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Xiamen and Gulangyu, China

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Xiamen (Chia-men) is a city that sits somewhere on the coast between Shanghai and Hong Kong. There are a number of places like this in China that are wonderful to visit and have great city streets and resources, but are not frequented by Western Visitors.

Xiamen Shopping Area

When thinking about visiting the large and diverse land of China, most of us think about Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. However, it's nice to see some of these side places that are a world of their own.

Xiamen Shopping Area

As with a few of the other places we've been much of the tourist traffic comes from Chinese people visiting from other provinces. It's interesting though to see many of the signs in both Chinese and English. This city (like Shanghai) was about fashion and appearance. There were many salons lining the streets and as you can tell, basic black hair is sooooo yesterday. The photo below was a typical pow-pow session that many Chinese businesses have before opening. This upscale salon was preparing to sets trends for the day.

Xiamen Hair Salon Pow Wow Session

Xiamen, as with most of places in China, was much different than I had expected. Again, there was a vibrance and energy to the city that is typically seen in cosmopolitan cities.

Xiamen Side Street

While some of the architecture was old and "traditional" on the side streets, there was a great walking boulevard which housed multiple upscale shopping centers. As with Shanghai, most things were priced way above what they would ever be in America, and it seems obvious that the wealthy of China come here to shop.

After wondering around the city for a while, I took a boat from the main waterfront over to a beautiful

Gulangyu Island Waterfront, European Architecture

place called Gulangyu. It is a small island which sits off of the Xiamen houses some wonderful streets and unique architecture for Asia.

Gulangyu Island, European Architecture

I believe there was a European influence here from many years ago which created Victoria style buildings.

Gulangyu Island, European Architecture

There were lots and lots of Chinese tourists on this island. We took a ferry from the mainland and it takes only minutes, but it was crowded enough that you could barely move.

Gulangyu Island, European Architecture

One of the highlights for me was when I ran across a bride and her groom on the island.

Gulangyu Island Bride and Professional Photo Shoot

They were having professional pictures taken. I asked if I could photograph her and was given permission. The groom and his friends also asked if they could have their photo taken with me, so they each posed and traded cameras…super nice people. I guess we're all curious about other people and cultures.

A Portrait I Took of Gulangyu Bride

There were many interesting faces throughout and so I captured a number of them. This young lady was peering out of a high-end tea shop on the island.

Gulangyu Island Tea Shop Employee

I always love the great expressions that you can catch on people's faces when they don't know you're looking. There was such a confidence and intelligence to the people of Xiamen and Gulangyu, such as this young lady trying to lure customers into the store as she stood out on the street.

Gulangyu Island Employee Trying to Draw in Customers to Store

Although Xiamen is an unusual spot for Americans to travel to, I would highly recommend it if you have the ability to travel there. Remember though, shopping is at a premium, except for small local places.

Gulangyu Island Man

I don't have a whole lot to say about Xiamen since it's mainly a busy, cosmopolitan city. However, Gulangyu was great and well worth a look. The overall cost for food and transportation here was pretty cheap. They have various ferry boats that range from over-the-top, to general transport.

Gulangyu Island, One Type of Ferry Boat

If you're interested, there are a number of other photos of both Xiamen and Gulangyu that you can access in my photo album HERE. You can also use the "Slideshow" function at the top of that gallery for easy viewing.

Vietnam at 50 mph

In some of my other posts on Vietnam, I talked about how much I enjoy taking photos of the "life" as I drive or ride down the roads. Vietnam provided a rich canvas for capturing many different types of homes, businesses and people as I swoop by in car or bus. Many of the photos are slightly blurry, but good enough to see what's going on. I thought I'd add a few pictures here in a new post.

Roadside refreshments in rural Vietnam

These roadside "stands" were quite common. Many people would simply bring a cooler or baskets of food and sell to those who passed by. Since most people are on motorcycles, it's quite easy for them to pull over and purchase without even getting off of their bikes.

China Beach,Vietnam

I talked a little bit about China Beach in another post. These homes and boats are literally right across from the beach. I spent some time on the beach, but most it is either packed with fisherman or crowded with debris. As you can see, the area is not really set up for a beach vacation. A number of hotels and resorts are being built miles down the beach and are totally blocked off from reality. The beach areas there are much cleaner, but it seems that you loose the feel of the real Vietnam if you're locked up in a resort.

A little laundry out to dry in Vietnam

Most everywhere you go in Vietnam, someone has laundry hanging out (which of course if fine, just an observation). What seems strange is that many of the buildings seem to be closed down or boarded up and yet you still see laundry drying. I assume that people are living in these homes.

Vietnam roadside stand

Looking at the photo above,  you can see another example of people setting up roadside stands. These are houses, so many people work close to home in order to provide cooking or produce for people driving by. The heat and humidity in Vietnam is intense, that that is why so many people have on the hats and try to keep out of the sun.

Gathering at school in Vietnam

Everywhere you go in Vietnam, you see school kids running around. This is at the end of a block where kids attend classes. There is almost always a store set up next to each school. Uniforms seem to be mandatory in most schools.

A home in Vietnam

These homes are set in a rural area and are right across from the Rice Paddies. I am assuming that they are either farm workers or people who commute into the city area. The Rice Paddies are beautiful. I have more photos of them in my Flick albums of "Vietnam at 50 mph".  So many of the homes that I've seen in Vietnam don't even seem to have a door. I guess it's due to the constant warm weather there.

A house in the countryside of Vietnam

Here is another example of a rural setting with a few homes scattered here and there. Some of the colors used to paint them are bright and vibrant. There are often watering holes like this for livestock.

Doing some chores in Vietnam

I have noticed that most women wash their dishes outside and use the pots of soapy water and clean water. Many of the restaurants and cafes do this also. This is a home in the suburbs, as you can see the laundry and baby to the left.

Anyway, I will post more of these over time. As I explained before, I make no judgement here, I just find these fascinating and wanted to share them with you. There are LOTS more of these photos in my Flickr photo album, which can be accessed by clicking HERE.

Mekon Delta, Vietnam

Friday, November 27, 2009

Vietnam has an amazing landscape that consists of jungles, mountains and rivers. It is amazing to watch how the local people of Vietnam utilize the river to make a living and to keep industry thriving. Ports for shipping and receiving have grown considerably over the years and now that Vietnam is open to visitors from America, we can see the amazing balance of big business with traditional local customs and habits.

Vietnam River Boat

I am not sure if it's correct to call this the Mekon Delta, since the delta and river stretch quite a ways out from the coast and it could be renamed something else by the time I arrived to the port area of Phu My. I sailed up this "River" for many miles and it was the best I could guess on the map.

Vietnam River Boat Vendor

I thought I would do a short post on this area because there were a few interesting people and boats along the way.

Vietnam River Boat Vendor

It seems that people have small boats which they load up with goods  fruits, etc...and sale to others up and down the river.

Vietnam River Boat Man

I couldn't figure out if they were connecting with the larger ships that were coming through, or with some of the people who seemed to be living on house boats here and there.

Vietnam River Boat Man and Wife

The few family's and people that I encountered on their boats seemed friendly and I got a few smiles out of them.

Vietnam River Boat Family

These kids were funny and kept waving and peeking out of the windows of the boat. The mother held up her baby to wave, but the shot didn't come out well.

Vietnam River Boat Family

The port, itself, was industrial as usual and housed a number of port workers. This may be of no interest to some people, but it's just a look at a different part of Vietnam culture and industry.

Vietnam River Boats

There are a few more pictures of this area in my album HERE.

Vietnam Phu My Port Yard

A trip to Hoi An, and China Beach, Vietnam

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hoi An was about an hour drive from Da Nang. The buildings and homes along the road to Hoi An were the same familiar ones that have dotted the Vietnamese landscapes everywhere. In Vietnam, there is a width restoration of 5 to 7 meters and a length restriction of about 20 meters for all homes.

China Beach Area

Because of this restriction, is is common to see three story, narrow houses. Most of the time you will see either a vacant lot on both sides or typical tin roof and concrete houses surrounding these.

China Beach Area

It is rare to see a newer house, but they are here and there as you move around. In Vietnam, there is no Social Security for retired people. Because of this, is it customary for families to share one home for many years, as it is the responsibility of the kids to take care of the parents.

Hoi An Woman

In addition, it is normal for the married male children to move their wives into the family home where they will also raise children. Often times a family will have a small shop and then as they make money over time, they add another story to their home where they will live.

On the Road Between Hoi An and China Beach, Vietnam

There is very little religion in most of Vietnam (so I am told). You will see buddhist temples and statues, but they say as much of 80% of Vietnam has no specific religious beliefs and may visit a buddhist temple on religious holidays rather than continuously practice. Vietnamese are superstitious people and often will consult fortune tellers for a variety of things, including their weddings. Of course, if you ask someone else, they will tell you something completely different, so it just depends on which local you want to believe.

Hoi An Paper Lantern Shop

Arts and crafts in Vietnam are common. Many people like to work with their hands and in addition to a variety of beautiful silk products, there are carvings and colorful lanterns that are common. The Vietnamese are also very talented artists when it comes to painting and the use of color. I was very tempted to buy some paintings, but I didn't want to try to carry so much back home.

Hoi An Paper Lantern Employees

Men are very affectionate with one another in Vietnam, even the police. There is no stigma or macho hangups about putting their arm around one another or other similar displays. I have also noticed this with women throughout asia who are never afraid to hold hands in public as a means of friendship.

Hoi An Street Corner

Ho An is a "Pretty" town for Vietnam. It ranges about 400 years old and was the trading center of the Cham kingdom which ruled central Vietnam.

Hoi An Building

While "preserved" would be an overstatement, this small town has a unique and colorful look which was has been kept up over the years.

Hoi An Local

Most buildings house shops and restaurants, but there are a few residences here and there in town, while most of them sit on the outskirts.

Hoi An Local

A large canal runs through one side of the town and within minutes, you can be in the middle of rice paddies.

Rural Vietnam Rice Paddies On The Way Back to Da Nang

On my way back from Hoi An, I stopped at the famous "China Beach". This is the spot were the American servicemen surfed and enjoyed the beach during the war.

China Beach Local Workers

The beach stretches for miles and around to "Monkey Mountain". Most of the beach is used by local fisherman (by the hundreds), who drag their boats out daily to fish. I have included plenty of photos of their homes and their boats sitting in their front yards.

China Beach, Vietnam

Some of  the section of China Beach I took some shots of were from the resort, so they are not even close to being representative of what the beach really looks like outside of that small section (in other words it's cleaned up to look like your not in Vietnam).

China Beach Resort

I was kind of disappointed that so many American companies are beginning to build expensive resorts along the beach. These resorts are so far removed (by design) from what Vietnam really is or really looks like, that it seems silly. Apparently, it is designed purely for tourism since the locals are not legally allowed to visit, but only work in them (doesn't seem right).

Rural Vietnam on the way back from Hoi An

I will include my "Road Shots' also that I took on the way to Hoi An, in addition to the photos I took in the town. This will not be a long post, as it is more visual than words. You may access the shots HERE.

Da Nang, Vietnam

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vietnamese cities remained a mystery to me because the geography was not something that I had memorized, I didn't know one place from the other. Our trip to Da Nang was the next on our list and I hadn't a clue as to what I would see. After learning a bit of history,

Da Nang Vietnam

I found out that this area was popular with servicemen during the Vietnam war as an "R and R" city. China Beach (I'll talk about later) is close to this area also.

Da Nang Vietnam Waterfront

We rode in a somewhat comfortable bus that took us over a long suspension bridge before I began to see much of the city. The bridge looked expensive and well designed, but I only had to look down on both sides to began seeing the small water shacks that were sprinkled throughout the area. Most of the shacks were made of the usual tin and occasional plastic covering to break the weather.

Da Nang Vietnam

As we came off the bridge into the city, the scenery began to take on that familiar, worn look that much of the country has had so far. Much to my surprise, a Vietnamese man in dark sunglasses came to the front of the bus from the back and was talking on a cellphone to apparently, someone important. Within minutes, at least twenty motorcycles began surrounding the bus and the bus driver continued to make a loop around several city blocks in what appeared to be an attempt to make our presence known to the town (as we passed the same thing more than once).

Da Nang Vietnam Nun

 I had previously been told that the Vietnamese "Mob" controlled the transportation and the tourist industry. This might sound ridiculous until I tell you that two Canadian women that I know were run off the road in their cab by three other cab drivers outside of Phu My a few days before. The cab that they were in (although legitimate) was not connected to this other "mob" group and my friends were forced out of the cab and had to walk back rather than being forced to ride in another one.

Da Nang Vietnam Market Area

It seemed obvious at this point that the mysterious man in the sunglasses was talking to someone outside of the bus. He said something in an angry tone to the bus driver and we immediately pulled over into a market area. My sidekick and I quickly got off the bus and walked through the pushy vendors and onslaught of rickshaw and motorcycle drivers who insisted on selling a ride.

Da Nang Vietnam Market Area

Da Nang was dirty and crowded. The familiar heat and humidity was also unavoidable. We worked our way through the busy streets and found ourselves walking through an outdoor market filled with fruits and flowers. The vendors wouldn't make eye contact for the most part and I so passed on buying any fruit.

Da Nang Vietnam Market Vendor

We then stepped into an indoor/open air market that was filled with dried seafood and various goods. As usual, the aisles were extremely narrow and you had to push you way through multiple venders who insisted that you buy large bags of dried shrimp and paper shoes as they grabbed onto your arms. A few of the women who ran some of the stalls were nice and sat off to the side without a hassle.

Da Nang Vietnam Indoor Market, Dried Goods

After exiting the other side of the building, we found ourselves on another street and was immediately spotted by motorcycles and rickshaw drivers who continued to insist that I pay for a ride. I was ready to move on into another part of the town and began walking quickly down the block. After a few blocks of brisk walking, it seemed we were moving away from the venders and insanity and towards the "regular" part of the town. There were still many people on the streets and plenty of shops, but after a few minutes I noticed that the looks and reactions had changed.

Da Nang Vietnam Locals

I generally try to smile and wave at people as I walk by to be friendly, mainly if they're just sitting there or staring. However, this time we just began to get sneers and insults thrown at us. This kind of discomfort went on for many blocks as we walked around. Smiles were always met with frowns and spitting out various harsh words in Vietnamese that made no sense to us. Such pleasant people huh?

Da Nang Vietnam Local

As usual, I tried watching and capturing (but politely) the various things that people were doing in the city. Vietnamese people do NOT like their picture being taken. This little girl threw something at me as I walked by, so I thought it only fair to capture her photo. LOL.

Da Nang Vietnam Local 

I find the general attitude here funny because for the past couple of weeks, I've been seeing Vietnam tourism commercials on T.V showing how smiley, friendly and warm this country is. Hmmm...

Da Nang Vietnam Local

I didn't mind seeing the "back streets" of the city since it was a way to continue to see how the people of Da Nang live.

Da Nang Vietnam Flower Vendor

Needless to say, the two of us explored on our own for a number of hours, but were ready to leave the city by then. What was the point in continuing? This guy on the right of the picture was trying to get me to pay for a ride on his bike, you can see his response when I politely said "No, thank you"

Da Nang Vietnam Motorbike Driver in Market

I wouldn't even dare to stop and try to buy a meal since the owners of the little cafes would turn away coldly and walk off if we stopped to look at the food. So...WHY am I being so negative and telling you all of this?? Well, no one bothered to tell me this before I went to Vietnam. The tourist industry tries to promote something completely different than the reality of what you'll likely experience. I have heard though that if you go on a fully guided tour that things are a bit more comfortable. Remember, you'll never be in danger, but you must be prepared for this cultural change. Overall, not a good experience in Da Nang. I have some photos of the area that you can check out HERE.

Da Nang Vietnam Lazy Security Guard
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