Thursday, September 25, 2008

Xe May Update 2

When we last left our hero he was just getting the hang of motoring around town on his new scooter only to be rudely interrupted by an unexpected mechanical failure. After getting the bike back to our apartment via the Vietnamese "Towing" service the appropriate call was made to the Vitamin lady and the next day was set for the repair. Woke up early the next morning expecting to take the bike to a "shop," as instructed the night before, but it turns out that Vitamin lady's husband decides not to do that rather he will send someone directly over to our place to fix the bike on location. Unfortunately, like with many things here in Viet Nam this involves a time frame of "sometime in the afternoon or early evening." It turns out that the man calls right in the middle of lunch and will be over in 15 minutes. Luckily Huyen and I had decided to eat close by our apartment so this is no problem. We roll the bike out on to the street and wait. Me for the repair guy, Huyen for her friend so they can split a cab back to work.
The very stern looking Anh Tuy pulls up on his Honda Dream a small basket of tools in basket over the front wheel. Huyen goes through a small list of over minor problems, kickstand spring loose, gear shift lever bent, etc. . . , but Anh Tuy just goes over how to shift the scooter through it's gears once again, and then after trying to kick start the bike a few times proceeds to remove the spark plug. Huyen's ride shows up as Anh Tuy, having determined the spark plug is innocent, removes the battery from the bike. Using the small voltage meter to determine whether or not the battery is alive I fill up the time snapping photos of this small mechanical procedure. Battery checks out, so Anh Tuy digs a bit deeper into the bikes body and pulls out another electrical device. This turn out to be the offending part and Anh Tuy explains to me that even though the IC (I don't really know what this part is or does) has made in Thailand stamped on the side, it's really made in China and of crappy quality. I ask if he can purchase a good Thai one for me and he tells me to wait for a few minutes while he does just that. Back with an equally sketchy looking (which is why it's a good thing I did not go to try and buy the thing myself, cause they both look equally used, old, and Thai to me) IC which he clicks into place, and then with the scooter's "guts" still hanging out, he kick starts the bike again. It roars (I explained to Huyen a few days earlier that our Super Cub is like the Harley of motor-scooters cause it's engine is so loud and obnoxious, esp. given it's size and lack of power) I smile and give the thumbs up and then ask him about the other minor problems. With a pair of pliers he bends things back into place and with that he is done. How much for the house-call? 120,000 Vietnamese Dong or $7.25 US. Not bad for such stern and determined service, plus I now know to look out for fake Thai parts now. I pay him 30,000 extra for coming by, as instructed by Huyen, which at first he tries to give back thinking I do not understand, but then happily accepts after I tell him it's extra. With a "You speak great Vietnamese" (amazing the flattery $1.85 will but you) he's off again on his Honda Dream. I grab my bag and jump on the Cub, kicking it to life on just the second try. A successful first outing to buy some Thit Bo Kho (dried beef) in the Old Quarter and a stop at the supermarket by the lake and me and the Cub are back in business. . .Watch out Ha Noi!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Xe May update . . .

After two and a half days on the roads driving my new ride I was doing much better, though I still look like I've taken a shower when I take my helmet off from all the perspiration. One particularly embarrassing moment on Saturday on the way to a art gallery I passed a woman on a bicycle on the way up a hill to one of Ha Noi many diabolical traffic circles. I was feeling pretty good shifting smoothly from first to second, but I all the oncoming traffic was a bit too intimidating for me to merge correctly and I stalled out near the top of the hill. By the time I got restarted and managed to navigate my way through the traffic circle on to the main road I got to pass that woman on the bicycle again several hundred yards down the road already. It was only my second night . . . . . A couple of close calls, but that's par for the course here in Viet Nam. Overall though, my shifting was less clunky, and my choice of gears was getting better too. Accelerating more smoothly with quite a bit less herky-jerkiness. I was managing not only to avoid other moving vehicles and pedestrians but the many bumps in the road as well, for which our future children will be forever grateful. I was even "Lai xe nhu mot dan ong Viet Nam," (Driving like a Vietnamese guy) Huyen remarked after one particularly smooth outing. Stopping in the shade to avoid the sunlight (Keeping us out of the heat of course, but also serving the secondary, but no less important function of keeping her skin nice and white.) As well as, getting a little jump at the lights like everyone else so I wasn't left in the dust of everybody else, including bicycles. Nice.
Monday afternoon, having managed my first solo ride with aplomb (Huyen called me 15 minutes after I dropped her off to make sure I was alive,) I was feeling pretty damn good. That's just about the right time for the Gods of humility to step in to take you down a notch. On the way back from a late lunch we noticed a weird popping sound as we had started the bike but it started so away we went. Unfortunately, all was not well and about halfway to Huyen's office the engine started to cut out. After a few more yards we lurch to a stop. I'm not too concerned, as with many things as Retro chic as my Honda Super Cub (It's almost as old as I am,) one cannot expect flawless operation. Huyen jumps off, I shift it into neutral and try several times to kick start the bike checking thrice to make sure I am indeed in neutral. Huyen jumps back on and does the same with the exact same result. Nothing. Remembering that we don't have a fuel gauge we lift the seat and unscrew the cap to see half a tank of gas sloshing around. Well that exhausted my extensive mechanical knowledge, so I step back and look as authoritative as possible while Huyen looks to see if there are any obvious lose connections. Luckily (and unluckily in Viet Nam) nothing goes unnoticed, so the xe om guy across the street comes over and he tries to kick start the bike. Nothing. He checks the gas. Still half empty, in this case, and then an old woman from the shop we are standing in front of offers her opinion. Huyen, the xe om driver, and the old woman chat for a moment while I sweat and uh, supervise. The xe om driver disappears across the street and just as quickly reappears with a small oil rag in which is wrapped a few tools and a spark plug. He proceeds to quickly replace our plug and tries to restart the bike again. No luck. At this point it is decided the bike cannot be fixed here on the street and we pay the guy 20,000 VND ($1.33) for his efforts and try and decide what to do. Leave the bike here, call a minivan, hire two xe om guys to take the bike back to our apartment. It's getting late and Huyen needs to get to work. We call the same xe om guy over and after a quick discussion it's decided we don't need two xe om guys. I can take the bike back with our helpful xe om guy.
Every cloud has a silver lining, and in the case of my new ride breaking down, a first in itself, I also got to do something I never thought I'd get to do. If you spend enough time in Viet Nam you'll notice any number of vehicles, from bicycles to heavy laden motorbikes being pushed along by another motorbike. The reason for this might be to speed up in the case of a bicycle, help with a heavily loaded cyclo, or, as in my case, an engine failure. I seen this somewhat sketchy operation innumerable times, but I never thought I'd be taking part, but with Huyen not available for this little circus act and with the xe om guy confidently telling me to jump on my scooter, I decided to go for it. Wheeling the bike around to head back home I clip my helmet strap together and feel an abrupt nudge at the rear of the bike. Starting out is a bit dodgy as I forget that I still need to steer the bike while the xe om guy uses first his right leg on the rear passenger peg to propel us along. We mange to cross over to the slow (slower) side of the street and he crosses behind me he and switches to his left hand on the metal rack (aka Huyen's seat) as we get up to speed. Just like my first few times out on the road we are traveling slow enough to get through almost all the lights perfectly, only having to stop once, which was great since it's a pain to get going again. 15 minutes later we roll up in front of our apartment no worse for wear, another first in my many first time experiences in Viet Nam. Mr. Xe Om happily takes the 50K VND I offer and races away at full speed as I wheel the bike down our apartments hallway to it's parking space. Huyen calls to ask if I made it home alright and tell me that we would not get the bike fixed until the next morning (as well as that I'd paid the xe om guy too much ;) "No problem" I said walking back out the front door of our apartment and down the street. Joining the flow of traffic on Ha Noi's bustling streets once again . . . as a pedestrian.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Xe May!

Well it finally happened. After 9 trips and over 15 months total spent in Viet Nam I finally got a motorbike, well, scooter really. The terribly retro chic, Honda Super Cub ( It's only got a 50 cc engine, so I really can't call it a motorbike, but it's a mechanized vehicle, so it's a big step forward for me. Last Friday Huyen excitedly called me, exclaiming that our new bike would be ready that evening. Three days ahead of schedule. I was really excited too, ever since we had talked about me getting a bike during my previous trip in May I had been looking forward to finally making the leap from taxi's, xe om's ("Honda Hugs" guys on the street corner who you pay to take you places,) and most "manly" of all, having Huyen drive me around on her motorbike (a proper motorbike, fast, solid, silver Japanese engineering. ) However, faced with the reality of getting an actual motorbike in a mere 6-7 hours, I was also more than a bit nervous. Having been mentally scarred by my first experience with motorbikes back in 1993 (A classmate of mine, Kerry, had borrowed a friend's bike and had it parked in front of our 4 story classroom building. During on of our regular breaks she offered to let me try it out. "Sure, why not? How hard could it be. . . In font of all the other students, Americans, Japanese, Korean, English, etc. I quickly mounted the bike, hit the electric starter, took it out of neutral, and accelerated forward. Just a bit faster than I liked, but instead of grabbing the break lever I managed to twist my wrist and the bike shot out from under me and I fell flat on my face. The riderless back crashed down on it's side about ten feet in front of me destroying the driver's side mirror and scratching up the side of the bike a bit. Needless to say, Kerry was a bit upset, not only because I damaged her friends bike, but also because she was quite attracted to this particular friend. Well, the mirror was replaced and all was forgiven [though no love connection was made. . . ] but the memory remained.) I was really worried that I might hurt myself, or worse, Huyen or some other innocent Vietnamese person who happened to cross the path of my 50 cc's of moving metal and plastic.
My phone rang again, about an hour earlier than I had expected. Huyen says Kim Anh (the vitamin lady's) husband has my bike and is waiting for me over by the Fivimart (one of Ha Noi's more popular supermarkets,) so get over there as soon as possible and she'll meet me there. I throw my shirt on and head downstairs, out the street and to the corner where I grab Thien, one of the friendly xe om guys who hangs out on our corner, and were off in the middle of rush hour to see a man about a bike. Turns out he's not at the Fivimart, but at Huyen's former, and Kim Anh's current workplace, Regus. So I walk the two blocks back to the office building, but no Super Cub or husband in site. Then a man on an old Vespa pulls up asks if waiting for a someone with a Honda Super Cub (Luckily, there are still few enough Westerns around that we still stick out.) "Yes. I am that guy!" The man informs me that he is Kim Anh's husbands brother and that his brother has gone to "fill 'er up" and should be back momentarily. Which he is, about 5 minutes later. Out of the traffic, in the falling evening light, my Super Cub appears. It looks completely new (they repainted it and rebuilt the engine.) Retro and beautiful. Exactly what I had in mind. In faltering English (his) and faltering Vietnamese (mine) he goes over all the of the bike's basic operations. Front brake lever on the right along with the turn signals. Rear brake at my right foot along with the old fashioned kick starter. The foot lever on the left shifts the three gears up and down. Horn and lights on the left side of the handlebar. And in the center of the steering column is a simple speed-o-meter, odometer, one green light (to left me know I'm in neutral,) and one orangish light to indicate I have one of the turn signals selected. The one thing I notice is missing is a fuel tank gauge. He smiles and lefts the hinged seat revealing a small gas cap, which he quickly unscrews. "No problem, just look in" he says gesturing to the petrol sloshing around inside. Seems easy enough. Huyen has not shown up yet so I ask him a few questions about his vintage Vespa and then dig out the 500,000 VND ($30.21 USD) that Huyen had negotiated for the monthly rental. He smiles and refuses saying that he can't accept the money because of the vitamins I had brought over for his children. Just then I see a tiny Van Xuan taxi coming through the intersection and know that it must be Huyen. She's adamant about taking Van Xuan, they are the cheapest and most reliable in Ha Noi. . . Not sure if he was unsure about his English or my Vietnamese (or maybe I just look like completely clueless,) but he goes over the entire bike again with Huyen, who of course, ask some more insightful questions. Huyen jumps on the bike and takes it off the sidewalk in a tight circle on the street and then back. Confident everything is in working order Kim Anh's husband jumps on the back of his brother's Vespa and they zip off to dinner.
The moment of truth. Huyen asks if I can take us home. Well. . . .this is not what I had had in mind. It's dark now. There are still a ton of people on the street. And we are a good 10 minutes from home. The week before we had scoped out a place right in front of Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum that is wide, smooth, and most importantly, not busy. We saw some people practicing driving there and I leaned forward over Huyen's shoulder and said to Huyen that I thought that might be a good spot for my maiden voyage. She agreed then, but here in front of the Regus office on a dark rush hour street she may have forgotten my idea from the week earlier. The challenge has been thrown down, however unintentionally, and as much as I'd like to, I gotta step up. I step over to the bike and lean it upright off it's kick-stand. Straddling the beast I lean down over to the left of the steering column and turn the key in the very inconveniently placed ignition switch. The green light indicating neutral blinks on which means I'm good to go. Huyen has jumped on the back of the bike on the metal rack behind the seat which she swears she doesn't mind riding on (she used to ride in the same place on her father's super cub, but I don't think I'll ever try the passenger "seat" since I still want to have kids.) I place my foot on the kick-start and kick down. Naturally my foot slips off the first few times, and then when I finally manage to keep my foot on the kick-start nothing is starting except the perspiration on my fore-head. Huyen gently reminds me that I need to give it a little gas at the same time I kick the start. Of course. The next kick and the engine roars, like a over powered lawn-mower, to life. Grabbing the brake lever firmly, in order to avoid repeating my past mistakes, I shift the bike into first gear and non intuitively, the green light goes off meaning we are good to go. I angle the bike off the sidewalk and onto the street using the entire width of the street in order to turn the bike 180 degrees and in the wrong direction. It's not that I did not know where to go, it's just that the big traffic circle (described in my early blog entry) just looked too intimidating. So, it's down the distinctly less busy street puttering away from our apartment as other motorbikes and bicycles going flying past for a few blocks until Huyen encourages me to turn right. We roll over a few of Ha Noi's infrequent speed bumps and then another right onto the very large street that runs parallel to the Red River. I hug the sidewalk as huge trucks and buses roar past and finally another turn and we are back on track heading towards the traffic circle. "Slowly, slowly" Huyen yells from behind me though I don't think I can go any slower without falling over. I enter the circle as a bunch of bikes race toward me from the left and a few more merging in from the right. A bunch of the traffic is trying to cut across my path and I slow down even further to give them clear passage. Luckily, as with pedestrians, the other vehicles just find their way around me and as quickly as they enter the intersection they are gone and I have a clear path. I awkwardly shift the bike into second gear and we lurch forward to Trang Tien street. I pass the crowds of locals spilling out onto street in front of the ever popular Kem Trang Tien (Ice cream shop) and just like that I'm at the bottom Ha Noi's central Lake. A slow left turn on to Ba Trieu and I'm on a busy but mercifully one way street. The good thing about me driving so slow is that I manage to not have to stop at any of the lights, so while the locals race from one intersection to the next, I putter smoothly through each of them far behind the pack. One more harrowing turn to the left off of Ba Trieu and all that's left is a right turn on to our small street, Trieu Viet Vuong. I avoid a few pedestrians and just like that we are home. As I swerve towards the narrow ramp that will take us up onto the sidewalk Huyen wisely slips off the still moving bike. I quickly realize I'm going a bit too fast so I grab the breaks and jerk to a halting stop in front of the ramp. Huyen walks up and reaches down to turn off the bike and then tells me to downshift into neutral. Of course she's gotta help me (basically do it herself) woman-handle the bike the two ramps down our apartments hallway to our parking spot. All in all an thoroughly ugly and shameful display, but in the words of Sean Connery in the "Untouchables." I have fulfilled the first rule of police work (and motorbike riding.) I made it home alive at the end of the day. . .

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Change. . .

Contrary to what some people might tell you, walking across the street in Viet Nam is not a matter of closing your eyes, hoping for the best, and stepping out in front of the oncoming traffic. Nope, getting across the streets here requires a bit more subtly than that. I was crossing the street, streets really, as the area in front of the Opera House in Ha Noi is a big traffic circle where 6 streets meet one another (see link on the left for a map view,) when I started to think about change. Much like the conventional wisdom would have you do, I strode confidently off the sidewalk of Phan Chu Trinh on my way to the far opposite corner where Ly Thai To street begins. All the traffic on Phan Chu Trinh runs one way and I was walking across the street at a 45 degree angle with the traffic coming at me from behind. No sooner had I gotten to near the center of the intersection than I had to stop. Unlike motorbikes/scooters that make up 90% of the traffic on the road, and will 99% of the time simply maneuver around you, buses and trucks do not. So as the line of buses and trucks came streaming at me from 4 different directions, I had to stop a moment and change direction, walking away from my final destination. The one thing buses and trucks do stop for is another bus or truck. With two vehicles of equal size it's just a matter of who gets there first. This inevitably involves speeding up and then quickly slowing down if you are not going to win the race to the intersection. As the winning bus goes lumbering by an arms length away the other newly stationary bus allows all the motorbikes, cars, and pedestrians like me an opportunity to make our move. I quickly turn back left onto my original heading, all the motorbikes who had also slowed down to see which of the buses would yield, buzz by me and the line of cars accelerate past before the losing bus can get back into gear and alter the flow of traffic once again. Stepping on to the sidewalk I make my way through dozens of bikes parked neatly on the street into lovely air condition offices of Huyen's former employer, Regus Business Service Center at 63 Ly Thai To Street.

Mrs. Kim Anh was waiting in the reception area for me, and I hand over the heavy plastic bag. With a quick thank you and your welcome, I'm back outside in half the time it took me to cross the street. I stop for a moment still enjoying the full blast of the air conditioning flowing out of the sliding doors of the office buildings lobby. How many times did I have to change my path in order to get across the street? 5, 6 times maybe. . . slowing down, stopping, turning left, turning right, and then a quick trot to cover the last few meters. Change is part of life of course, from my path across the street to my 4 month relocation to Viet Nam. Not that I didn't deal with change everyday in my life back in the States. To the contrary, I dealt with hundreds of little changes everyday. Change the schedule. Change the story. Change the sequence order. change the shot numbers. Change the audio breaks. Change the concept. Change the dialog. Change the timing. Change artist. Change the camera. Change my dinner. Change the time I walk to the gym. Change my clothes. Etc. . . . . . Somehow all these little changes become so routine, salad with balsamic dressing instead of Italian tonight, pan the camera in instead of dolly, head to the gym at 7:30 instead of 8 pm, that it was easy to lose my ability to appreciate them.

That's why I love coming to Viet Nam so much. It's always changing my perspective on life. Whether it be my first visit in 1993, as I struggled to deal with my survivors guilt spending three days with a destitute street kid. No parents, no school, poor health, and beaten up just a few days before by some other kids for what must have been the few dollars in his possession. Those were some of the toughest and best days I have spent on this planet. The kind of mirror that only the Ghost of Christmas Present holds up in fairy tales, and not one that most of us are lucky enough to get to look into. Or my sixth trip, when my whole idea of what love could be was changed when I sat down to a historical skillet of Ha Noi's famous fish dish, cha ca, across from Ms. Lai Thanh Huyen. Or my ninth trip when a very official and difficult meeting between two families brought me closer together with my mother than I ever been. Or this tenth trip. When just yesterday, on the sixth floor of a 40 year old building (see photo,) in her half empty one room studio, beyond all our expectations, Huyen's parent's accepted me and my family into their family in such a generous and loving way that I ended up in a heartfelt embrace with her father in a way I thought I might never be able to, let alone a mere 7 days after I arrived. All these changes every time I come here, hard and easy, painful and wonderful, big and small, important and trivial, and so I keep coming.

What was in that plastic bag I handed over to Mrs. Kim Anh? A $40 gift of Gummy Bear vitamins to a woman I have never met, who is no longer even Huyen's colleague. Turns out her husband buys and fixes up Honda Super Cubs. The perfect motorbike for a novice like me, light, not too powerful, and brakes and throttle all on the right side of the handlebars. Just a little gesture of good will in the form of Gummy Bears vitamins for their kids to make sure I get a nice bike in good working order with a nice (non pink) color. Change the way you do business ;) It's all these changes, that add up to make a life. If you close your eyes and step out in front of traffic here you are just as likely to get hit by that winning bus as you are to make it to your final destination. So, I open my eyes, stop, slow down, turn left, turn right, and a final little burst of speed to get to the other side. Smile and appreciate all the little changes that make that possible. . .

Friday, September 5, 2008

First Post. . .

Hi All,

OK Everybody I'm going to give the blog thing a shot and see if I can think of something interesting enough to write and/or photograph on a regular basis to keep you all interested while I spend the next four months in Ha Noi, Viet Nam.

Well, I made it to Viet Nam safe and sound. Somehow I managed to sleep a good 8 of the 13 hours of flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong. The new seat on the Cathay Pacific 747's are, like Nhat said, since he just flew the same flight on his way to and from Beijing, slightly more comfortable than the old ones. Definitely better for the person sitting behind you, as the seats do not fold back, rather slide forward. That way you don't end up trying to eat your meals with the person in front of you fully reclined giving you that awkward 45 degree angle of entry to your tray of food. Hate that! I'm sure the person behind was happy about those seats, since I ended up sleeping through two of the three meal services.

Got into Hong Kong bright and early, 6:10 am, with two and a half hours to kill, and made a beeline for the food court since I had not eaten for nearly 10 hours! Thank God Asian airports, on a whole, are like the rest of the countries they are located, in that, food is everywhere and for the most part good and cheap. Over a dozen places in the food court alone and dozens of other spread throughout the terminal. I ended up with a bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen from the Japanese chain Ajisen (, mainly because the HK places had big queues and as I mentioned, I was STARVING! Happily sated I headed to the gate to join all the Vietnamese (listening to Dance Music remixes on their cell phones) and Europeans (cool architectural eye-glasses and colorful backpacks) waiting for the plane to take us to Ha Noi.

Now that my stomach is full I focus on the task at hand, getting to Ha Noi and spending time with my lady, and being only hour and a half away I am starting to get excited. Unfortunately, the Viet Nam Airlines Airbus 321 left engine has different ideas, and after making it all the way to the end of the runway . . . we slowly turn back the way we came as the head flight attendant announces that we are heading back to the gate because of a "Technical problem." AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Another 30 minutes on the plane at the gate (satellite gate) before the buses are summoned and we are herded back to the terminal. The new departure time is estimated at 11:30 AM, but I am skeptical, however, my skepticism is mitigated by a $40 HK voucher for our troubles. I quickly jump online to call Huyen to tell her about the delay, but I'm too late as she is already in a cab 1/3 of the way to airport. Bummer. . . three hours waiting for me in the decidedly less tasty Noi Bai airport. My only advice, stay away from the hot dogs! Though I am disappointed that Huyen and my reunion will be delayed another two and a half hours I make another reunion with a bowl of shrimp won ton and HK milk tea up at the food court. Back at the gate I only wait five minutes before we are back on the bus heading towards the plane sitting out on the ever muggier tarmac. It's like deja vu on board, except that the scary looking German guy who was seated in the aisle seat next to me is gone. After we had left the plane the first time and everybody bum rushed the desk at the gate to get their vouchers I saw him gesturing with sternly pointed finger at his ticket as the three poor gate attendants tried to calm him down. All I caught was " . . . I vill not get back on zat plane!" Can't say I missed him, he had that 1970's Baader Meinhof ( look to him, save the waist band of his fashionable Diesel underwear just visible because of his low riding super tight black jeans. Would have taken a picture, as he was that, uh . . . unique looking, but I was too scared he might catch me, and then who knows what. Not that I'm saying his bad juju was to blame, but as soon as we were all on board we taxied quickly down the run-way and were off with out a hitch. . .

The small flip down screens on the Viet Nam airlines Airbus 321 were lowered almost immediately after we took off. Not for in-flight entertainment, but for in-flight progress tracked through a very video game like set of animated views. I stared hypnotically up at the screen, first at the very basic flat map view, here's HK, where you just left, and there is Ha Noi, where you are headed. Then to a approximation of what the pilot sees view (very flight simulator like.) And finally to the most interesting of the three. Starting out just off the front of the plane on the co-pilot's side, the camera then does a slow 170 degree spin to end up behind and slightly above the plane with a virtual flight path extending out in front of the plane and Ha Noi far off in the distance. This view then does a power of 10 sort of thing (shout out to Dave Murphy,) stepping back further and further away until the "slightly" out of scale plane is covering most of Southern China in a view that encompasses the whole world. OK, all of this is not very interesting (except that it kept me pre-occupied as I had already read the VN airlines magazine twice,) but what was a bit interesting is the route we took. Not a straight as the crow flies route over the South China Sea, across the infamous Gulf of Tonkin, and then straight into Ha Noi, but a route skimming the coast of Southern China, then a bit of a turn to the North just past Nanning, and finally a 45 degree turn to left above Northern Viet Nam and down to Ha Noi. Wonder what that was all about, and a bit put out as it must have added another 15 to 20 minutes between me and my ultimate destination. Mercifully we are quickly into our descent as my excitement grows every moment as I recognize the Red River Delta countryside open up below me in the seemingly always partially cloudy Northern Viet Nam sky. I dig my "Viet Nam" cell phone out of my bag, and place finger on the power button as our juju-less plane gracefully sets down on Noi Bai's bumpy runway. . . "Hello! Em Oiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii"

1.) Ajisen Ramen.
2.) Table with a view HKIA
3.) . . . bowl no.2
4.) Made it!
5.) She's out there Somewhere!