How can you not love a city where silk pyjamas are worn all day and not by lecherous mansion dwellers who keep bunnies, but worn all day by regular folk. Old and young alike, although the demographic most likely to be wearing identical patterned tops and bottoms definitely skewers to Boomer. Hoi An is a city where beautiful lanterns bob in every tree and sway gently across narrow alleyways. Bougainvillea pour over painted cement walls and doorways are always open. Narrow wooden doors carved with gracious swirls reveal shiny ceramic floors, family alters, blinking TVs and at least one or two people bustling or lounging. There are no curtains drawn and no worries about cleaning up for the house cleaner either just real life in small piles.
Sabine has been house bound since the accident. We waited a day and then took her to the hospital to fully ascertain that there was nothing broken. She screamed bloody murder anytime we came close to her foot and was refusing to walk – although she generally refuses to walk so that isn’t necessarily a clear indication of serious injury. She also screamed bloody murder as Chris carried her into the hospital and all the while getting her bandage changed. To be fair it really didn’t look good – and I was the one who had cleaned it after the accident. I thought I had done such a thorough job – soaking it and rinsing it and slathering it with polysporin. I am no Florence Nightingale. I was fully tsked tsked by all three nurses and the doctor checking her out. The cleaning involved a lot of iodine which seemed a little archaic but I guess that’s still how it’s done. She was given a course of antibiotics, anti inflammatory medicine and we were off with instructions to come back daily to have her bandage changed.
We have decided to embrace the house boundedness of our current situation – taking turns to go out and do things. Anderson and I took a lantern making class. It was only a ten minute walk from our little homestay but it was one hot walk. The temperatures here are around 35 degrees with what seems to be 100% humidity. We are dripping within a block of walking. Sauntering at a snails pace we get to see a giant beetle carcass the size of a small helicopter splayed in a death pose it’s a miracle that we arrive right in time. Hoi An is famous for its lanterns and we learn that they were brought here by the Chinese and evolved through out the centuries until the last forty years where they have been mostly influenced by tourism. The lanterns needed to be created to pack easily and a new way of making them was developed. The little shop we are taking the class in is – suitably – awash in lanterns of many shapes and colours. We learn the names of the shapes and the significance of the silk. After all that we discover that we are making the most traditional garlic shape and we are given a choice of five different fabrics. This is a little disappointing until we start making the lanterns and then I totally understand why. We could be there for hours crafting but this is a business and they are moving people through two hours at a time. As usual the table and chairs are from a kindergarten class and we end up st a table with two strapping Australian women so there is a fair amount of jostling. This combined with a hurricane gale from the fan, delicate silk panels and some kind of super glue it’s a miracle we made anything at all resembling a lantern. Despite the slightly rushed pace it is really fun and although not perfect we are pretty happy with the end result. The class pops us out right at noon heat so we decide to grab a cold drink for the walk home. There are spots every two feet selling sandwiches, smoothies, fruit juice, noodles, spring rolls and bbq. It seems like no one ever actually eats at home. The thing is nothing about any of these streetside spots is ever particularly quick. Unless it’s pho – they scoop that up in record time BUT SO THEY SHOULD! It’s already made. It took a full ten minutes to get an iced soda water with a squeeze of lime from a narrow street side shop that had absolutely no one in it. Aaaaand I guess that’s why no one was in it. Although all the shops are the same as far as speed.
The next day Chris takes Anderson back to Denang for surfing and Beansie and I hold down the fort. I am pretty keen to get outside or anywhere really by the time they get back but it’s not to be. We end up going to our regular spot for my new favourite Vietnamese meal banh xeo (sizzling cake) which is the incredible pancake wrapped into rice paper with fresh herbs and lettuce and then dipped in fish sauce with chilies and lime. So good and Anderson loves it too. Sabine’s foot continues to keep us pretty close to home with one of us popping out to grab take out. We have actually tried some restaurants that we normally wouldn’t have when trying to please all our tastes and remaining home. We did venture out to meet Sara and Justine’s dad and his partner B who happened to be down in Hoi An for the weekend. They took us to a restaurant right on the river in the old town where we watched the lantern boats floating along, listened to the hawkers at the night market and met a lovely rat under the table beside ours after our meal.
Feeling antsy after a few days holed up I organized a tour to My Son the ancient holy land. We had enjoyed our food tour in Denang so much that I asked our guide if he knew anyone who could guide us here in Hoi An. Luckily he did and Leo arrived to pick us up at 6:30 am for the hour long drive to the holy land. The ruins at My Son are a cluster of Hindu temples constructed between the 4th and 14th century by Kings of Champa. The temples are dedicated to the worship of The god Shiva. It was the site of religious ceremony for kings and the ruling dynasties of Champa. It was largely destroyed by carpet bombing from America during a single week of the Vietnam war – known here as the American war. It is similar to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It shows the blending and influence of two civilizations – actually three as there are also example of Roman influence. Leo had all the history down and was able to explain the influences the trade and war paths and the movement of the people and civilizations. He was incredible and this day made me never want to visit a historical site without a guide. It also helped that we were alone with him so able to corral our kids fairly easily and also make decisions when to stop and for how long. We also caught a dance show – I thought would be a touristy gimmick but the dancers were great and it also gave us a little respite from the heat. I know we have been in this climate for months but it is truthfully so much hotter and more humid here than anywhere else. It feels like we are swimming while walking. For Chris it’s double because he’s hauling Sabine – he pretty much always was but now she demands that her food be held up as well. Resulting in an even more ridiculous position that Chris manages to maintain for hours at a time.
Now before we knew that Sabine was going to be invalid this week we had also booked a cycling excursion. Even after her accident we could have cancelled but the truth is we really wanted to go – and we also thought that four days down the road she would be fine. As it turns out she still was pretty swollen and now we were on the hook. So we decided to tough it out. Yes I realize Sabine was having to do the toughing it out but frankly people – her whining is epic in its ability to shatter my eardrums along with my patience. Fingers crossed we would be the only ones on the trip. The morning came pretty quickly since Anderson has started a habit of FaceTiming his friends at around 5am our time. But since we were needing to be up and out early this was actually a bonus. Of course we still managed to be late – a last minute meltdown and a slow taxi had us slinking into the tour office apologizing profusely and deeply humiliated to see a family of five all suited up and ready to go. The have Australian accents and look super athletic – I can’t even believe this woman had given birth to three babies. We quickly grab our bikes – this company asked for your height when you book so that the bikes are ready to go. They are good bikes too – nothing like the Russian clunkers that we almost killed Sabine on. Speaking of Sabine I was a little nervous that she would be scared of the bikes. Mainly because she has refused to speak of the accident or let me speak of the accident since it happened. If anyone asks and I even take a breath to say bike she loudly asserts “No!” But she was fine. Anderson however didn’t like his bike and there was further scrambling to find something for him and further embarrassment on my part for continuing to make people wait. It’s a killer – you want your kid to advocate for themselves and that is what we have taught. As well Chris is always super conscientious of how equipment feels before we leave so that once we are out on the hill or road we can just do it. However on a day where we have already made complete strangers wait I just wish he had sucked it up – something to circle back to later.
The tour was incredible – we cycled out to the little villages and rice paddies just over the river from Hoi An. It was lush and peaceful. As usual each little village had a specialty. We got to make fresh rice noodles with a stone mill and an indoor fire fed by rice husks (the ash is then used as fertilizer – nothing is wasted). The fresh noodles were layered with charcoal grilled dried noodles – they puff up like a papadam- then eaten like a sandwich. Then we carried on to see a ship yard, stop for fresh juice and coconuts, try our hand at grass mat weaving and finally after seeing how rice wine is made finishing with a rice wine tasting. This included several flavours of rice wine – ginseng and wild mushroom, banana, plain and lizard! The latter had several good sized lizards bloated and floating in the bottle. By this point we were great friends with the Aussies – three boys – a 13 year old and twin 9 year olds. Anderson was having a blast. The father and his partner live in Singapore and the boys and their mom live in Melbourne. Earlier Stephanie and I had been commiserating on how hard it is to be 24/7parenting she said she was in awe of us, saying they were exhausted after five days. This made so much more sense to me when I realized she was the step parent who lives in an other country. Anyway we let the boys have a taste of the lizard wine which was pretty amusing. The tour guide had been telling us all day about the importance of having boys and the strength of men. All about how families would try and try for boys if they had girls. From what I have seen – as a sweeping generalization – the men don’t do too much around here. The market is all women, the stores and shops in the main town are all women, the tailors and leather makers, the homestay owners, the kitchen workers, the servers, the field workers all women. The sitting around on the corner on mini chairs smoking and drinking Bia Hoi – all men. We have seen men with flats of beer under their tables at restaurants. The tour guide proudly says that they put scorpions, snakes and lizards in rice wine because it makes the men more virile. It gives them strength. So that seems like it might not be working. As much fun as the rice wine stop is – my favourite stop was visiting village patriarch whose family had been in the village for 14 generations. He lives with his wife and daughter in the family home and cares for the family temple and burial ground, as well as advising villagers on good matches and auspicious times to marry. He has ten children, five boys and five girls. Five were born before the war and five were born after. He was captured by the Americans and imprisoned for five years. He is a spritely 94 and his wife is 90. They open up their home and temple to tourists because if we learn about each other and are friends there will be no more war. So you know all the Vietnamese men aren’t sitting around drinking beer all day. We return to the tour office and are sad to discover that they are leaving for Singapore the following day. Anderson really could have used a couple of days of one on one friend time. But it wasn’t to be.