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Published: February 29th 2008
Vietnam Airline Office
I started my week by going to the Vietnam Airlines office to confirm my flight to Danang. When I see this cutout of a Vietnam Airline Flight Attendant I think of Trang and that brings a smile to my face.
Long Bien Bridge, Island Farmers, Loannie III and a Nudist Retreat
.I hadn’t seen Loannie for days and I wondered if something happened or if I had somehow offended her family.
It turned out she had a bike accident, ended up in a hospital for two days, lost her boy friend and to clear her mind she went on a backpacking trip to Sapa and climbed Mount Fansipan, the tallest mountain in Vietnam, almost as tall as Pikes Peak. She lived with mountain hill tribes for four days. This was during that terrible cold spell we had for about three weeks.
We finally made contact and she invited me to go on a little biking trip Sunday. I told her I would bike to her house but she wouldn’t let that happened and she biked the ten miles to my hotel.
As the saying goes: “They broke the mold when they created Loannie.” She is a wonderful girl with a big heart and inquisitiveness to match my Grandson Wesley’s quest for understanding the world.
You might wonder why she takes such interest in an old man like me. I think it’s the organizations I represent. First,
Like all Church services I go to they are well attended in vietnam. The Protestant Church was no exception.
we are Couchsurfers and that brought us together. Second, she is very interested in Rotary. I finally figured out why. She is a victim of polio. About the time in 1985 when Rotary International took on the task of eradicating polio from the world over 500,000 thousand deaths a year were from polio. Today, our efforts have brought that figure down to around 200. The eradication effort is still going on in countries of India, Pakistan and Nigeria. Unfortunately the eradication effort did not get to Vietnam in time to save Loannie from the disease. She recovered with only her right leg slightly smaller than her left. Nevertheless, she knows the importance of the programs the Rotary Foundation supports.
When I told her I was going to Danang for two weeks she told me to meet her Doctor friend who is a Scout. I told her I was an Eagle Scout. She was ecstatic. So we have a lot of interest together.
We didn’t go very far, just to the Long Bien Bridge only about 15 minutes away on a bike. An interesting story about the bridge: During the war the North Vietnamese who received war materials from
ships in the port of Haiphong would truck them to Hanoi by the way of the Long Bien Bridge. The Vietnamese drive on the right side of the rode and so many heavy trucks would go across the bridge on one side it started to tilt to that side. The authorities brought out the engineers and architects and started drawing up plans to reinforce the bridge. The story goes that a peasant farmer stopped and was listening to their plans and he finally said: “Why don’t you just for this bridge drive on the left side of the bridge. That meant the heavy loaded trucks would drive on the left side and the empty trucks going back would be driving on the route where the bridge was tilting. This righted the bridge. Today, this is the only place in Vietnam where they drive on the left side of the road.
Today, the train goes down the middle but the rest of the bridge is limited to motorbikes and bicycles. Over a hundred years of use and it will be around a lot more time. It was built between 1898 and 1902 by the same architect that built the Eiffel
Tower. At that time it was built it was the longest bridge in the world.
About halfway across the bridge she told me we would go down now. I had never noticed that they have walk ways that you can descend from the bridge to the islands in the Red River below
Loannie wanted to visit the poor people who try to make a living on these big sand bars. She liked to bring the poor people there some candy for their kids. Along the way we met some families but never any kids. Most of these people live in temporary shelters while the river lets them farm. During high water they return to their permeate villages.
I have a feeling that most of the kids were in some other village for school.
This was such a special place. Just a few hundred feet is the hustle and bustle of Hanoi with all its noise and pollution and here was the quite place with no noise like you were a hundred miles away. It was fun biking the paths. Loannie told me she would never go there alone. It seemed like a safe place to me.
We met some poor farmers but the most interesting person we met was a guy called Long who invited us to bike to his retreat. His retreat turned out to be a nudist retreat where those of that calling went to exercise, play games, and swim all in the buff.
I taught Loannie a new English phrase: “Skinny Dipping.”
He had no inhibition at all. He went through his routine and repeatedly asked us to join in. He took a particular liking to Loannie but she didn’t join in.
Lonnie had packed a picnic lunch and we asked him to partake. He did but asked us to go to his house. We did and he fixed us a better lunch. He lived in a really nice place and offered to take us to Bat Trang in his car when we wanted to. Then he got a phone call and we had to leave.
We went back to the hotel and Loannie helped me with my Vietnamese lesson. As they say in Vietnamese: “Thời ỏi.” “Oh my gosh.” What a day in Việt Nam
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