Monday, January 11, 2010

Tam Dao

Shortly after the New Year begun I got a chance to go up the mountains just north of the city. A good friend of mine designed and built a beautiful house set into the hillside of this Hanoian mountain retreat and a few of us motorbiked up to get some mountain air, to start the New Year off on a good note.

Leading this small pack is Duc-bar owner, artist, art patron, journalist and business consultant. Born in South Vietnam, he spent his formative years in Danang and Hue, eventually immigrating to the US. After 16 years there and 16 years traveling the world as a reporter he finally made it back to Vietnam three years ago. This time for good. I'm riding tandem with him and it is to his house that we are visiting.

The other friend riding along side is Frank-Asian bureau chief of AFP, currently visiting from Tokyo where he and his Vietnamese wife and son reside after having have lived here for three years. And because he's lived here in the north, like many of us,  he loves to tour the countryside on motorbikes. His choice is a Bellarussian stalwart Minsk.

Duc on the other hand has a beast of a Russian bike made by a company called Ural. Here they are. Don't they look like a couple of Hell's Angels? LA Rubbies, rich-urban-bikers, wished they looked this cool!

Tam Dao is about 90 kilometers north of Hanoi and it sits almost at 3,000 feet. In the summer it offers quite a respite from the heat in the valley and Duc chose this location for exactly that reason. A couple years ago he bought a piece of land and built a great place where he can come to rest and be inspired. Let's just say he did a really good job. Frank and I were truly inspired.

The property looks down a valley towards the south. Since it's currently winter the hillsides were intermittently shrouded in clouds and blustered by a cool wind. Inside, the house is spaciously designed like a New York loft, but just beyond the floor to ceiling wall of glass you step into a pool with an infinite edge. I'm sure it's great during the hot summer days but I was really glad that inside the big room he had a fireplace. Here we sat getting warm, getting used to the silence and getting Hanoi out of our minds.

Behind the main room is a subterranean courtyard, complete with a koi pond and fire pit. While we waited for another friend, Duc ordered a chicken and we did what men do best. We roasted the chicken in the fire pit, having it as a late lunch/early dinner.

A couple of phone calls and a couple of hours later Dutch arrived on his bike after having ridden 11 hours. Dutch, as David is known, has spent many a days traveling up down the roads of northern Vietnam. A constant traveler, he only works enough so that he can travel. And being based out of Bangkok as an information system consultant, he comes to Vietnam regularly. I was amazed about how much he new of this country and got some great tips on where else I can go to explore.

So the rest of the night and the next day we spent talking about trips taken and places still to visit. Duc expressed that he's finally found a place to call home for a while. Frank is trying to make his way back, saying he is working way too hard and missing Vietnam tremendously. Dutch said all he has to do is check his email when he's back in Hanoi to know if he can stay "in country" a while longer. As for me, if my first days are spent with great friends in a great place like this getting all kinds of special inspirations, I know it's going to be a great year.

Here's a video I shot of our experience.

Tam Dao from Linh Nguyen on Vimeo.
For more about Duc's place, check out this New York Times article.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year

Shortly before the New Year I found this 1966 Vespa and couldn't pass it up. It is a little bit of a cliche for an expat to be driving these, given that nostalgia and all that is what brought us back. But, if you know me, vintage Italian or vintage whatever has always been akin to my heart. And, I've been following my heart quite a bit lately. In doing so, I experienced extreme highs and the lowest of lows this past year.

Finally realizing my dream of moving back here was one of those extreme highs. Selling off most of my belongs and moving out of my apartment was really sad but then attending all of those going away parties with all of my friends more than made up for it. I was even lucky enough to spend time with my nieces in Tuoloumne Meadows-one of our favorite places in our little world, before moving over.

On the day that I flew out though, I heard about the passing of my good friend John Bachar. John was a mentor who fully supported this transition and one that I very much looked forward to sharing this new experience with. Luckily my last conversation with him was one of those highs. He was overflowing with compliments and well wishes as we said our goodbyes, knowing that it would be a while before we saw each other but not knowing that we never would again. I've been missing him tremendously the last half of 2009.

Which brings us back to this blog, or whatever you want to call it. This is what I've been doing the last six months-running around the north of Vietnam with all my friends, new and old alike. Living the dream as my good buddy Brad always says. I've been on three motorbike tours, four Ha Long Bay climbing trips, three Hoi An visits and one Ninh Binh recon mission. All along the way there was great food. I've gotten to know Hanoi really well and have made some new really good friends. This was all expected and welcomed.

What I also knew would happen but was not looking forward to was the passing of my Mom, making it my lowest moment of the year. (see the posting....Tin Buon.)

As for the New Year, I've got great adventures planned again. I promise to write more about my life in Hanoi to give you a more detailed, insider's view of the place. I promise to introduce you to all my friends here too. I have to start working again this year so I'll let you know how that goes. Oh yeah! I'll let you know about Tet in Vietnam, which will take me back to my home town in the South. A place I haven't been to yet since coming back to Vietnam. And Tet is the Vietnamese New Year. Luckily for me, if I cannot make a good go of it in the Gregorian New Year, I have a chance to start up again in the Lunar New Year.

One thing for sure, I will accept the ups and the downs as gracefully as I did in 2009.