When we first arrived in Hanoi my son and I were at first struck by the never ending stream of traffic. There are about 6.5 million people living in Hanoi and also about 1.5 million motorcycles. What makes it fun is that most streets don’t have stop lights. We later learned that some tourists were so intimidated by this that they hired taxis to take them across the street. If you should ever find yourself in Hanoi the secret to crossing the street is to just walk across without stopping. If you do this all the drivers will simply go around you. If you stop they won’t expect that and it could get very interesting.
When my son was 18 I bought a motorcycle in order to spend some time with him. It worked perfectly as instead of having to schedule an appointment to see him he would ask me to go for a ride. So in the presence of all these bikes and chaos we knew we had to rent cycles and head out to the countryside.
I must admit that the first morning we set out on our bikes we were a bit nervous. We knew that we’d get lost as none of the signs were in English. After about 20 minutes of driving this nervousness turned into a whole lot of fun. I quickly learned that if instead of trying to drive/steer my bike I just “went with the force” I was able to drive wonderfully fast in a sea of anything on wheels that you could imagine.
Our destination was the Perfume Pagoda. In order to get there we road for about 3 hours and then hired a boat. This boat was like a large row boat. The motor was a Vietnamese woman who rowed with her feet. About an hour later she dropped us off at a dock and we learned that we would now have to climb about 400 steps to get to the pagoda. About half we up we came upon an elderly blind woman who was begging. This woman had a monkey. My son loves monkeys so we stopped and he played with it for awhile. The monkey was quite fascinated with my son’s tattoos. He tried to pick them and eat them. Before we left I decided to pet the monkey myself. Well this monkey immediately jumped on my shoulder and did an excellent job of looking for tics or lice. After petting the monkey for awhile it was time to leave. This is not at all what the monkey had in mind. It immediately wrapped its arms and legs around me, started screaming, and wouldn’t let me leave. I wish that I had this effect on human women. It was extremely adorable. Finally I extricated myself from my new girlfriend and we continued up the mountain. When we got to the top we found ourselves at the top of a large flight of stairs. The Perfume Pagoda is in a cave. So much to my non-delight we had to go down the stairs. The interior of the cave was not extraordinarily special. However as we were leaving the cave a marvelous image was there waiting for us. So that’s how this shot came into being.
Before I close I want to emphasize that I found Vietnam to be a place of exquisite beauty. But what really blew me away was the absence of anger towards Americans among the Vietnamese. I went looking for this anger and I couldn’t find it. We have much to learn about their ability to forgive.