Ho Chi Minh City – Saigon

It was a bit of a restless night with tremendous noise from all the
activity going non – stop outside. From around 5 am they start the
aerobic classes in the park across the street and you can hear the
instructor using a megaphone shouting the next move. We are all at
breakfast before 8 and it is lovely to have cheese and a baguette for a
change on the 9th floor overlooking the city.

Our ride arrives at 8:40 and we are at the university at 9 am for a
meeting. It is scorching hot outside already – the temperature for the
day is 36 max and 27 min. We meet with a whole delegation from their
international office, faculty from IT program, Math and Biology. The
talks stretch to nearly 11 am when we do a quick visit to the
international office and then off to lunch. How different is the hosted
lunch in Vietnam compared to China!  We are used to waitresses neatly
arranging dishes to just rearranging them again as the next dish
appears. In Vietnam you finish one before they bring the next. The food
is from the central part of Vietnam and delicious. Our hosts are great
and we have lots of laughs. I did not know for example that in Vietnam
females are boss. They jokingly say the men have to make the big
decisions about wars and policy and the women run the household and the
purse strings. We have lots of discussion about cooking and the food. In
between we solidify linkages so we have next steps in place for when we
get home.

We are all very impressed with the honesty and friendliness of the
Vietnamese. After the meal they drop us at the hotel and we take a
couple of hours to decompress and then meet for our debriefing so I can
finish the report. After spending a couple of hours talking about
possibilities we get our things for a last walkabout. I meet an older
gentleman from Paris in the elevator and help him to explain to the
girls at reception that his room is too  ‘ot. Somehow all that is
left of the French colonialism is the wonderful bakeries and European
coffee, the language not so much.

We walk many blocks until we are tired and hot just taking in the
street scenes. They have erected a stage in the park across from the
hotel and are busy practising for the Liberation day celebration. The
whole city is adorned with banners and flags. One has to remember that
this country has been through a terrible war and still see the
relics in the bunkers by the airport and the American Embassy that is
now one of the most visited tourist spots.

|We have to cool down in a western cafe with air conditioning. Our time
in Vietnam is running out fast and the trip is nearly over – we hang
around to stretch it out as long as possible. When cooled off we move to
the Allez Boo – the expat hangout on the corner. We get a rooftop
rattan table and look down on the masses of people on scooters and the
electric wiring that would make Canadian regulators have nightmares. The
rooftop is decorated with fairy lights. We have our last supper for the
trip and get ready for the airline fair; usually a choice between beef
rice or chicken rice and only sometimes the rice changes to noodle.

We are leaving tomorrow morning at 1am for the airport, fly 6.5 hours
to Beijing, then spend four hours at the airport followed by 11 hours to
Vancouver. The boys have left a car in Vancouver to drive home – I do
hope they will be okay. Pieter is picking me up.

We leave for the hotel and walk by the local store where we buy some
nick-nacks to still pack. It is now 8:30 and we are going to lie down a
bit, shower to be checking out at 1pm and start the journey back home.
This is the last blog entry and Allan will be bringing around some pics
to add shortly. Thank you all that read about our adventure. We all want
to come back especially to show our families. That is the end of the
trip.

Nanchang – Ho Chi Minh City

After all of that it is really hard to get out of bed this morning and
I call the guys to make sure they are awake. At 8 am Mr. Liu is there
with two cars, one is his own and another from one of the teachers. Our
luggage does not fit into one vehicle. The other teacher, I cannot
remember his name, tells us that he teaches computers, and uses Visual
Studio.net. His mom is an English teacher and his Dad teaches physics at
the university. He was born in Nanchang and has been driving for 7
years. The early morning traffic in Nanchang is quite something, and our
progress is fairly slow. A couple of times it seems just amazing that
cars do not run into each other more often. As we approach the airport a
cloud of dust hangs over the road. They are building the new airport.

Everything goes without any glitches. We are impressed that our luggage
is booked through to the next destination and at least this time there
is not overweight charge, but the guys have to take their newly
purchased extra bags as hand luggage. It is a short flight to Guangzhou
but on landing a girl from China Southern Air waits for us – we have
to go to customs and they will bring our luggage so we can get it
scanned. We wait around before all that is done and finally after the
guys had to go back to fill out departure cards and our flight is half
and hour delayed we are on our way to Vietnam.

Vietnam provides the biggest sensory overload one can imagine. It is
hot and noisy and busy full of color. Our university hosts sends a young
lady to meet us at the airport. She is extremely friendly and helps us
to the hotel and to check in. All the people here seem extraordinarily
friendly. We lay low for about an hour till the sun sets and then hit
the streets. Although  modest our hotel is perfectly situated. We walk
down the street – there are thousands of scooters and cars and
pedestrians.

Some sell food, others just visit. We find a hole in the
wall place for supper which is amazing! Then off to the night market
where we spend way too much money. We are bargained out for prices. On
the way back we walk along a park where young people hang out on their
scooters. Allan took a fabulous picture of six people on a scooter. Our
bandwidth is a bit sketchy so as soon as I can will post pictures. Did I
mention that I left my camera in a taxi in Sanya and Greg forgot his
charger, so Allan is the man!

We found a meeting place full of expats and meet Aussies and some
Swedish girls. It is outside on a street corner that teams with traffic.
You can only sit for a bit before the booksellers, the exhaust fumes and
the noise gets the better of you. We are leaving the hotel on Thursday
at 1 am and I will report what the activity is like at that hour. Wow
what a place!

Nanchang

Nanchang is a really pretty city of about 4 million people. They
have a large river and a lake in the city. The whole province is steeped
in history so a very interesting place to visit. It is quite the pity
that we have little time here. I should be packing but thought I would
write first.

All our hotels in China has a slot to put your key card in at the door
of the room. Once in your electricity is turned on. There are lots of
lights in every room and other things such as motion detectors etc. Once
it is bed time you cannot take out the card as your cell
phone/camera/laptop is charging so you walk around and switch off the
lights. In some cases we cannot find the light switches and press wrong
buttons so it takes quite a while to get all the lights off.

We are in a very traditional hotel with little English. I am first
downstairs for breakfast and ask for white coffee. I get white coffee
with sugar and a glass of milk to add to the white. Once the others ask
for black coffee without sugar and get white coffee with sugar I am in a
fit of giggles and the day is off to a good start. We are picked up at 9
am and after some serious discussion on how to fit us into the cars.
Betty and myself are off to one meeting and Allan and Greg to a biology
class and lab on a different campus.

They meet up with us for lunch and it is a traditional Chinese Banquet.
Of course we eat way too much and there are many toasts. We have another
set of meetings in the afternoon and also meet with middle school kids
that are coming on a summer camp to Canada. They are so cute and their
English is amazing!

We also meet with the teachers and they are also very well spoken and
we have a great chat. One of the teachers takes us to a market after we
are done – around 3:30. This is the only market so far that has no
tourists which is great. We spend the rest of the afternoon amidst
street food, and a variety of stalls, bicycles to watch for and just
have fun shopping for things we never even thought about. Our gracious
host buys us some of the famous Chinese ice creams and tea mugs.
Around 6 we arrive at the restaurant for our second banquet of the day
hosted by hosts of the afternoon. It is a real banquet and with frequent
shouts of gambei. A good time is had by all. We are back at the hotel
around 8 pm and have to pack and get ready – pick up for the airport
is 8 am. Tomorrow is one of those transit days…

I cannot believe this is our last night in China!

Sanya – Nanchang

Our last Sanya day. This has truly been an experience as I have never
been in Hainan before. We slept in, went to breakfast and sat around
till about 10:30 talking about China over multiple cups of coffee. Betty
came down late for breakfast and we were still there. We had two copies
of the China daily and discussed the news. It is so hard to quantify our
experiences in China as the sensory overload and the enormity of what we
are experiencing is overpowering and leaves us exhausted every evening.
We tend to grab at snippets in the newspapers and what we hear from
waiters and anyone else understanding English, to try to make sense of
modern China, but it stays a puzzle.

We found Greg sitting outside yesterday with a notepad scribbled with
ideas. It nearly feels as though we will need to debrief and decompress
before we can even begin to express our feelings and report back. We
spend the rest of the morning packing and making sure we are leaving
nothing behind – then checking out – getting a cab to the airport in
Sanya.

We go a bit early to try to get Greg some leg room. China Southern’s
planes are particularly space challenged. No bulkhead space though as
you need to speak Chinese to sit at the emergency exits. That leaves us
with time to have lunch. I remember I bought mangoes the previous night
and never saw them again. Going through my bag I find the mangoes nice
and soft. The friendly waitress peels those for us and it becomes part
of lunch.

We check in and the normal waiting game begins. It is telling that I can
get through security without the young ladies doing the scanning,
stopping me – I am waved through but they make sure they scan Greg and
Allan properly. One has to giggle about that. We land in a very polluted
Guangzhou late afternoon. More waiting but fortunately we find very
expensive coffee and have snacks we bought in Sanya at a roadside stall –
things in packets that looked like peanuts. They are quite good – salty,
sweet with some heat. Our plane is late and Betty goes to ask about that
– fortunately this time it is not 5 hours like last time but only about
one hour.

I have no pics today as we spent the rest of the day in an airport or
plane…finally we are in Nanchang at 10 :45pm – pick up is 9 am
tomorrow so signing off.

Sanya 2

Our day off arrived with cooler overcast weather. Cooler as in less than 35 degrees. We meet for breakfast and the ever important coffee to get us going. It is lovely to have a day of no meetings and no air travel! Our ride arrives promptly at 9 am to take us to the Sanya Nanshan Cultural Tourism Zone. We did not know too much about the location and chose it as it is the closest to Sanya. We have become a bit allergic to long haul travel in a car. The 4 hours between Haikou and Sanya was totally enough for us. This area is only 20 minutes from the hotel and seems doable. We have our own driver and a Tourism management student from Sanya College as our tour guide. He has a special tour guide pass and does not need to pay for anything. The price for this is steep at Y300 per person which is about $40  but that includes the entrance fee etc.

Somehow the notion of a Buddhist temple conjured up images of the Llama temple in Beijing – all ancient with monks everywhere. To our surprise this whole area is only 5 years old and a religious theme park. Everything is laid out extremely nicely and new. The ablution facilities are the best I have seen at any tourist attraction in China. Roads are even and well developed. Gardens are laid out professionally and stunning. They are geared to transport tons of visitors, feed them and sell them stuff. Our tour guide, Singer, wants to get one of the trolley buses but we insist on walking part of the way. The area is huge. Fortunately there is a light drizzle as any activity outside in this region could lead to serious sunburn.

The gardens are beautiful and our tour guide gives us the names of some of the interesting plants – the frangipani is very appropriately called the egg flower. There is the thousand hands tree and the tamarind. There are signs everywhere with botanical information and Allan is very pleased and takes ample pictures.


We go have to pay again to go into one temple to see the Buddha but decide after that one that we will wait for the big one. We pass by retaining walls with prayers on them and all kinds of garden gnomes and statues. Our tour guide tells us that this is the area in China known for longevity – elephants and turtles are signs of that. We have multiple elephants in the gardens of
the hotel as well.


Eventually the rain stops and the sun comes out and after getting some fruit juice we hop on one of the little buses to take us to the big Buddha – 108 feet high and stands on a little island in the ocean.

The entrance is very impressive and so is the merchandise that is being sold (even inside the temples). The incense is free at some temples. The whole thing is quite spectacular and larger than life. We take lots of pictures and our guide decides to take some of us. We have to assume the prayer position and look solemn. I cannot help but giggle!!



As we drive back we pass a variety of other similar very touristy places; a sea animal park, a place with jewelery stalls, a spot where you can go to one of the off shore islands, the most southern part of the island etc. Each one we pass has many, many tour buses in the parking lot already. Singer tells us that the busiest time in Hainan is over the Chinese new year holiday when the rest of China is in the grip of winter. They had 24 million visitors last year.

By 12 we are back at the hotel and hang out in the lobby for a coffee. That is a very expensive treat in China – very similar prices to Starbucks in Canada. Of course we are comparing it with food – we ate last night for around Y97 for three people – about $14 for all of us for supper. I had an email from our Vietnam contact to send copies of our passports so they will keep our hotel reservation. I hunt down the business office. The young man there is from Hubei province and got his degree in Tourism management at the University of Wuhan. I feel sad that he has to sit in the business office of the hotel all day. At least he has a job in the very hard job market in China.

I spend the afternoon catching up on reports and various things that have fallen behind. Fortunately Sanya is great for drying laundry – I had to re-wash a lot as they smell quite musty after 3 days in a suitcase!

Around 4 we get a taxi for some last-minute Sanya shopping in downtown. That turns out to be quite the experience as we get a glimpse of the city life. Lots of markets and malls. We have supper and there are lots of cute kids around to play with. Proud grandparents look on and talk to us in Mandarin. We have quite a successful trip and get home around 9 pm with a crazy taxi driver. I have been telling everyone about the driving in China and nobody believed me as the taxis in Beijing and Shanghai have calmed down considerably. Out here on the island though it is quite a different matter. We have seen 2 accidents so far and truly very fast crazy driving.  At least we are home safe and sound.

Tomorrow is our last day in Sanya and then on to Nanchang.

Sanya

We all had such a good sleep last night and feel quite ready for the
day. After a hearty breakfast we are fetched for our meeting today.
Fortunately the trip is not far and the meeting goes well. We have one
of the best lunches we’ve had so far in China with lots of toasting to
seal our negotiations. We leave at around 3 and are back at the hotel by
3:30. Betty has many friends in the area so she is going visiting for
the rest of the day.


I have to talk a little bit about what we are experiencing at the
moment. The Island of Hainan was declared a key area for tourism by the
central Chinese government 6 months ago. A sky-train will soon connect
Sanya and Haikou. This island will look completely different in a short
space of time. We have seen amazing development in a really short space
of time. It seems as though once the government has given its approval
things happen at lightening speed here. Someone said that in the West it
takes ten years to build a bridge – in China they build a whole city
plus a bridge in that time.

We had a bit of a rest this afternoon and then took a walk along the
beach. It is absolutely beautiful here. The ocean is a balmy 23 degrees.


As hotel food is notoriously expensive and westernized in China we take
a taxi down the road where there is a string of eateries across from the
beach. On every street corner a restaurant appears at night. They unpack
bright pink plastic garden chairs and tables and start barbecuing stuff on
sticks – mostly vegetables and fish. We find a more permanent
establishment with a menu in English – it is quite open but has a roof
which was good as it started raining. We order from the menu but in the
end gave up as they had no Gangpoa. So it was fried rice, veggies, egg
plant and bread. The bread vendor comes by with a tray of bread, then
ladies carrying baskets of fruit hanging of a stick they carry on their
backs and also ladies with trays of condiments.

Hainan has an indigenous tribe on the island. They make pearl jewelry
and sell it to provide for their families. They are really persistent
and in the end we bought some of their wares. The street next to the
restaurant has fruit stalls and others selling clothing, jewelry  and
hats. We walk through and do some shopping there as well and finally get
a chance to buy some of the delicious not-so-sweet Chinese ice cream.
At the end of the street we find a taxi driver with great Chinese music
in his car to take us back.


I cannot believe that we only have a couple of days left in China.
Tomorrow is our free day and we booked through the institution we
visited today a trip to a Buddha that is solely responsible for
keeping typhoons away from Hainan!

Haikou – Sanya

We finally left the temporary hotel by 11:30 pm. Our flight however only
left at 12:30 am so we land in Haikou at 4 am and have to get two taxis
to the hotel. Allan is quite upset when he witnesses an accident right
by the airport where a car smashes into a light pole. We make it to the
hotel by 4:30 and it is getting light out. A shower and checking
emails and we have time for some shut-eye as Mr. Li let us know that we
will be picked up by 11 am for a visit. I wake up around 8 am and feel
horrible – that feeling that only strong coffee can cure. Off to the
breakfast room. A passing stranger starts talking to me and we end the
conversation about 2 hours later after establishing some guanxi! The
other guys appear around that time and by 10:30 we are ready for pick
up all packed again.

Our visit goes well, we talk about various options while Greg and Allan
sits in on a very lively Chemistry class.  After lunch the driver Mr. Li
arranged appears and we load up. Saying good-bye to our gracious hosts
we start the journey to Sanya – some say it is 2 hours, others that it
is 3 hours. While driving we all doze off. We pass through country side
with the freeway separated by hibiscus and bougainvillea full in bloom.
There are coconut palms and date palms, papaya trees, banana trees, jack
fruit hanging of trees and spice plants. We pass through a thunderstorm
that stops as fast as it started. We see unfinished buildings, likely
victims of the economic meltdown. We pass the new sky-train line to
Sanya. Then on through rice paddies and frangipani trees.

Our driver stops for us to experience a coffee plant. First time seeing
coffee trees first hand. We sip little cups of really good coffee. To
walk through the plant you have to exit by the store where you can buy
coffee “everything” and  local trinkets. Young girls with megaphones
try to sell you their specific type of coffee really loudly. It becomes
quite impossible and we move through really quickly. Complete  sensory
overload. They have some interesting tropical fruit though.

Finally we reach our hotel after 4 hours. It is now 5pm and we decide
to have a quick dinner and fall into bed. The coast around here is
spectacular – cannot wait to look around more. We have one meeting
tomorrow and Saturday off.

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