Tag Archive for: Halong Bay

When Writers Travel

Who else loves to travel?

We just returned from Southeast Asia. I’m not sure if this
was a bucket list trip or simply an area of the world we were curious about.
Both my husband and I were too young for what we call the Vietnam War, but I
remember the protests and the horrors of the war shown on the nightly news. Soldiers
being spit on and called “Baby Killers.” The MIA bracelets. Four Dead in Ohio. (My blogmate’s books are set in the era, by the way.) The guys in the deli where I worked during college
with their bravissimo: “I was stoned the whole time,” and our church youth advisor,
a then, newly-minted lieutenant, who would not talk about his time in Vietnam. My
brother-in-law, a medic during the war, who also does not discuss his experiences
I could go on, but I think you get the drift. Or maybe you
Then there’s Cambodia. A close friend’s daughter served there
with the Peace Corp and kept me intrigued with a running series of Facebook
posts. And who isn’t moved by the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge?

So we went.

And we loved Saigon. 
The locals call District 1, which is
the old town, “Saigon” while the sprawling city is referred to as Ho Chi Min
City. There’s energy and optimism, friendly people, and 6 million scooters
(mostly being driven by young, texting locals). 
One of the things we did was a
street food tour – vendors set up, legally or not so much, wherever there’s an
open spot of pavement. Hygiene may be optional for some of those vendors. 😉
Our guide for the tour said Saigon is in to “Capitalistic Communism.” They
relate to Cuba, consider Russia a socialist country, and think North Korea is a
disgrace. By the way, they still don’t like the Chinese, even as China pours
investment money into the country, and the French… well…the south doesn’t hate
them as much as the north. But you know, we never ran into anyone who openly disliked
Americans. Instead they all wanted to practice their English on us.
Go figure.
Although the War Remnants Museum, chronicling the “American
War,” was a sobering reminder of what a horrible war this was for both sides.
We worked our way north with stops in Hanoi where we checked
out the Hanoi Hilton and learned it was a massive torture prison built by the
French (see “they hate the French” above, along with the 95 years of French
Ironically enough, the Vietnamese have huge respect for John
McCain and his decision to stay with his men rather than using name and
position to bail himself out. (cough, cough, bone spurs.)
But damn, the coffee and cheese were French and amazing.
On to Halong Bay, which was awe inspiring. Seriously. I thought it would be water, a small bay, with a few of those rock monoliths. A picture may be worth a few words here.

And on we traveled, through Cambodia and down the Mekong, back to Vietnam. So many glimpses of a different lifestyle. A third world country struggling to move ahead. Pride in the remnants of a kingdom in the past. Something beyond tolerance for the religious practices embodied by hundreds of temples. The quiet serenity of sunrise at Angkor Watt. 
Terrifying safety issues in manufacturing. Health and hygiene issues
that made us cringe and wonder why we obsess over plastic straws. 
The sadness of
the long-term impact of the Khmer wiping out every person in the country who
could read and write and the current struggle of the Cambodians to find their footing. 
The search for foreign investment in the face of those struggles. Quiet disdain
for the puppet government put in place by the Vietnamese, who also installed 8
million landmines to keep the Khmer out of Vietnam. (There are roughly 4
million mines still hidden in the ground. They pay children $1 for each turned
in mine – people also use the explosives to blast fish in ponds, but that’s a
separate story – and many bear the missing feet and hands as a sickening
reminder of how dangerous those devices are.)

What can a writer learn? 

A sensory overload? That iced Vietnamese
coffee is wonderful? An appreciation for friends and a zest for life? A
sobering realization three generations of Vietnamese live in an area roughly
the size of my living room. An appreciation for air conditioning (gah, I grew
up in the South and yeah, Robin Williams had it right. Vietnamese weather? Hot
and damn hot.)

Maybe it’s getting outside our own heads for a while. Trying
new things. New experiences. Learning about a new-to-me ancient culture. Meeting
new friends and recapturing a curiosity about the rest of the world.
Whatever you want to call it, I’m glad I went. And I’m
already eyeing another area of the globe…
What the most interesting place you’ve visited lately?

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.  Visit her at http://cperkinswrites.com or on Facebook 

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She’s hard at work on sequel to The Body in the Beaver Pond, which was recently presented with the Claymore Award.