I caught a plane out of the hot afternoon in at the airport in Ho Chi Minh City and the sun faded in the west as the plane climbed. Eventually I saw two lights out past the left wing, but they weren’t moving–stars. I dozed a little uncontrollably and then they gave us airline food which I doused with chili sauce. As the nose of the plane began to tilt forward and the Russian pilots speaking Vietnamese told us to fasten our seat belts, I could see lighting flashing in the clouds below us. Then the plane was in it. We thrashed around for a few minutes (I never did hear the thunder crash, I only saw lighting) and then emerged under the clouds into a rainless night.
My boss was waiting for me at the door to the airport, and we quickly found a taxi and were headed to Hanoi. However, it was Independence day for Vietnam, and the roads were choked with motorbikes. Lowell and I had to get out of the taxi because they were not allowing cars into the center of the city. So we started walking, but soon after we started walking, the fireworks began to explode above the city. Then the roads, which were already choked with motorbikes and cars and bicycles, came to a complete standstill. Lowell and I walked on. There were “dead areas” where buildings blocked the view and therefore no people were there. But finally we came to a place where the people were packed so tightly that we couldn’t get through. We just stood there and saw the edges of the firework display and I found that I was blinking every time there was an explosion. We looked out above the crowd of people and both said we’d never seen anything like it. It really was amazing. People just stopped on the road. Not really saying anything, just listening to the bangs and watching the colors. Cars were stuck in amongst all the motorbikes like insects in amber. Eventually, the fireworks ended and Lowell and I had to wade through a large intersection which took about 10 minutes of getting around motorbikes and cars that weren’t really moving. And finally we were back at Ruth and Lowell’s house. It was a relief and I was tired and showered and hopped into bed.
The next morning was a trip out to Ha Long bay, about 3 hours of driving from Hanoi. I was sleeping for most of the drive or doing the small talk thing with the two new volunteers that will be working in Hanoi (one of them actually came on my first trip to Vietnam over two years ago). I awoke from my sleep to find that we had stopped for a break and some tourist trap and I hadn’t seen so many white people in one place for some time. I found myself standing to the edge of the area while our driver tried to get the van out of the parking lot. And eventually we arrived at the bay. We hopped on a boat and sailed off. It was an overcast day, and cool. The views were a little disappointing because of the haze in the distance, but the weather was wonderfully cool. We sailed around, walked through some caves, ate some amazing seafood and then headed back. Once again I was tired and went to bed early.