Post #5: Making Connections on the Central Coast

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Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast » Binh Dinh » Qui Nhon
July 1st 2009
Published: July 2nd 2009
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Louisiane Brewhouse - Nha Trang, VietnamLouisiane Brewhouse - Nha Trang, VietnamLouisiane Brewhouse - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Joe enjoys a microbrew at the Louisiane Brewhouse on the beach in Nha Trang. The beer (bia) is great and cheap all over Vietnam, but the "designer" beer at this New Zealand-owned microbrewery is a lot more similar to whats available in the States, so it was a real treat!
As we continued our journey north, we visited two coastal areas in the central portion of Vietnam - first the very popular beach-party city of Nha Trang and then the much quieter, less touristy town of Quy Nhon. We only stayed in Nha Trang for one day, enough time to try the micro-brews at the New Zealand-owned “Louisiane Brew House” - the first microbrewery we’ve seen in Vietnam. For those of you who know Joe well, you won’t be surprised to hear that he was very happy about this particular stop, so much so that he tried nearly every beer on the menu. I was intrigued by the ginger beer brewed with passion fruit and wasn’t disappointed. Very fruity!

The next day we got back on a mini-bus (not as comfortable as the big bus) and traveled four hours to Quy Nhon - pronounced “Qwe Nyun”, a sleepy fishing village that many tourists skip on their treks up and down the country. That was okay with us as we are finding that the less traveled places here hold more interest to us; they are a little harder to navigate because fewer people speak English but I think we get a
Town beach in Quy NhonTown beach in Quy NhonTown beach in Quy Nhon

We stayed on this street in Quy Nhon - right across from the beach. The nets are lowered at night to trap fish. The water is lit up at night by dozens of boats with bright lights for luring squid.
better picture of how the average Vietnamese person lives and there are far fewer touts to chase us down the street for a cyclo ride or some other offering. We have actually been quite surprised by how many people travel in Vietnam. Probably every other young Vietnamese person we meet here works in the travel and tourism industry (this could be biased since we’ve staying in a lot of hotels and hanging out in highly touristed areas). We didn’t expect to see many Westerners, but in the major tourist areas we see tons. I would estimate that 80-90% of tourists here are Australian. We’ve never met so many Aussies in our life, and we had no idea there was a large Vietnamese population in Australia and lots of exchange between the two countries. We think the next largest group of travelers is from England - loads of British. We’ve also come across some New Zealanders and some Germans and French. To round things out, we met one Swedish woman who adopted a Vietnamese baby 10 years ago, two very nice Dutch women, a few Canadians (although we think one was really from America, but didn’t want to admit it!), one Austrian and one Argentinean couple, and maybe four Americans.

Ok, back to Quy Nhon. Quy Non is a charming fishing village and resort town close to many beautiful beaches including one at the edge of town and one at the local Leper Hospital (who would have known)! At night, the town is converted into one huge outdoor café where residents sip sugarcane juice or coconut juice milk they relax on lawn chairs that have been set up along the beach and in the town parks. Parents lounge about while their kids run around and play, and young couples hold hands and gaze at the ocean together. Bicycle vendors ride up and down the beach pedaling popcorn or ice cream (“Kem” in Vietnamese) while their music boxes play “Happy Birthday” or “Merry Christmas.” A one-man mobile Karaoke show stops at various places along the beach road and serenades the diners at local restaurants.

Because the town sees relatively few Westerners, we attracted a fair amount of attention from the locals. We estimate that about 90% of the children in that town shouted hello to us - no matter where they were in relation to us or what they were doing. Even families driving by on their motorbike often shouted hello to us! We have come to believe that shouting “Allo”, “what’s your name?” and “where you from” to Westerners has become a minor sport for the kids in the city. We were an even bigger focus of attention, stares, whispers, and giggles when we went shopping for toiletries and some new clothes in the town’s new (air conditioned) mall.

In some ways Quy Nhon was a difficult stop for us because we had to re-adjust to the heat after being spoiled by the cool temperatures in Dalat. The heat seemed that much more aversive after the coolness of Dalat - a contrast effect, I’m sure. But, we also had some pretty awesome experiences connecting with people in the community in a way that we hadn’t been able to previously. For example, when we biked over to the Linh Kan Pagoda in the late afternoon on our first day in the town, we were greeted by a young man by the name of Tu’ who was studying to be a monk and living at the Pagoda for the summer. We weren’t quite sure what was happening when he immediately

Yes, it was unbelievably fresh but it was staring up at us and it was NOT happy!
began giving us a tour of the Pagoda and explaining, in broken English, who he was, what he did, and what the Pagoda was about. But he was simply eager to tell us about himself and practice his English, which he had been diligently studying for the past three months. He lives at the Pagoda in the summer when he comes back from University in HCMC where he is studying Buddhism. As far we could understand, he spend most of his days at the Pagoda praying for people who have died but have no family to pray for their souls. When he finished showing us around the Pagoda, he invited us to his room where we shared tea with him as part of a Chinese tea ceremony that he led. It’s hard to put into words how cool it was have this interaction, and how moved we were by Tu’s kindness. Before we left, he gave both Joe and I prayer beads to wear around our wrist. He didn’t want anything from us; he just wanted to share his story with us and hear ours. This is the deeper connection we’ve been looking for since we’ve been in Vietnam, but
Chinese Tea Ceremony. Linh Kan Pagoda, Quy Nhon, VietnamChinese Tea Ceremony. Linh Kan Pagoda, Quy Nhon, VietnamChinese Tea Ceremony. Linh Kan Pagoda, Quy Nhon, Vietnam

Tu' treats us to a Chinese Tea Ceremony and conversation in his room at the Linh Kan Pagoda in Quy Nhon. He is a 27 year old student who is studying Buddhism at University in HCMC. He is living at the Pagoda and continuing his training to become a monk at the Pagoda in his home town in Quy Nhon. He has been studying English for the past 3 months. He is a very gentle, happy, and kind soul.
have had difficulty finding because of the language barrier.

We were lucky again in this regard when we motorbiked over to the beautiful Bai Bau beach outside of town and coincidentally bumped into (almost literally) a Vietnamese man named Hai (pronounced Hi) who grew up in Quy Nhon but has been living in North Carolina for the past 30 years. We struck up a conversation and ended up sitting on the beach, swimming, and eventually going out to dinner together. Hai was back home visiting his elderly parents who are in poor health. He shared with us some riveting stories about his life, including a perilous escape from Vietnam in 1978 when he was just 17 years old.

Hai started by telling us that, as the son of a fisherman, he learned how to sail and work a boat at an early age. So in 1978, amid food shortages and little opportunity for any sort of future, Hai’s cousin who worked for the US government offered him an opportunity to flee Vietnam if he could captain the escape boat. Hai’s family was so poor that his mother had to borrow the meager sum from a neighbor to pay
Saying Goodbye to Tu!Saying Goodbye to Tu!Saying Goodbye to Tu!

Tu's Pagoda was a lovely place. We went back the same night looking for a vegetarian restaurant that was supposed to be next door. We asked directions inside the Pagoda and some nice men pointed the way. A minute later, one of the men followed us out of the Pagoda gate to make sure we found the restaurant okay!
for the bus fare from Quy Nhon to Saigon, where the boat would depart. Hai’s trip to Saigon was dangerous in itself because at that time people risked arrest if they traveled outside of their home towns. He couldn’t speak in public because his Central Vietnamese accent would give him away as being from outside of Saigon. He was instructed to just shake his head yes or no.

On the night of the escape, a group of 37 adults and children ran for the boat at 3 in the morning trying not to be detected amid the barking dogs. Once on the boat, Hai learned that the man who organized the boat didn’t know how to start it. After a frantic search, with the dogs still barking in the background, Hai located a hand crank and started the engine. They sailed without incident until the second day when a storm blew in that threatened to capsize the boat. Waves splashed over the boat, and at one point the boat passed directly through a wave and emerged on the other side. In the end, with a fair amount of luck and sailing skill they made it through the storm.

The refuges sailed for four nights and three days with very little food, water, fuel, or sleep. On the third day they attempted to flag down a French freighter but it continued past them. Just as they started to think they missed their only rescue opportunity, the freighter returned for them. Apparently, the captain of the French boat had to get permission to rescue the refuges from the “sinking” boat before he could turn around. Once all the refuges were safely on the freighter, Hai was told to take an axe to his boat so that the French could photograph him being rescued from the sinking boat. Hai and the rest of the refuges were taken to Hong Kong where they received medical attention, food and water.

When Hai came to the U.S. nine months later, he struggled to learn English, find a job, get an education, support his family back home, and thrive as a minority in the country. He told us that it took him one month just to make enough money to pay for the postage he needed to send a letter home to his parents to tell them he was safe. He worked extremely hard
Beautiful Bau Bai Beach! Beautiful Bau Bai Beach! Beautiful Bau Bai Beach!

The water was so calm on this stretch of beach, I swam out so far I could practically see inside of a fishing boat. It scared me a little, so I swam back!
all of his life (certainly harder than Joe and I have ever had to work) to raise a family, educate his kids, and live the American dream. Now he is a mechanical engineer and has a teaching gig at North Carolina State University (he also has a very funny mixture of Vietnamese accent and southern drawl)! His integrity, work ethic, and sense of family responsibility are inspiring. He still pays for his parents’ medical care and whatever else they need. Joe and I were happy because we were able to give him my extra rescue asthma inhaler so his father could get some better relief for his asthma. (We were very surprised to learn that not only does Vietnam not have universal health care, it is apparently very expensive to get health care here and doctors/hospitals require up-front payment before they will provide treatment. No money, no treatment - period. As far as we understand, there is no safety net health care system here).

After we watched the sun set behind the mountains, we followed Hai to his parent’s house in town and waited for him while he called around to find the best seafood restaurant in Quy Nhon.
Biking to Quy Hoa beach at the Leper HospitalBiking to Quy Hoa beach at the Leper HospitalBiking to Quy Hoa beach at the Leper Hospital

Bicycling is my favorite mode of transportation in Vietnam. However, the gears on this bike didnt work so we had to push these heavy, heavy bikes up the many hills to this beach. It had to be about 105 degrees F that day. How can the beach be on a hill - I still dont understand???
When we arrived, he ordered all these wonderful Vietnamese specialties, including my favorite - seafood hot pot (see forthcoming food blog), and he paid for dinner!

We feel indebted to him for his warmth and generosity; it makes us feel good about being in Vietnam.

Additional photos below
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2nd July 2009

Hi you two... I just love it when we get a message that you have posted on your blog. It is all so very interesting.. you write well, and the photos are beautiful. It is almost like being with you.. keep it up... just love it.. All is well here in Abq. you are inspiring us to do something like this some day... have you decided where you want to settle for a while yet?
2nd July 2009

Thanks for such great postings!
You guys are producing a great blog! Thanks for sharing the adventure it makes Teck more tolerable knowing Joe is free! Your descriptions really help me experience a small taste I'm sure of what you guys are seeing, great stuff!
3rd July 2009

Hi Nancy and Joe-So great to keep current as the adventure unfolds. It makes me smile when I see who you're meeting and what you're experiencing. I'm really happy for you! There's a major gathering at the end of December in HCM City that I might go to. Will you be anywhere near there? Sending you much love and would love to see you. Be well in your travels! Love, Carole
5th July 2009

Greetings Uncle Ho (& Aunt Ho?)
Props to you guys for the blog...all's well here...Max got his first bath here after rolling on a dead fish while he and I were camping last week...made the ride home a real pleasure...cheers! Bryan
5th July 2009

Tu and Hai
Loved hearing these stories of local people. It's a great way to get a feel for what Vietnam is like now. Good wishes as you journey! Catherine
7th July 2009

I breathe deeply for your story...
Hi Nancy and Joe! Oh what a smile to be greeted by your auspicious face and beard Joe. I went quickly in search of my "sister" Nancy too. You folks look embued with happiness, maybe not for the heat and bad bike gears, but none-the-less happy. I read each word of your post and was taken with the experience of seeing Vietnam through your eyes. The photos and captions are worthy of NG publication! I am so happy you met the Buddhist student and Ex Pat from North Carolina. What richness to savor in your year abroad. I noticed Nancy that you typically wear a skirt or dress. Is that for the visits to pagodas and temples? I am thinking and tasting, (vicariously!) all the fresh, fresh seafood-- yummmm! Please accept my loving blessings for your next travels, contacts and contemplations. Much love, Elizabeth

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