Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A few unorganized thoughts

During the Halong Bay tour the guide, Hien, told me that most Vietnamese people, aside from government workers, work seven days a week, often for several months at a time before having a day off. We can thank the labor movement in the U.S. for the fact that we have weekends.

Hien's wife works in the garment industry. She works 12 to 14 hours a day, and doesn't get any days off. The factory where she works does contract work for many different companies, and so the clothes she produces have many different labels. Hien's parents take care of their 10-month-old baby.

In order to be a tour guide, Hien studied English in a university for more than four years, but he doesn't want his son to become a tour guide because the work is irregular. He hopes that his son can become a government administrator.
Everyone asks me about the U.S. election. I have talked with Australians, Japanese and Vietnamese people about the election. Everyone is glad that Obama won. People around the world oppose Bush's war in Iraq, which Bush pressures their governments to support, and people are concerned about the U.S. economy, which affects the economy in countries around the world.
A man tried to pickpocket me in Hanoi. I felt something touch my hand bag, and as I looked over my shoulder a man was hurrying away and the side zipper on my bag had been partially opened. The pocket contained only a highlighter and my travel alarm clock anyway, as I am very careful of where I carry things of value, but the man got nothing from me. In all my traveling, this is the first time that anyone has tried to pickpocket me. Hanoi is known for pickpockets, but not for any violent crime.
I visited the Hoa Lo Prison, best known to Americans as the Hanoi Hilton. Sen John McCain and other prisoners of war were held and tortured here during the American War, as the Vietnam War is called here.

The Hoa Lo Prison, now a museum, served a much longer role in Vietnam's history. It was opened in 1896 by the French, as part of an effort to suppress the growing popular anti-colonial movement. The French used the Hoa Lo Prison to house and torture Vietnamese political prisoners from 1896 until 1954, when north Vietnam was liberated from the French occupation. There were many women political prisoners as well as men, and many were executed here. A French guillotine is on display.

In addition to exhibits on prison conditions, solitary confinement, death row, torture devices, escapes and resistance by prisoners, the prison has exhibits on French supporters of Vietnamese liberation, and U.S. protests against the Vietnam war.
I spent the afternoon reading in the park overlooking the lake that is in the center of Hanoi's old quarter. I am reading a book called Golden Autumn. It's a collection of Vietnamese short stories.

I love to sit in a beautiful public place and watch people. In the evening, many locals meet in the park to do a tai chi type of exercise together. It reminds me of the Chinese people who do tai chi in the early morning in San Francisco, but this exercise is something different.

Two 19-year-old boys asked if they could sit next to me and practice their English a bit. I was reluctant because I thought they would try to sell me something or scam me in some way, but I looked at their homework books and they really were English students just trying to practice. I talked with them for a half an hour, taught them some new words and learned a bit about their lives.
Vietnam is like Bolivia in that there is a constant hubub of noise, and the locals get business done by recognizing the different noises. For example, the garbage collectors (two people pushing a plastic tub on wheels) make a particular banging sound as they work their way down the street and people come out with garbage.
I bought a new pair of glasses for US $89! That includes exam, lenses and frames, and they were done on the same day! Now I have a spare pair, so I don't have to worry about losing my expensive pair when I'm kayaking, etc.
I'm signing off for a few days, as this evening I will leave for a three day/four night tour of Sapa. I normally don't join tour groups while traveling, but Vietnam is unique in that the package tours are actually cheaper than traveling independently. And it is nice having the tour company take care of all the arrangements, and to have a local guide. So until next time, thanks for reading!

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