Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The turtles of Hoai Kiem Lake

My friends here first brought me to this coffee shop at the top of a building.  It had a good view of the lake and pagonda.

Here's my shot of the lake again.  I had a panoramic shot, but in my brilliance, I accidentally deleted it off my iPhone.

There is a recurrent myth associated with this lake.  It largely is connected to the turtles of the lake.  In the fifteenth century, a  Lê Lợi became emperor of Vietnam.  Supposedly, he had this sword, which was taken by a turtle back into the lake.  It's the reason why they call it in English, "The Lake of the Returned Sword."  As least this is what I got out of Wikipedia.  There is a temple on the lake called the "Temple of the Jade Mountain."  

The Entrance to the place called in Vietnamese,  Đền Ngọc Sơn, is rather ornate.  There are a number of murals that remind me of Confucian and Taoist concepts.  The temple itself has a person who is writing, what I believe to be fortunes on paper.  He had a line going. 

Additionally, the view of the lake is actually quite nice from this location.  It is a tourist destination, as you had to pay an entrance fee. 

The temple itself feels very Chinese.  In fact, the one color that I would associate with the temple interior is red. 

The turtle is preserved and on display.  

Turtles or Tortoises have a significance to Vietnamese.  It also seems to be a motif also connected to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, which has a number of tortoises on display associated with various scholars.  Supposedly, you rub the head to get some luck. 

If you can tell, the lake has a very distinct green color.  It is located in the heart of Hanoi, so I wouldn't recommend swimming in that water.  Sort of like the idea of swimming in LA's Echo Park Lake or MacArthur Park.  Not recommended. 

It has a nice view of Hanoi.  


Monday, July 25, 2011

Symbolism of Lotus fields

Hanoi is a hot city.  It is an ancient city.

Recently, I took a motorcycle ride with a friend to eat at a Hanoi restaurant, not frequented by the tourists. Afterwards, he took me to an area which is heavily populated by Lotus farms.

Incredibly, the lotus has a number of uses.  Lotus root is often cooked.  The lotus flower is often quite desirable.  The lotus seeds are snacks.  Each of the colors of the lotus in Buddhism has an associated symbolic component to it.  

Most often, I see pictures of brides posing with the flowers, or posing in lotus fields.  In talking to my friend, he told me that many couples take their wedding pictures in lotus fields.  Apparently, there is a huge industry surrounding the notion of wedding pictures in Vietnam.  You travel to places just to take these pictures.  The wedding hasn't even started in a year yet.  The people sitting next to me came with an entourage.  The girl came in a wedding dress.  The photographer came with his full DSLR rig.  The wedding wasn't scheduled until another year.  

In the meantime, I just sat there and had some tea.  I pondered about this aspect of weddings in Vietnam.  It's so different than the US.  We can just go to Vegas and get married by an Elvis impersonator.

But then, I'm able to have tea in a shack next to a wedding party. By the way, it seems that drinking hot tea during the day is also a thing to do in Vietnam.  

The Perils of relying on just the iPhone as a camera

All good ideas often get sidetracked by stupid user decisions.

Traffic in Hanoi is unique.  For a taste, I could use the iPhone to record video.  Yeah, that's right.  I thought I was going to string together some video and just upload.  Well, that sort of got undermined.  As I was deleting some bad shots on the iPhone 4, I somehow managed to delete almost a days worth of photographs out of the phone.  They are gone.  This includes a pretty good set of video clips I had of Hanoi traffic.  Darn.

I had originally composed a video of the traffic in the Old Quarter of Hanoi using iMovie.  Actually, it looked pretty good, and I was quite pleased with myself.  But then, it is now gone including a number of pretty nice artsy shots I took.

Well, I've installed Photector on the iPhone now, so I don't screw it up again.  Of course, you have to have a jailbroken phone to do this.

Vietnamese Food, Lake View in Hanoi

After I settled in, I had dinner with my friends in Hanoi.  I had to drop off a load of stuff that I was bringing to them from the US.  One thing about the amount of stuff was that it forced me to pack more efficiently.  I've pretty much gotten to the point where I could pull off a one bag trip, but because I am carrying liquids, the carry on option was null and void.  It's amazing what you can pack in a 25 inch bag.

I took a taxi ride to the restaurant.  One of the interesting set ups is how the architecture is governed.   They asked what I would like to order.  Japanese OK?  I said, Hanoi food.  So I got Hanoi food.  This is a sample.  It's not like Thai food in which the heat level can be volcanic.

The way things appear to go is that with many big meals, they have some libations.  Usually, they cheer every once and a while, but they don't really pound the suds down.  Each meal seems to be accompanied by some sort of drink whether or not it is coffee or beer or whatever they decide to toast.

Restaurants can literally open up anywhere.  For example, in the Old Quarter, you often find Pho stands in the narrow alleyways of the city.  This place always seemed to be crowded.

There are incredible views.  I went to this coffee place next to the Hoan Kiem Lake.  Supposedly this lake has some turtles which apparently are considered to be sacred in Vietnamese culture.  

Hanoi, it's been a long time.

Hanoi.  I'm back in this town, on the same street, and actually in the same hotel room that I had booked last time I was here.  This time, I'm pretty much going local.  No tourism guide hitch for me.  I'm going native, or actually I'm going to be escorted by Hanoi friends.

I was met at the airport by my friend, Bich.  When it was time to get over to the Hanoi Boutique Hotel 1, well, let's just say it was a roundabout trip.  Being pretty much lost in terms of the Vietnamese language, I could tell that Bich was sort of irritated with the taxi driver.  She told me later that the driver was taking us the long way around to the Old Hanoi quarter.  What I did get was a good 101 picture of Hanoi traffic.  At first, it is sort of amazing that anyone would want to drive.

1.  Bigger the vehicle, the better the right of way.
2.  Pedestrians beware.  Walk steady.  The bikes will go around you.
3.  It's chaotic, but apparently everyone sort of rides within certain understood rules.

As you can tell, there are more motorbikes than necessarily cars.  This is what differentiates Hanoi from Bangkok.  The one thing that I did observe is that it is still possible to go to more than one place in Hanoi.  It's almost impossible in Bangkok with terminal gridlock in the heart of the city.  

Occassionally, you will see merchants literally carrying their wares on the top of their heads.  In Vietnam, it seems that there is no license fee issue.  Want to start a business?  Put something together off the top of your head and go for it.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok Thailand

"You can never get a clear picture of the Emerald Buddha. It will always be blurred or something will happen."  That is the legend surrounding the Emerald Buddha which is actually made out of jade.  The power of the Buddha is so great that it refuses to be photographed.  Taking photos of the Emerald Buddha in the temple is also banned.   Well, as you can see, it's blurred.  So I guess there is some validity to it.  

The Emerald Buddha is only touched by the King of Thailand.  He changes the clothes of the Buddha 3 times a year.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Last Day in Bangkok. Next Day Hanoi. Summer 2011

I took this shot a few days ago.  This was one of the locations of the 2010 Red Shirt protests against the now exiting government of Prime Minister Abhisit.  On Monday morning, I am going to arrive in Hanoi.  I will be swapping out the traffic of Bangkok for the traffic of Hanoi.  The big difference is that the traffic in Hanoi is primarily scooter traffic.  I'm going to be seeing new friends in Hanoi.  None of them really speak English,so this is going to be an adventure.  

Unlike the Summer of 2010, this trip is going to be more relaxed.  I tend to function better on my own, and I adapt well to travel situations now.  Ironically, if this was 2005, the story would be different.  Before 2005, travel was not high on my priority list.  Before 2005, most of my airplane trips were short, and not necessarily by choice.  Never liked airplanes then, and still don't.  The first International flight was an arduous 20 hour span of being in an airplane and sitting in airports with duty free malls.  Now, I'm going to Hanoi on my own, and leaving Bangkok.  

The weather seems fine.  I guess the weather waits for me.   

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bangkok Street Food 2011

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Bangkok is well known as being a major street food culture country.  Every square inch of the pavement is often used as a place to set up shop.  Vendors often park their carts in the street near key locations like Family Marts or the ubiquitous 7/11 convenience stores.  It is not a joke.  You can walk down 3 blocks and encounter three 7/11 stores.  Things revolve around food in Thailand.  The 7/11 often forms the centerpoint of the neighborhood.  This is largely because of one thing--massive gridlock traffic.

McDonalds, KFC, Burger King among other huge conglomorate fast food companies actually deliver food vis a vis motorbikes.  It is because the motorbike is the most able to negotiate through gridlock with any sort of speed.  Part of this is developed out of necessity.  You are dealing with massive often brutal traffic jams; basically running any sort of errands beyond one is impossible.  One trip to go see one place in Bangkok takes an entire day.  It took us one hour to go 3 blocks before hitting the toll road out.  If you want to eat, the local area is what you must rely upon.  What fulfills this need is street food.

There are other things to consider to when you come across certain things in a culture.  Often, things develop out of a sense of necessity versus logic.  Bangkok is a city defined by a certain sense of necessity.  The Travel Channel skims often the surface of things.  No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain is probably one of the better celebrity chef TV hosts around.  I have been asking more crazy questions like "Why did Thailand develop this culture of street food?"  Anthony Bourdain seems to find a beauty in it.  I think it is beauty out of necessity. 

It's the wages.  The basic wage for a Thai worker is about 200 baht a day.  With the 2011 exchange rate going at about 30 to a dollar, it's not exactly something to be cheery.  You are earning roughly $6.60 per DAY!  Unemployment is rather low here.  Why?  They actually create work for themselves.  If you can make fried rice, Thai deserts, or make noodles, you have a job.  Grab a cart.  Grab a propane stove.  You are in business.  Now most of the food stalls would never pass the food police.  In fact, most vendors do not use hot water, clean dishes in the street, and generally make due.  America won't let you do this.  America regulates everything.  If you lose your job, you don't have the option of setting up a small cart to make Thai fried chicken (which is pretty darn tasty.)    

This is a chicken that we saw across the street.  It was obviously a whole chicken, and the vendor was making chicken and rice.  You can see the price.    

The food costs about 35 baht for the chicken and rice dish.  I think it was 30 baht for noodles.  

This is what you get.  The dark sauce next to the chicken is spicy.  In fact, spicy food is really abundant, but it is not just for the sake of eating the hottest food.  

I have for the most part been very open to experiencing everything in terms of food.  I do mind the mantra of looking for crowds and consistent turnover.  I believe in not just experiencing a place, but analyzing how a place functions.  All cities are essentially complex systems of relationships and networks.  

You will never see this in America.