Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I want to entitle this posting "sick in Shanghai". I've been sick since yesterday evening (vomiting, "tourista", etc.). It was probably something I ate yesterday for lunch in a stall in the Shanghai metro station/Raffles Center, or maybe it's just the fatigue and stress of the trip.

Yes, the Three Gorges cruise on the Chinese ship was really tiring for me--getting up at 5 or 6 each day, the crowds and noise on the boat, etc.--as was the 4 hour bus strip to Wuhan and then getting up at 6 the next morning to get to the airport. All of this backpacker traveling is beginning to take its toll. In fact, I'm looking forward to being in California again at the end of the week. And if ever I come back to China, next time I'll try to sightsee here in a more "comfortable" way, including taking the western boat!

I haven't seen much of shanghai yet, but ifI'm better, I plan to do some sightseeing tomorrow and Thursday before flying up to Beijing to catch my flight to LA on Friday via Seoul. Friday is going to be a long day!

However, I did visit the Shanghai Museum yesterday, and in the evening I was treated to a drink and dinner on the "Bund" by a very nice French expat whom I met on the plane from Wuhan. Unfortunately, though, that was when I started feeling sick and had to rush back to the hotel!

That's all for now folks. Am going back to the hotel to rest and have some tea. Hope to write more tomorrow or the next day.

Thanks so much, Marco, for posting the photos for me. I somehow can't seem to do it here.


Monday, October 30, 2006


Sunday, October 29, 2006


It's now Sunday night, October 29. Tried once again to post a lot of photos without success. Have a lot to say but am running out of time at this Internet cafe now, so will be brief.

After leaving Xian, I flew to Chongqin, where I spent a day visiting the zoo to see some adorable pandas and the Sitwell and Flying Tigers Museums (thanks for evoking this, Jan). My two air force friends would have enjoyed it, too. Lots of history about WWII. Chongqin has a nice monorail and... a huge Walmart, where I did some shopping for snacks! Then took a three-day cruise on a Chinese boat. This was a real sociological experience as there were only 8 westerners among the 400 passengers. Everything was in Chinese and luckily we figured out things together. The 3 Gorges and the 3 Gorges dam project were really interesting and made up for the discomfort of the boat. The sanitary conditions and the constant spitting left something to be desired. But my (female) roommate was very sweet. She's a statician for the government in a provincial town and is of Mongolian descent. Two of my fellow backpacker friends and I are staying in the same hotel tonight in Wuhan. I fly over to Shanghai tomorrow and will probably stay there 3 or 4 nights before flying back to Beijing to take my plane to L.A. on Friday, November 3, via Seoul.

China is so full of contrasts, which makes it very exciting. However, the pollution is horrible, and the noise, shoving and spitting are sometimes hard to take, particularly as I'm traveling inexpensively and seeing the country from "the bottom up" so to speak. On the whole, though, I find the people very friendly and smiling. The women, particularly, are always willing to please. And, as I wrote before, a smile and gestures work mirables.


Beginning of the 3 gorges

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I've been trying to post some photos on the blog but haven't been successful. Sorry. Got them onto the computer ok but can't get them onto the blogger site, as all the instructions are in Chinese and the posting automatically goes to the "blogger-china site". I vaguely remember Google (who runs "blogger") negotiating with China about something but don't remember what. Does anybody have any idea about all this? In any case, I'm back at the Internet place where absolutely nobody speaks English. But I've only been paying about 30 centimes of a euro for an hour, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

Today was a relatively quiet day for me. I took a long walk in the streets of Xian--first along the wall, which has been well-preserved and reconstructed so that you can now walk about 14 kms all around the town. However, since I didn't bring much money with me, I didn't have the 4 euros to enter and climb up the southern gate of the wall, so I just walked around along it in a very nice park where I was the only westerner for miles around. And in the back streets I saw some interesting sights without being hassled--as you are on the main commercial streets-- by beggars and vendors. In the back alleys, it reminded me very much of the streets in the popular districts of Saigon and Hanoi. Sitting on stools on the sidewalks, groups of people were playing a form of chess and also majong (sp?) . There were colorful carts with fruit for sale. Women were sewing on sewing machines on the sidewalks, too,--mostly shortening jeans--, their customers sitting on stools next to them and watching them sew. Incongruously, huge department stores and shopping centers are going up just across the street. I took a photo where you see huge, western posters with western goods across from these ladies sewing on their sewing machines, and with electric wires hanging down dangerously from above. What a contrast!

Tonight I'm going to a dinner-Tang dance show. It's supposed to be touristy but beautiful. And then tomorrow morning I fly down to Chongqinq to catch my boat. Will have the day to spend in this city, where there are some interesting historical museums and artefacts from the Revolutionary era of the 1940s.

Will try one more time to post the photos.

Here are some photos from yesterday

Here are some photos from yesterday

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I have some great photos from today's excursion, but I can't seem to be able to download them onto this computer, so sorry, this will just be a text post for today.

I'm back at the same Internet place as last night--sitting here among about 200 young Chinese (mostly boys, all of them smoking) playing computer games. Quite an ambiance!

Today's visit to the Terra Cotta Warriors was well-worth the trip to Xian, a city which otherwise I don't find very attractive. Too much pollution and traffic, too many shops, not very cosmopolitan. In fact, when I went to a newsstand last night, I pointed to a newspaper and said "English" they looked at me as if I was half crazy. It's hard to think that in this day and age, the word "English" doesn't mean anything to a newstand owner, but there you are. (Unfortunately I didn't find an English language newspaper, even though I've tried numerous newsstands and hotels since that first experience).

Our tour today began with a visit to a Neolithic Village Museum called "Banpo". Our guide was "lilly", a 24-year-old student from a university who works as a guide parttime.We saw how Chinese tribes lived and built typee-like houses in the area outside X'ian about 6000 years ago. It was interesting. But, as usual, this cultural visit was followed by visits to two souvenir places, which most of us didn't very much appreciate. There were only five of us: Frank, a Scot from Fife; Sebastian, a Dutchman from Utrecht who was working in Amsterdam but who is presently going around the world over a year and a half period; and two German guys, Marcus and Jens. We got on very well, especially Sebastian, Marcus, Jens and I, as we seemed to share the same view about the tour and what we wanted to see. Eschewing (sp?) lunch, we preferred to spend more time looking at the warriors, particularly as we'd had a late start out of town and were fed up making stops at souvenir shops. In addition, the mini bus we were in wasn't in good shape.

But the warriors and the bronze objects and chariots were worth all the discomfort. Hope to send you some photos tomorrow. The Chinese like to think the warriors are the "eighth wonder of the world". It's really impressive seeing them in their natural surroundings. There are supposedly some 8000 of them, but excavation has stopped for the moment because the color they were painted in disappeared when many were first dug up in 1974. Imagine, they were found when a farmer started digging for a well!

To get back to the parking lot, we had to cross an "international tourist shopping village" that is being constructed by the Chinese government. It's going to be immense. Can just imagine all the souvenir shops they plan to build there. The village is actually larger than the site of the warriors.

On the way back to town, we stopped off for half an hour and climbed up the mound which is supposedly the actual burial site of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the guy who had the warriors built for his tomb. There are probably even more "treasures" down there, but, from what we were told, the tomb was surrounded by mercury so that it couldnt' be pillaged; and technology hasn't been invented yet to allow researchers to enter it without being poisoned by the mercury. The tomb is in a lovely site surrounded by mountains, and the view from up there MIGHT have been gorgeous if there weren't so much pollution and you couldn't see very far. (One of the guys on the trip said he saw a program on Arte where they said that almost all of China's rivers are "poisonous" these days and that people can no longer fish in them. The mercury, etc. is in the water, and the farmers use this water to irrigate thier crops with.)

We returned back to the center of Xian on a back road since the highway was all blocked up because of a traffic jam. It was a very bumpy ride on that dirt road in that old mini-bus, I can assure you.

So, that's my day. I'm off to find a place to eat, then back to my hotel room, as I don't like to go out on my own at night. However, tomorrow night I've booked a seat to see some local dancing (with dinner) in a sort of cabaret. The T.V. is only in Chinese, so I guess I'll continue reading my Lonely Planet after dinner. Am learning a lot about China every night, but I usually fall asleep right away after being on my feet all day.

Have decided to take the CHINESE boat and not the luxury liner for the Yagzi river cruise. We'll see how it goes. Maybe there will be some Westerner packbackers on board to talk to. Just hope I don't have to share my cabin with a man, though!


Monday, October 23, 2006

It's now Monday night. Traveling alone in China is turning out to be a real experience. On the night train to Xian, I shared a "room" (4 "soft-sleeper" beds) with three Chinese men! Although it was first class, the one toilet per car left a lot to be desired, but there were three nice sinks in another room. No tea or coffee on board, just a restaurant car where hot, rice porridge was served in the morning. But there was a hot water dispenser in our car and, as I had my metal cup with me, one of the men gave me some of his tea leaves! He actually spoke some English. He's my son Sebastien's age (30) and is an army officer. From what I could understand, the army paid for his university studies, so he has five more years of service to go in an office managerial position . He met his wife at university, but she lives and works in Canton, and they only see each other twice a year! He was very kind and very inquisitive and interesting. When I asked him about the situation in North Korea, he said the Chinese are not happy with North Korea because they're now afraid the Japanese will also start nuclear testing, and the Chinese hate the Japanese, esp< ever since they invaded China during WWII.
I'd booked my hotel tthrough my hotel in Beijing, and a guy from a travel agency met me at the train station and accompanied me to my hotel, which is non-descript and modern, but it's clean and I'm on the 7th floor for a change.
This afternoon I visited Xian's drum and bell towers, the Great Mosque (there's a large Chinese Muslim population here), and the Historical Museum--all very impressive. Ran into a Nouvelles Frontieres group at the Mosque. Am sort of glad I'm not traveling with a group like that.
Tomorrow, I'm taking an all-day excursion to visit the famous terra cotta warriors outside town and other attractions. Will probably take another tour on Weds., and then Thursday I'm flying to Chongquin, where I'll be boarding a boat down the Yangwi River. Big dilemma: Do I take a Chinese boat for 100 euros or a westernized, "luxury" curiser for 330??? After seeing the people at NF, I'm wondering if I won't up for the former.

Hardly anybody in this town speaks English, except for the tour guides. So since I've been on my own, it's been interesting. But a smile and gestures work wonders. A guy from a Canon camera shop actually accompanied me to this Internet cafe, which is huge and is on the third floor of a buidling! I'm the only westerner in it!

That's all for tonight, folks.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Getting off the subway at Wangfujing Street (the big shopping street) station, I ended up in a huge mall. Extraoridnary! So many foreign products--from Oreal, to Olay, to Ponds, to KFC, McD, to designer clothes. And a fastastic food court with stands offering the most delicious, fresh-looking dishes all for less than 2 euros a dish. I found this team making dumplings really cute. They had their assembly line-like method down pat, that's for sure. Speaking of food, last night at my local place down the street, I made a "gaffe". I tipped my waitress, and the Chinese girls eating at the table next to mine and with whom I'd be talking during the meal didn't approve. They said that was the girl's job and she shouldn't be rewarded for doing what was expected of her! (Makes me think of Confuscius's made a model of rights and responsibilities in society). The waitress had been really helpful. There were people around and watching when I did it, so I probably should have done it more discreetly, since I know that in collectivist societies you shouldn't pick out an individual in front of the others. Hope the girl didn't "lose face" afterwards vis a vis her supervisor and fellow waitresses!

Finally, before I close for the day, I'd just like to say how fascinating I find this place. It's so full of contrasts. So much consumerism and goods on the market--and such possibilities for foreign investment and business--but such controled media, long working hours for many (the gal at the travel agency at the hotel told me she works 16 hours a day with only one day off a week), poor hygenic conditions in many places, not enough safety precautions for the trillions of construction workers you see, a lot of spitting and shoving, overcrowded subways, and the list goes on.

But that's China, n'est-ce pas?


P.S. Thanks Nadine, Tom, Bernard and Eric for your comments!

I took a taxi to what is called "the Summer Palace" this afternoon. Like the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven, it, too, has been classified as a World Heritage Site. It's located on a lake and is really lovely. However, I wanted you to get an idea of the groups of Chinese tourists who were also visiting the site! They wear the same colored jackets and caps and follow their guide, who's holding up a flag. One of the American tourists who was on the hutong tour this morning complained alot about the crowds. I guess I was expecting worse because they don't really bother me that much. Or maybe it's because I have been to other parts of the world where there are also a lot of people and have gotten used to them. I find that the Barbes district in Paris gets just as crowded as many Beijing streets.

View from the drum tower with skyscrapers in the distance. See how large Beijing is?

I shared a rickshaw with Kristen, a Canadian gal who's teaching theater arts at the itnernational school of Brussels. Students at her school and at other international schools doing the theater option for the International Baccalaureate are all meeting up in Shanghai this week for a 3-day theater workshop.

It's a horrible photo of me, by the way, but how do you like my new purple, down-filled, parka?

To get around in the hutong district, we took rickshaws. There were about 20 of us on the tour, so that meant 10 rickshaws following each other. This was my driver. The guide asked us to tip them at the end because they're rural people and live from tips. I wonder, though, if the tourist agency isn't exploiting them and not paying them itself! We visiting a prince's garden and a drum tower, but the highlight was going into a home and talking to the tenant, a lady who also cooks for tourists! Apparently, she retired early from a factory and like 20 or so other women in the neighborhood is helping supplement the family income by opening her home to tourists.

This morning (Sunday, October 22), I went on a three-hour tour of an old "hutong" (alley-way) part of Beijing. It was quite touristy but nice, nevertheless. These are what the homes look like Most have running water and electricty these days, but not always private bathrooms. The residents mostly rent from the government but in some districts you can buy them. And I read that rich people sometimes do this and fix them up, particularly as they're very well-located in central Beijing. As you've probably read, a lot of the; have been torn down to make room for high-rise buildings. But our guide told us there were still more than 2 million living in places like these.

This is a blurred view of the end of the Kung Fu show last ight. They were very strict about not taking photos so I was lucky to even get this shot. Forgot to tell you that I was sitting with four French people during the show. They'd been studying Chinese traditional medecine for 2 weeks in a provincial Chinese hospital--the end of a 6-year course they'd been taking in France. All four are from Bordeaux--two osteopaths, a nurse and a psychologist. They were very friendly and nice and, like me, love Beijing.

These are "Kate" and "cindy" with their calligraphy teacher. The girls stopped me on the street and asked if they could practice their English with me. They said (and I hope it's true) they were studying at Beijing University and they and their classmates were holding an exhibit of their work in the upstairs floor of a room lent to them by the Chinese government. They were so cute and friendly I said I would take a brief look. Of course, I ended up buying two small pieces, which were very reasonably priced!

After lunch yesterday, we walked through Ritan Park. I thought this little girl sketching by the pond was so cute--a bit apprehensive about my taking her photo, though!


It's now Sunday evening and I'm back at the hotel I was staying at here in Beijing waiting to take my P.M. train to Xian to see the terra cotta soldiers tomorrow.

This is a photo of Edith and Peter and their sons Robin and Siom ordering lunch for us yesterday at the resturant. You should have seen the lovely things we ate. Our choices included a starter of marinated 100-year-old eggs!

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Just a brief entry today. It's Saturday night, and I've just got back from a Kung-Fu cum ballet spectacle. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but it was beautifully done. The story of a monk who discovers the art of Kung Fu. Lovely costumes and scenery and great dancing and stunts.

Otherwise, today was a quiet day. I bought an even warmer anorak because it's gotten cold here in Beijing. They sky is as grey as the Paris one, and it rained, which should get rid of some of the dust on the cars and trees. It's a polluted city, it's true, but I still find it very vibrant and exciting. So much to do and see.

I had lunch today with my friends Edith and Peter and their two teenage sons. They're Franco-British expats who recently moved here from Paris and will be here several years. They live in one of those diplomatic "compounds" I'd heard so much about. Not much to look at from the outside but very protected (with a guard out front) and the apartments inside are spacious and modern. My friends treated me to lunch at a delicious restaurant in Ritan Park. There are lots of trees and embassies in that section of town. There's also an international post office. Quite imressive it was. They provide boxes and everything else you need to wrap up packages and even do it all for you. I sent a box to my son Eric --just a little something for his birthday. Sorry, Eric, it probably won't arrive in time! Sending it to you from here was an interesting experience, as was taking the Beijing subway to get to Edit and Peter's place.

Well, that's all for tonight.

Will write more tomorrow and send some photos--I promise.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Here I am at the top after a 20-minute climb following the pulley car ride. The guy in the red coat was on my tour. He's ethnic Chinese from Indonesia now living in Vancouver. Several of the others were from Spanish-speaking countries--two profs from Guatemala, a prof from Mexico and two other Mexican ladies.

Thanks Marc and Bernard for writing comments. Yes, the Forbidden City is abolutely huge. Only problem is they're doing reconstruction work in preparation for the influx of tourists in 2008, so two of the major pavilions wwere covered with scaffolding. But there's still lots to see. Chise culture is very, very rich.

As for my Chinese, Bernard, I can't seem to remember anything! As I said, I'm having great fun trying to teach them English. Most of the tour guides, hotel staff and shop keepers have great senses of humor and laugh alot. And, of course, there's always sign language.



See the lovely colors?

This is the "pulley car" we took up and down part of the mountain to the base of the wall. It was chilly today and I was glad I'd bought a jacket, a sweater and some jeans yesterday.

The leaves on the trees up there are changing colors. When the sun came out for a few minutes, it was indeed very lovely. The wall is very impressive. A little bit like the Grand Canyon. You've seen it in pictures but don't really believe it until you see it for yourself.


This was our guide, "Johnny" today. Apparently, a lot of the kids in China are given English names by their English teachers, and since she had a crew cut at the time, that was the name she was given and has kept. She gave us a bilingual tour--English for most of us and Mandarin Chinese for several others. Very bright gal whose native language was Mongolian!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

These lovely ladies were buying souvenirs in the same shop I was. Their tourist bus was parked down the street from my hotel. Lots of minority culture groups seem to come to Beijing to visit the capital.

Street vendors off Wangfujing Street. What they're selling is fresh fruit sticks--not candy. By the way, the food is delicious and copious. I had a 3-dish meal last night next to my hotel for only $4 with enough left-over for my lunch today. And yes, they provide "doggy bags"!

This is the Tiananmen Sqaure entrance to the Forbidden City. Forgot to tell you that the weather today was absolutely beautiful. Of course, the sky is never blue-blue because of pollution, but it's real Indian summer weather and a pleasant change from humid Vietnam.

I asked a Russian girl to take my photo. Then I took hers!

This was the gate I entered by to the Forbidden City.

Hi fromn Beijing!

Well, I made it to this wonderful city, which I'm really enjoying.

Began my stay here by getting rid of my heavy suitcase. Left it at the airport since I'll be flying out of there in two weeks. Was really proud of myself because I negotiated with the left luggage people a special rate of about 30 euros for all that time. So I'm down to the "back pack" on wheels I purchased in Hoi An, Vietnam.

When I first arrived in the city on the airport shuttle bus, my first impression was of a modern, thriving metropolis, which it is, of course. In fact, I read in the Lonely Planet that Beijing is as spread out as all of Belgium, it's so big! But, like Paris, there are definite quarters and neighborhoods, and just across from my hotel are a lot of these old-fashioned "hutong", or courtyard houses, although not the famous ones which I'll visit on Sunday on a tour. And there are lots of little shops everywhere, without the hawking you've got in Vietnam.

Distances are enormous. The airport shuttle left us off at the train station and it looked close enough to walk to my hotel, but after walking 40 minutes I was still miles away and had to take a taxi. The taxi drivers, by the way, don't speak English at all, and, as I was later told, often try to cheat you. But everyone else--the personnel in my hotel, in shops, restaurants, etc.-- has been friendly. I speak using my hands or encouraging them to use their often limited English. Feel I'm helping them get ready for all the tourists that will be coming here for the Olympics in 2008. It's funny, in the shops they say "looky, look"--sounds a bit like the French saying "lucky Luke".

Last night I took some wonderful photos of soldiers bringing down the red Chinese flag from its pole in front of the KFC down the street from my hotel. Also of some minority culture people. Unfortunately, however, the Chinese gal at the hotel and I erased them by mistake. But today I took a lot of pictures and will try to upload some oin this blog later on.

I watched TV a bit last night. No BBC, CNN or TV 5 the way there is in Vietnam. Just Chinese proganda--lots of films on the Revolution and soldiers--or stupid song or dance shows.

My hotel isn't expensive--$30 a night for a big room and bath with breakfast and tax included. It's what's considered a budget hotel in the Lonely Planet, but it's very conviently located near the Forbidden City, which I visited today, together with Tiananmen Sqaure andWangujing street, the later being the big shopping street of Beijing. Beijing reminds me alot of Singapore and Hong Kong. There's that vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere about it.

Tomrrow I'm off on a guided tour of the Great Wall and the Ming tombs. More sightseeing in Beijing on Saturday and Sunday. And on Sunday night I'm taking a night train to Xian, where I plan to spend a few days. Then will fly south to catch a boat along the Yangtse River and then on to Shanghai. It really is just as easy here as Vietnam to arrange local tours through the helpful staff at the hotel.

That's all for now, folks. I want to see if I can add some photos.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hello from Seoul,

Well, I never got to see the rest of Hanoi...

Yesterday evening at 10 PM, after washing my hair and changing into my nightgown, I had a sudden thought that 00:30 October 18 might, in fact, be during the night of the 17th to the 18th instead of the 18th to the 19th. After checking with Korean Airlines (a hard job in itself seeing that the guy at the reception couldn't find their number), I discovered that I was right! So I packed my bags in 5 minutes (dumping the three articles I'd just washed into a plastic bag), and rushed out to the airport in a taxi. Couldn't even look as the driver sped along the highway, honking at every vehicle in sight to get out of our way, We arrived at 11:15 PM, and I was able to catch my flight, which has a transfer at Seoul. Dosed off for about an hour when all the lights went on and we were woken up for breakfast! The flight was only 3 and a half hours long and, what with the two hour time difference, the night was very short indeed and I'm exhausted. Luckily the airport transfer lounge is comfortable and there's free Internet access. I'll be coming through here again on my flight from Beijing to L.A. in two weeks' time.

Oh, by the way, on the flight from Hanoi to Seoul, I was the only westerner on the whole plane and stood a head above everybody on board! There wasn't an empty seat, either. Lots of middle-class looking Koreans coming back from what looked like a couple days of holiday in Vietnam. They were all carrying those straw, conical hats (sold these days as souvenirs) and wearing baseball caps--even in the plane! Breakfast, of course, was noodle soup, as it was in many places in Vietnam. However, in Vietnam they offered us westerners bananas (which are green in color but still ripe), bread and jam.

Just a few more words about Hanoi. I liked it. My hotel was in a very popular area where people eat and live in the street. But not too far away is a lovely lake which is lined with trees and where people go strolling in the evening.And not too far away are the tree-lined streets with ocre-colored houses dating from the French colonial era, They're now mostly used as embassies and administrative buildings. Can't remember if I told you my second night in Hanoi I attended a "water puppet" performance --lovely big puppets on a sort of lake that are handled by puppeteers standing in the water behind a screen--which was accompanied by traditional music. I actually went back to the lake last night and had a leisurely dinner. Ran into a couple on the Halong tour and chatted for awhile. Little did I know that I would then be rushing off to the airport!

Haven't got my camera cable here with me so can't send any photos this time. Will do soon.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I've just gotten back from my two-night tour on Halong Bay. It was great! So beautiful!

We left Hanoi at 8 a.m. on Sunday and drove to Halong City, from where we took a boat to the Bay. For those of you who don't know Halong Bay, parts of the film "Indochine" were filmed there. It's a lovely bay with clear water and about 2000 rock islands jutting up to the sky. After lunch on board, we visited some caves with stalactites (sp?) and stalacmites. Then swam and sat on a beach. The first night we spent on board, eating, talking and, after dinner, gazing up at the stars. The next morning we were taken to Cat Ba Island, After a short bus ride, we arrived at our hotel, where we dropped off our luggage. After that we "trekked" for three hours through jungle-like terrain up and down a mountain to get a beautiful view of the bay. Back to the hotel for lunch, then another boat trip to Monkey Island, where we got into kayaks and swam, for about two hours. Dinner back at the hotel, followed by having drinks at the local beer hall. This morning, we got up early and drove back to the boat on the other side of the island. They took us to a great cove to swim and then to a fishing village and some tunnels. Then back to Halong City for lunch and the drive back to Hanoi.

One of the nicest things about the trip was our group. The first night there were 12 of us. I was the "doyenne" of the group, but everyone was very kind and accepting. There was Mike from G.B., Jesse (who owns a record label) from Australia, Chris and Karline from Australia, Jonathan (a university prof of tourism) from N.Z., Jean-Luc and Gisele from Grenoble, FR, a Vietnamese brother and sister, Stephanie from southwestern France, Sandrine from Normandy, and me. Stephanie and Sandrine actually both work on a French petroleum-seeking ship presently off the coast of Malayasia. Stephanie is the ship's nurse and Sandrine one of the navigators. They work 12 hour shifts for 5 weeks, then have 5 weeks off to travel or go back to France. Great girls. After the first night, the French couple and the Vietnamese brother and sister left us, and we joined up with another 8 people. But the bonds between the original group were formed and we all felt we'd had a wonderful bonding experience. Everyone is on his or her own trip, with their own story, which makes it very exciting. So many young people out there visiting the world these days. I'm sure Marc, Seb and Eric you would enjoy "doing" southeast Asia. On top of visiting some very interesting and beautiful places, you'd meet some wonderful people traveling like you as you go.

Tomorrow is my last day in Vietnam. Since I didn't get up to Sapa to see the mountain tribes, I plan to go to the Hanoi Museum of Ethnology, which I've read is excellent, and to see Ho Chi Minh's house on stilts near the presidential palace. I don't leave for Beijing via Seoul until midnight, so it's going to be a long day. Hope I can travel as easily in China as I have in Vietnam, since I haven't planned anything in advance besides my first three nights in a hotel in Beijing. Hope to get to Xian, the Yangtse River and maybe Shanghai. Luckily, some people on the tour gave me a few tips.

Well, that's all for now folks.



Saturday, October 14, 2006

Here's a photo of Monsieur Nguyen and me in the hotel lobby

and one of him at the Beaux-Arts Museum of Hanoi next to a painting by his father


This is a test to see if I can now post photos. )Marc, I need your help if I can't!) . It seems to have worked. By the way, this is the Japaense bridge in Hoi An.



It's 4 Pm on Saturday and I've just come back from a very interesting day with the Vietnamese father of one of my students from the IUT of Sceaux.

A real "intellectual" whose father was a famous painter and studied in France and whose ancestors were "mandarins", he gave me a lovely tour of the cultural sights of Hanoi and told me a lot about Vietnamese culture.

He told me that the Vietnamese are not grudge-bearers, and therefore respect both the French and the Americans. I learned all about the life of Ho Chi Minh and how, after asking for independence from France and not even being given the possibility to negotiate, he came to become a communist and turned to Russia for help. Apparently, HCM really lived according to
his own principles and was not corrupt, whereas day today the party no longer acts that way. My host, Monsieur Nguyenb, seems optimistic about the way Vietnam is going today.

As he said, he and his eight brothers and sisters, although "bourgeois" and intellectuals, were not harmed during the wars and have survived throughout all their history. A pacifist and a true Budhist, he has a wonderfully tolerant outlook and I really enjoyed spending several hours with him. We walked, took taxis and finished with a late lunch along a lake. It was lovely.

This evening, I've bought a ticket to see the water puppet show, and tomorrow I leave for a two-night tour on Halong Bay. The first night we sleep on the boat, the second in a hotel on Cat Ba Island. I think I'll go on the trekking exhibition when I'm on the island.

In the meantime, I'm writing this from the crummy hotel where I'm staying. I arrived at the Hanoi airport yesterday evening, only to discover that the driver who was supposed to pick me up and the reservation I'd made by Internet at the Stars Hotel couldn't be honored because of an overbooking problem. So, I was taken to a "sister" hotel which is pretty sinister, and I've had to change rooms this afternoon, but the staff are nice and helpful. It's just a bed, but still...

Just one thing, yesterday in the bus to the Hue airport, I met three delightful male "backpackers" in their 30s--one from Australia, one from Holland and one from Spain. The four of us sat together on the plane and chatted while waiting for our flight. Such nice young people--well-traveled, interested and curious. Marco, I got the Australian's address in Sydney, and he said to look him up if you ever get down their again.

Well, that's all folks for now...Please keep in touch.


Friday, October 13, 2006


It's now 3 PM on Friday, the 13th. Here's my report from yesterday afternoon's bus ride and today's visit of Hue. As suggested by my son Marc, I'll try to be more "descriptive" of the countryside and what people are wearing, etc. Still haven't worked out how to post photos but don't despair!

The bus yesterday took us for quite ahile along the coast of the Aouth China Sea. There were some lovely bays between Hoi An and Danang. We went through the center of Danang, which is a built up city these days, but after that I'm sure what we went along was the old American army base, which was apparently the biggest one in South Vietnam during what they call "the American war" of the late 60s (compared to the "French war" of the 50s). Nowadays, the base has been taken over by the Vietnamese army. There are still a lot of run-down hangars, though, left over from the 60s.

It's funny,everywhere I go here I'm reminded of films I've seen. "Good Morning Vietnam" in the Mekong Delta; also "Apocalypse Now". And seeing the women in their long, white dresses with conical hats and the rickshaws reminds me of "l"Amant" and "Indochine". And more recently, I saw the remake of "Quiet American".

Yesterday on the bus, I went through green rice fields with grey water buffalo and the little white birds (storks) picking at the leftovers from the harvest. Of course, the traffic on the roads is something else. There's a real hierarchy here. First the buses and trucks honking at the cars, then the cars at the motorbikes, then the motorbikes at the bikes! Bikes and motorbikes come out from nowhere and often ride 4 abreadst. Most of the girls wear face masks or scarves. I thought it was for pollution, but my friend Marylynne wrote me it was more to protect their skin! They also wear long, opera-style gloves, supposedly for the same purpose.

What I didn't like was the half an hour stop (out of a 3 hour trip) at a roadside "cafe", where all the "open tour buses" stop. Overpriced (for Vietnam) bottles of water and absolutely filthy toilets, with vendors trying to sell you the same things you have everywhere in the country. In fact, this constant "hard selling" really is annoying here, but I've heard it's even 10 times worse in Cambodia, at places like Siem Reap (Anghor Wat). People are so poor that they come out in troves and don't leave you alone. And there are all sorts of middlemen who take their cut or get their commissionlong the way. However, sometimes you really do feel you're being "ripped off", as a young German couple told me.

This same couple left the dragon boat we were on this morning on the Perfume River. For $1.50, you can take a 6-hour boat trip with about 6 stops at various tombs and pagodas. But once you're on board, they try to sell you pictures, postcards, tea shirts, etc, as well as lunch (which is supposed to be included). I bought the paying lunch (fish and fruit), which was quite good. The German couple got off at the first stop and took a motorbike back to Hue. As for me, I continued down on the boat for another two stops before doing the same thing. But first I had my driver (a 37 year old man who looked as if he was 20 and said he had 3 teenage children) take me to very impression tomb of Emperor Ming Mang).

Yes, believe it or not, I rode on the back of a motorbike for 16 kilometers holding onto this "young" man's waist, wearing no helmet and with my hair flying in the wind. Luckily, he was a very good driver and i wasn't afraid.

After that, I visited the Imperial Palace within the citadel of the city. It reminded me a bit of the Imperial Palace I saw in Kyoto, though, of course, it's much more run down, like many of the other monuments i've visited. In addition to suffering from neglect over the years, it was also bombed by the South Vietnamese and U.S. during the war. However, it's the Canadians and Japanese who are paying for reconstruction. As a matter of fact, I haven't seen that the Americans are investing anywhere here in reconstruction--though they certainly should be!

In answer to Maura's question about French architecture, I saw some in Saigon --Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office, as well as some colonial-style buildings (saw some of those in Hoi An, too), but I imagine I'll see more in Hanoi.

There aren't that many American tourists here yet. My fellow travelers seem to be mostly Australians and Europeans --Germans, Dutch, British and Spanish. LOTS of young people backpacking in southeast Asia.

I'm leaving in half an hour for the Hue airport. Decided to splurg on a plane up to Hanoi so that I have time there to visit tomorrow, Saturday. Hope to go to Halong Bay on Sunday.

Bye for now.



Thursday, October 12, 2006


I've just gotten back from my excursion to My Son and may not have Internet access at my next stop (Hue), so will take advantage of having it here to give you another report.

But before I do, in answer to Maura's questions: Practically nobody in the center and south of Vietnam speaks French. I've been told older people still do in Hanoi, and I know the French Ministry of Education sponsors programs teaching French and recruiting students for French universities, but my overall impression so far is that English is the predominant foreign language taught and spoken here. However, the Vietnamese seem to have a lot of difficulty with English pronunciation. I know that the Germans, French and Spaniards on the tours I've taken have a hard time understanding. Being a (former) English teacher, I can usually guess what they're saying, and I repeat the words in standard pronunciation, but the people I'm speaking to usually have a hard time re-saying the words with the same pronunciation.

The rainy season is almost over, but my guide this morning told me last week a typhoon, which also hit southern China, passed through this central part of Vietnam and caused a lot of damage. (Perhaps that's why a lot of the homes look dilipidated or half-built). And in the low parts of the town of Hoi An, the river regularly overflows its bed.

My trip to the sanctuary of My Son took me 80 kms. inland into the "mountains". The countryside up there was very different from here, which is like a delta and very low land. Many of the temples, which are in red brick, were damaged by bombs during the war or suffer from neglect. UNESCO and an organization in Milan are supposed to be doing reconstruction, but I didn't see anybody working! The Japanese exhibition center was interesting, and some Cham people played music and performed dances in a tourist center. I was glad I went, but the temples I saw in Thailand are more impressive, and, of course, Anghor Wat is supposed to be "something else".

What I particularly enjoyed about this excursion was conversing with my guide. He told me he went to a teacher training college and taught English for 5 years before becoming a tour guide. He told me a lot about Vietnamese culture and the present and past situations in the country. I was surprised to learn that education and health care under the communist government are paying and that poor people do not receive subsidies to send their children to school or receive universal health care. He said that the booming economic situation in Vietnam has helped people's standard of living, but I believe (as in the former eastern bloc countries) there are people in their society who are left behind. We spoke about religion and the prevalence of ancestor worship among the Vietnamese. He said very few people actually belong to the Communist party, but if you want to work in any sort of administration (including administrative posts in schools and universities), you have to join the party. As for Americans, he said most people here have forgiven and forgotten, even though party officials still speak out publicly against the U.S. He also likes the new prime minister and is glad he's changed a lot of ministers. What was interesting (and a bit disconcerting) about talking to this educated man was learning about his opiniated analysis of ethnic groups and body types. According to him, the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam are, on the whole, intellectually inferior with undeveloped brains! And hairy men are hot-tempered but do not bear grudges, whereas hairless men are effeminate, devious and bear grudges all their lives!!!

Well, that's all for now. I'm off for my bus...

Please let me hear your comments.

Cheers, Hilary

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Hope you can read this, as I can't access my blog anymore! Please let me know by email if this is legible at leslieinp@yahoo.com (My club-internet email address doesn't seem to work well here either!)

This morning I visited the old town of Hoi An, which is a Unesco World Heritage site. A bustling river port in the 17th and 18th centuries, somewhat like Melaka in Malaysia, the town is sleepy today--except for all the hawkers, shopkeepers, and rickshaw and motorbike owners who accost you at every step! Despite this inconvenience, it was an interesting place to visit, as the architecture of most of the wooden buildings is impressive; and the restoration and preservation attempts now underway promise to bring into light even more historic treasures. Around noon, the weather was hot and muggy, so I stopped at a riverside cafe called "the Blue Dragon" and tasted some of the local specialities: White Rose (little swan-shaped dumplings), fried wanton with fruit and vegetables, and Cao Lau (a Hoi An traditional yellow-noodle dish), and a locally-made beer called "Larue". Yum! As my hotel was about 2 kilometers away and it was very hot to walk so far, I paid for a motorbike ride back.

Then, this afternoon, I took the hotel shuttle bus to Cua Dai Beach 4 kilometers away. 'Sat under a parasol and had a swim in the South China Sea, which was as warm as the water in a bathtub.

Tomorrow will be a busy day. In the morning a driver is coming to pick me up at 8 and we're going to visit My Son, another World Heritage site, which is about 40 kms. away It is a smaller "Anghor Wat" and was the sanctuary of Cham culture. Then in the afternoon I've got a 3-hour bus trip to Hue.

That's all for tonight. I look forward to hearing from you and/or to receiving your comments--once I can get back on the site.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Wasn't successful with uploading photos! Can anyone advise me if I should compact them or something? thanks.

Also, I checked into my settings and discovered that it was set so that only people who were registered could make comments. I've freed this up now so that anyone can make comments on the blog. So please go ahead and write me! I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks already to sons Eric and Marc, and also to Tom, Shirley, and Andrea.

Bonne nuit! It's already midnight here.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Hello Everyone,

Today I went on another tour. This time to the Mekong Delta. Although the tour itself was quite "touristy", as they stopped us at various places to buy things, it was interesting seeing the rice fields, coconut trees, jungle-like islands, etc. We went on several different types of boats. The Mekong River is very wide and dirty but there's a lot of life going on. It rained today--unlike yesterday, which was lovely. And driving in and out of Saigon on a min bus was a real experience! There are no traffic lights and the people in town don't wear helmets as they drive their motorbikes. I've never seen such a mass of people during rush hour! But I guess it'll be the same in China. Vietnam is really very poor, and you feel you're helping them by doing tourism. They're not "pushy" as in some countries. American culture is everywhere here: jeans, coke, US-made B-series on TV. Our guide today said he left school at 16, is one of 7 children fro; the Delta, and is learning English online and with CD's. He's very ambitious and has a great vocabulary. However, his pronunciation is very difficult to understand. I tell people I'm French but they recognize my American accent. Haven't felt much animosity. But the war museum yesterday was certainly "progandish" versus the French and American occupations. I'm just getting to learn about the country. The people today on the tour came from all horizons, and everyone seemed to be expatriates! Hong Kong Chinese living in the U.S., Indonesians in Australia, Swedes in Hong Kong, etc. Everyone was very open and interested. On the whole, it was a youngist, backpacker type of crowd. You pick up information from everyone as you talk. As the Swedish girl from Hong Kong, the best thing about the tour today was the people you got to talk to (including our guide).

I'm taking a plane tomorrow afternoon to Danang. It's very easy to get around here.

Will write again soon.



Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hi Everyone,

I arrived last night in Saigon (Ho Chin Minh City or HCM) after a comfortable flight from Paris via Bangkok. The plane was packed until Bangkok, but then there were only about 50 of us who continued on to HCM. Luckily, and very exceptionally, I slept most of the way. However, afterwards, i did catch quite a bit of the film "American Dreamz", which actually isn't that ad.It includes a very caustic sketch of Bush and Cheney.
Although I arrived at about 6 PM, it was already very dark. I took a taxi to the hotel Annie Goulvent had suggested and have a very clean room for only $15 a night. Spent the night in the room but was up early this morning to do a city tour. I'm half way through it. We stopped at 12 for lunch, and I took advantage of the time to come to an Internet cafe. Only about 20 US cents for an hour! We've already seen Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office--both relics of French colonialization. We also visited the Reunification Palace and the War Remanants Museum. These later two are both explained from the Vietnamese point of view, which would make for an interesteing "social history" or sociological study in itself. Our guide is a university student in tourism. She's very sweet but not very knowledgeable. My fellow visitors are a young FRENCH COUPLE (the gal is of Vietnamese descent) and 4 rather loud Australian women from Sydney. We don't stay long in each place, but taking the tour saves a lot of walking and wear and tear. i hope to go on a tour of the Melong Delta tomorrow.
Will write again soon. Hope you're all fine. The weather here isn't bad. About 25 degrees, but the town feels very polluted. Numerous people are wearing masks, and I can feel it in my eyes.

Cheers for now,


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hi,This is Hilary. Believe it or not, I'm still in Paris! My trip hasn't started yet due to an unfortunate circumstance. I went to pick up my passport at the Chinese consulate on Monday morning, only to find out that the consulate was closed for 3 days for a national Chinese holiday. And since I needed my passport and the Vietnamese and Chinese visas inside it, I wasn't able to leave on Tuesday night as planned. Luckily, I was able to change my flight, but it means I'll have 3 days less in Vietnam and will be flying now to Saigon (HCMV) rather than to Hanoi, which means changing hotel reservations, etc.So, the adventure is beginning...Hilary