Thursday, October 22, 2009

The One Minutes

As you can see by now from some of the previous postings, Hanoi is an urban city. As such it is filled with artists from the strictly traditional to the wildly experimental. The coffee shop/bar I've been frequenting is one of the city's epicenters for Hanoian artists nationals and expats alike.
Over a month ago, thru some thorough research, I'm told, the Dutch based group, The One Minutes, funded by the Dutch government and UNICEF came to Hanoi in search of artists to participate in their City One Minutes project and found itself at Tadioto, my local haunt. Here is info about the organization.  

Ever since forever, or should I say, ever since Eric was in film school at USC, I've wanted to do some film/video work. So, this was an opportunity I could not pass up.

Sander Lee from Holland, seen here with local artist Manh, directed this Hanoian filming project. He chose Hanoi along with Adis-Abba.  And like this north African city, we were to shoot 24 films depicting each hour of the day. The idea is to give a brief look at the city and all together there are 100 cities worldwide featured in this entire project, which is to debut in its entirety at next years World's Fair in Shanghai for the Holland exhibition. So for 60 seconds each, times 24, times 100 they've got quite a long film. Here is a look at most of them:

Somewhere in here are the Hanoi films but below is the one I shot.

13-14 Linh Nguyen - Lullaby from Sander Lee on Vimeo.

The music is by local avant garde singer Linh Dung. (More about here later. I promise!) For me this was a very special first go at filming. I had a great video tutor in Sander and a great vocal collaborationist in Linh Dung.

The hour I filmed is 13:00, 1 pm or what many here refer to as "rest hour". It is the most quiet time during daylight where driving around is unlikely civilized, for the crazy taxi drivers-moto and auto are deep in slumber.

I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to making more in the future.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ba Be National Park

Ba Be National Park is about 250 km from Hanoi and is maybe one of the most underrated places in all of Vietnam..….So, don’t tell anyone.

Motorbike touring is one of best things to do here in the North. The countryside is mountainous and full of great vistas. So famous are the roads and towns among Hanoian expats that full-blown bike clubs have been formed around this activity. Hanoi’s Minsk Club specializes in going on these tours with Belarussian bikes of its namesake. Another club, with a much longer name, says it all-Zoom Zoon, Let’s Go To The Countryside.

Our little clan for this trip is made up of two Asian/Americans and five Swiss ladies. We took between us five motorbikes with two teams riding tandem. We spent two days driving-one day up and one day back, and two days enjoying the sites of Ba Be.

Ba Be means three tanks, or three bodies of water, which I cannot really see that well by the map. But I’ll take their word for it. What I do know though is it’s beautiful!

It felt like being in Yosemite for the first time. There is a big valley with a big lake surrounded by tall walls.  And around dusk you can smell the scent of wood burning, not from campfires but from kitchen fires.

The local indigenous folks are White Tay, a gentle and likeable folk. Our guesthouse keeper is Tay and made us feel welcomed and comfortable. His place was the first guesthouse in the valley and it commands the best view, being on stilts and higher on the hillside.

For the rest of the photos click the above links.

I wont bore you with too many of the details because the scenery will speak for itself. But I will enlighten you on a little bit of the logistics.

Firstly, it is unlawful for anyone to drive a motorbike in Vietnam without a license. But, I was told, when getting pulled over by the police in the North, just speak English. They will get frustrated after a little while and let you go. Not too many of the older folks in the North, especially the countryside, speak English. We never got asked to pull over.

Secondly, the roads are very dangerous outside of Hanoi before you’re out in the countryside. As a motorbike driver you’re competing with semi-trucks, kids on bicycles, farmers driving horse or cattle drawn buggies and bus drivers, the worse of the lot. Luckily I think other motorbike drivers know this too because they are also careful out here. God knows what would happen if motorbike drivers in Hanoi came out here and drive the same chaotic way they do in the city. Actually I do know. I think they’ve been scared straight with stories of death on the asphalt.  We survived almost unscathed. Sonja got cut off within Hanoi city limits and hit the pavement. She escaped with minor scratches and bruising.

Lastly, leave early. On our way out we left Hanoi late and ended up getting to Ba Be shortly after dark, which was little scary as a storm was brewing. On the way back however we left early enough to make several stops to enjoy the countryside. We had sticky rice prepared several ways at a few roadside stands. One version was cooked in bamboo and a couple of the others were wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed with meat. We even bought local bananas.  And because we were early we could afford to be lost, driving thru a local Tay market and being the town spectacle for a brief moment. (You can see this on the video.)

Remember. Don’t tell anyone about Ba Be.

Lan Ha Bay/Cat Ba National Park

This area, a few hours East of Hanoi, is gorgeous!

It would not be totally fair for me to say it's Ha Long Bay, but Ha Long Bay is right next door. The two areas are separated by an invisible line through the limestone islets. On our first trip, we even went into Ha Long Bay proper to climb and kayak for a morning.

Anyway Lan Ha is just as beautiful and from what they say it actually has many sandy beaches while Ha Long has a few. I've posted a some pictures here and to get more go to my Picasa link.

My friends here in Hanoi have jobs during thee week so these trips were done over the weekend. We'd wake up super early on Saturday morning, at 4:30 am, to catch a bus to port city Hai Phong. From there we transfer to a smaller bus to the hydrofoil terminal to catch said hydrofoil to Cat Ba Island, where we once again get on a small bus and drive to the town of Cat Ba. The trip takes about 6 hours. By 11 am we're on the rooftop of the boat floating amongst the islands, trying to get our heads to stop spinning.

We rent an entire boat for ourselves. They cook for us and take us to wherever we'd like. At night we anchor in a small bay amongst local fishermen and their floating houses. There might be one or two other tour boats nearby, unlike Ha Long where one would find a fleet of tour boats in a small bay singing Karaoke all night.

The first trip was mostly deep water soloing and the second was spent climbing on the nice beaches. It is very relaxing out here and no one wanted a mention of chaotic Hanoi. It is nice to know that we have a such a great escape.

Untitled from Linh Nguyen on Vimeo.

Here is a little video I made. There is no sound because the music is copyrighted. (Other videos from here out will have sound.)

For the next two months or so the Bays will still be nice-the air cooling off and the water warm. Come December and January, the air temps and water temps cool off enough that swimming can be uncomfortable for all except the hardy Northern Europeans. Feb, March and April will fill the bays with midst and fog. So, we're enjoying it now...while we can.

*Photos courtesy of Kim Sanders
Hoi An again. Yes!

I love this place. It’s historic. It’s near the ocean. It’s got great food. And, I have many friends here. In past trips, I’d stay for at least a few days but on this particular one I could only afford two. I have to rush back to a good internet connection in Hanoi for the beginning of my online English teaching course.
Still getting out of the bustling city for a couple days was a great welcome. The weather is cool and there is an ocean breeze.
I’m here with Daria, Cecilia and Julie. All are Swiss friends. Cecilia and Julie are on vacation from Europe while Daria, living in Hanoi, works for the UN. Daria loves it here too. This is her fourth or fifth trip since being “in country” as of February.
Anyway, here are some older shots of Hoi An.

These though are of a peninsula in Da Nang that was a former army base now opened to the public. Julie had read somewhere that there was big Buddha statue near here. I knew nothing of the sort until we, my friend Minh and I, drove around the corner of the peninsula. (Some of you may remember Minh from last year’s trip. His father, my good friend, Duy past away last year.)
This is Quan Am, Mother Goddess of Mercy-one of Buddha’s many forms.

If God, Buddha, Allah or whomever or whatever it is that you worship is willing, you too can one day enjoy this beautiful view in person.