Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hoi An-Trip #2

As far as sites to see in Vietnam are concerned, Hoi An is right up there at the top of the list. For me it might even be number one.

The city has the old charm preserved in its architecture, its food and its people. I’ve been coming here at least once a year for the last 10 and if I’m lucky, I will have visited Hoi An three times this year alone.

I’m still traveling with Mike, Nancy and Megan. Joining us is another American friend Mike Ayon, also a climbing buddy. Like us, Mike A also loves to eat, making him the perfect companion on these trips.

Before coming here Mike A had expressed that, through his research, he wanted to be here for the Full Moon Festival, or what locals refer to as the Old Town Festival. It happens once a month but not on the actual full moon as we know it or as it’s often depicted on a Julian calendar. One needs to refer to the lunar calendar that Southeast Asian and Chinese Buddhists use. The operative word being “Buddhists”. This calendar has 28 days per month and Hoi An’s Old Town Festival falls on the 14th day.

It is a small but a very important detail. Mike A ended up missing the festival because of this, and I’ve made the same mistake in the past by asking my Catholic relatives which day the full moon falls on. Now I know better but this is what Mike A missed:

Full Moon Festival from Linh Nguyen on Vimeo.

Fluorescent lights are turned off and only incandescent bulbs and candles illuminate the town this night. Motorized vehicles and bicycles are banned on the streets of the Old Town allowing for only walking traffic. And the music heard is that of the traditional Vietnamese countryside.

So on this evening the four of us, without Mike A, strolled the streets of the town, took a boat ride on the river and had desert in one of the colonial French houses. Oh yes, we also released candle lanterns into the river.

Some may think that this place is too touristy. There are only two real bars in the old town and they shut down about midnight or one AM at the latest. At any given time one could be inundated by schools of tourists crowding the narrow streets, clad in requisite matching hats or shirts and led by a native tour guide. Too many storefronts sell the same familiar collectable wares-Bia Saigon t-shirts, bamboo bowls and silk scarves.

But if you look past these inevitable signs of progress for a people needing to put more on their table than just food-like education for their children, you will see that as they require an increase in quality of life they too want to preserve the virtues that got them here.

For example, yesterday we had lunch at Ba Le Well, a place serving the local specialty of BBQ pork and shrimp, fried egg rolls and Vietnamese crepe all self wrapped in rice paper with fresh vegetables and dipped in an amazing savory soybean sauce. (Not to be mistaken with soy sauce.) The proprietor came over and showed us how she rolls them then proceeded to hand us roll after roll of perfectly proportioned wraps. But, as we ate and ate it never seemed like we were making a dent in the portions. Because in our frenzied chow session, like sharks feeding on their prey, our eyes too were rolled up in our brains blissfully unaware that the owner kept ordering more and more meat and wrappers.

“What makes me happy is that you are enjoying the food?” She said to me. “And however much you eat the price is always the same-60,000 VND.” For all that food, it only cost us $3 per person.

She is proud of her food just like the other locals here who are proud of their city. And pride is shown through a willingness to share. And sharing makes visitors feel welcome. This is why I keep coming back. This is one reason why I like this place so much.

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