Sunday, January 16: In the morning, we float among the descending dragon’s islets of jade. My cabin gleams, its wood rich and brown and deep as the earth. I’m in my down comforter cocoon. The quiet is punctuated only by the lapping of tiny waves against the boat. This is a time, this morning, when I savor being alone, when I have moments to myself, but I know I can connect when I choose to. I don’t mind being alone under these kinds of circumstances. It’s only when I feel there is no one for me, no one to connect with, that loneliness haunts me.
Yes, I’m here on top of this water world, this bay of limestone and emeralds. I love it. Too much for words. I lie in bed and soak it in, breathing the sea air, pulling the comforter close to ward off the chill seeping through the door. I still taste the happiness I felt last night. How, I wonder, can I have it again? Why is it that I’m greedy? Why can’t I just enjoy it when it comes without wanting it more, again and again? Could Buddhism, I wonder, teach me to do this?
After breakfast, we go on bamboo boats through a floating fishing village. In all of Halong Bay there are about 1600 residents of 4 fishing villages. They live on floating houses and sustain themselves by fishing. In this particular village, there are 59 floating houses and about 300 people. They live here year round; they live with their children, who attend school at one little schoolhouse in the village, and their dogs, who protect what few belongings they have. Ryan insists the dogs protect them from Somali pirates.
Most of the houses have generators for electricity, but they’re only allowed to use them from 7-9 each evening. As we float past the villages in our bamboo boats, we can see flat screen televisions inside the huts, complete stereo systems. Thanh has told us that generations live here, that their sole livelihood is fishing, that it’s a hard life. I can believe it. I can’t imagine living like this year round and rarely visiting land, or cities, or people outside this small community.
Before we came out on our boats, Thanh told us that there is a problem with the residents throwing “rabbits” in the water. Several of us look at each other, baffled. Rabbits? Where would they get rabbits to throw in the water? WHY would they throw these rabbits in the water? I ask Thanh, probably with a “duh” look on my face: they throw rabbits in the water? Thanh nods, Yes! But one of our group knows what he is saying, “Rubbish, he’s saying they throw rubbish in the water.” Ohhh. That explains. Thanh says Indochina Junk and other tour operators have a system set up to take away their rubbish. To promote a green bay. Bravo for them!
We stop near the little blue schoolhouse and go into a pearl shop where I see beautiful black and white watercolors of the fishing village for only $6, but since Thanh mentioned only that we should bring $3 to tip our boat operator, I have no other cash on me. I have to pass up the watercolors, much to my regret.
We take a boat back to the Dragon Pearl, where we return to the dock and meet our van to return to Hanoi.
On the way back, we are all quiet in the van. Ken sleeps, Ruth reads, and I nap in between staring out the window, and closely observing, with clenched teeth, the harrowing chicken games on the road. Out the window are the riff-raff edges of Hanoi. Gray woolen skies. Smoldering fires burning in open fields. Women in conical hats bending over in rice fields with huge power grids in their centers. Water buffalo grazing, oblivious to the slummy areas surrounding the fields. Further along, more ladies in conical hats selling loaves of French bread hung on racks displayed along the highway, open to the elements, the pollution. When the ladies make a sale, they bag the loaves in bright yellow plastic bags. Many of these yellow bags have made their way into the unkempt patches of dirt and grass along the roadway, yellow blights yelping out to be noticed and hauled away.
All I know is that I feel a sore throat coming on.
Back in Hanoi we ride alongside the ceramic mosaic mural on the dyke beside Hanoi’s Red River. The wall depicts scenes of the different periods of Hanoi, along with modern art work, children’s drawings, and paintings of Hanoi. It is said to be the world’s largest ceramic mosaic.
I go back to my room at the Ngocmai, where I climb under the duvet and watch some TV, drink some orange juice, hope to feel better. After a while, I go out to the fabulous Green Mango for a light dinner. It’s an elegant and rich place, hung with draperies, dimly lit, with artistically stark dried flower arrangements. Lonely Planet describes this place as having the feel of “an opium den.”
The wait staff all wear tee-shirts for a cause: Save the Cat Ba Langurs. The Cat Ba langurs are the most endangered primate species, with only about 53 individuals alive. (Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project)
My dinner consists of beer, appetizer, salad, dessert, tea. Grapes in goat cheese and cashew nut, Green Mango grilled prawn salad, lemon custard with strawberries and raspberries, chamomile tea. The perfect ending to a perfect three days.