Onward to Da Nang, but not by train

Onward to Da Nang, but not by train
[Classes began last week, so please accept my apologies for delaying this post.] HANOI, VIETNAM — Now that I had settled on visiting Da Nang, in hopes of finding some warmer weather and an ocean view, the question was how to get there. My first plan was to take the overnight train from Hanoi to Da Nang. With that in mind, I figured lodging at the Mango Hotel (above), which is right next to the Hanoi train station, made sense. It was only about $22 a night and offered free breakfast, and I could walk to it from my Airbnb. Once at the hotel (which is not bad, by the way), I set about finding out how to buy train tickets for a departure two days later. The cost ranged from $40 for a soft seat to $60 for a soft sleeper berth, and the trip would take about 15 to 16 hours. On a lark, I also checked airfares from Hanoi to Da Nang. It was cheaper to fly! Only $36 for a round-trip ticket to Da Nang. So guess what I did. My lodging in Da Nang was another Airbnb within walking distance to My Khe beach. For ...

Some sightseeing in Hanoi — Hoan Kiem Lake 1

Some sightseeing in Hanoi -- Hoan Kiem Lake
HANOI — My days in Hanoi were fairly low key. For one thing, the weather was less than ideal: damp and chilly but for one day. And for two days, I was zoned out with a bad headcold, which required me to work double-time to meet an editing deadline. But once that job was complete, I wanted to do at least one or two touristy things, given that I was smack in the middle of one of Hanoi’s historical districts. The Old Quarter has a history going back several hundred years or more. I took two self-guided walking tours. The first was to West Lake (Hồ Tây), but before I reached it, I spent most of the afternoon in the Vietnam Military History Museum, which was on the way. I’ve already posted a few photos from the museum here. The second was to a smaller lake, Hoàn Kiếm, home to a Confucian temple and surrounded by many restaurants, hotels and shops. The day I visited West Lake was rather dreary, and I have few attractive photos of the area. In fact, having spent most of the afternoon at the museum, I really only got as far as Trúc Bạch Lake, ...

Some street scenes of Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Some street scenes of Hanoi's Old Quarter
Most of my photos of Hanoi were taken while I was walking from my Airbnb to get lunch or go shopping, because I really only visited two tourist sites while I was there. I hope you can get a feel for the Old Quarter of Hanoi from these shots. All photos (with one exception noted above) taken with a Nikon D3300 with Nikkor 18-55 mm kit lens. For this trip, I traveled light, and only brought one additional lens, a manual 50 mm prime, which I did not use for any of these shots.

Reflections at a Hanoi café

Reflections at a Hanoi café
HANOI, VIETNAM — While I was sitting in this little Old Quarter café, hunched over my Windows tablet working on my editing task, familiar music started playing on the stereo — The Beatles, The Doors, The Kinks, The Mamas and the Papas, The Searchers, Little Peggy March — all music that Americans would have listened to back in the 1960s and ’70s. Music that Americans serving in the Vietnam War might have listened to, when they weren’t being shot at or trying to shoot soldiers on the other side. I could have been one of those guys — maybe not in a combat position, given my poor eyesight — but during the early 1970s, as the War seemed never to end, and as my 18th birthday approached, there was a possibility that my number would come up and I’d be sent to Vietnam to serve in the war. Yet, here I was, 44 years later, sitting in a quiet café in the NORTH of Vietnam (formerly enemy territory in wartime), the only foreigner in the building and easily the oldest, listening to American and British music of that era. It was at once poignant and surreal. I wondered if any ...

On the first part of the journey …

On the first part of the journey ...
CHANGSHA, HUNAN — There was football. More about that later, though. I left Zhengzhou on Jan. 25 as a heavy snowstorm was just picking up steam. The snow was so bad that even the high speed CRH trains, which run on schedule 99% of the time, had to slow down or even stop, because of poor visibility and slick trackage. My train to Futian station in Shenzhen would normally have taken seven hours. We arrived four hours later. Second-class ticket: 735.50 yuan ($116). My plan was to stay overnight in Shenzhen anyway, and my flight to Hanoi was in two days, so no big deal. There are many bargain flights out of Hong Kong, and I love Hong Kong, so I spent the second night there. My Jetstar ticket was $180 round trip, including an extra checked baggage fee. I stayed in a guest house near Causeway Bay for $65. My Shenzhen hotel near Futian train station was $60. [I’ve blogged about visiting Hong Kong before, but briefly, you can walk from Shenzhen’s Futian checkpoint to the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, passing through two immigration and customs control points. That takes about an ...

Happy Year of the Dog!

Happy Year of the Dog!
GUANGZHOU — It is now the first day of the Year of Dog, a suitable time to update everyone on my winter travels. I have just returned to China from Vietnam, where I stayed a little more than a week each in Hanoi and Da Nang. Now, I’m the middle of another week hopping from one place to another to see old friends before I head back to Zhengzhou. Here’s the itinerary, keyed to the map above. 1. Zhengzhou, Henan, China, where I currently work 2. Hong Kong (with a brief stay in Shenzhen) 3. Hanoi, Vietnam 4. Da Nang 5. Hanoi again 6. Hong Kong again 7. Guangzhou, Guangdong 8. Kunming, Yunnan (to reunite with a friend from Jishou U) 9. Changde, Hunan (for a former student’s wedding party) 10. Jishou (because I miss it) and then probably back to Zhengzhou via Changsha, unless I decide to squeeze in another place first. As I mentioned last time, this holiday trip turned into a working vacation when a former colleague asked me to proofread and edit an English translation of a book by a Chinese writer — for pay. Once I finished that, they offered another job, also for pay. ...

It’s a working vacation in Vietnam

It's a working vacation in Vietnam
DA NANG, VIETNAM – As usual, I have waited more than a week to write something about my latest journey. Seems to be a habit of mine. This particular trip has turned into a working vacation, which though fairly lucrative, has cut into my free time somewhat. A few days before I was going to leave Zhengzhou, a former colleague from Jishou University asked if I could proofread and edit a translation they had prepared of a book by a Chinese author. (I cannot reveal who the author is, or the title of the book.) She asked if I could finish it in five days, and I had to explain I was leaving in three for Hong Kong and then Vietnam. So, we agreed on a five-day extension. It was 198 pages long. Everything was going along swimmingly, until I caught a nasty head cold in Hanoi, which rendered me useless for two days. But I managed to process the book by the agreed deadline, and collected the other half of my fees. Then they offered me another job – 191 pages this time, but by the same author. What the hell, I figured. Nothing like earning money to defray ...

Int’l arbitration court rules against China’s expansive claims to So. China Sea

Int'l arbitration court rules against China's expansive claims to So. China Sea
China’s claim to a vast portion of the South China Sea is invalid and it has encroached on the sovereignty of the the Philippines, a United Nations court ruled today. The ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague is a sharp rebuke of China, which has aggressively expanded its presence in the South China Sea against the objections of neighboring countries. China earlier had asserted it would not recognize or abide by the court’s ruling, claiming the court had no jurisdiction. But the decision is a serious blow to China’s “face” in the region, and it remains to be seen how the Beijing government will react. Government officials called the decision “ill founded.” And social media users in China were decrying the Hague’s decision within minutes of the announcement — no doubt republishing government-supplied responses. Here are two examples from my WeChat feed, translated by WeChat’s built-in app. Further reading: BBC The Washington Post South China Morning Post

Chinese-made ‘grandpa’ cartoon addresses territorial disputes in So. China Sea

Chinese-made 'grandpa' cartoon addresses territorial disputes in So. China Sea
JISHOU, HUNAN — In an effort to convince the wider world that China has an expansive territorial claim to a large portion of the South China Sea, the People’s Daily has released a three-minute cartoon history lesson that is sure to convince the United Nations tribunal considering those claims. A decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected on Tuesday, but China has announced it intends to ignore the court’s decision. So there. Entitled “Grandpa Tells a Story,” the wise grandpa tells his inquisitive granddaughter the history of China and its long-standing claim to the South China Sea and especially to islands just off the coasts of four other nations, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. (See map above.) Taiwan also has overlapping claims with China in the area. First, he tells her Chinese fishermen were the first to discover the Spratly Islands 2,000 years ago, during the Han Dynasty. They found them with the help of magnetic compasses, which the Chinese just so happened to invent. Apparently, other fishermen in the area were clueless. Then, sailors during the Yuan Dynasty explored the South China Sea. Six hundred years ago, the navigator Zheng He (sailing in ...

The little girl in the photo, 38 years later

This photograph, taken by Vietnamese photog Nick Ut for the Associated Press, has been called the iconic photo of the Vietnam War. I remember seeing it in the newspapers when I was in high school, and the image is still stored away somewhere in my brain. Ut snapped it as children fled their Napalmed village, Bang Trang, on July 8, 1972. The little girl in the center is Kim Phuc, who was nine years old at the time. The Napalm had burned off all her clothes and left her with horrible burns over half her body. Ut and a film crew for ITN, the British TV network, saved Phuc’s life, twice. First, they doused her with water and rushed her to a British hospital. Then the ITN crew arranged for her to be transferred to a US hospital for further treatment. Since then, Phuc, now 47, has enjoyed periods of anonymity and suffered from the glare of publicity. The Vietnamese government used her as a “poster child” for the war while she was a young woman, against her wishes. She was able to attend university in Cuba, where she married a fellow Viet student. On their way to Moscow for ...
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