Saturday, November 10, 2012

Vietnam Journal (Spring 2002)

(2 May 2002) The airplane flights were very tiring. Thankfully, in the airport at Inchon S. Korea, you could rent a shower for 1/2 hour for 8000 won ($6 US). It was well worth it.

I arrived at Noi Bai airport outside Ha Noi and took a taxi into the city at 11 pm. It was difficult to find a hotel, but the young man sleeping behind the locked doors awoke and let me in. Next morning I arose at 6 am to go back to the airport. Riding in on the minivan, I saw the plane lifting off, just as we pulled up to the airport, dohhh!

Map of Hué

The travel agent helped me to exchange my ticket for an afternoon flight, and I arrived safe and sound in Hué by 2:30. The next adventure was in finding my artist friend Lê Thừa Tiến. He had waited for me in the morning, so when I got to his house, he was gone...quite a comedy of errors.

After walking to the Hué College of Art to look for him, I walked back and plopped my bags outside his gate to wait. Some women workers were mixing concrete and rolling wheelbarrows up to the 3rd floor next door. Everyone looked at me, and some laughed and said "
làm việc"(work)! 

The neighborhood where Tiến lives (and where the college is located) is in the Citadel, an ancient fortress built for the Nguyen dynasty in the early 19th century.

Randall - Thien Mu Pagoda, Hué

Later Tiến showed up, much to my relief. He took me to the family home where I am staying, and introduced me to an elderly husband and wife, An and Thao, and to their son Thinh who is about 30. Their home is beautiful, I have a room w/attached bathroom. The home has plaster walls, an open airy plan, and a wonderful garden all around the yard.

My adventures continue, I am happy to be with such a generous people as the Vietnamese, though I miss my family. They are very full of life and joy, even when working hard.

(3 May 2002) The last few days have been a whirlwind of activity. I have been working like crazy with two assistants to build the sculpture. It turns out the festival opens in two days, gulp!

But, it is good, since I have a plan and some good helpers. The two young men who work with me, one is 23, the other 32. They work (
làm việc) hard and fast, but keep stopping to challenge me to arm wrestling contests.

Friends Showing Off

Tuesday we chose the site for my piece, which will be located on the river walk next to a main entrance (good luck!) We dug the foundation, made steel
(tron) supports, and poured concrete (be tong). Then Wednesday we laid two courses of bricks. Thursday (yesterday) we worked 3 shifts (morning / afternoon / evening).

Which is great, except Mr. Hien, the sculpture director loves to party! So at lunch we eat a big meal and drink lots of beer (bia) then we rest before going back to work. At 5 o'clock out comes more cases of beer. We drink, we talk and then more work.

My two helpers and I were about "three sheets to the wind" by then, but somehow we finished the brick work around 10 pm, singing songs and arm wrestling, as crowds of onlookers circled around us.

Randall - Carrying Water at Sculpture Site

Walking back to the family home where I am staying, late in the evening. It was a hard day's work, and I'm very tired, and as I walked across the river dam road, and down the street, I forgot which side street they lived on.

I searched in vain, looking for some familiar signs or stores. One was a 5-course snake restaurant, another a photo copy store. I walked and walked and walked . . . then I came to a sign reading 'Hué' with a line through it.

I realized that I had walked to the edge of the city in the dark (oops!), and turned around. By now it was around 10:30 pm (late here)and as I walked back I saw a sign and tried the side street... yes! In the darkness I found the family home at last and climbed over the locked gate.

With that I'll close the story for today.

Hué - Traffic at Night

(4 May 2002) Last night, Mr. An had gone to look for me (he is 65) - he walked (li bo) into town, and came back when he didn't see me.

This morning I apologized for not calling them.

Today, I am quite exhausted! But, one more days work, and my piece will be finished, I think. There is a large stone (da) to put on top.

Randall - Working on Sculpture

(4 May 2002) Finally I finished my is just as I had hoped, and many people stop to look.

An's wife Thao (she is 55) has let me borrow her bike. As I rode to lunch with the other artists at the hotel, I was hijacked by a wedding party along a side street!

They brought me in to the cafe where a young man was singing and an electric piano was being played. In moments I was swarmed by generosity: food, beer, friendship, it was very festive!

Randall Garrett - Seven Story Mountain
Public Sculpture in Hué, Vietnam
on banks of Song Huong (Perfume River)

(5 May 2002) Last night was the opening ceremony of Festival Hue. A giant performance with thousands of people attending. I will tell you more about that next e-mail.

Vietnam must be the most surreal and strangely wonderful place I have visited. Every moment is a new friend, and unexpected happenings...sheer craziness!

(6 May 2002)  The last few days have been alternately crazy and peaceful. The Festival Hué has the city insanely full of people and traffic at times, i cannot begin to describe.

But the performances are inspiring. Tonight I watched the traditional Cambodian dance troupe, and then the Hanoi water puppets performance (I saw them last year in Hanoi). The main show I wanted to see was cancelled tho' - the circus (xiec). I hope to see it in Hanoi.

Fishing Boats - Hué

I decided to park my bike and walk, as my ass was so sore from riding. By the end of the evening, my feet were every bit as sore! I took a back pathway, and rode a small wooden diesel-powered boat across the river to get back to the family house I am staying at. That was fun.

(7 May 2002) Today, I was invited by a new friend, a young 23-year old Buddhist monk named Trần Quốc Phương to visit his monastery, on the outskirts of Hue, called Chua Bao Quoc. It was founded in 1674. Phương joined the monastery as a novice at 11, and is now 23.

He is a gentle and kind young man, and showed me all around. Walking hand in hand he showed me the clean swept monastery grounds, garden sanctuary, and temple.

Tran Quoc Phuong at Langco Beach

(8 May 2002)

Last night was special, as I went with Thinh, the son of the family where I stay, and his friends to an Ao Dai (pronounced "ow-yi") fashion show on the bridge crossing the river.

Hundreds of young ladies wearing the traditional Vietnamese dress modeled along the runway across the bridge. It was on national TV here.

Festival Hué - Fashion Show on the Bridge

(9 May 2002)  I have been so worn out from all the craziness at the Festival Hué, that I took a detour yesterday. I rode my bike to Thuan An beach, about 13 kilometers (8 mi.) outside of Hue.

It was so hot, and I was lonely, but I decide to enjoy myself by walking in the waves along the beach. The beach was very beautiful and quite empty, save for a few fishing canoes and thatched huts. I ate prawn and drank warm beer over ice in a tiny lean-to cafe run by a family on the beach.

Randall - Thuan An Beach

I rode back mid-afternoon and am nursing a healthy sunburn, but it was worth the sights and sounds of the water, and farms along the way. Slowly passing over a bridge, past fishing boats, an abandoned Communist stage in a field, on lonely dirt roads.

This morning I met my Buddhist monk friend Phương for coffee, worked on some drawings, and then went with the symposium people for lunch on a boat.

Am trying to slow down a little and pace myself, so as to not collapse. I miss you so, and hope all is well.

Randall with Certificate at Guest Home