SOMETIMES YOU NEED A BIT OF TIME AFTER AN EVENT TAKES PLACE, BEFORE YOU CAN WRITE ABOUT IT. This illustrates one flaw I can see with blogging and that is that blogging is a form of instant analysis, lacking the perspective that brings about a deep understanding. Perspective needs time as well as space. I am still waiting for inspiration to write the definitive account of my time in lock up in Japan, and that happened more than a year ago. Someday I will see the whole strange and mysterious affair in its true and proper light, and then I will write that story. Until then, it is still a work in progress. On Friday, May 2, 2008, Nga and I caught a bus from Đà Lạt in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, back to Saigon (otherwise known as Ho Chi Minh City.) At the time I was suffering a dose of seconditis -- this was my second trip in Vietnam with Nga, and I was stalked by the nagging doubt, that it wasn't as good as the first time. We had been in Đà Lạt for most of the week, and it had rained hard every day. On Friday at last the sun came out, in the morning and midday hours at last, and I was served plenty of stunning pastoral views. Nonetheless, I didn't fully appreciate until today (July 6, 2008) what a stunning slice of Vietnam I encountered on that bus trip. Those memories took two months to ferment. I was walking along the river near my house (the Edo River, in Tokyo, Japan) this afternoon, down with a rainy season 'flu, when perspective overcome me. It was the contrast of those memories against the present, the color of Vietnam dazzling against the sedate, gray/green background of Japan. It made me think: was that really part of my life, it seems so out of place with my workaday reality now? But a part of my life lives in Vietnam now, and a lot of my memories belong there.
Like a thunderbolt, as I walked along the river this evening somewhat feverish and hot, I was transported back there to the highways of southern Vietnam. Lightning strikes over the rice fields and state forests outside of Ho Chi Minh City, the endless honking of horns, town after town passing by, opened promiscuously to the view -- I don't know how many houses I have looked into while travelling streets in Vietnam, to see young guys with shirts off playing billiards, or some old dame watching TV. Travelling any distance in Vietnam is an epic experience because you really have to earn your mileage points. Đà Lạt is only 308 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, but getting there takes the best part of a day. On our return to the city that Friday in early May, we encountered one flash flood, a couple of thunderstorms, about four toilet stops in dusty towns over which sometimes loomed huge slabs of mountain, peaks shrouded in cloud. Inside the bus loops Vietnamese pop, sometimes CD, sometimes DVD -- and on this long ride I slowly found myself getting into the sound, especially the kind of soul/Vietnamese folk fusion stuff. Maybe it is just me, but Vietnamese pop music sounds more authentic than, say, pop music here in Japan. Listening to Vietnamese pop, you feel that you really are in Asia. Whereas JPop could be American music, except that the lyrics are in Japanese.
Loud Vietnamese music is part of the soundscape of this country, along with the scooter horns and the lady sitting three seats behind you, shouting into her mobile phone at a decibel level you would not have imagined possible. It is a loud country to be sure, and the music is usually played at full bolt. In the latter parts of our bus trip back to Ho Chi Minh City, a DVD got put on, featuring one venerable gent, singing duets with a series of females. I didn't realise until tonight here in gray/green rainy season Japan, but this was probably a form of music called Hò, improvisational, non-metrical, and typically sung as dialogue between a man and woman. Common themes include love, courtship, the countryside, etc. The bus rattled and shook, the driver's hand permanently attached to the horn. Nga threw up, numerous times. We finally made it back to Ho Chi Minh City. We drove past the Guns 'n' Roses cafe in Pham Ngu Lao, and I found myself wishing that I could drop myself off there, lose myself in that billiards playing heavy metal hell. Which I loved so much the last time I was there! But Nga wouldn't let me go. In the end I managed to sneak out of our hotel, and dine downstairs, Pizza Dani (35 Bui Thi Xuan St., TEL: 925 2114.) Nhà hàng Hồ Chí Minh Phở & Sandwich DANI Quận1 ... apparently the place is famous around here, particularly for the pho. I went in for the Iranian sandwiches, and the chat with the Iranian owner, while his half Iranian half Vietnamese kids high-fived me in the late rainy gloom. From time to time Russian clients dropped in, asking for the famous Dani Tea. I finished my meal, and scurried upstairs. And then I got the chance to drink ice cold beers for the first time in a week, in a cold chilled room overlooking hot neon Ho Chi Minh City, watching the Discovery Channel. A show about animal sex, I believe.
Guide Vietnam writes: "Bus is the most popular way for travelers on a tight budget to choose. Traveling by bus allows traveler to stop in any destination and stay as long as they like at reasonable prices. Although, compared with train, bus hardly can give passengers a comfortable trip, it's still a hard-to-beat means of transportation in Vietnam.
"If you want to discover thoroughly a certain place and gain more local experiences, public buses are an option worth considering. They run many of the same routes everyday and also additional routes throughout Vietnam.
"Though, there are areas in which public buses are forbidden to access, such as District 1 and 3 in Ho Chi Minh City. So, for the sake of yourself, you should get a map of the main routes of each city's public buses on sale at bookstores. Ticket can be purchased directly at the bus stations or on buses at low prices. However, you should acknowledge the discomfort when taking this vehicle.
"Open Tour Buses have activity scope at almost all popular destinations throughout the country, which allows travelers to stop whenever they want for as long as they like in any destination on itinerary.
"The price for an entire tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City is around $25-$30, fixed and determined by transportation firms according to the distance of the routes. It is easy to purchase tickets at almost any budget travel agency, and there is no need to book in advance. But you are advised to reconfirm your seats, especially during peak season and holiday weekends..."