Ha Long Bay

First of all, I want to call the attention of all those who read these words to what is happening in Turkey and in Brasil, and declare that I fully support the protests and demands they make, and would be myself very happy to join them in the streets of Istanbul or São Paulo. Turkish and Brasilian friends; do not forget this feeling. Do not forget this power we all have. Let's organize and create a better world, because the current one is mostly a big load of crap.

If you don't know what is happening in those countries, please stop reading this and look it up, as those events are more important than what I did last week in Vietnam.

Now, on with the Travelogue.

This week in Hanoi was great fun. I explored the city a bit further, found some great bars and even an excellent Jam Session - Hanoi Rock City. I played the hell out of their drum kit (with a double bass pedal, for which I was so thankful), until the session leader (some US or Canada dude) asked me to play Michael Jackson with them. I thought that was a good moment to leave the stage.

I met some strange and interesting people these days; a French expat who owns a great bar, a British toyboy to an elder, empowered, westernized, rich and vulgar Vietnamese woman (a remarkable exception among the 'marry as a virgin' majority of -probably not really so- shy Vietnamese ladies), and a plethora of locals who wanted to practice their English.

On the weekend, however, I went to Ha Long Bay.

In this UNESCO heritage site, tourist activity is intense. The bay is quite beautiful, but failed to impress me as 'the most beautiful place in Vietnam', as I heard some people say. I experienced the same feeling as in Angkor Wat; it seemed like I was looking at nothing but (very) pretty rocks.

In the morning, rain struck hard, so we had to postpone the trip to the afternoon. Which was great, as I don't like doing anything in the morning. When the weather was good enough, we enjoyed a tour of the bay and caves, which were interesting, but I ended up taking a nap on the boat after a while.

I avoided the biggest traps (I hope) by travelling with locals, of course, but even then, vulgar capitalism slapped me in the face time and again.

No collective music in the city and beaches, and no communist spirit to be found, only good old money-making greed. Private beaches in a country that hangs The Hammer and Sickle flag everywhere makes no sense at all. Upon being denied free access to a certain beach, I tried to find some path that could lead me to the sand, but all was blocked everywhere, and unless you pay 200.000 VD, no beach for you. While exploring the area, I chanced upon a motorbike driver who introduced himself as "Captain Cheap-Cheap", and offered to take us on his boat for dinner and swimming for 1.000.000 VD. We refused, decided to head back home and enjoy some swimming at a different beach the next day.

That we did, and though it was a decent beach, it is not comparable to Da Nang at all. After a nice swim, I joined my friends, who were sitting on chairs under beach umbrellas. A young man came to take my order, but I thought it was too expensive and declined his offer. He said something in Vietnamese and left. A few moments later, we took off, but the fellow and some more Vietnamese youths came after us, saying we should pay 40.000 VD for sitting on their chairs.
I am outraged by people charging for a seat and shade anywhere in the world, as I have been in Brasil, Italy and wherever else people try to charge me for urinating, seating down or enjoying shade. Those things I refuse to pay for. A man should have the right to enjoy these simple pleasures without having to pay for it. But to have this done to me in a country controlled by The Communist Party makes me raving mad. We were also charged when using an elevator to access a bridge later that day. That is not what Uncle Ho lived and died for.

Staying at a local's place and sharing these (and other) experiences with them was alright, and all in all I can say it was not a bad trip. I tried several local dishes, but nothing really exceptional or eccentric. The greatest lesson learned is that, unfortunately, there are some places and situations in Vietnam in which they fail to live up to my expectations (which were quite romantic and idealistic). The police bribery system (which didn't fall upon me, but was quite evident in people's complaints), the women abuse, despite the deep respect most men have for most women (I heard a lot of stories of young, long haired beauties being kidnapped and sold...), and some other difficulties have become the plague of this country, and consumerism has arrived here as well. That is not to say that they haven't surpassed many other expecations; in areas where I expected to find ignorance and negative outcomes, I was greeted with intelligence, culture, modernity and open mindedness beyond my most optimistic ideas of this country. It certainly is far from being perfect and has its own (many) vices and faults, but it has a lot to teach, in my opinion. Lessons that perhaps the Brasilians and Turks can draw upon now, to organize, fight and win some rights, without forgetting that after these rights are won or lost, you must choose carefully what you do with them.

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