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Saturday in Halong Bay

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Halong Bay, VietnamIt’s been a few years since I’ve been out on a boat in Vietnam’s Halong Bay.

I’d heard from friends that things had gotten really crowded out there: too many tourist boats. Too much diesel fume in the air. Too much trash thrown into the water.

No doubt: Halong Bay is still beautiful. No wonder it’s Vietnam’s prime tourist attraction. But you can see how crowded the waters of the bay are in this little film I made.

UNESCO designated the bay with its hundreds of little islands a World Heritage Site in 1994. Rumor has it that UNESCO is considering withdrawing this title because of the damage that tourism is doing to the area. Not a pleasant thought. But then again: visiting the bay today, I was part of the problem. Oops.

According to Wikipedia,

Fuel and oil, along with tourist litter, have created pollution problems, which impact on both the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem of the islands. Human waste from portable toilets erected for tourists, finds its way into the soil and water surrounding the islands, once more altering the ecosystem functioning, through increased nutrient flow.

and

The delicate limestone cave ecosystems are diminishing as tourists visiting the caves break off stalagmites and stalactites. Litter, including wine bottles, are dropped into cave streams. Visitors exhale carbon dioxide, which has a deleterious effect on the caves. The mouths of some caves have been widened to allow for tourist access. This increase in light has led to an imbalance in the delicate links between flora and fauna, and a decrease in the humidity of the caves.

What can you do if you still want to see Halong Bay?

I can’t recommend going out there on a one-day trip. On these short trips, the tour operators only take you to the most visited places. You get a glimpse of the bay, but you can’t really enjoy it because you’re always with a crowd.

Halong Bay, VietnamMaybe it’s better to invest in a longer trip with a more conscientious tour operator. One that takes tourists on eco-friendly cruises or one that goes off the beaten track.

I’ve heard that some operators like HanoiKultour don’t go with the pack of boats touring the bay every day. Instead, they travel on different routes, visit different islands within the bay. That way, the masses of tourists spread out a little.

And who knows – Mother Nature might even have a chance to deal with the damage they do and actually recover.

Written by Thorsten

August 6, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Raw meat – not your average street café

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Warning: Some pictures in this text show severely injured people. Do not continue reading this post if you find such depictions upsetting or objectionable.

Street cafe in front of Hanoi hospital

Street cafe in front of a Hanoi hospital

There are some things in Vietnam I just can’t understand or get used to. I’ve written about eating dogs before. That’s one example. Here’s another one.

There’s a hospital in downtown Hanoi that has a glass showcase on its outer wall. Displayed in it are very graphic pictures of injured people. I originally thought they showed victims of traffic accidents, because reckless driving is a big problem in Vietnam. But a friend told me that the photos depict work injuries and virus or bacterial infections treated at the hospital.

Display case with graphic photos of injured people

Display case with graphic photos of injured people

Are these people the hospital was able to save? Or are these the cases where the doctors couldn’t help?

Are these pictures meant to show what horrible injuries the hospital doctors have to deal with? Or should they serve as a warning to people to be careful and drive cautiously and avoid such injuries?

The pictures make me sick. I try not to look at them whenever I pass that street corner.

graphic depictions of severe injuries

Graphic depictions of severe injuries in front of a Hanoi hospital

I disapprove of displaying these pictures on a public intersection in the heart of Hanoi. How do the people depicted here feel about being shown like this? What about the friends and relatives of the victims? These are things that passers-by – and especially children – shouldn’t have to see.

What strikes me, though, is that Vietnamese people don’t seem to be as squeamish as me or as sensitive to the ethical questions that displaying these photographs etail. They just don’t seem to mind these pictures. They’re able to ignore them.

Hanoi street café with display case

Hanoi street café in front of hospital display case

These days, a street cafe has even put out its chairs right underneath this traumatizing display case. Cafe patrons sit just in front of these horrible pictures of severely injured people. They eat, drink and chat as if they were sitting on the banks of a balmy lake.

There are some things in Vietnam I just can’t understand.

Written by Thorsten

July 31, 2011 at 6:02 am

Useful English dialogue

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schoolgirls on Ha Long pierI went for a walk this afternoon. Not much else you can do on a Sunday in Ha Long City (apart from taking the boat out into Ha Long Bay. But the weather wasn’t great this weekend, so we cancelled our planned boat trip).

As I strolled along the Ha Long pier, a bunch of giggling girls wanted to try out their English on me. I guess they must have been in their early teens. The dialogue went something like this

What’s your name?

Thorsten.

My name is (unintelligible Vietnamese girl’s name). Where you come from?

Germany.

Where is your wife?

– uhm – Germany. (I didn’t want to go into detail that might have traumatised them)

Are you lonely?

– uhm… ?

I guess this sequence of questions can come in handy for some kind of women in some kind of situations.

But who taught these innocent schoolgirls to ask these questions?Vietnamese schoolgirls, Ha Long City

Written by Thorsten

June 26, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Vietnam impressions

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Written by Thorsten

April 4, 2011 at 6:35 am

Posted in asia, travel, vietnam

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Permanent press or permanent loss?

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For reasons beyond my control, I have to stay at a pretty cheap hotel in Hanoi on this trip to Vietnam.

My hotel room is big, but the furniture isn’t practical: there’s hardly any closet space and no chest of drawers either. So I’ve spread out  most of my clean clothes on the spare bed in my room.

laundry bin or trash can?

laundry bin or trash can?

But what to do with the dirty laundry? There’s no place in my room where I can put it – except for a basket, which looks like a laundry bin or something along those lines.

Yesterday morning, I put my worn shirt, shorts and socks into the basket.

But to my surprise, I found the container empty when I returned to my hotel room last night.

Now I’m wondering: did room service take my clothes to have them cleaned? Or is the basket that I took for a laundry bin really a trash can?

I’m still hoping that I’ll get my shirt back washed, starched and ironed. That this is a case of permanent press, not permanent loss.

Written by Thorsten

March 21, 2010 at 5:03 am

Sorry, we’re out of dog meat

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July 12 -13, 2008 edition of China Daily

July 12 -13, 2008 edition of China Daily

There will be no dog meat in Beijing restaurants during the Olympics.

According to this weekend’s edition of China Daily (the country’s English language newspaper), the city’s 112 officially designated Olympic restaurants have been banned from selling dog meat during the Olympics.

The paper continues that non-designated restaurants have also been encouraged not to serve the meat.

“Dog meat sales are being suspended as a mark of respect for foreigners and people from ethnic groups,” an anonymous official with the administration was quoted as saying by Beijing Daily on Friday.

Giving up cultural identity to please foreigners

Personally, I think it’s sad that the Chinese are bending over backwards to please their international guests. I wish they were as sensitive about international public opinion when it comes to Zimbabwe or Sudan.

If dog meat is a part of Chinese culture and cuisine, then why pretend that it isn’t to please the foreigners?

Why don’t the Chinese just say “yes, some people in our country do eat dog meat – if you don’t like it, you don’t have to order it.”

After all, restaurants in China serve many other things that are “hard to stomach” for Westerners: jellyfish, camel’s feet, shark fin soup or chicken claws. Yet all of these are considered delicacies in China.

Maybe dog meat touches a sensitive spot in Westerners. I remember that coming across a dog meat butcher in Vietnam definitely came as a mild shock to me when I was there a few weeks ago.

But still: if it’s part of their culture, why should they get rid of it just to please me?

WordPress is blocked in China. Therefore I was only able to upload this post after having left the country.

Written by Thorsten

July 13, 2008 at 8:31 am

Hot dinner in Hanoi

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Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi In Hanoi, there are some eating places you go to because of the decor and others that you go to despite the decor. Cha Ca La Vong is one of the latter kind.

Cha Ca La Vong in HanoiThe place is any decorator’s nightmare with its neon lights, green walls and wobbly tables and chairs.

But – oh – the food! The food is absolutely scrumptious!

And the best thing is that they only serve one dish. So you won’t be spending hours studying the menu, trying to decide what to get.

At Cha Ca La Vong, there’s only “Cha Ca” – the signature fish dish. It’s so popular that it’s even lent its name to the street that the restaurant is on.

Know where to look, or you’ll walk right by it

Cha Ca La Vong has been run by the same family for generations. It’s located in a rickety old house in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. There’s no flashy sign, no line of people, no attractive exterior that’ll draw you to this traditional restaurant.

If you aren’t aware of what’s inside this shabby house, you’ll never notice it or think of going in.

Luckily, a friend had told me about it, so we stepped inside, climbed up the narrow wooden stairs to the left of the entrance, and made our way to the first floor.

Upstairs, one of the waiters showed us to our seats and placed a little laminated card in front of us. It told us that the only dish at this restaurant – Cha Ca – would cost us 90 000 Vietnamese Dong each – roughly € 3,50 or about $ 5,00.

After we’d managed to communicate that that price was just within our financial limits, we were on.

You’ve got to know how to Cha Ca

Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in HanoiThe waiter brought a clay oven filled with red hot charcoal to our table. He put a pan with sizzling hot oil and some pieces of fish on top of the oven.

In addition, we got some cold rice noodles in a bowl, some peanuts, a small plate with dill and Vietnamese herbs and a bowl with spring onions.

Next, the waiter threw some of the spring onions and herbs into the pan. The combination of frying fish, Asian spices, herbs and spring onions smelled great.A bowl of Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi

Unfortunately, we were clueless as to what should happen next: Should we take the frying pan off the grill at some point? Or should we also put the noodles and peanuts into the pan?

No, no, our waiter signalled, and demonstrated how it’s done: you put some of the cold rice noodles in your bowl, add some pieces of fried fish from the pan, sprinkle with some peanuts and add the fresh herbs.

The pan\'s empty - no more Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in HanoiThe resulting combination was unbelievably delicious!

“This is the best dinner we’ve had in Vietnam”, my friend said.

I think it didn’t take us longer than fifteen minutes to clear that pan.

If you can’t stand the heat, don’t order the Cha Ca

But as soon we were no longer busy chowing down, we suddenly became aware of the fact that there was this extremely hot grill sitting right in front of us on our table. A grill with burning charcoal and a pan full of hot oil. A grill on a wooden table, in a wooden house, in the middle of the maze that is Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

How far to the next fire extinguisher in case the oil caught fire? How long would it take fire fighters to get here in case of an emergency? Kind of unpleasant thoughts.Ha Noi Beer to extinguish the fire

We felt pretty relieved when the waiter finally took away that charcoal grill and just left us with our beers. And the bill…

Written by Thorsten

June 6, 2008 at 8:51 am

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