Saturday, July 14, 2012

Motorcycle tour with Mr. Tam

All right, so Friday afternoon Michael had set up to meet this guy, Mr. Tam, who said he did motorcycle tours of the city. Thomas and the others thought it might be risky, but Michael was really excited. Mr. Tam and his brother came to our hotel to pick us up. It took him a little while to find us as our hotel, The A&E hotel, has many locations, at least 3 on the same street as ours. I was really nervous but hoped it would turn out ok as we strapped on the little helmets they offered and took off into the craziest traffic I've ever seen. Seriously, I know I've said before that the lines on the road are purely aesthetic, but I really can't do it justice. If there's too much traffic, no problem! just use the sidewalk! If the road is one way only but you still want to go down it, no problem! you go anyway. I think I've described it this way on facebook, but in case you don't have facebook here's how I relate the traffic here in US terms - so take NYC before the noise ordinances and everyone was nice to each other (lots of horns and craziness right?), then take away about 85% of the cars and replace them with motorbikes, then have the lines only be for aesthetic value (complete free for all), with about 25% of the stop lights gone and another 30% consisting of roundabouts, and you might get kinda close to how it is driving here.
Our first stop with Mr. Tam was the Vietnam War Museum, which I must say was a bit different seeing things from this side, but it was reminiscent of my college class on the war in some ways. We didn't spend too much time inside as a lot of the rooms were on rather distressing subjects and we didn't want to be depressed for the rest of the day. Michael had a blast taking pictures of all of the weapons displays.
Outside they had a bunch of planes, helicopters, and tanks left over from the war on display. While looking at these we were sold a Vietnamese phrasebook by a survivor of the war who didn't have any hands, and even though I thought it was a bit expensive (we paid the amount printed on the cover and I'm such a stickler for buying books used cheaper but it was for a good cause) it has proved to be one of the most useful books ever.
This was a cathedral of some sort I'm assuming was built during France's occupation of Vietnam, but we really have no idea. It was quite the attraction with a fair crowd of tourists taking pictures. We didn't stay too long as we found after the museum that Mr. Tam charged by the hour, so we were on our way to the next stop soon. After the cathedral we were taken to a lacquer shop where they make lacquer boxes and artwork. We didn't take any pictures but it was really neat to see. They would make the most incredible artwork out of burned eggshell (browned to different shades of cream and brown) that was then crushed into small pieces and put together in a mosaic kind of way to make beautiful pieces of art that took months to complete. They were really expensive, but maybe we can get a small one to bring home.
After the lacquer shop we visited a couple of pagodas, which I believe are essentially Buddhist temples or they could be for another religion all together. There was a lot of incense burning everywhere and places for people to write prayers for blessings they wanted to receive. Sometimes they even had animals around like a little turtle pond or a fish pond. I must admit that LED lights don't speak religion to me, but it is popular around here to have some flashing lights behind the different saints or the Buddha statues. On the other hand, the intricate artwork is breathtaking and the dedicated worshipers are very inspiring.
The architecture and detail work at the pagodas was simply amazing though, and we had a good time looking and the buildings.
Here is a photo of me with Mr. Thu inside one of the pagodas. He was nice but the price kept going up when we would talk to him so we had to try hard to talk him into taking us back to the hotel early. We ended up paying him for 3 hours when we were only out 2 or so, but it was still fun and we learned a bit more about how things go with street vendors around here.

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