Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Final Stop: Ha Long Bay

According to our Vietnamese guide Ha Long means "Descending Dragon" and you're supposed to be able to see dragon shapes in the limestone rock formations that surround the bay. It is a beautiful place. It's very much like the Li River in China, only on a much grander scale. This is the last stop of the trip. We end on Friday with a day of student presentations, then return to Hanoi on Saturday to start the long journey home. Much of the talk in the group now is about what we want to eat when we get back. It's been a great trip, but everyone is very ready to return!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Vietnam - The Zen of Scooter Riding

There's no possible way to describe the "scooter culture" that exists in this country. It looks like complete chaos, and yet, somehow, it seems to work. Here are just a few snap shots that illustrate some of the things I observed relative to scooters. The first picture shows the masks many of the riders wear. I assume it's not related to swine flu, but is related to trying to lessen the intake of dirt and toxic fumes from the hoards of scooters that surround you. Good luck. However, even better is that the picture shows that the driver is texting! You wouldn't believe how many of these people are whizzing around talking on the cell phones or texting! The second picture shows the line up of scooters waiting for a light to change at an intersection. This is actually very rare. Most intersections don't have traffic lights and so when you come to one you just start honking and move on through. No one weaves and rarely does anyone stop. You basically just brake a little while everyone else continues to move and before you know it, you're on the other side! The last picture shows a couple of young women with a cute little kid on the scooter. Kids no bigger than Jacy are all over the place on the scooters, holding on to the handle bars and cruising with the 'rents! How anyone lives to reach adulthood around here is a mystery to me!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Vietnam - Part Deux

Ah, the French! Here's the history of Vietnam (simplified), as I now understand it. French people arrive to "colonize" Vietnam. They exploit the resources of the country for their own gain and oppress the people. Not all Vietnamese people are happy with this plan. Those people are jailed by the French in the prison shown in the picture above (same prison later to be refered to by American airmen as the "Hanoi Hilton"). Struggle for independence from the French eventually includes Communists. French people leave after WWII and Americans get involved to stop the spread of Communism. Americans finally learn what the Cicilian in "Princess Bride" knew: never fight a land war in Asia. Americans pull out. China tries to invade Vietnam. Chinese finally learn that even Asians shouldn't fight a land war in Asia. Vietnamese learn that capitalism is not all bad. The country begins to modernize, but it's tough to overcome all the baggage of so much war and the government corruption that followed. However, the summary of all this is: it will take a while, but watch out - this place will blossom and be an economic powerhouse!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Good Morning Vietnam

When we left Hong Kong and said "goodbye" to China it was time to say "hello" to Vietnam. I thought after China that I'd seen it all, but I was wrong. You ain't seen nuttin' till you seen Hanoi! The pictures on this post do no justice at all to the chaos and energy of this place. People, scooters, noise and smells on a scale that I've never before imagined. And the morning in Hanoi is NOTHING compared to the night! Our walk through the night market in the Old Quarter of this city was beyond description. I'll try to get some more representative pics for the next installment!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hong Kong

After the River Li we proceded to Hong Kong, which includes the incredible business district on the harbor, Hong Kong Disneyland and several traditional Chinese markets - featuring, in this case, a beautiful western woman looking for a (OK, "her") husband! I guess I should explain - Chris (the "western woman") was able to join us in Hong Kong. After a harrowing journey that was disrupted when a volcano erupted in Russia and forced trans-Pacific flight delays she arrived in Hong Kong on the afternoon of June 18. She'll continue with the USU group to Hanoi and then return next week, a few days before the group comes home. We've had fun exploring this truely amazing city, even if only for a short time.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Li River and Yangshuo

After leaving Shanghai we headed for Guilin, the jumping-off point for a cruise on the Li River. The area around this fascinating site in south-central China was covered by ocean nearly 400 million years ago and over eons the sea floor was covered with remnants of shelled animals that created limestone rock. When the rock was thrust up by movements in the earth's crust and then worn down by weather and the river that formed once the sea was gone the most amazing landscape was formed. There are literally thousands of jagged limestone peaks that line the River Li and the surrounding country side. This area is breath-takingly beautiful.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Shanghai is, as is the case with everything in China, a place of incredible contrast. The ultra-modern downtown area is full of Gucci, Armani, Mercedes, Porsche, etc., etc. stores and showrooms, high end restaurants and spectacular office buildings. But just off the main thoroughfares you get back to grimy, smelly, dirty, teeming China very quickly. The city is undergoing massive reconstruction in preparation for the World Expo that will be held here next year from May to October - similar to what happened in Beijing in advance of the Olympics. No doubt Shanghai will continue to change in lock step with the changes in China in general.