This week’s challenge is to present an unusual point of view. Here’s my story.
Souvik and I went to Dalat, Vietnam one weekend. I was feeling adventurous, and TripAdvisor had advised that mountain biking was one of the top things to do in Dalat. Souvik was not yet converted to the joys of cycling and I had all my experience only on the road. Still, I persisted (nagged) and we signed up.
The route went right through the pine forest, very scenic, but the whole deal about mountain biking is the rough terrain. Sure enough, there were plenty of tree roots, stones and other obstacles jutting out unexpectedly on the barely there trail. Plus some stiff uphill and insane downhill slopes that I could only manage on foot, pushing the bike. There was even a stretch where I struggled with myself and when our guide offered to push the bike, I weakly accepted. On the final rest stop, I lay flat on the bare ground, and prayed for it to end soon. As I looked skyward, the cyclist in me was dying, but the photographer leapt to life, and I couldn’t resist this shot from the ground up.
May not be the best breakfast spread I’ve had, but definitely one of the best pictures: Cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) with croissants in Hanoi.
The last of my Alphabet series, ending conventionally on Z for Zippo lighters, mostly replicas of those seen during the American war. You couldn’t really tell, except in the museums (and thousands of Hollywood movies), that this was a battle-worn country just a few decades ago. The people are among the friendliest, the landscape gorgeous, the food interesting for most (I have limitations), and our year-and-a-half spent here was a soul cleanser! I found an apt zippo lighter to express myself:
Girls in Vietnam are the heart of the nation, it’s most attractive feature. They are a potent combination of good looks, charming personality, strong work ethic and responsibility, and overall smartness. My personal view is that their only dependence on men is for making babies (and taking photos, of course). You see girls everywhere, from waitresses to sales people to construction workers to street vendors to farmers to business owners.
In all of this, they don’t lose their feminity; for the Vietnamese women it’s beauty first, and babies soon after! Don’t ever be surprised to see road work being done in high heels, or 3 layers of clothing in summer to prevent tanning, or face masks to protect the lipstick. And that petite girl who cleans your house is actually a 40-year old mother of 2 teenagers. Break the ice anywhere simply by taking your baby along, or just admiring someone’s nail polish. Meet a stranger and quickly ask personal questions about how many kids, or why not married yet. Bargain for lower prices by giving the lady a hug.
The outcome is that you see empowered women, making a bright and happier country.
If posing is the national pastime of the Vietnamese, then Shopping has to be the most popular activity of visitors (at least mine). There’s bamboo hats, silk runners, tailored clothes, ceramics, lanterns, handmade shoes, paintings, fish sauce, rice paper (!), water puppets, and scores of handicrafts to choose from.
Baguettes, beaches, boats, bicycles, …. We had plenty of them all.
And a special mention for Bat Trang, the ceramic village that had plenty of us. The goods were so pretty and the prices obscenely cheap that we ended up buying bags and bags. Our driver, Hai, used to joke that he would drop us there and come back later with 3 lorries! When I went with Aparna, the only thing that put an end to her shopping was a massive thunderstorm that started smashing stuff all around us! And if buying ceramics wasn’t enough, we always HAD to stop at the little stalls by the roadside, selling flavourful baby guavas, and get a few kilos of those.