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Everywhere a monk monk

What Lao people may take for granted is the stunning beauty of their country and quaint city, Luang Prabang, as well as the intriguing sight of monks walking about the city.

I’ve had several conversations over the last two years with my Lao co-workers and friends to explain that in most other countries, monks keep to themselves and certainly don’t walk about town in the same manner as you and I.  I explained that most other countries are not Buddhist, and therefore there are no temples like you find in Laos.

Part of the charm of visiting Luang Prabang is the numerous temples…some right on the main street and others tucked down side streets or off a wandering path.  And along with the temples are the many monks who study there.  It lends such a peaceful environment and beautiful setting for vacation in Luang Prabang.

While I’m sure the monks hate having their picture taken all the time (that’s why I took this one from the back), it really is fascinating to be walking down the street and pass by one or a few monks. Their robes are so brightly colored and when they pair it with another bold color…it’s just eye-catching and beautiful. And I can’t help but to take a quick snapshot!

36 days to go

10/10/2010 UPDATE

This blog post was mentioned on October 8th in an article in The Economist.  Not a super positive article about Vietnam, but I’m pretty happy to have On The Bright Side mentioned in such an establish and respected publication.  Imagine that!  My little blog made it into The Economist! For my most recent post on the 1000 Year Anniversary of Hanoi, please click HERE.

9/24/2010 UPDATE

I wanted to see if anything has gotten better 20 days after my last post and many more days fewer than 36 to go until Hanoi’s 1000th Anniversary comes to town.  So I did some snooping in the new and found some more supportive articles that the 1000 Year Anniversary of Hanoi will bring more disappointment than celebration:

Vietnam Net Bridge feels that the government forgot tourism.

My favorite quote from this article is, “It seems they were not well prepared for the event and so they could not gain high results. Another problem is that there had been no clear-cut long term planning. They just waited until the last minute to try their best.” Funny thing is, this is the famous Vietnamese pianist talking about an international piano competition.  He happens to be performing for the opening ceremony on October 1st.

The words – golden opportunity for profit – is not what any tourist wants to hear!

I suspect that this type of exhibition will be everywhere.  1000 of this and 1000 of that on display. But could you imagine THIS???

And here finally is something which somewhat resembles a calendar of events.  Still looking for more details!

I want to make something clear….I feel very privileged to be here during this most momentous occasion. I LOVE festivals and celebrations.  That is evident if you’ve ever read some of my blog entries from Japan.  I really want Hanoi and Vietnam to shine during this remarkable milestone.  But having worked here for two years, I’m not even the slightest bit surprised by the lack of organization and the last minute planning…and the exclusion of the foreign community.  It’s turning out to be a very local and exclusive event…and that’s a real shame. 1000 only comes around once.  And I’d like to participate and really enjoy the celebrations!!!



The main photo above shows the countdown screen at Hoan Kiem Lake which helps all Hanoians eagerly anticipate Hanoi’s 1000th Anniversary.  The city is 1000 years old on October 10th. I’ve written before about the disorganization of the event and the lack of ability to capitalize internationally on such an occasion.  A few new decorations have gone up around the lake such as the banners and tribute to Ho Chi Minh for Independence Day, as you can see in the photos.

Unfortunately, Hanoi has not gotten its act together enough to really draw attention globally.  Working in tourism, it’s a big disappointment, as you have to rely a bit on the country and city to market the destination to foreign travelers.  And what better occasion than the 1000th – 1000!!! – Anniversary of the birth of your capital city!?!?!? There has been absolutely no international news or marketing for this event. Here are some local news articles I’ve found:

“The biggest concern now is traffic jams.” http://en.www.info.vn/society/122-facts/11092-many-heads-of-state-arriving-for-hanois-1000th-anniversary

Best Wishes Sent http://www.hanoitimes.com.vn/newsdetail.asp?CatId=79&NewsId=17675

Wow, this sounds fun… http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20100820213343.aspx

Where? Schedule? Tickets? http://www.thanhniennews.com/2010/Pages/20100904165116.aspx

I hear that just as they did for Independence Day (an every other holiday), the flowers will go up around Hoan Kiem Lake, and there will be fireworks…but what of festivals? There are brief mentions of activities, dignitaries visiting from other countries, parades, gala dinners, cultural shows and such but I have yet to see a website with a calendar of events, nor do I know when all these festivities will take place, if I need to buy tickets, where to buy the tickets, etc.  A little hard to participate when I have no idea who, what, where and when it’s happening!

My assistant told me a few weeks ago that the only news she could find through VNAT (Vietnam National Administration of Tourism) was an opportunity to advertise on the billboards which will go up around town.  In fact, if you take a look at their website (http://www.vietnamtourism.com/e_pages/news/index.asp) you can barely find a focus on the upcoming birthday. A few other organizations have contacted us to advertise in special tourist publications, maps and cookbooks for the month. I don’t want to advertise, I want to DO something, ATTEND something, WATCH a show, a parade, a concert…something… and CELEBRATE.  I simply cannot find the information on how to do that…and neither can any of my local staff.

In a time when SE Asia is fighting to attract tourists after an economic meltdown, H1N1 crisis, rampant reports of Dengue Fever, and political instability in Bangkok, Vietnam could have been the hero of the region by investing their resources to bring a positive focus to their country.  I’m sure that in 1000 years of history, there is a heck of a lot of culture, people, events, food and amazingness to celebrate and showcase to the rest of the world. I’ll be curious to see what actually happens come October, but at just 36 days to go, I have a feeling this is a huge, HUGE, opportunity missed.  And that’s really a shame.

Afternoon in Hanoi

After work today, I was eager to talk a walk about town.  I’ve felt a bit disconnected from Hanoi recently.  A few of my friends have either left or are out of town, and if it’s just me, I usually spend my free time at home at the computer.  I can always find something to do or someone on SKYPE to catch up with.

So I pushed myself to go to do a little shopping today.  I wanted to go to the camera shops to search for a case for my new camera and a new cover for my Mac.  I went into one shop and said, “Do you have camera case for Panasonic Lumix?” The clerk replied, “Do you need camera?” I pulled my camera out of my purse and it’s simple cotton sack I’ve been keeping it in. “Nope. I have the camera.”  She gave me the snottiest look and said, “No, we don’t have case.”  Ok fine.  Just because I am not buying the camera from you doesn’t mean you can’t sell me the damn case!

I quickly gave up on shopping after that first failed attempt (My patience has actually grown shorter in these 2 years in Vietnam) and decided to take a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake.  I just wanted a leisurely walk, soak up the sights and hit the refresh button.  I couldn’t walk five steps without someone approaching me.

I was ‘bothered’ by a kid trying to sell me guidebooks, or another who wanted to practice English or when I shifted sides and walked roadside, it was the motorbike, cyclo and taxi drivers begging for me to accept a ride.  I even had some expat dude named Isaak walk up to me, ask me if I spoke English and then proceed to tell me about a special tour I could take into remote villages.  Perhaps I normally would have spoken to the kid who wanted to learn English and engaged Isaak in a longer conversation about how he finds himself in Hanoi selling charity tours into the hillsides, but my whole point of taking a walk in the city was simply to observe the pace of life, people watch and soak it up a bit.  I didn’t have one moment to absorb anything because just as I finished brushing off one person, then next was approaching me. I felt like an offensive lineman trying to protect my QB! How am I supposed to feel the pulse of the city if I can’t sit for a moment to observe it?

Vietnam just celebrated it’s Independence Day, as well as the death anniversary of Ho Chi MInh.  Hoan Kiem Lake was also the hub of many activities, including the ever-present-on-special-holidays flower festival and fireworks.  I’ve included a few photos of the remains of the flower festival. You can even see the cyclo driver carrying a potted plant to his cyclo. That guy stopped three times to dig up flowers from the remaining pots. Madness!

I thought I would stop in one more shop before I went home, and that was a jewelry shop I like, where I bought my little dragonfly earrings.  Even in the tiny shop, I could not move an inch without the store clerk closely following my every footstep.  I tried to strike up a conversation, to no avail and then decided that it was time to go home. I fended off the meter-less taxi drivers, the questionable motorbike guys who in very creepy voices say as you pass by, “Moto?” I finally caught a Mailinh taxi. The guy has driven me home before and it did nothing to put me at ease that he told me my street and side lane before I could tell him.

I stopped quickly at L’s place to pick up some cereal and some spices, and while there, listened in on two uber skinny 20-something girls debate if they should break their diet and get a chocolate bar or an Atkins bar.  I didn’t bother to see what they chose. One of them proudly announced to the entire market that she would drink the large bottle of water by the end of the day. Um, whatever, girls.  No need to justify what you are buying to each other or the rest of us.  You’re young, you’re health conscious…we get it.  We actually don’t give a shit…just buy the damn items and move along.

I arrived home, cranked up the air con (it was 37/98 today) and sat down at my computer to unwind.  So much for my pleasant little afternoon in Hanoi.

Cheap and good

I love Lao food and the BBQ is no exception.  Much in the style of the Korean BBQ, you get a bucket of hot coals, a bowl with boil and grill space, lots of fresh veggies, meats and condiments, chopsticks and chunks of lard to coat the pan.  The Beer Lao is a great companion and all this food for all these people, plus a few rounds of Beer Lao costs only $80.  That’s for 12 people total!  Bargain!

GLOWing in Bangkok

Yesterday I made my way to Bangkok where I will spend the next week on sales calls. I’m here with my Sales Manager from Laos, which will be our main focus.  Since the riots and violence in May, travel to Laos and Luang Prabang has severely slowed down.  Most of the flights to Luang Prabang come from Bangkok.  The number of flights per day has been limited and the people on the flights are few.  Bangok flights from Hanoi have also been limited to just 4 per day across two airlines. An while Hanoi has a direct flight to Luang Prabang, the cost remains $340 round trip. A bit expensive to just zip over for the weekend.

I happen to love Bangkok and Thailand.  The traffic and the rainy season my put a damper on running around town for business, but I’ll stay through the weekend to get a health check-up and do a wee bit of shopping.

The photo I’ve included is my hotel room, the Glow Trinity Hotel.  It’s pretty cute and comfy!

Hmong Mountain Retreat

Now that I’ve returned from Sapa and managed a couple days aback at work, plus the big Friday Night on the Terrace party at the Press Club, I wanted to make a mention of Hmong Mountain Retreat.  This is where we celebrated my friend Pete’s 40th birthday.  It was such a lovely party and absolutely beautiful surroundings, I’m still thinking about it.

And that’s just the kind of place Hmong Mountain Retreat is…the beauty and peacefulness you feel when you are there stays with you even after you’ve left.  Perhaps that’s the whimsical details lovingly placed throughout the retreat.  Perhaps its the terrific chef’s who cook with super fresh foods. Perhaps it’s the way the retreat lives in harmony with the surrounding nature, which just soaks you up and takes hold of you.  Or it could be the dainty little fireflies which danced through the night (I still can’t get over the fireflies.  Only the third time in my life to see them and I am simply in awe.)

Whatever features have caught me, l can’t wait to escape Hanoi again and visit Sapa and refresh and refill at Hmong Mountain Retreat.

For the love of enkai

One of my favorite things about life in Japan is enkai.  Enkai is roughly translated to mean a party.  Work enkai are very common.  There is always an end-of-the-year party and sometimes even one at the start of the year.  In the field of education, there are two in the spring; one for teachers who get transferred out and one for those who get transferred in.  Sometimes there are impromptu parties in summer time or if there is a weekend work retreat, or in the case of my farewell.

So on the occasion of my visiting Japan, I got to enjoy several enkai.  Usually they are held in restaurants who specialize in large group events.  The room is long, the one, long table low to the ground.  Everyone takes their shoes off and sits on the ground. Most often, sashimi and other dishes good for sharing are served.  Sometimes you get individual portions. With the constant flow of beer, the enkai becomes more lively and loud.  I always love enkai!

While I enjoyed seeing my former colleagues at all my enkai, I was particularly happy with one in Fujieda.  I was really touched by the attendance of a few teachers…unexpected and so very nice. It made me feel really special, and that’s always a good thing.


This is a photo of the sashimi dish and the nama biru (draft beer) served at one of the enkai.  It’s not an enkai if you don’t see this!


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