Hoi An – More than an anagram for Hanoi

Our final Hoi An day was fairly tranquil and without significant incident. One of the most important axioms that I’ve developed as a traveler relates to the two overriding elements which significantly affect one’s perception of the visited place. Enjoyment is directly related to the people that you meet in any particular venue and by the weather that you experience while there. Other than the Vietnamese massage girls, I have not been terribly drawn to too many of the tourists. They’re nice enough, mostly Australian and very family oriented. The weather continues to be a serious psyche drain as hurricane-like conditions continue to pummel the resort. We paid extra for an ocean view and all that I am able to see are sheets of rain powered by blasts of wind. I think that we are hearing the roar of the surf but it could just as easily be the sound of gale force winds rushing through the palm trees which have not succumbed to the monsoon and are still standing. 
Our first massage was such a delight and so well priced that we decided to spoil ourselves and go back for a second heaping helping. Lori had a mani-pedi (what a silly sounding name) and I went for a Vietnamese massage which was more or less a regular massage with some additional attention paid to pressure points and was a truly delightful experience. The notion of getting 3 or 4 massages a week is probably one of the greatest indulgences one could treat oneself to. Once season tix for the Habs, 8 rows up at center ice has been procured, of course.
We were supposed to spend the first half of our last full day doing another cooking session, including a visit to the market that would teach us how to select the choicest mackerels for the main dish – fish head soufflé. After rat and cobra, mind you, it didn’t sound so bad. The monsoon had upgraded itself to a Class 4 hurricane by the time 6:30AM rolled around. We decided to eschew the market visit in exchange for another hour of shut eye, called our guide and advised him of our change in plan. He did not fight too hard; or at all for that matter. We also decided to be driven to the cooking lesson rather than take the boat to the destination along with the rest of the great unwashed who were scheduled to do the  Vietnam Gourmet thing with us and instead rolled up to the front door of the place dry and just on time to watch the rest of the group alight from the boats looking like river rats in various stages of drowning. 
Our host chef was an affable and amusing dude who spoke a very solid English with some serious muttering and aside comments that though well rehearsed, were refreshing and very funny. He was also a pretty talented cook. The work station was set up at the front of the display room which was a thatched hut. Behind our chef was a mirror angled at about 40 degrees which afforded us an unobstructed view of the prep. He referred to the mirror as Vietnamese TV. 
That’s the kind of guy he was. The first dish called for the making of a rice paper pancake. It involved spreading a rice batter over a thin cloth that was stretched over a steaming pot. Once somewhat coagulated, it had to be removed using a thin bamboo spatula. I totally screwed up my crepe; Lori aced hers. 
This result was radically different from the previous day’s cooking session in which we made mini egg/rice pancakes with shallots in the batter and stuffed with bean sprouts, shrimp and pork (the Vaad would be a bit difficult to convince on this dish, maybe a double payoff). Mai, one of the sisters who ran yesterday’s farm-food experience was hugely impressed with my style and technique, up to and including flipping the pancake sin mid-air, to the point whereby she confided to Hao, our guide that she had never seen a Western man handle a meal prep as well as I. Lori, upon her turn, managed to spill most of the sprouts out of the pan, with them landing in an almost unreachable location behind the pot. To avoid mincing words, her pancake was an abortion. Mai stated that Lori would not be particularly high quality bride material in Vietnam. After I picked myself up off the floor, undoubling myself from laughter, I tried to explain that my darling wife had plenty of other characteristics and a whole host of qualities that rendered her a tremendous catch, but the die had been cast and I was facing an unwinnable argument. So I took the compliment, traded her for a sickly water buffalo and we were on our way.
Lori continued to acquit herself admirably at cooking session 2 and following yet another feast we wandered through the village, visiting the famous Japanese covered bridge which was replete with tourists not interested in vacating the site to enable Lori an unobstructed view.

I pulled a 20,000 Dong note out of my pocket that displayed the bridge on its reverse side and showed it to her, explaining that an unencumbered picture was unnecessary. The argument held about as much water as was passing under the bridge but was to no avail. Crossing the bridge, we hit tourist alley including a visit to the House of Phung Hung, a historically conserved home that reflected Japanese, Chinese and Viet architecture. It has been inhabited by the same family for 8 generations. They had made a fortune trading spices, silk, and gold prior to the Thu Bon River silting up in the 19th century rendering the town an instant anachronism. The six daughters living in the house are now resorting to a heartless soulless 2 minute tour of their ancestral home, which is now replete with tourist geegaws top to bottom. This once proud family have been reduced to trinket hawkers that I find both sad and pathetic.
Vietnamese versions of Larry Curly and Moe (actually Long Life, Happiness, and Prosperity)
The family altar still dominates the second floor and contains pictures of their venerated predecessors. If in fact, they are still looking down on the most recent generation, I do not think that they would be too pleased with the new entrepreneurial direction that has been generated by this generation. 
Now for a little educational piece for all of you who have wondered why incense in burned in all Asian temples and alters. Communicating with the dead is a vital part of the daily activities. Commemorating the departed is an essential aspect of their life. Birthdays are almost irrelevant in this culture. You age is determined by the year that you are in. For example, February 3rd is the Tet New Year. On that day, all Vietnamese will consider themselves a year older. If you are born on February 2nd, you are considered one year old the next day. The day of one’s passing is marked and becomes an indelible date in the family. When trying to communicate or put forth a wish to the departed, incense is used since once lit, the smoke starts off visible and as it dissipates, the sense is that it has transcended to the other side, carrying the message of the living to the departed. Sort of like fax meets e-mail.
A final fitting followed at Yaly with the suit being delivered to the hotel at day’s end. I figure that the retailoring cost to fix the deficiencies when I return home will approximate the cost of the suit. I will also be bringing my newly acquired North Face, purchased in Hanoi jacket to the tailor when I get home. The jacket is superb and purchased at a price about ¼ of what it would cost at home. Once a non-working snap is repaired along with a slight repairing to an interior seam is completed, I will have scored big time. I look forward to checking out the same jackets at home to see if they display the same Made in Vietnam labels as they have here.
We finished off our day relaxing at the resort, packed up and headed off to Da Nang Airport the next morning, bidding a fond farewell to Hoa, who insisted on trading his guide cap for Lori’s Wildlife At Risk hat, which she parted with reluctantly until she realized that if Hoa is wearing that hat, other tourists might be inclined to inquire about the organization (web site embroidered on back of hat). It will probably do more good in Vietnam that TMR.
Silkworms eating Mulberry Leaves; no we did not eat them
No Comments

Post A Comment