* June 13:
War Museum, Hanoi capital of Vietnam: Earlier today, I visited a salon in Hanoi. The cost for a hair cut was $7 (Rs 469). I roamed around the city for an hour to find a salon charging a cheaper rate. But the lowest was $5 and that was still expensive. I went back home. I then remembered that someone who had circumnavigated the globe once told me he used to do his own hair cuts as he did not have the privilege of going to salons during his journey. I decided to follow suit.
Yesterday, my friend Kaptan Mali had a very had haircut. He described it as, “बन्दर के हाँथ में उस्तरा” (handing over a shaving razor to a monkey). I understood the meaning now. I hope I did a better job than the monkey! Anyway, I saved $5.
I got a picture clicked in the backdrop of the US B-52 bomber’s debris. It was the bomber that was shot down by the Vietnamese army on the night of December 27, 1972. I found the poster most interesting__ a Vietnamese female fighter pulls debris of a US plane with ropes. Till date, I have never seen a US plane, vehicle or any warfare equipment being insulted like this. The poster reminded me of what someone once said with reference to the 1965 Indo-Pak war: “War is not won only with modern flying machines and fire power. It is won by the skill, will, intelligence and determination of man behind the machine.”
* June 15:
Overall status: Physically fit but my mind is not at peace. I’m confused about where to head next. Cambodia has already denied me a visa. On the north lies China and on the east are Japan and Australia.
A friend from Delhi advised me to visit the War Museum and Ho Chi Minh museum in Hanoi. I had visited the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Delhi which is guarded by heavily armed personnel. This was the first museum where I had remained in queue right till the exit.
Ho- the brain behind the “Men in Black”
Ho Chi Minh, with the help of an army comprising few thousand men, waged wars with French and Japan in World War II and later with the US and won them.
A Vietnamese freedom fighter, politician, writer and journalist, Ho was born on May 19, 1890. He had more than a dozens of aliases including Ngyuen Sinh Cung, Ngyuen Tat Thanh and Ngyen Ai Quoc.
For 30 years, he roamed around the world, particularly in Europe, US and Africa to look for people who could assist in Vietnam’s fight for independence from the French. He learnt several languages incluing French, English, Russian, Cantonese and Mandarin.
He returned to Vietnam in 1941. The history of South East Asia changed thereafter. He established a standing army of 10,000 “men in black”- personnel highly trained in guerrilla warfare. They waged war against the French and Japanese occupation of Vietnam during World War II.
Vietnam is probably the only country in the world which could counter US armed forces and answer bullet for bullet.
Like Mahatma Gandhi, Ho’s image appears on all Vietnamese currency note. His portrait or bust can be seen in government offices, schools and hospitals. He holds a religious status, declared an ‘immortal saint’ by the Vietnamese Communist Party. His portrait can also be seen in the altar of several Vietnamese homes.
* June 16: Thank you Trang Pham for lunch and a ride to Air Force Museum Hanoi. Since I’m vegetarian, they searched for a veg restaurant for me in another part of Hanoi. When the students saw that I had difficulty using chopsticks, they all put aside their chopsticks. Like me, they started to eat with their hands. This was the first time they had eaten with their hands. Thank you for your hospitality.
* June 17:
Day 90; Location: Hanoi, Vietnam.
I’m privileged to have home stay and home food here. My host is very kind and generous. This evening, I will complete three months of my journey. It feels like I started the journey yesterday. People are very kind and generous in Vietnam. I lost directions on three occasions but young Vietnamese people dropped me at my destination. Whenever I board the wrong bus, the conductor does not charge me upto the next stop. Bus tickets are fixed at 7,000 Vietnam dongs (Rs 24). Vietnamese are very patriotic. Unlike us, they don’t criticize their leaders, particularly Ho Chi Minh who is worshipped in several families. The government has preserved weapons (from pistols to guns and fighter aircraft) used to fight against the French and Americans.
*June 18: Hi, I’ve lost my mobile on a bus. 0904623150 is my Vietnam number. Vietnamese friends, would you please call on this number and check who has the handset please. I have poor access to net.
Phew! Found my mobilephone. It had slipped into secret pocket of bag in which I normally hide money. I enjoyed the momentary sadness of losing the handset.
* June 21: Can anyone connect these places on a map for me? This has been my journey so far:
Thane to Kolkata by rail, Kolkata to Silchar by train, Silchar to Karimgunj up and down by road, Silchar to Imphal by road, Imphal – Ukhrul – Tusom Christian Village – Ukhrul – Imphal by road, Imphal to Moreh by road, Moreh to Tamu (Myanmar) by road, Tamu to Yangon by road, Yangon to Mawlamyine by train, Mawlamyine (Myanmar) to Mae Sot (border town of Thailand), Mae Sot to Bangkok by road, Bangkok (train) to Phitsanulok (road) to Bangkok, Bangkok – Ayutthaya – Bangkok by train, Bangkok to Vientiane, capital of Laos by train, Vientiane to Luang Prabang by road, Luang Prabang to Hanoi, Vietnam by road
* June 23: This is longest stay at one place and in one city. We are facing some technical problems so my movement is restricted. Its typical babu problem in India. Its not very complex or complicate but still taking time. Hope it would be resolved by Monday and I will get speed and direction.
Yesterday, I requested my host to extend my stay at her place. She smiled and said, “You can stay as long as you require.” She is really generous.
About this small baby: she is adventurous traveller. English translation of her name is Little Bamboo. I met this little angel at a UNESCO protected site in North Vietnam, odd 100 km from Hanoi. She has been travelling with her parents on bike from last four days. Braving the hot temperature, she covered 500 km distance. Her father is in Vietnam army and mother is teacher. They are on vacation now.
Little Bamboo speaks English just like I speak French. When I speak French no one understands it, except me!
* June 24: When there is no passenger, motorcycle taxi drivera (the cabs are known as Tuk Tuks in Thailand and Laos and Xe Thuong Binh in Vietnam) drink beer and relax in their vehicles. Beer is very cheap in Laos and Vietnam (only Rs 20 for a big mug). After drinks, the drivers often gossip about attractive tourists or about their fights with passengers or mention generous passenger who gave big tips. When there is no issue to talk about, they gossip about their wives or their neighbour’s wife.
* June 26:
I’m embarrassed to write the same location everyday. My movement has been restricted due to a couple of reasons. Hope to catch some speed next week.
Hanoi and Mumbai have many similarities like traffic snarls, crowded public transport, polluted rivers, an attitude of ‘no complaining’ among people, highrises, delicious street food, several museums, heritage, celebrating festivals, ‘work hard party hard’ culture and professionalism among youth. I’m pained to write that another similarity between both cities is the trauma of going through serial bomb blasts. But most importantly in both cities, people have the ability to bounce back to normalcy. Hanoi should be sister city of Mumbai, but in reality its Ho Chi Minh city.
According to the BBC: The biggest ever bombing campaign by US B-52 aircraft took place over Christmas 40 years ago, when the US dropped at least 20,000 tonnes of explosives on North Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. More than 1,000 Vietnamese died, but some claim the assault may have helped bring about the deal signed a month later that led to an end to US involvement in the war.
* June 27:
Day 100; Location: Hanoi, Vietnam.
Status after 100 days of travel in South East Asia.
Physical status: Fit
Mental status: Fit, bit home and food sick
Financial status: Naturally declined.
The best things happen in life when one lands in hospital.
One realizes the fleeting nature of life when one is lying half dead on the stretcher.
One realizes the significance of mass of bubbles when it goes through the saline.
One gets infinite energy when one can’t move one’s own ass in bed.
One knows true friends when one is deserted for days in hospital, but a few idiots continue to stick around like bedbugs till one rises.
One lives fullest when one stands on his feet again.
* June 28:
Day 101; Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
I am impressed with this beautiful Vietnamese teenage entrepreneur Ngân Coj , an undergraduate student of economics. She studies in the second year at Nation University of Economics, Hanoi in Vietnam. She had read about the concept of start-ups and decided to something of her own. She could make bracelets but couldn’t run a full-time shop as she was studying. She researched about online marketing but found it to be an expensive option. She then started a Facebook page__ https://www.facebook.com/vongtaymayman1234. Here, she displayed pictures of various bracelets made by her (after requesting her friends to volunteer as models wearing the bracelets). Prospective customers can check out the bracelets online and place an order through text messaging which includes the the reference number of the item to be purchased and their address. After college, she delivers the parcel to her customers. Isn’t this an impressive achievement for a teenager? Don’t even ask me what I was doing when I was a teen.
* June 29: In transit
Crisis, crisis and crisis
But there’s tons of support from friends