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Lunar New Year in Tuyen Quang

Lunar New Year in Tuyen Quang
This ain't your Lonely Planet sugarcoated version with matresses and sit down toilets and french fries. No tourists and no tourist market. I'm talking about little kids who are terrified of you because they have never seen a white person before. We are pretty freaky looking, if you think about it. Blue eyes and light skin are like the worst evolutionary move ever. The older kids yell HELLO or "ba tay" (Mrs. Westener) to try to provoke a reaction and everybody else looks at you like you're an alien.

The ladies at the train station laughed at me when I bought my ticket. The train up there wasn't too bad, I was in the hard seat class so its sort of like sitting on a crowded and bumpy park bench for 5 hours. My ticket was $2 so I wasn't going to complain. I was the only tourist on the train so the Vietnamese thought that was pretty funny I was going up there.

Anh and her neighbor and her nephew met me at the train station and we took 2 motorbikes to Tuyen Quang, about 40 kilometers away. I was feeling really bad for you mom and dad because I was very, very sure my brains were going to be splattered all over the Vietnamese highway. Its quite disturbing to see quasi-suicidal Vietnamese people wearing helmets while the paraniod tourist isn't. I'd seen enough remnants of Vietnamese traffic accidents to know that is was not pretty. Especially out in the boonies. But I made it in one piece and I met Anh's mom and some neighbors.

It was really great to see real Vietnamese life. The people in the village are very, very poor but they're happy. Its so different. They would ask me how its different from life in the States and I couldn't even get started. Generally feral dogs don't come into our house whenever they please. We have running water. Freshly painted walls. Home theaters. Scented candles and crap like that.

Tet's the major holiday in Vietnam, sort of like our Christmas and families get together and you visit friends and stuff like that. You must behave and not break anything or start any fights because that brings bad luck for the new year.

I must have visited 20 houses and drank a hundred cups of tea. Apparently since I'm a foreigner I'm lucky (I didn't have the heart to tell them I was nothing but a lowly peon VH1-addicted student) so everybody wanted a piece of me.

Its very exhausting being rich and famous! I almost had a panic attack but I think part of that was because everyone was feeding me (I think we ate like 3 dinners one night :o!) and I had a cold so my nose was stuffed up so I couldn't breathe. So I had to take a break from my celebrity.

The food was really good and people take the best pieces of meat with their chopsticks and place them in your bowl since you are the guest of honor. I was very happy I got to eat with them because every time you take a tour or something in Vietnam the tourists eat together at a table and the Vietnamese tour guides sit together on the floor and they look like they have a lot of fun ?? Its pretty sad how segregated Vietnam can be.

I ate dog meat! Its supposed to be a lucky time of the month to eat it, too. I thought it tasted really, really good but maybe that was the rice whiskey talking. Its really chewy. The dog bone tasted like crap. Don't ask me how or why I ate dog bone, I just remembered I did and I didn't like it.

We kept real busy visiting people and driving around on the motorbike. Most Vietnamese people fit at least 3 people on one bike but my stature is literally the equivalent of 2 Vietnamese people so we can only fit 2 people. Anh and I went to the spa. I didn't know what to expect from a spa in a third world country but its just heater mineral water in bathtubs and stuff like that! Nice and clean. The waters are very cleansing so everyone wanted to do it for the New Year.

We stayed up until midnight and Anh and I ran through the door because we were supposed to bring luck for the new year. Then we went to bed and woke up around 6:30 because the neighbor was blasting Vietnamese pop music from the speakers starting at 5 AM. When I get back home I'll be able to sleep in any conditions.

No matter how poor the Vietnamese are they pretty much all have a TV, DVD/VCD/Karaoke player, and a set of speakers. Ugh.

Anh's sister and neice Chi came over for the big day and that was really fun. You give the kids lucky money in red envelopes- only about 5000 dong each. Chi was only four and she didn't speak much English (HELLO! THANK YOU!) and my Vietnamese is limited to (spelled phonetically in English):

sin chow- hello
sin low ee - sorry/excuse me
doy la Kate - I'm Kate
cam uhn - thank you

but Chi and I were really communicating! At first she was scared of me but the kids really like it when you bring a digital camera and they can see themselves on the LCD screen. I taught Chi the basics of digital photography. She's a real smart cookie. I wish I could have taken a picture of her taking pictures with my camera but the universe would have collapsed.

I bought a helmet in Tuyen Quang for $6- a fraction of the price I would have paid in Hanoi- they didn't give me a foreigner price! I was very happy so I gave her an extra 10% and the shop keeper was very happy because I was the first purchase of the new year. And now I won't die so easily.

I'm sorry it took me a while to update- I tried to post from Tuyen Quang but there was a crowd of 20 people standing over my shoulder and I don't know if they could read it and it was unnerving and then this lady was playing with my hair so I couldn't concentrate.

I took the local bus back to Hanoi which wasn't very fun since the seats are about half the size they are back in the US so you are very squished. People wanted to play with my iPod so I played them Dolly Parton and Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. They were sad I didn't have any Backstreet Boys or Modern Talking ??

So I took the hell train from Hanoi to Hue in central Vietnam. My compartment was full of rich Vietnamese people that ignored me except for the boy who attacked me. Here's an idea- how about NOT giving your three year old a squeaky toy hammer right before he gets on a night train? It was gross and insanely expensive but I heard the bus was just as bad so maybe you just got to suck it up. I survived! I like Hue. Tomorrow I'm taking a tour of the DMZ all day so I will post in a couple of days!.

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