I am currently sitting on the patio of my hotel room on the 5th floor looking out over Ha Long Bay and the bridge, and watching the moon rise above the hills on the opposing shore. I'm just one girl and a bottle of wine short of the most romantic night ever.
This morning we departed for Ha Long bay and I finally realized that when our tour guide says 8am he means wheels rolling at 8am. I always seem to be the last one on the bus.
We headed out through early Hanoi traffic which seemed to flow mostly into the city instead of out, so it wasn't busy. We stopped for tea a long while into the drive and I was delighted to find a lot of art at this shop. There were paintings, mosaics, and sewn images showing traditional Vietnamese scenes, and surprisingly some showing nude female figures. Sexuality and nudity have so far been almost completely absent except mildly in advertisements for mobile phones and karaoke bars. There were a group of kids sewing images by hand into canvases, a lot like cross stitching, and it was nice to see art being made.
We stopped for lunch at a temple that had a gondola to take us to the top of a mountain, except the gondola wasn't running. This was pretty disappointing to many of us. Apparently the lore says that some king left his country behind to come seek enlightenment, then his people followed him and begged him to come back so he did for a while and then left again. He built the temple at the top of the mountain. In modern times the communist Vietnamese government owns both of the temples and doesn't use them for religious purposes at all but rather just to make money off of tourists like me.
We got back in the car and I adored my iPod as a savior from the wailing screams of this bratty little kid that's on the tour. He hits and kicks his parents and screams at the top of his lungs when he doesn't get his way. I'm amazed that his mother lets him get away with it because she seems like a strict type, but then I think he sees through her bluffing threats of discipline. He's a fucking brat though, that's for sure, so the music went up nice and loud. Rock and roll in Vietnam.
We stopped at another temple, this one used for actual religious purposes, and I walked around taking photos of the scenes. I was mildly scolded by a monk for setting foot inside a holy place without taking my sandals off. I photographed 3 monks talking to a girl with a motorcycle helmet on. I heard sounds of welding coming from below a secluded corner of a courtyard and couldn't help thinking that I was supposed to jump off the wall and pick the lock on the gate below, fight the fake monks and find the secret passage down to the nanotech laboratory where evil was being done behind a facade of Buddhism.
I thought twice about that and instead went off to play with some monk kids who surrounded me laughing and saying short english phrases, playing with my arm hair, wrapping their hands around my arms to see how big they were, and patting my fat belly. One of the monks talked in english with me briefly and brought me a book on Buddhism, and then I had to go so the whole group shouted "see you again!" as I ran down the steps of the temple towards the bus, last one in again.
We drove and drove and drove and I listened to louder rock music. Finally we arrived in Ha Long bay opposite its glorious side. We checked into the hotel and I stupidly tried to go make the best of the day. I say stupidly because I was soon drenched in sweat and nearly cheated out of money to use an elevator that goes up to this really beautiful bridge, and later found out that you're not really supposed to go out during the day. Apparently everybody here naps during the day so they can stay up at night when it's cooler, which makes so much sense I never thought an entire society would come to that conclusion.
After showering my sweat away I got a beer and sat in the restaurant mooching wifi. Other than the wifi and chatting with my brother about his meeting me in Thailand on the 26th this was a miserable experience. The beer was warm and the room was hot. I didn't even think to open the windows to let the breeze in until I almost had to go for dinner. Then dinner ended up being in the same room I had been sitting in.
After dinner we went down to the night market. Rows and rows of tables piled with completely worthless shit. Worthless to me anyway. Progressive minimalism and tourism do not see eye to eye when it comes to the importance of physical novelties. I saw a few cool engrish shirts though, so that was cool. The power went out just as I was crossing the bridge to an outdoor techno club on the beach, so I stayed there at the club and had a mango smoothie that cost approximately $1. Lot's of things here cost approximately $1. The music was freakin awesome and I was dissapointed that nobody was dancing, or rather that there was nobody there to dance. The place was empty, so I sat on the beach drinking my smoothie and enjoying the techno by myself, then I began walking home.
A Vietnamese guy approached me and began talking to me in good english, though with poor pronunciation. Vietnamese people are so nice it's almost creepy, like there's some hidden agenda. It makes it hard to guage who you can trust, but this guy and his group of friends were all cool so we walked a while and they took photos with me.
Then I ran into two people on the tour who are Vietnamese people from France. I walked with them, took some photos for them, and they bought me a beer at a stall where we sat and chatted it up with the owner. I barely understood anything they said, but they knew a little english. Charades was part of the game, and that's always fun.
I came home, checked online for some friends, and came upstairs to write in the comfort of my own room rather than in the hotel lobby. So now the moon is higher in the sky, I may have a few additional mosquito bites, and you know probably more details about my day than is really necessary. I'll try to keep it shorter tomorrow...