04/9/13

No, No, Nanjing

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Last weekend John, Liam and I visited the city of Nanjing. The capital of our province (Jiangsu), it is about an hour away by bullet train. It is known for its mausoleums (it has the only tomb of a Ming emperor outside Beijing, as well as the tomb of Sun Yat-Sen, the father of modern China), its 600-year-old city wall (one of the few the communists didn’t tear down) and, of course, the Rape of Nanking (the horrific massacre by the invading Japanese of approximately 300,000 people in one month in 1937).

The kids were taking a field trip all day Friday so we left Thursday evening after school. In a harbinger of things to come, our cab driver did not have the faintest idea where our hostel was, even with the address in Pinyin. He had to stop and ask people for directions (I called Alexis and asked her to search for it online). Eventually we found it, but in all our time in Nanjing, we never once had a cab driver who was able to get to our hostel without asking for help!

When we walked into the lobby a woman said to us, “How many tapes would you like to buy?” We stared at her in surprise until she consulted with some other women in Chinese and then rephrased herself to say, “Do you have a reservation?” (!!!) We did indeed have a reservation, for three single rooms for $10 each per night. She informed us that they no longer had those rooms available, but we could share a room with a queen-sized bed and a single bed for the same price. Being laidback people, we agreed. It was a very nice room—the only problem was that it was freezing! Unfortunately, I am so used to being cold that it didn’t occur to me to ask the front desk’s help with turning on the heat until Saturday night. When I asked, they opened a drawer in the front desk, which turned out to be full of remote controls for each room’s heat. They located my room’s, came upstairs, and turned it on. Why don’t they just do that automatically, you ask? Good question!

After we dropped off our bags we decided to go out and check out the city. We asked the women at the front desk where we should go, and they suggested 1912. I recognized that as the clubbing street (the one in Wuxi has the same name. It has the craziest night clubs I have ever seen, ever. In fact, let’s take a little break to appreciate them:

P1050216I call this one “Reno Honeymoon Suite Circa 1983.”

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Anyway,  none of us wanted to go dancing, so we asked for another suggestion. They conferred for a long time, and I was getting impatient, so when I caught the words “Shanghai Lu” (Shanghai Street), I said, “Shanghai Lu? Sounds great.” So we went outside and hailed a cab, and told him to take us to Shanghai Lu.

He brought us downtown to a neighborhood that looked like it might be busy during the day but was pretty dead at night. He dropped us off right outside an expat bar, which wasn’t exactly what we had had in mind—we were in the mood to walk around somewhere lively. But since we couldn’t explain that to the driver, we got out and went for a walk. Since it was a Chinese city, it was easy to follow the neon, so after a few turns we found ourselves in front of a giant screen at a major intersection with huge luxury stores like Burberry and Rolls Royce. We walked around for a while, but there wasn’t much going on, so we decided to get some rest and get an early start the next day.

The next morning we asked the ladies at the front desk how to get to the memorial to the massacre. They told us a bus number, and we caught it very easily across the street. The bus cost 2 yuan (6 yuan to a dollar). The ride took about half an hour, through a bustling city (minus tall buildings—they are in a different part of Nanjing). Once we got to our stop I had to ask a few people where the memorial was before we found it. Once we spotted it, it was unmistakable.

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The Rape of Nanking doesn’t mean much to most people in the West. I wrote both my graduate and undergraduate dissertations on World War II and if I hadn’t read a book on the subject before I came to China I would only have been able to tell you that the Japanese killed a lot of people when they came to Nanjing.

The details are so much worse than I could have imagined.

I don’t really want to go into them here—it’s just too sad—but imagine lakes disappearing because they are completely filled with bodies, and women of all ages—and I do mean all ages, from childhood on—being raped. (If you take into account the fact that I am holding back the worst parts, you will have some idea of how bad it was.)

The museum was incredibly well done. It reminded me a lot of the Holocaust Museum in DC. In addition to telling the story of the massacre (and the entire war), it had extensive grounds with gardens (some of the flowers were donated by Japanese people) and numerous spaces for reflection and remembering the victims. The foreigners who were living in Nanjing at the time and who risked their lives to (successfully) save people were honored at length. After Vietnam, it was really nice to see images of Americans heroically saving lives. (One of the Americans, Minnie Vautrin, a female missionary from Illinois, was so traumatized by what she saw during the massacre that she later committed suicide.)

Minnie Vautrin

Minnie Vautrin

After we finished the museum it was mid-afternoon and we were starving, so we went to the first restaurant we could find. Unfortunately, it did not have a picture menu, so I ended up having a conversation like this:

“Do you have dumplings?”

“No.”

“Chicken?”

“Yes.”

“Not too spicy.”

(I can say dumplings, chicken, pork, beef, rice, noodles, cola, beer, tea, coffee, water, fruit, and the names of a few fruits… Not a very impressive food vocabulary for someone who eats out at least once a day in China, but hey, it’s a lot more than all my friends can say…)

She ended up bringing us a chicken and peanut dish that was actually very good, so clearly I am brilliant.

After lunch we decided to try to find the Confucian temple area that is sort of the Nanjing equivalent of Quincy Market. I had emailed myself some information about Nanjing which fortunately had the names of places in characters, so I was able to show someone the name of the temple at a subway station and she pointed out the stop that we needed to go to on a map. Once we got to the stop, the same technique got us to the temple. (I know how to say left turn, right turn, intersection, etc.)

The Confucian Temple area, from the other side of the river

The Confucian Temple area, from the other side of the river

The area was very touristy but it was nice to see so many people (despite being a larger city on paper, with over 6 million people to Nanjing’s 5 million, Wuxi does not feel nearly so busy). We paid (an exorbitant) 30 yuan to go into the temple, which was rather cheesy. You could pay 2 yuan to ring the temple bell; the courtyard was full of Disney-like figures; and there was some sort of pay-as-you-listen concert going on in one of the halls. After visiting dozens of superior temples in Thailand for free, I was not impressed.

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After the temple we walked around and admired (or, rather, did not admire) shop windows. The ugliness of clothes in Chinese stores never fails to amaze me. I just don’t get it—how can a whole country have such bad taste? It’s good for me, I guess—I haven’t been tempted to buy any new clothes!

We thought it might be nice to sit somewhere with a view and have a snack (getting a cup of coffee here is not really a thing, except at Starbucks. People also don’t linger over meals—they eat and run. So it’s hard to figure out where to go if you just want to pay to hang out somewhere pleasant). We walked up a staircase to a restaurant that overlooked the plaza only to discover that it was a hot pot place—not exactly snack material. Hot pot is also really hard to order at because they give you a page full of meats and vegetables (in Chinese) for you to check off. So your waiter has to speak very good English in order to translate it all, or you have to speak very good Chinese to explain what you want. In this case, the waiter very helpfully found us the menu in English—and then after we only checked a few things he proceeded to read it to us! “Spare ribs?” “No.” “Mushrooms?” “No.” “Chicken?” Finally I said, “I can read English!” And he went away. He was very nice, though!

After dinner we decided to see if we could find a traditional Chinese theater I had read about. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any information about it except the name. I asked a man about it and he said that it was very, very far. That was rather discouraging, so we decided to see if we could find a movie theater and see a movie in English. Some women in the subway station directed us to a stop where we found an absolutely giant mall with an unbelievable number of shops. I think it might be as big as the Mall of America. It took us a long time to find the movie theater (even with help), and when we got there the English-language movies (the Oz and Die Hard sequels and that giant movie) were not very exciting to us and the prices were just as high as in the States (surprising in a country where you can buy a pirated DVD for $1.50), so we decided to save our money and find something else to do.

When we left the mall we were surprised to realize that we recognized where we were—we were at the corner with the fancy stores that we had walked to the night before. So we decided to find that expat bar where the cab had dropped us off and play some cards.

The bar, Blue Sky, had a very cozy atmosphere. They also had a lot of treats you can’t usually get in China, like popcorn. Liam and John taught me to play the card game they are currently obsessed with, Rummy 500. It’s very addicting, so we played until about 1:00am, at which point we found it virtually impossible to get a cab. Taxis in Wuxi display a little green light when they are open and a little red light when they are occupied, but for some reason taxis in Nanjing do exactly the opposite. Almost every taxi passing us was green, and even when they were red, they wouldn’t stop. After about twenty minutes we were getting pretty desperate. We started walking up the street, towards another group of people. I’m slightly ashamed to say that we basically stole a cab from them (just by virtue of being downstream), but since it’s China, I’m sure they would have done the same to us.

Our guidebook said that you should devote a full day to Purple Mountain, where the tombs of the Ming emperor and Sun Yat-Sen are located. Our hostel happened to be right up against the mountain, so in less than five minutes we were at an entrance to a path that led into the forest.

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It was lovely to be in the woods for the first time in I don’t know how long. There were long stretches when we didn’t see any people, which was even lovelier.

Eventually our path met a long stone staircase that led up the mountain.

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Lots of people were climbing it, and we soon joined them. We couldn’t see the top, so we kept expecting to reach the tombs and be finished. Everyone was panting and sweating. I took off my coat, then my sweater. Every time the staircase leveled off for a small landing we were disappointed. It turned out that the staircase went all the way to the top of the mountain, and—the real kicker—that the tombs were not at the top!

Liam later said that about nine other people were taking our picture while we were posing...

Liam later said that about nine other people were taking our picture while we were posing…

After the climb we were both hungry and exhausted. We decided to take a random bus and get off when we saw some restaurants. Unfortunately, this strategy brought us to a restaurant where we had the most unsatisfying meal of the trip. It had lots of pictures of food on the walls, but everything I pointed to, they didn’t have. Nobody liked what we ended up getting, so we had a lot of rice and vowed to find something better for dinner.

We decided to try one last time to see a tomb, and took a cab to the Ming emperor’s. Traffic was so terrible (it’s a very popular tourist attraction) that our taxi dropped us off down the street and we had to find it ourselves.

We bought our (approximately $10) tickets at the gate, then walked into the park. On either side of us were walkways guarded by stone statues. To the left were giant stone people, to the right giant stone animals (elephants, camels, etc). We decided to follow the people. We passed many flowering trees, and a creek. We saw views like this:

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One large avenue lead to a very attractive building—which turned out to be a gift shop.

Farther down was the tomb itself, which I thought was pretty darn spectacular.

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The grounds were very extensive.

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There was a lake, surrounded by “no swimming signs,” in which we counted no fewer than four swimmers. (It’s funny—people in the West seem to think of China as a totalitarian place where rule-breakers are severely punished, while in reality, nobody in China obeys the rules. People swim next to “no swimming” signs, drive the wrong way down one-way streets, laugh at police officers who tell them not to push their way onto subway cars, and pee wherever the hell they feel like it.)

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Anyway, the grounds also had a field where people were picnicking, and even some amusement park rides. We were only there for about an hour and a half so we missed a lot of the sights. John said it was his favorite thing he’s seen in China so far, and I have to agree—it was so peaceful and so beautiful. It’s rare in a country of 1 billion people to get to appreciate nature.

When we left we decided to try to find a busy pedestrian area described in my guide. We tried to get a cab but it was impossible, so we decided to get on a bus.

Drivers in China are very impatient, so someone tried to go around our bus—and completely sideswiped it. So our driver stopped, got out, and yelled at the woman, and everyone on our bus got off and got onto another bus—except the three of us, since we had already climbed a mountain that day and didn’t mind sitting still for a while.

Eventually we got downtown. I was debating where we should get off when I saw a sign for the street we were looking for. So, almost totally randomly, we had ended up on a bus going to almost exactly the place we were headed to. Now that’s what I call great navigation skills!

I had read about this street in the book “Chinese Lessons” by John Pomfret, which I highly recommend. He attended the University of Nanjing in the early ‘80s, and one of his classmates later became a big shot in the local Communist party. If I remember correctly, he visited Las Vegas and returned to Nanjing determined to create something similar. And now, having visited his creation, I have to admit that he succeeded. (Think old Vegas, a la the Golden Nugget, as opposed to the Luxor—lots of neon.)

After dinner we ended up playing cards at Blue Sky again. I really like that place—none of the expat bars in Wuxi feels as much like a pub. I don’t understand why pubs are so hard to find in China. (Pubs, cheese, tampons, salons that do eyebrow waxing, pedicures, and attractive clothing of any kind. Life’s little mysteries, I guess.)

Sunday morning we checked out a section of the city’s 600-year-old city walls.

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Nearly all the city walls in China were destroyed years ago, but not Nanjing’s. They are quite impressive—some of the rooms in them were so deep you could fit hundreds of soldiers. Many of them were empty, but some were used for exhibits. The English was humorously bad—to the point that I usually didn’t bother reading because it didn’t make any sense. I did learn, however, that the man who built the city walls once had a dream that he should help people wearing green, and so the next day he bought all the frogs from the local market and released them. And then a frog fairy gave him a magic bowl that made whatever he put into it multiply. And so he put gold into it and got very rich. (From that point on I couldn’t really follow the story, but once you’ve read about a frog fairy, you feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.)

And that is the story of my weekend in Nanjing.

You’re welcome.

 

 

 

02/4/13

Hue Are You Looking At?

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After Hoi An, my next stop in Vietnam was Hue, the old imperial capital. I hadn’t planned to go there but I had been talked into it by a fellow traveler’s descriptions of the Nguyen (pronounced “Win”) emperors’ beautiful mausoleums.

My four-hour morning bus trip there turned out to be via sleeper bus. A sleeper bus, for those of you who are like me and had never heard of such a thing, is a bus with three rows of mini bunk beds. Your legs stretch out in front of you, and you can adjust the back so you are sitting or lying down. They give you a pillow and a blanket and I think they are awesome. Unfortunately, they are so awesome that I slept all the way from Hoi An to Hue and completely missed what is supposed to be the most beautiful scenery in Vietnam—except for once when I turned over, opened an eye and thought: “That’s quite pretty,” as I admired a bay with mountains in the distance before I promptly fell back to sleep.

 

On a sleeper bus

On a sleeper bus

In Hue I would be staying in my own room for the first time since Siem Reap—not because I was craving some alone time, but because for some reason Hue is almost completely devoid of hostels, and the one they do have is far from the action. Once I checked in to the Nhu Phu Hotel (recommended by the Katies, and impossible for me to pronounce correctly), I headed off to the city center to see the Citadel the Nguyen emperors had constructed and the imperial city, known by the delightful name “The Forbidden Purple City.”

Hue turned out to be much, much larger than I expected. I was imagining something on the scale of Hoi An, which is completely walkable. Hue was so large that by the time I had crossed the Perfume River (which is the best name for a river, ever—but it also suggests a small mountain stream, and not a vast river the size of the Hudson) and located the gate to the old city, I was getting exhausted.

So when I was approached by a friendly cyclo driver (passengers sit on a seat attached to the front of a bicycle) who spoke very good English, I was ready to jump at his offer. The price he named was outrageous ($15!) but since I liked him so much, and had no plans until my tour of the tombs the following day, I decided to go for it.

His name was Couteau (I’m sure that’s not how it’s spelled, but it sounded just like the French word for knife).

He brought me to one of the original gates to the imperial city, and showed me a narrow staircase that I certainly would have missed on my own which we climbed for a panoramic view. There was a lot of trash, but it was still picturesque.

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Then we went to a convent (well, a pagoda for nuns). I had never seen Buddhist nuns before and I smiled my hardest at them, hoping for some interaction, but it was not to be. I asked Couteau to wish them a happy full moon festival for me but he was strangely unresponsive. He did point out the pagoda’s dog, a medium-sized, yellow mutt which he said was a Buddhist; it ate only rice and if you tried to give it meat it would not be interested. I was fascinated, since my dog will eat absolutely anything, but not having any beef in my pocket, I could not test this theory.

The Buddhist dog

The Buddhist dog

As we pedaled through the city Couteau pointed out other neat things, like a truck that was beautifully decorated in a rainbow of bright colors. “Guess what that’s for?”

“I don’t know… weddings?”

“Funerals.” He asked me if we had something similar. I had to say no.

He took me to another pagoda, surrounded by a beautiful moat covered with a sort of lily pad-like plant.  Here’s video. This one was for monks. (Of course it was.) He took me around the back of the temple and pointed to a very large, old, empty building. He explained that it was a prison where the emperors kept people before they were executed.

We then went to a very pretty garden with a koi pond outside a very old-looking house. Inside Couteau showed me a recent photo of a large group of men and women. “That’s local people who fought in the Vietcong.” Another image was of an emperor who had over 100 wives—but no children! (I had fun making up explanations for that until the next day, when my guide said that he had had a childhood illness that left him infertile.)

I wasn’t sure if the Citadel was included on my tour the next day, so I asked Couteau to take me there. But when we got there it was about to close, so instead he brought me across the street to a sort of outdoor museum of equipment from the war. We wandered among the American tanks and planes until the sun got too low in the sky.

By this time Couteau had told me a lot about his life. He had been born right after the war. His father had fought with the Americans—but only because “if he didn’t, there was no money for food.” Late in the war another Vietnamese had attacked him for it, and shot him in both legs. He lost them both and hadn’t been able to work since. One of Couteau’s older brothers had also died in the war, killed as a child by bombs when the family was fleeing Hue for the south. (Hue was the center of a lot of fighting, particularly during the Tet Offensive.) For a while his mother had cut hair for a living, but now she didn’t work either, so Couteau had to support both his parents. The entire family lived together (including Couteau’s siblings and nieces and nephews) in a house which had been in the family for many generations. It was made of bamboo and so it was very uncomfortable when it rained. They had an outhouse in the back, and no real beds. At one point Couteau had had a television (purchased for him by a cyclo client from England) and a cell phone, but he’d had to sell both the last time his father was hospitalized, for much less than their value.

I felt terrible about everything his family had been through—especially since so much of it was caused by my country. I decided to give him a tip large enough to enable him to change something about his life.

But when he brought me back to my hotel at 5:00pm, he asked if I wanted to go driving again in the evening. Since I was already planning to give him more money, I said, “Why not?” He couldn’t believe his luck and asked if I would really be there at 7:00pm; he asked me to “Vietnamese promise”—and held out his pinkie for a pinkie swear.

At 7:00pm he waved at me from down the street. This time he drove me around the new city, on the same side of the river as my hotel. He kept pointing to buildings and saying, “A few years ago, that was forest.” He drove me around an enormous roundabout with a huge portrait of Ho Chi Minh. I asked what the words said. He said they said that everyone should follow Ho Chi Minh. I asked what he thought of him. “I think he was a great man.” “So if you were alive during the war, you would have fought for him?” “Yes.”

He took me to the train station. Across the road were the ubiquitous tiny tables, where he ordered a pot of tea and some pumpkin seeds. He was aghast when I grabbed a handful and ate them whole. He tried to show me how to bite off the outer layer, spit it out, and eat the inside, but since I had grown up eating them whole on Halloween I did not see the need to do all the extra work.

He told me about the two times he had left Hue. Fifteen years ago, one of his passengers, a woman traveling alone, had gone on to Hanoi and been unhappy there alone, so she had bought him a ticket to join her. The same thing had later happened with Ho Chi Minh City. Otherwise, he had never been anywhere.

It made me so sad to think of all the opportunities I had and he didn’t. We sat and discussed ways he could grow his business. I got more and more excited when I thought about ways I could help, such as recommending him on TripAdvisor. But I pointed out that people would need a way of contacting him. I asked how much a cellphone would be, and he said 500,000 dong for the phone and 100,000 for a SIM card ($30 total). I told him I’d get one for him, but I thought that would only be useful for customers who were already in Vietnam, since almost no one would want to call him from another country to make a reservation. I offered to set up an email address for him, and asked if he could read English. He could not, so I pulled out my Kindle and read a couple of pages of my war book out loud to him, while following along with my finger. Occasionally I asked him if he could read a word (“the” or “and”)—but he never could, even after I pointed them out repeatedly. Eventually it became clear that he could only read a little bit of Vietnamese. School is not free in Vietnam, and he had never gone. And for some reason his parents, who could read, had never taught him. (He learned English from tourists.)

We finished our tea (he paid, because he said that if I paid the price would double) and we went to a hot pot place where they brought me a plate of whole shrimp, shiny black eyes and all. By this time I was singing the alphabet song and pointing along to a page of upper and lower case letters that I had written on a page I tore from my notebook. We got as far as the letter “g” when it became clear to me that he wasn’t prepared to learn the whole alphabet in one night. If he didn’t learn tonight, I didn’t know how he would be able to remember it, since it wasn’t as though I could give him a recording to listen to. I felt so disappointed that he repeatedly asked if I were feeling ok.

As he drove me home I felt quite dispirited. But I perked up when I realized that he did know a lot of words.

“You can read Ho Chi Minh, right?”

“Right.”

“H-O, Ho. H-O-T, hot. And Chi is the beginning of child. And Hanoi has the same beginning as hand.” That made me feel a bit better about his chances, but I knew that it would take consistent teaching for him to learn. And who would be willing to do that for free?

We agreed to meet up the next day at 4:30pm after my tour because he wanted to buy a notebook for testimonials from satisfied customers (lots of motorbike drivers carry them) and he wanted me to write in it. He also wanted to give me his address and new phone number.  I had to leave by a 5:30 bus for Hanoi, but I thought we would have enough time.

The next day I got up bright and early for my tour, which ended up being of the large bus variety. My seatmate was Mansour, an Iranian who had fled after the revolution and ended up in San Francisco. He was one of those people who means well but somehow manages to antagonize people with almost everything he does. As soon as he met me, he began loudly talking about what bad English our guide spoke. (We were seating in the second row of the bus.)

We started with the Citadel, home of the royal palace and the Forbidden Purple City. When we were in the throne room of the palace, one of the few places no one is allowed to take photographs, Mansour said, “Is that because of something the Vietnamese believe? But what if we don’t believe in that?” Our guide (a rather humorless fellow himself), said drily, “When in Rome.”

The Citadel was not that impressive (probably because the Americans bombed it during the war). Here’s video. Next we went to another garden much like the place Couteau had taken me. I wasn’t that interested in the garden but I was fascinated by the water buffalo eating the grass across the street. I decided to watch them from a safe distance, and, well, you have to see the video:

So that was pretty scary! I also felt guilty about retreating while the guy who had distracted the buffalo and his wife were still trapped behind a tree, but they were soon rescued by a Vietnamese guy who came running after the buffalo. (Since then I have been around a lot of buffalo and I have never seen them behave in a way that was anything but docile. I guess I just inspire passion in them!)

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The highlight of the day was definitely the three mausoleums we saw. The Nguyen Dynasty was comprised of 13 emperors, from something like 1805 to 1945. Seven of them built mausoleums, and the three we saw were magnificent. The gate of the first one opened onto a serene lake. You walk past that to a courtyard, then through a temple, then over a bridge over another lake, then to a hillside where the emperor is buried. Apparently from the hair the lakes and temples create the shape of his body. I could have spent hours walking around the lakes but since it was a group tour, we had to go off to the next one.

By this point I had made another friend, Carolina from Argentina. (I remained friendly with Mansour, even though he told me he was carrying $10,000 in cash(!) and “if the Vietnamese knew how much my watch is worth, they would cut off my hand!”) Carolina walked through the next mausoleum together, which was almost vertical on an impressively steep hillside.

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The final mausoleum was also on a lake (or a series of lakes—hard to tell). The sun was getting lower in the sky and it was just beautiful.

After the mausoleums we took a cruise down the Perfume River. At this point I was becoming seriously concerned about the time. It was almost 5pm and we were still chugging down the river! (This despite my guide’s assurances that I would be back at my hotel by 5:00). When we finally landed I sprinted to a cyclo and directed him to my hotel. Couteau was waiting for me—but so was a motorbike sent by the bus company to pick me up.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I have vowed never to ride a motorbike because I know someone who has a terrible head injury from a motorcycle accident. But in this case, I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t think Couteau’s cyclo would be able to get me there in time if the station was across town. So I said goodbye to Couteau, took his address, quickly scrawled a few lines in his book, and put my helmet own, feeling very guilty and hoping my mother never finds out. (You’re not reading this, are you, Mom?)

Riding the motorbike was not scary at all—it was actually less scary that sitting in a cyclo while Couteau made slow turns across several lanes of motorbikes! We got to the bus quickly and I grabbed a top bunk since the Katies had warned me that the bottom bunks sometimes had cockroaches.

In the next bed was a Dutch woman named Karlijn. She was absolutely beautiful, with flawless skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. When I asked her what she did, I fully expected her to say, “I’m a model.” Instead she said, “I’m a commander in the police force.” Being me, I spent the next hour or so interrogating her about her work in the police. She loves it—apparently she had always known she wanted to be a police officer—and she ended up with a very high position right out of grad school. She has to make very difficult decisions all the time (which impresses me to no end because I am capable of agonizing about the smallest choice for hours on ed). I had dinner with her and her fiancé, who is in the Dutch army. He had spent time at Fort Hood and I asked him what surprised him most about the United States. He said two things: that all of us aren’t fat, and that our houses are made out of wood!

After we had driven for an hour or so we pulled over to pick up the passengers of a bus that had broken down. The passengers told us that it had broken down 24 hours before! So they had been stuck in rural Vietnam all night and had to sleep on the bus! They were amazingly cheerful considering their ordeal. Karlijn and I took many, many photos with all of their cameras of the whole group posing in front of the disabled bus.

In the end I slept incredibly well on the bus, and was almost sorry to arrive in Hanoi in the morning.