We caught an in-country flight from Hanoi down to the city, formally known as Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City. It was an evening trip and we were headed just about due south so we were able to watch the sunset right off our right-wing – beautiful! We only spent a few days in the city before catching our bus to Phnom Penh but we were able to see a few sites. Our walking tour took us past the French built city hall which now stands as the backdrop for this statue of the city’s namesake striking a very familiar pose.
As we were making our final approach for landing, music began to play over the plane’s loudspeaker system. It was a song I had never heard before, performed gently by a female singer – surprisingly I thought, in English.
“Tell me all about this name that is difficult to say. It was given me the day I was born. Want to know about the stories of the empire of old. My eyes say more of me than what you dare to say. All I know of you is all the sights of war. A film by Coppola, the helicopter’s roar. One day I’ll touch your soil. One day I’ll finally know your soul. One day I’ll come to you. To say hello – Vietnam.”
There is a Korean proverb that says: Aneun gildo muleogara – which translates something like: Even if you know the way, ask one more time – which means don’t be arrogant in thinking you know everything. Visiting Seoul, even for a few days, is an excellent reminder of this. We hear so much about the Eastern area of Asia in the news of late and almost daily about North Korea that it would be easy to think that we have some idea of what it is like in this region of the world. I suggest that one visit to Seoul will probably change whatever notions you have accumulated.
It happened to be the Korean Chuseok holiday when our ferry docked at Donghae and we spent our first few days in country enjoying very quiet streets as most people were spending time with family. But with the arrival of the weekend and after a couple of hours bus ride north to the coastal city of Sokcho, things picked up a bit.
One week is far too short of time to experience Hong Kong. What an amazingly diverse, beautiful, fun, and friendly place! Whether we were riding the worlds longest outdoor escalator system, hopping a double-decker trolley, or ordering some cuisine unique to Hong Kong, we could not help but feel genuinely welcomed. Navigating the rarely straight streets, seeing the sights, and observing the amalgamation of so many cultures is just plain fun! In addition, the Olympics were on Hong Kong tv’s all over the place. What a great time to be in such an international city! It all felt so, well, international.
The familiar yellow “falling prices” arrow greeted us at the door of the closest Wal-Mart one rainy day. The three Chinese characters used for Wal-Mart are pronounced Wo-er-ma. These characters were only chosen because the sounds they represent approximate the sound of the words Wal-Mart. (If they were literally translated it could mean either “rich like that” or “irrigate you”. Stateside, Wal-Marts are often a culture unto themselves, and we thought visiting one here would be an interesting country to country comparison.The color scheme, sign-age, and layout, initially all felt so familiar. But we did not have to shop long before we noticed little oddities. Not big things at first – not things that made you feel like you were not in the U.S. – no, more just like a slightly alternate dimension. For example: when did Nestle start making Cheerios?
We spent one very fast week in Shanghai, and despite extensive use of the subway and walking eight to ten miles a day, were only able to experience a tiny fraction of the city. Shanghai is an intense mixture of ancient culture and tradition, modern city-ness, western-esque consumerism and 12 million people – of whom all that we interacted with – were really really nice!
We have learned from watching the X-Files that the truth is out there. I would have to catalog this specimen we photographed here in Maine as proof of the alien abduction of bovines for the purpose of hybridization.Alien abduction aside, we have seen little glimpses of spring – it has not decided, yet, to fully settle in. In between the rainy and windy and even snowy days we have seen lawns being mowed, brush piles burning and docks mysteriously migrating from their winter, beached, hibernation out into the lake.We took advantage of one sunny day. It was not as warm as it looked though and I only stayed out a little while. Amber went more prepared and was able to enjoy the lake longer.
Well Amber and I have less than two weeks left of our house sitting gig here in mid-coast Maine. We have had a great time here during our wintertime stay and we did almost every activity available to us during the off-season. The last few weeks have been especially busy as we have been trying to visit all the places we had identified during the winter as things we would want to see in the ever elusive spring. One of our spring weather outings took us to the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse and Fort Preble in Southern Portland. As you know, I never get tired of exploring old coastal forts or a good lighthouse. In addition, since we have become somewhat versed in the local attractions, we have had several opportunities to show visitors some of the area’s best.
In Maine, the fourth Sunday of March is “Maple Sunday”. Sugar houses all over the state open their doors to let anyone who wants to come in and smell the syrup! Since Maple Sunday happened to fall on Easter this year, Rice Farms in Walpole offered an event on Saturday as well. We were able to double our experience by attending events there on Saturday and at Goranson Farm in Dresden on Sunday.