Vietnam in my mind

NOT  only because Vietnam is sung by Filipina actress Lea Salonga as Kim in the West End and Broadway hit “Miss Saigon” but more so, it is also a free and brave nation which has withstood the challenges of history and with that alone, being in its soil have given an outsider the most memorable and unforgettable stay for four days.

This writer was given the opportunity to visit Vietnam when his showbiz documentary film “Dumagat,” a foray into the artistic rights of the indigenous peoples from Infanta and General Nakar towns in Quezon Province in the Philippines through the presentation of their theater as call to protest on issues like destruction and grabbing of their ancestral domain, was chosen as one of the twenty two finalists from all Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN’s seventy entries to the People’s Republic of Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communication’s first Festival of Photos, Documentary Films and Reportage on ASEAN countries and people, Vietnam 2010 held in Hanoi on the last days of October.

It was a rare chance to travel Vietnam , well, most of its wonderful places, anyway.

If most Filipinos got wary about President Noynoy Aquino’s speechwriter Mai Mislang’s pronouncements that wine in Vietnam sucks, motorcycles on their roads could kill and no sight of handsome Vietnamese guys around, you’re in for synecdoche.

At the Saigon Hotel in Hanoi where we were billeted, we were offered, if not the best, still one of the world’s bests tasting red wine and of course, the Vietnamese green tea.

Still, in a sprawling Hon Dau Resort in Hai Phong City, we, the initial group of delegates which included two Malaysians and two Cambodians, one Laotian, one Filipino and a good number of Vietnamese (the three Burmese finalists just flew in on the awards night and a group of authors from Indonesia and Singapore didn’t show up completely) were randomly tendered with a fine taste of brandy, goblet after goblet during dinner in a cozy part of the restaurant until we were tipsy enough to camp around a bonfire near the seaside looking up the hotel.

There are a lot of motorcycles plying the main thoroughfares of Hanoi and even in the countryside but they are very orderly not one dare devilish fool we saw leaping about in an anarchical road or a suicidal joyride in side streets and intersections.

Motorbikers are the utilitarian boons on the streets of public transport aside from the buses plying the busy roads of the city to the suburbs and the many bicycles running around grassroots and provincial places.

Since Vietnam has been colonized by France, the Western breed isn’t far from creating that hybrid (mestizos) abound in high places like malls and restaurants while good looking native Vietnamese who gallivant in the bustle and hustle of the metropolis or stay put in front of their business establishments were aplenty during our night out to buy souvenirs or daily needs from groceries and stores around Saigon Hotel.

Gorgeous young Vietnamese males who look like models and movie stars, with Oriental features of almond-eyed and yellow-skinned were hanging around bars and discos so where was Mislang all her stay in Hanoi?

As a matter of fact, the local male pop singers who performed during the awarding ceremonies of the Festival ASEAN 2010 at the Au Co Art Center in the heart of Hanoi were attractive enough to any gullible standard.

Commercial districts in Hanoi are combination of the mood and physical looks of Chinatown in Binondo, Manila and Ayala in Makati City.

The Philippines and Vietnam share the same tropical sun, although the climate was cool when we were in Hanoi, so the greens around are reminders that we are still in lush Asia with the abundance of shrubs, vines and trees along the highways going to their barrios.

On our way to Ha Long Bay, we saw kangkong in fields and water lilies and lotuses thriving in swamps. Aratilis, talisay and banaba trees, among the many identical tropical plants, lined up on the back and front yards of the houses.

Most of the abodes of the Vietnamese, in rural and urban areas, but mostly in the provinces, are built like long, sturdy cases of matchboxes with pointed poles directed to heaven.

We asked Duong, one of the officers of MIC, if the French invasion has something to do with the styles and looks of the houses.

“I don’t think so. It is just a style. I was not oriented about it. I just grew up with that kind of houses,” she said in her most conscious knowledge.

In Ha Long Bay, the scenery of the sea is very captivating and mesmerizing.

Ha Long Bay, according to our tourist guide Vinh is considered one of the national heritages of Vietnam as assessed and proclaimed by the UNESCO.

Many foreign tourists—Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Americans, Westerners but mostly Europeans etc as well as locals—visit the place.
The boats that ferry visitors to the sea and the hills and mountains are relatively big as a yacht and very ornate.
A Ha Long Bay cruise isn’t complete without a visit to the caves known as Thien Cung and Dau Go which are really splendid like you’re in fantasyland.

According to Vinh, the caves were recent discoveries by Vietnamese fishermen and seamen reported to the local government and later were declared by UNESCO as wonders of the world.

Daily life seems so simple in the provincial level as well as municipal atmosphere (in some books, cities in Vietnam are referred as municipalities) in the northern part of Vietnam although an Australian, Steve Campbell, a language teacher at Los Baños, Laguna in the Philippines, has been a frequent visitor in Hanoi and Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, finds both cities fascinating but also quite intriguing (read: some elements risky) in some aspects.

“When I was in Hanoi , policemen went to my hotel room after a Vietnamese woman talked to me. They thought she slept with me. You have to be cautious because they can always ask money from you,” recalled Campbell.

It turned out that the Vietnamese girl was a prostitute, said Steve and the authorities could milk him out if she would complain.

It was a footnote of sort from a Western tourist but when we were going around major sections of Hanoi, we were observant of the young police officers and traffic aides stationed in every corner of the district and they were courteous, accommodating and friendly despite language barrier.

Hai Phong City, meanwhile, spreads out many tantalizing resorts and beach fronts, the hills mostly constructed with hotels and apartelles for local and foreign guests.

Back to Hanoi , one of its oldest eateries, A Taste of Hanoi Restaurant, served us its unique Vietnamese food like the La Vong which is a chopped fish grilled in traditional cake hot plate and mixed with rice and vegetables.

La Vong is one of the most selected Hanoian dishes, according to Vinh.

The menu set us were fish soup with dill, deep-friend fish roll and dill, sautéed veggies, fresh fruits and the finale, the famous Vietnamese green tea.

It was a good meal as good as the hospitality of the Vietnamese.

Au Co Art Center, a modern edifice at No. 8 Huynh Thuc Khang Street in the heart of Hanoi, a magnificent site next probably to Hanoi Opera House, is a huge cultural theatre and display hub of Vietnamese art and culture and other Asian influences where East and West meet to look into the historical and social development of Vietnam through it wide embrace and deep fathom of its heritage. Boy Villasanta


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