Monday, May 31, 2010

Hanoi, Vietnam

Less than 50 years ago Hanoi was thought to be the potential tipping point of the cold war between the Soviet Union and the western democracies. At the time the United States entered the war in Vietnam, the popular reason was the domino theory which stated, if Vietnam goes communistic, then Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippians and god know who else, will surely follow. None of these countries are communistic today. But Vietnam is. So whether or not America’s involvement stopped the dominos from falling, or whether North Vietnam fought only to unify the country and drive out the puppet corrupt government in South Vietnam and secure their own political ambitious, probably depends on your politics.

I do know this, nearly 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam and more than 2 million Vietnamese. And contrary to popular conception, American did not lose the war. America withdrew its troops in March 1973 having signed a peace treaty in Paris under President Nixon (who campaigned on the promise that he had a secret plan for Vietnam) and left Vietnam to Vietnamization, or in other words, let the two sides settle things between them. And 25 months later, the north captured Saigon and soon after named the city Ho Chi Minh City.

We flew to Hong Kong and 2 hours later flew to HCMC where we stayed overnight in a hotel near the airport leaving the next day via Vietnam Airlines to Hanoi. The airport in Hanoi is quite a distance from the center of the city and our French colonial hotel, the Metropole. The traffic is similar to Indonesia, with motorbikes the principle means of transportation. Our taxi driver is aggressive as are most, and weaves in and out of traffic using the horn to encourage motorbikes to move out of the way.

The Metropole luxury hotel has been in existence since 1901 and every important historical figure that has come to Hanoi has stayed here. A lot of French people were in evidence and the staff will greet you with “Bon Jour” in the morning if they are uncertain of your nationality.

This photo was taken from in front of the opera house. There is no underpass for pedestrians and no stop light to make the cross. The trick to crossing streets is to move slowly, steadily and predictably so the motorbikes can maneuver around you.

The conference Judith attended was held across the street from the hotel at the Press Club, which by its name, tells you that foreign correspondences reported the war happenings there and I am sure there were no Americans involved.

I hung out at the pool when I was not raining or walked around the nearby streets. One can easily live in the hotel.  It has several resturants and bars including one around the pool.  When you sit on a lounge around the pool, the attendant brings you a skewer of fresh fruit and an ice filled glass of water.  Forget the cost, if you ever stay in Hanoi, stay at the Metropole.

People still use the streets to vend their wares. That is fresh meat in the foreground.

The hats in this photo are in much of the art work seen around the entire country.
On the other side of the opera house is the Hilton Opera Hotel, not to be confused with the Hilton that hosted John McCain et alia. Here is the lobby and one of the great art visible there.

The climate in Hanoi was cool and rainy while we were there but when the skies cleared, the sun made it hot, but nothing like the heat we experience elsewhere.

When the conference was finished Judith had made arrangements for us to spend one night on a big boat in Halong Bay, 3 hours away by car and then return to the hotel for one additional night before flying the next day to Hei.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Changsha, China

Changsha, about half way between Shanghai and Hong Kong, is the capital of Hunan Province with a rich ancient history dating back about 1000 BC. The population of the city proper is about 1.5 million, but the sprawling urban area contains over 6 million. During our time there, I noted that there was no pollution due to almost constant rain and misty drizzle that fell every day. The sun shown very briefly when we landed, then never was it seen again until we ascended out of the clouds on our way back to Beijing, four days later.

The Great Navigator, Chairman Mao was educated here and worked briefly as a teacher. As a young man he gave speeches here and recruited members for the Communist Party. A 23-foot-high statue of Mao in the city square has recently been re-covered in pure gold.

It is regarded as a place of learning, with three major universities, a number of technical institutes, hospitals, medical schools and fireworks factories. The city has attracted skilled workers and it is regarded as something of media, Internet and cultural center for China. Much of the nations animation and television programming is based in Changsha.

The AIDS prevention workshop was presented to English speaking university students at a university auditorium. Although able to understand English and speak it to some degree, translation was offered in Chinese for the presenters that spoke English. This seems an appropriate place to segue to a fact that should raise an eyebrow or two. By the year 2016, it is projected that China will be the largest English speaking country in the world!

I have no desire at my age to attempt to learn to speak Chinese, but some have told me that because the language has no verb tenses and nouns have no gender, it is not hard to learn. But one must be able to master inflections and where to place the emphasis on a word because a word has many different meanings depending on how it is said.

We are often amused by Chingalese signs (signs written in English) that have improper meanings to words or badly misspelled. I can only guess that the signs were made by people that thought they knew what they were doing, but never asked anyone that actually was fluent in English to proof read it.

We were housed in a complex that was built for government officials 30 or 40 years ago. We refer to such places as Stalin Hotels. This one was much better than some we have stayed in and the landscaping was outstanding.

This photo also shows what the weather was like during most of our stay except when it was actually raining. We were given a huge suite of two rooms that would be called the “Presidential Suite” in the states. But we only used the bedroom due to the reak of Chinese tobacco in the main room. The bedroom was not as bad.

We didn’t have much time for tourism on this trip but we were taken to Yuelu Academy that was founded in 976 AD and many photographic opportunities were presented. The academy was named Hunan Univeristy in 1926 and it has been preserved to show the ancient culture.

Here are a few of the photos I took.

At the workshop, Judith asked that Mark from Chicago’s Howard Brown Clinic for Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender people (and any other sexual life style variation), to speak about the work done there to protect people from sexually transmitted diseases. Among other things, they offer free HIV testing and counseling.

He was very entertaining and the Chinese for most interested in what he had to say. They asked many questions. Later at the close of the workshop and at the final dinner banquet, Mark got into a drinking contest with the host.

Mark is in the stripped shirt. Mark won the contest, but we suggested to him afterwards that he should have stopped long before and ceded the contest to the host (seen on the left). I have been the subject of these contests before, but I have learned to avoid them. I mean what is the point?