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Published: September 3rd 2009
Today was another great day weatherwise. With the skies being a bit overcast it cools down things a few degrees which helps so much. We stayed in Phu yen last night. For dinner last night we wanted to try something a bit different so we had Vietnamese food again of course. For the first part of the day we were on some back roads which I enjoy. Because we are getting closer to Hanoi though we are coming more and more into civilization. The towns are getting larger and their is more people and traffic.
At about 11am we hit the main road, which is 2 lanes and has a lot more traffic on it. We headed to Moc chau. As we begin to pull into the town I was struck by the number of motorcycles coming and going. I thought maybe a factory or something had just let out as there were so many people. Pulling into town though I realized a major festival was going on. There were thousands of people walking up and down the main street and banners and balloons everywhere. My first thought was "how did my fans know I was coming?". On one of
the banners though I was able to read Sept 2-9th so I knew something was going on that had been planned for awhile.
Driving through the throngs of people and vehicle was definitly daunting. After 6 days on the bike though I have definitly improved my riding skills. At this point I can balance the bike pretty well at almost a complete standstill which is helpful as you crawl through traffic and keep from hitting all the people in front of you. The town is pretty long and on the left going north the town is comprised of the standard tall narrow building brightly colored that are very common throughout Vietnam. On the right of town is a very large mountain and as we went further north, there were streams of people climbing very step stairs up it. I was able to gather from my guide that there was a cave at the very top.
This was the town we had planned to stay at tonight but my first thought was that there was no way that there was going to be any rooms available. I was right. My guide and I drove to about 4 guesthouses whrere
all the owners shook their heads and said full. Tommorrow, was our last day on the bikes and we were to head back to Hanoi, so I pulled out the map and was able to get across to the guide the idea that we head back towards Hanoi tonight and grab a room somewhere along the way. He got the idea and thats when I found out that there was a town about 50km back towards Hanoi called Mai Chau which is my guides hometown. He got on the phone and talked to a friend and got us 2 rooms there.
Knowing that lodging was taken care off we paid an attendent to watch our bikes and walked around town. I met a Vietnamese photographer who spoke some broken English and he was able to explain that the festival was a party for the Hmong. They live in so many of the remote areas and once a year they come down from all over and attend this party. So, it was definitly a festival of sights and colors. Many of the different Hmong were there. Black, red, green, white. I am assuming those as I was told you can
tell the tribe of Hmong they are from by the color of clothing that the females wear. Most of the men wear western style clothing but here at the festival there was many men and boys wearing more traditional garb.
It was pretty much like any street festival that I have been too. The streets were lined with vendors and people selling different foods. No activities really going on, just thousands of people cruising the streets and people watching. I did see something that made me laugh but then kind of made me cry too. There was a booth set up where a photographer was taking pictures of people. So many Hmong were lined up with their familes and children to have their picture taken. What really made me cry inside was that the backdrop was a white framestyle house with a white picket fence and a green manicured lawn. The house could have been taken from any suburb in any city in America. Here were these very poor people lining up to have their picture taken in front of a picture of the American dream. Again, at first I laughed then I felt a sadness for the unbalance
in the world. We take so much for granted. It is things like this that once again hardens my desire to draw clowser to God and to sharpen my faith. I immediatly thought of the scripture at Isaiah 65:22 which refers to God's coming kingdom: "They will not build and someone else have occupancy; they will not plant and someone else do the eating. For like the days of a tree will the days of my people be; and the work of their hands my chosen ones will use to the full." That is what God has purposed for man and not this gross unbalance in the world.
One thing that really touched me though was how the young Hmong would walk hand in hand. The girls would walk 3 or 4 together all in their colorful clothing and all holding hands and smiling. But even the boys would walk 2 or 3 with their arms around each other's shoulders like the best buds in the world. It really made me smile. There are no friends like the friends you have when you are young.
After 6 days of traveling North Vietnam I had not spotted one other
Westerner. However, as we were walking around some of the booths I spotted 3 Westerners sitting at a table. I went up to introduce myself and found out that they were from Spain and Chili. They spoke very good English and invited me to sit down. We had a few beers and got up with each other. They had met each other on the plane from Paris so had hooked up for a small trip up north. They had ridden the open bus up to here because they had heard about the festival. I was a bit concerend for them though as they had no room for the night and no real means of transportation. They did not seem to concerened though as Inez stated that if needed she had heard that the Hmong just slept in large rows in many of the local houses and would just work her way into that situation. She is much braver than I. Having a decent place to stay the night is huge for me. If I get a pretty good nights sleep then I can deal with anything the day brings on. But if I don't the trip begins to wear me
down. We had some beers then some lunch.
On a side note it was great to have Inez around as she took most of the attn of the locals away. As I have said for days the locals have come up to measure themselves against me and to have their picture taken. Inez is a very beautiful and tall black woman. Way more exotic than I am! All the locals want to have their picture taken with her with is fine by me! It was funny to walk behind her though as we passed through the crowds and to watch almost every person we pass stop what they were doing and turn around and watch her. Many of the locals would point and talk about her hair. Again, you have to wonder for how many of the Hmong was this the first time to have seen a black woman?
I took down their emails and we had to part. I hope they are safe and well. We had about a 2 hour journey ahead of us and we headed to Mai Chau. We had pretty much eaten late so I was not hungry and just wanted to sit
in my room and catch up on my journal. I knew my young guide was hungry as he always is and being that this is his home town he already had a friend over. I gave him some money and motioned for him to go off and have a good time with his friends. Later, at about 8pm I get a knock and its my guide. He says come, Karaoke. I was pretty tired but thought when am I going to get to see this again?, and took off with him. We went into a small little room where about 6 of his friends were blasting Vietnamese music and had mics and were singing to the words coming across a large screen. They were really into it!. It appears to be serious business here. The Karaoke machine had a full selection of English as well and there must have been hundreds of songs.
I am not a singer and I have no self delusions about it. However, after about 2 vodka shots which they were doing after every song and one beer I was definitly getting into the whole spirit of the thing. They handed me a mic and
I must admit I could have competed with many of the first round contestants on American Idol. I sang a few English songs then handed the mic back and they went to town. It was great fun. After about an hour I had my guide bring me home before my hearing was permantly
damaged by how loud the music was.
As I write this I am about 100 miles from Hanoi. I realize though that even though I have many hours of driving ahead of me, it will be on large roads and into more people and more tourists. My trip to the north is essentially over and I am sad to actually have to be heading back to the main tourist trail. I look forward to seeing some of the upcoming things but it will not be the same as what I have experienced these last 7 days. I have seen Vietnam as very few people I imagine are able to see it. To be as far from the beaten path as I was is a very rare thing in this modern day and age. Just being able to visit the people and have them be glad to
see me and talk to me as a person from another land rather than a tourist to sell something too was a definite privilige. I have learned many lessons about my needs and wants and I hope to take them away with me. It was a good trip.
Oh and by the way Sarah. I am a bit nervous about it but I am going for the drive into Hanoi to the hotel. Its probabally suicide but I feel more confident about it. Stay tuned for details.
Signing off for now
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