking, but we had thrashed ourselves silly with culture all day and after that little excursion to Madam Chau’s needed a comfort brew - there’s also WiFi. Turns out they were out of stout so we settled for Irish Red - pretty good too. Dinner was at a place Jan found in a back alley called something like NU Eatery that served the best Vietnamese food we’ve ever eaten. She could force me to go back.
Encouraged by Beautiful Moon Hotel to secure their bikes left unattended with supplied locks even though we saw no others so protected, we, not knowing any better, left them locked to a tree by the river. Upon return late afternoon discovered this was prime territory for nearby restaurants and bars to place tables. Bikes gone. Found them out of the way across the street with locks around spokes. Think we can draw a couple of conclusions here: Nobody wants to steal a beat-up, old one-speed and even if they did they could.
Biked out to pick up formerly grotty clothes from laundry this morning when Jan left for Vietnamese cooking school. This created opportunity to squander some of the morning with Vietnamese coffee and WiFi to tap out some more twisted submissions. Due torpidity so far, main observation has been three indulgently young women - one from Scandinavia, one from Canada and a California valley girl it seems - at the cafe acting their ages. Jan’s Thai cooking class in Phuket a couple of years ago added wonderfully to our gustatory repertoire and this should provide another Great Leap Forward. Confident this one won’t kill anywhere near the 45 million people last one did. She went alone because we divide our efforts so that each plays to his strengths. She operates primarily at the front end of the cooking - eating continuum forcing me to pick up slack at the other.
Notwithstanding genetic tendency toward favorite deadly sin, after three coffees guilt is beginning to set in so will sally forth to explore more of Hoi An before meeting partner at haberdasher by 1400 to check fit of new duds - another fortuitous(?) reason to have third bag. Looks like Darwin Vinnies will get a windfall of good, lightly worn, used clothing to make room for new stuff. To recap: went in to buy one (1) shirt.
23 May 2018 | Hoi An, Vietnam
Wednesday 23 May 2018
After dissing all those people who go to a foreign country then don’t engage in the local culture, we went along the Thu Bon River in Hoi An yesterday afternoon to Shamrock, an Irish pub, drank Heart of Darkness stout and listened to singers with guitar from Philippines playing ABBA and Phil Collins. Then rode bikes to eat at Ganesh, an Indian restaurant. In fairness the beer was brewed in Saigon, our first choice for dumplings was closed and it was, after all, quite cosmopolitan just not very Vietnamese. Oh, we drank a local brew, Larue, with dinner, so there!
Although Vietnamese flies have no doubt been influenced primarily by the French and Americans, they seem to like stout. We chased them off for awhile, then considered the potential for protein. Regrettably your standard housefly has only .03 grams, hardly worth the effort even if you stuff your mouth full of them. Maggots on the other hand are 60% protein and considered a super food. Yum. Might have sucked one down with the beer anyway in hopes that word would get back to the hotel. Because “Fly Slayer”, the unerring Jan, is without her implements of death, we endured a couple of brazen ones in our room who were not impressed with a flailing hand as we attempted to sleep past sunrise.
Having packed only one collared shirt, thought to buy another while here. Madam Chau, taking pity on my sartorial deficiency and with an outpouring of charity, took us to her tailor shop for remediation. Her nieces were lovely and terribly persistent, but we remained resolute so only had them make five shirts, two shorts and three dresses. Tough bargaining got us slightly below two times regular price. They should be ready tomorrow afternoon. As we left everyone seemed wonderfully happy.
Drinking In The Culture
22 May 2018 | Hoi An, Vietnam
Monday 21 May 2018
Drop off in Saigon upon return from two day excursion to the Mekong delta yesterday afternoon had us walking along Bui Vien Street (diacritics, used on most vowels in Vietnamese to inform meaning (see yesterday's entry), are not used as this iPad is ill-equipped and they wouldn't help most of you anyway), which is backpacker heaven in Saigon and chockers with twenty somethings from all over the world. Bedraggled and sporting our own kits, we looked like the two oldest backpackers alive. Although we drink little beer (nearly the only wine available in Saigon is Vietnamese, which isn't exported because no one would buy it) we stopped by a Circle K (there are Baskin Robbins and Starbucks as well) on the way back to Madame Cuc (Cook) Hotel for a couple of Saigons. It has three things going for it: it tastes pretty good, it's cold, it's cheap - a winner. After running hard for four days it was good to kick back and veg for a few before heading out to late dinner. Our knowledge of local wine comes from Jan's ill-advised order of Sauvignon Blanc. My tequila sunrise was better. We switched back to Saigons. Bed was uncharacteristically comfortable and we slept well until someone started banging a drum at O dark hundred, probably not celebrating the success of Marxist communism over the running dog capitalists.
Except for forgetting to put a pocket knife in checked bag, flight on Vietnam Airline to Danang was uneventful. After losing a couple this way due having the memory of a three-year-old, had not forgotten for quite awhile until now. Security guy at scanner was much nicer than Aussie a few years ago and let me go back to check-in and send it on in a knapsack. Having originally thought to come with only carry-on backpacks, fortunately decided to bring one to check. Cost with Jetstar, the only airline that charges for that on this trip, was recouped in price of new Swiss Army knife.
Danang seems a much newer and cleaner city than HCMC and better maintained, but in a way that spoils the fun. Most restaurants, for example, have English speaking waiters and serve Western drinks, food and music. What's the point. Stay home, go to the corner pub and save your pennies so the kids can squander them after you're gone.
Took a taxi up to Chua Linh Ung Buddhist Temple overlooking Baie du Rocher Nor, River Han and the city to see it and a huge statue of Lady Buddha. If they weren't so set in their ways, she and Phuket's Big Buddha could get together and hatch a batch of baby Buddhas. Both Big B and Lady B are made of what looks like white marble. No idea how they're kept clean in a hot, humid, rainy climate. The number of man-hours to hand carve all the walls, doors, gates, statues and temples must have been phenomenal. Unlike every other Buddhist temple visited this one had no monkeys, but lots of dogs. Buddhists treat animals equally to humans, so probably don't eat them. Technically, however, this could also mean that neither are safe. For awhile self-emulation was real popular in the order - that can't be a good sign. Great views of Danang.
Having become enamored of Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, hot, we stepped up the street while awaiting bus to Hoi An to find some plus mung bean cake and a croissant for Jan - she speaks French, you know. It was the Cong Caphe (not misspelled), a popular spot, where waiters dress in olive drab, Vietcong pajamas to serve you. They were smiling so it was OK.
Nam That Tune
20 May 2018 | Saigon, Vietnam
Saturday 19 May 2018
To cross a road in most former British colonies or Japan one first looks right and subsequently left. Nearly everywhere else one should initially look left. This in order to view your impending death from speeding traffic as you initially step out then proceed through to the opposite lane. Although the Vietnamese ostensibly drive on the right, normal procedures are irrelevant because buses, cars and particularly innumerable scooters may come at you from any direction. Contrary to good sense motorbikers use sidewalks because they're less crowded so faster speeds are possible. They drive in the wrong direction and across traffic because, well... that's where they want to go. Crossing a street requires both a facility with moving 360 degree geometry and an incongruously lavish sense of optimism. One waits until seeing a felicitous pattern that coincides with a burst of confidence, then steps out into the maelstrom, speeding up or slowing down as gaps approach. A few intersections, many of which have no lights or control apparatus of any kind, have crosswalk signs - you know, the little green and red guys that advise when to go and when not. They are a cruel hoax and should never, ever be included in your decision making process. Friends who recently visited Saigon said they just walked across without looking and relied on drivers to miss them. They are either terribly fatalistic or delusionally trusting of driver's skill and intent. Mike & Rosie are lucky to be alive.
Dennis (real name unpronounceable outside of Asia), our guide to Can Tho and the Mekong Delta, claims that his language is easy because there's no gender or tense. Although begging the question of, for example, how one knows if he's already done something or yet to do it and with whom, this might be true if every word did not have up to six attributes, or "songs", depending on inflection. For example, the word "ca" besides four other completely different meanings can be fish or tomato. One can readily see how this could lead to an awkward situation for the inept foreigner (all Westerners). There are apparently only six songs in the music as well, which perhaps really is simple and only slightly more complicated than the guys who sang "Who let the dogs out". They just had one.
Although roads are basically in good condition, there is either nothing in the language for it or road builders are not taught the word for smooth. The impression is enhanced by axles that are obviously bolted directly to vehicle frames. If one could otherwise nap, constant horn blowing makes New York City cab drivers seem subdued. This stalwart attitude is further evidenced in bedding as mattresses and pillows appear to be made of abandoned truck tires. Ibuprofen supplies are rapidly disappearing. Discussions are underway to upgrade in future to one star accommodations for two dollars more.
Besides visiting the amazing floating market, paddling and motoring on the Mekong, riding bikes alongside canals and sampling curious foods at the Can Tho night market, we stopped by a candy factory (that word is used advisedly) where a coconut slurry mixed with with chili, chocolate or coffee is boiled down into a taffy-like consistency, cut into mouth-sized chunks and wrapped in edible rice paper. It's delicious and perfect for disposing of those pesky amalgam fillings you've had since childhood.
It takes almost 28,000 dong to buy a US dollar. One suspects some tolerably impressive inflation at one time or another. There are no coins. Smallest bill seems to be 200 dong, worth something less than a penny. Most of the currency has so many zeros that losing count is a serious hazard and the drab colors and baffling sizes are little help. Here's a suggestion: whack off at least three zeros and make new, brightly colored, plastic bills called ding-dongs. The proletariat will love them.
16 May 2018 | Changi Airport, Singapore
Thursday 17 May 2018
Up at 0300, taxi at 0400, flight scheduled for 0600 - late. Sunrise was especially more than too early at 25,000 feet. Travel by air sucks anytime, but is a monumental Hoover when it's still dark. Do not take this to mean that you shouldn't fly on Delta Air Lines any time, any where, however, as that is always fun. This public interest announcement has nothing whatever to do with the fact that their continued financial health provides a means to maintain us in our preferred though particularly quaint lifestyle.
If one wants to conserve the children's inheritance by not paying Qantas two to five times as much to get out of Darwin, he must fly Jetstar. Our excuse is that we're cheap. Unfortunately the people who manufacture screeching sprats overpopulate the airline with them, not having had the foresight to drown them when they were kittens, and seem inexplicably unreceptive to my offers of help. However, a short layover in Singapore is all that will be necessary as Jetstar, uncharacteristically convenient, will automatically transfer our one checked bag through to Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon (apparently no one actually calls the place Ho Chi Minh City). If this actually eventuates it will lift the experience to the level of riding a disgruntled camel, backward, from Dubai to Aden while beating off a pack of snarling jackals.
Some suggestion was made to just remain in Singapore, a wonderful city/state, and avoid a country on the opposite side of the world where the US felt compelled to kill off significant numbers of our and their population while replicating the ignominious defeat experienced by France several years earlier in order to stop the spread of an ideology we should have had the confidence to know is unsustainable, but the Vietnamese apparently don't hold a grudge and have now discovered a capitalism that would probably have happened thirty years sooner without our inimical help. Plus we look forward to seeing a place that figured so consequentially in the national zeitgeist. How do you pass up a chance to see Vietcong tunnels near Saigon, the Mekong delta, their war museums and the Hanoi Hilton?
One may surmise that lack of sleep has made me a trifle snarky, but this could not be further from the truth. This is me happy.
16 May 2018 | Tipperary Waters Marina, Darwin
Tuesday 8 May 2018
Selling and shipping out old Raymarine stuff was worth less and caused more trouble than tossing it in the tip, but maybe new owner can get some use of it. Time spent could have gone to cleaning out old earwax... or finishing boat projects. Anyway, thru-hull valves are operative, anti-foul is refreshed, new awning is up, bimini is off for re-stitching and generator is generating its little heart out. Next is window installation and then back at furler. Getting there.
Should mention that, contrary to the way these things normally go, installation of new chart plotter (they're now referred to as MFDs - multi-function displays, not to be confused with a BMFs) with connections to sailing instruments, AIS, autopilot and new radar went off with minimum sturm und drang and works great. Compared to ancient gear it does a lot of really cool stuff and demands the attention of fewer electrons (perhaps it is a BMF).
Since return from Oahu, weather in Darwin has not sucked nearly as much. It's dry season again and no rain. Just as hot, but the dew point dropped a few degrees. This has caused comfort level to soar up to sweltering. Haven't had to get up so early (0600) for bike ride to prevent heat castration.. frustration.. something like that. Forecast for today is balmy. We'll just have to see about that.
Fixed window is bedded into frame awaiting sealer cure. Finishing up with butyl for waterproofing should be done today. Furler work requires removal of new awning and mainsail so that may not happen any time soon. Wind, generally absent during the wet except in thunderstorms, has been blowing a hooley. Repair of leak damaged, wood hatch frames is proceeding apace (contrary to any definitions you may have heard, that pace is slow) and varnishing of them and brightwork will commence immediately upon return in June from Vietnam and Cambodia... possibly. Can't express how annoying it is having to perform manual labor, but once all projects are completed nothing can possibly go wrong again and we will be on the way to Cocos Keeling exactly at 0930, 18 July, then on westward to that large continent where Tarzan lives. By the way, if you haven't read any of the Burrough's series, they're surprisingly entertaining.
Generator required a flushing oil change after 5 running hours. Yanmar had only a few hours since last change, which was however, sixteen months ago. Transmission fluid probably came directly from a dinosaur. All attended to with new filters. Sounds easy, but wasn't of course, as Panda oil was initially replaced with previously used oil that someone had forgotten to pour out (hey, can't tell as it's being poured in), filters purchased in Indonesia didn't fit and getting to trany drain and fill plugs was, in fact, impossible. Normal boat service. If it was easy everyone would be out here scaring fish, polluting the environment and making a nuisance of himself with the natives.
Hate to admit, but weather last few days has been idyllic - warm days, cool nights, low humidity. Only had these conditions last year in June, so maybe with an earlier start, dry season will last more than 3 weeks this time. Anything's possible.
With forty four days (eleven hours, thirty four minutes and twelve seconds, but who's counting) left here after Vietnam/Cambodia visit, all big jobs except mainsail furler are done. The odd inspection, some varnishing and a general dusting and cleaning will make us right. Of course anyone who's done any cruising knows that last statement is complete bull squeeze and not to be countenanced. Besides provisioning, ditching a pant-load of junk accumulated during the previous year and a half of near stasis and estimates for work and time to do final items being grossly underestimated, some serious problem is biding its time, waiting for the critical moment to pounce. It's almost like Easter, we wait with barely contained excitement to see what pretty colored eggs the bunny will bring.
05 May 2018 | Fannie Bay, Darwin
Tuesday 24 April 2018
Excellent trip to Oahu and Hawaii despite extensive use of Imodium - currently on Cipro to slay bad bug. Loaded up on perhaps 30 kilo of better, cheaper items for transport back to Australia. One advantage of standby staff travel besides a bit less expense is some leeway on baggage limits, even on Jetstar.
Waded into Northern Territory wee hours Sunday (getting in and out of Darwin is seldom convenient except of course that the getting out part is worth it). Greeted upon return with bill from customs for radar antenna shipped from New Zealand: duty 4.3%, GST 10%, customs entry fee 3.8% plus an additional 1% which provenance is a tad nebulous, but have acquiesced in the knowledge that we help fund the state government in meticulous control of regrettably willing citizens.
"It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged." - G. K. Chesterton
Thursday 3 May
Would like to say sloth was cause of your reprieve (that of course assumes this is not your first attempt to read this drivel), but have been working fingers to the bone getting all major boat systems operational. Except for the odd bit: replacement of broken window, varnishing hatch openings and brightwork, liferaft inspection - in progress, replacement of broken thru-hull valves and anti-foul renewal - hauling out today for those very things and cleanup of deck and stainless, it's done. This is another example of hope over experience and of course temporary as something big is inevitably going pear-shaped at this very moment.
A day delayed due difficulty in achieving haul out goals, enjoying two nights on the hard with no air or fridge, splashed yesterday and went sailing. Besides normal problem of running rig running amok after sixteen idle months, mainsail furler was again catatonic (see above paragraph). Heavy wind piped up surprising us with vigorous conditions strewing non cruise prepared items (lots of them) about cabin including Jan's sewing machine. Her famous equanimity was subsequently less conspicuous for awhile. Would have stayed out until tomorrow, but neglected to buy fresh petrol for dink. Made shore for dinner at Darwin Sailing Club last night, barely, but now on empty plus old fuel barely kept Yamaha firing.
"Someday we'll look back on this moment and plow into a parked car." - Evan Davis
Penury In Paradise
10 April 2018 | Tipperary Waters Marina, Darwin
Sunday 8 April 2018
Hawaii does not suck. Of course, compared to Darwin, Cleveland doesn't suck, but Hawaii doesn't suck much, much more. We're flying to the big island on Thursday. Not sure, not having been there, but surmise it will not suck a bunch too. An aspect of this is that we shipped a pant-load of stuff from the lower 48 to mates in Ko Olina Marina, increased the bottom line of Costco and hit several other places to accumulate crap that will pass through Aussie customs in large checked bags without duty for much less than buying there, even if available. Variety and cost here (middle of the Pacific Ocean, right?) is majorly better.
Sold all old Raymarine stuff on eBay. Cool. Must now pack up and ship all to Brisbane at beginning of three week break before Vietnam. Busy return from HI. New radar should have arrived, generator parts should be ready, new window should have been shipped in, new awning arrived awaiting installation, haul-out for valve replacement plus other stuff in offing. All require time, toil and tithing with ton of other tasks on train. Strenuous effort will be necessary to find opportunity for sloth. This seems wrong.
Today West Marine experienced the joy of visa as we contemplate paying the sucker off in May. That on top of excruciating credit bill and IRS this month. Hope to get all assembled loot into luggage under weight limit. Jetstar could drive us into bankruptcy for a couple kilo over, negating any savings from Australian rapacity, so care is essential.