Monday, March 7, 2016

Da Nang, Vietnam (Day 2)

Monday March 7, 2016

Today was our second day in Da Nang, a city of more than a million people. Our port is on the outskirts of the city to the south and everything that we have wanted to see is north of the city thus necessitating some long bus drives. Today was no exception. We got up early (6:30) and had breakfast in the room before boarding the bus at 7:30.

Ready to begin

Our tour was entitled something like "My Son and Cham Heritage" which it turned out was a totally appropriate name but not knowing either "My Son" or "Cham" prior to the tour, frankly I didn't know what to expect. Turns out My Son is the holy city of the Cham people who  dominated central Vietnam for nearly a thousand years. Some 150 thousand Cham still live in Vietnam today. However they as a people originated in India and therefore were/are Hindu. Consequently, the site at My Son, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999, consists of seventy Hindu temples constructed between the 7th and the 13th centuries. These had been preceded by 4th-6th century wooden temples that burned down. The replacement temples were built of brick and sandstone. They are now in varying states of decay due to the weather (quite hot and humid with tremendous rainstorms) and bombing during Vietnam War (the Vietcong used the area as a hideout). Even so, you can still go inside some of the buildings.

Entrance to My Son
Approaching the ruins
Arriving at the ruins

Our drive was nearly two hours long and once again consisted of much "preventative honking" and abundant sightings of women on motorbikes completely covered from head to toe (including gloves, surgical mask and usually sunglasses) all in an attempt to avoid having the sun darken their
 skin. They look like renegade mummies. Strange. I also noticed that nobody seems to come to a complete stop very often at intersections in Vietnam. Instead they slide right into the intersection and then sort of figure out from there. It's different, I can tell you that.

Keep in mind that it's warm here!

Subsistence rice farming and animal husbandry seemed to be the primary activity of the locals. We also saw massive Chinese-style "bonsai" (that is containerized/miniaturized trees). The Chinese style of this art involves miniaturizing trees but not nearly to the extent that they do in Japan. The Chinese "bonsai" are usually big enough to require a fork lift to move. Still they are often done with great artistry and do indeed look like miniature trees or landscapes. I like them very much. You just have to get used to a different scale than with Japanese bonsai.

Chinese style bonsai

Our guide had a real deadpan manner and a soft voice. Most of the time it was hard to hear him. Plus he never made eye contact with me which I couldn't decide was a cultural thing or a personal thing. Hardly matters now. 

It was hot and humid at the ruins and they were crowded. Having said that, I am sure it was neither as hot nor as crowded as it can be. Still, it was annoying to witness visitors posing for new "profile pics" while draping themselves on ancient religious relics. Plus R and I somehow ended up with a third wheel in the form of this guy, Richard from Florida, whose wife died a year ago and who has a disturbing gray spot on his lip and no depth perception.

When we arrived at the monument site there was a Cham show which consisted of piercing nasal flute music followed by Hindu-style dancing with lots of hand gestures and unusual poses. It was interesting but mellifluous? No.

We had ample time to see the ruins before getting back on the bus for our return to Da Nang. Lunch was at a contemporary style restaurant complete with locals at the bar in suits tapped into the WiFi with their tablets. Food was good though it took awhile as two buses from the ship arrived at nearly the same time. We had a seat with a view of the street, the river and even a breeze. Too bad it also came with Richard who upon hearing about our vegetarian meals declared himself a vegetarian too and then proceeded to help himself to both the vegetarian dishes and the shrimp! Too funny. 

Lunch spot

During lunch, R and I watched as a small army of rickshaw drivers assembled for our after lunch excursion. To call these vehicles "rickshaws" is to do them a grave disservice as they were all new, stainless steel, clean and comfortable and not at all "rickety". R and I fully enjoyed ourselves despite feeling just a little guilty in terms of our size (even though we are not as big as we once were) verses the driver's size (petite to say the least). These drivers were good. They negotiated the traffic and the lights with ease and we were both impressed by the modern feel of the downtown area.

Our last stop for the day was where the rickshaws dropped us off -- at the Museum of Cham Art. This small collection consists of many of the statues found at My Son but I suppose deemed too valuable or too fragile to remain there. It was interesting though we did have a strange encounter with these two women in the gift shop. I paid for some bookmarks with dollars and had to ask for my change. They laughed to each other before handing it over. My guess is that they were amused that I wanted so little in change. I don't know. Like I said it was weird.

Speaking of weird, remember what I said about the Indonesians and their penchant for all things weird and scary? Well I am thinking that the Hindus might give them a run for their money.
Please note the trailer hitch!

Back at the ship we had a mandatory safety drill which prevented me from working off the small Snickers bar that I paid a whole dollar for (an "outrageous ripoff" Russell declared it but I didn't mind -- what's twenty five thousand dong between friends?). Anyhow I enjoyed the Snickers and never worked out, so there you have it. We are back on the water now; traveling south in calm seas. We have a day off tomorrow and I'll exercise then. It was another pleasant day in Vietnam.

Not sure what this is drying in the median but it just doesn't seem like a great place for food! I'm just sayin'

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