Readers will have two reactions to this post. A few will find it “interesting”; others will judge the gallery to be the most-boring post ever...in the history of blogging. I do not care, because I like the photos. After all, I snapped them on my Vietnam trip.
These photos display a bit of nature’s creative side. Each photo is of solid rock, which has been leached by rainwater. Limestone formations are reason for Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The jury surely looked at the numerous formations (shown in an earlier post) and not rock outcroppings. I found both to be interesting, not just “interesting”. One is big picture, the other close-up, and both make up the spectacle.
You must decide into which category you fall, but can do that only by submitting yourself to viewing the photos.
Everyone, who has ever studied branding or corporate identity, knows that the Nazis were the masters. All communist countries must have studied the lessons.
That said, one instance that I spotted in Vietnam confused me.
This tree is beside the beach in Da Nang. The only explanation for planting national flags in trees is to influence birds and squirrels. That's taking branding one step further than Adolph's crew!
I am not a spy. I do not work for any company, agency, or country.
Let’s get that out of the way, so no one will make any incorrect assumptions about what follows. I do not want a SWAT team to show up at my door, to be the target of a sniper, or to have a fatwa declared against me.
I have always enjoyed views from above, whether in a tree, from a mountaintop, or riding in an airplane. Because I like to learn about people and places, I majored in geography. In an airplane, I watch the ground pass below and try to imagine life based upon imagination or what I have read and seen in films or television.
Iran has been in the news a great deal lately, but for all the wrong reasons. (NB. If anyone wants to understand why Iran hates the United States, then I can recommend a book called All The Shah’s Men. As with many countries in the world, the supposed “good guys” foiled democracy and supported a dictator, only to have its machinations backfire.) If one ignores politics, religion, and bluster, then Iran would be an interesting country to visit. I am a big fan of Persian rugs, which I find to be a marvelous art form, and would seriously considering visiting the country’s great architectural achievements. Because that will never be possible in my lifetime, I must settle for photographs, film...and the chance view from an airplane window.
The flight path of our trip from Dubai to Frankfurt surprised me. I have made this trip several times, in both directions, and each time the plane flew more to the east over Iraq and Turkey. I did not mind the deviation, because clear skies gave me the opportunity for a glimpse of land I will trod. Surprisingly, much looked very similar to landscape I have seen from a plane, when crossing western United States.
Each time I peered out the window, I wondered what a military analyst would see and how military planners would rationalize his or her conclusions about such inhospitable terrain. I was an armor officer and learned a bit about tank warfare. I would not want to be a soldier on the ground in Iran--with or without a tank. Military hardware might have improved, since I played at war, but geography still plays a role.
If so inclined, gaze at the photos below and form your own conclusions about the folly of invasion. If not, enjoy a look at tiny bits of a country you will never visit. You might even wonder, as I did, what farmers and goat herders think about all the saber-rattling--if they even know about such matters--beyond fearing suffering again, as they did during the Iran-Iraq war. (Quiz: Which side did the US supply with weapons?)
Vietnam is a beautiful country, and flowers or flowering trees accent that beauty. I recall splashes of color, which were bougainvillea, during my first visit. That lovely weed still decorates many spots throughout the country, but peace has brought other touches. I was surprised to find peoples selling flowers at markets or from cycles, which suggest home decoration. Formal gardens and temple grounds are canvases for creative gardeners.
I have already mentioned Cham monuments/temples and the foreign abuse thereof, but there is more to religion than that ancient one.
Several religions have blessed the Vietnamese people with their attention (and exploitation). Today, I offer a selection of photos from various places of worship around the country.
Although a Roman Catholic cathedral takes up space in Saigon, as well as other bits of prime real estate, I did not photograph these relics of French occupation. (And, I will not comment on the role these folks played in the US war in Vietnam!) Most other (less-exploitive) religions seemed to have oozed into the country centuries ago on the backs of immigrants. Many in the west would scoff at the beliefs, but none are more far-fetched than those of the three main “faiths”.
This is not...
This is more about small oil and an example of entrepreneurship, in which clever people exploit a need and deliver a product/service. Vietnamese people are good at this sort of thing. And, obviously, strict government controls do not plague small businessmen, like they do in western countries.
The first photo show a man on a motorbike, not an uncommon sight in Vietnam. Although a bit risky, he is transporting gasoline. On first sight, I wondered where he might be taking this, since he does not need so much for his own wheels.
Being a keen observer of street life, I soon discovered his destination: a make-shift service station at the side of the highway. I soon learned that these come in various shapes and sizes, but all cater to the swarm of motorbikes not willing to pay or unable to afford Big Oil prices.
Given the rapacious nature of capitalism, I wonder how long it will take for Big Oil to coerce the government into enacting legislation that will cripple small businessmen.
This is either the cheapest hotel in Da Nang...or the only two trees suitable for hanging a hammock.
This form of reclining is common throughout Vietnam, which suggests a certain suppleness in the population. Many roadside restaurants offer chairs and hammocks at each table. I'm not sure if people eat while reclining or immediately fall asleep after eating.
I could not sleep in such a position and, if I ever managed to get into one of those hammocks, I would need professional help to unbend.
Study the photo and tell me what you see.
Okay, you can't speak with me, so I'll imagine what you are thinking.
A street...it's a divided highway, but how could you know?
A railroad bed...unless you live in the US and don't know what a train is.
Weeds...fairly obvious, because that's what grows beside all road.
A fence/wall...if you are perceptive.
Banana trees...if you are not horticulturally challenged
A rusty pole...if you are pedantic.
I'll you in on a secret: the only significant bit is the leafy strip in the middle, directly next to the rocks of the right-of-way.
This is a prime example of the resourcefulness and thrift (and, perhaps, poverty and desperation) of the Vietnamese people. They can make a business out of anything and turn any piece of land into a farm.
Crops are planted, tended, and harvested in the sliver of dirt between the country's major rail line and the main north-south highway.
I wonder when Big Food will start consolidating these "farms"...
Restaurants come in all shapes and sizes and do not all remain in the same location.
All types of appetite are attracted and satiated, and every budget can be catered to. Food in each category is surprisingly good, despite obvious questions about hygiene, which lurk in foreigners' heads. Service is always friendly. Street locations preclude the need to pay rent.
I read an article is some newspaper, which had set out to discover the "best" sandwich in the world. Something on a baguette from a street vendor in Vietnam won the nod...believe it or not. I believe it.
During our visit to Hanoi, the bus stopped for lunch, which was billed as "typical Vietnamese cuisine". I cannot be faulted in believing that we would enter the restaurant on the right in the following photo...which looks like a "typical" Vietnamese restaurant (even if previous photos belie that term).
Through the left entrance, we enjoyed lunch in a beautifully interior-designed restaurant, which could be any high-rent district of any many western city. The decor was marvelous, and the food was excellent. That said, I'm sure the food is also good through the door on the right, but the decor is a bit less exciting.
And this in a communist country. Restaurants do not get more upscale than this...
I like Vietnamese cuisine. My first experience was at being invited to the wedding of my hootchmaid--what we called a cleaning lady during the war. This was an unusual event, because soldiers were not invited into homes of the local population. For some reason, I was different (duh!) and was accepted. There was a risk involved, because I had to leave the safety of the compound, drive a jeep into Qui Nhon, and find her "home", which was in a shanty village and made from discarded wood, metal, and cardboard. To my surprise, I was guest of honor and spent the time being stared at by local children.
Anyways, this is supposed to be about food. The wedding "feast" was chicken, which I learned was a rare treat. It was tasty.
My next run-in with Vietnamese food was at a restaurant in my village. A Vietnamese couple had taken a lease on a German Gasthaus and provided authentic food. The woman worked the kitchen, making everything herself, and the man served drinks. I saw this same practice in Vietnam, where women do most of the work and men tend to relax in hammocks or talk amongst themselves. The food is always fresh and excellent. I prefer most dishes to Chinese or Thai, which are favorites with Germans. Less hot spices are used, but fish sauce is difficult to avoid.
We were fortunate to be served excellent food at each stop on our visit to Vietnam. To prove the point, I offer a few photos of dishes. You will have to take my word on flavorfulness.
Fortunately, we had lunch before visiting the old town. Food shops do not believe in western-style presentation, ie. in refrigerator cases, and are governed by less-stringent statutes. Raw meat lies on tables beside the street in the heat and humidity, which causes one to wonder about hygiene. People seem to be healthy and happy, so they must be doing something right.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.