Tour de Thai Binh

Well, I made it through another week of the new job almost fully intact….lost a little bit of my mind somewhere along the way, but I’m sure it’ll show up eventually. It usually does…..I think. Hey, what I don’t know, won’t hurt me, right? The job takes a lot of my focus during the week.  I’m still new at it, of course, and since things are somewhat disorganized and chaotic at the school, I have to be on my toes for constant last minute changes.  So, I really try to make the most of my weekends…..get in some sight seeing, do something interesting….and take time to relax, too……just do nothing.  I can’t say it was terribly relaxing, but on Saturday I didn’t do anything….except sweat.  Hot, hot….hot….day. I’ve been promised an air conditioner for my room since I’ve been here and have tried to be patient about it.  Stiff upper lip, you know….trying not to be a wimpy Westerner……I’m a wimpy Westerner.  But when you wake up sweltering first thing in the morning, go teach in a stiflingly hot classroom, then in between classes go back to your suffocatingly hot bedroom only to return to that oven of a classroom after which you fall back to your room practically fainting from the heat….you really do start dreaming about an air conditioner.  I’d been told….again…. that on Sunday morning I was to finally have AC installed in my room, but Saturday was a completely wasted day.  I could barely move from my bed.  The heat was oppressive.  I slept a lot.  So when Sunday rolled around and fellow teacher William asked if I’d like to take a bicycle ride with him and a few of his Vietnamese friends to see some sights and take pictures…..in the morning before it was completely scorching……I said yes.

So glad I did.  Before leaving, I removed all my bedding and cleared things out of the way for the AC installation – it was going to be placed on the wall right next to my bed and I wanted to do everything within my power to facilitate the process.  Then I went downstairs,  borrowed a school bicycle, met up with William and off we rode over to his friend Lams house to ‘pick him up.’  Lams’ father invited us in and gave us strong tea (as opposed to weak tea which is actually quite good).  Strong tea is….well, strong….. really quite a jolt.  So, here we are pleasantly visiting in the living room with family and friends and…..out comes the karaoke machine.  If you’ve ever heard my singing voice…..well, you don’t….you don’t want to hear my singing voice.  I am in no way a singer nor a performer….but I was not going to get out of this one.  Karaoke is practically a social obligation in Vietnam.  Fortunately…..very fortunately…..they had a decent selection of songs to choose from.  Mike’s been out karaokeing with friends and he’s told me practically the only choices he’s ever had are from the Lionel Ritchie songlist. …..good God, can you imagine?…..  But they had quite a lot of songs and as William scrolled through I saw some good ones…..actually, though, the only ones I can remember now are: ‘You’re My Best Friend’ by Queen, the song William chose, which was Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ and the song I’d spotted and chose to sing, which was ‘Octopus’ Garden’ by the Beatles.  I figured, “Hey, I know the song like the back of my hand and I can probably sing it almost as good as Ringo – I’ll give it a go.”  So, yeah, I sang Octopus’ Garden’ for my first (and more than likely not my last) karaoke in Vietnam.  It was kinda fun, actually!

We left the house and picked up a couple more friends along the way and headed over to a beautiful old pagoda…..and here are a few pics…..

These are mangoes growing on a tree in front of the pagoda by a pond.

I want to say a couple of things first about these pictures: one is that in many of them you’ll see a haze.  It’s not the camera nor the photographer in this case…..there’s just a haze in the air….actually, it’s smoke.  Yes, I’ve escaped the pollution of Hanoi to the cleaner air of Thai Binh just in time for rice straw burning season….and from what I hear, I ain’t seen (or breathed) nothin’ yet.  The other thing is that there are many pictures I would like to have taken, but they were ruined by electrical wiring all over the place.  The pagoda itself, for example.  I would like to have got a shot of the entire building, but wires were strung everywhere around it and….it just really wasn’t a pretty shot.  But here are a few favorites:

 

This dragon was on the roof of the entrance to the grounds.  I love its ceramic plating.

 

This is the ‘Double Dragon’ staircase up to the main structure.

 

A couple of door panels.

Phoenix on the left, tiger on the right.

 

 

Yet another beautifully panelled door….

….and here’s a shot of the back of the pagoda….with the electric wiring cropped out!

 

 

 

 

I’m told that the various tiers of the pagoda each have their own meaning – Happy, Funny and Lucky!

 

 

Here’s some of the plant life growing on the grounds.  To the left is a flower that was so perfectly shaped as to almost look fake!  Very pretty little thing…..

 

 

….and to the right is jackfruit…I believe….  I’ve not tried this yet.  I’ve seen it at the markets but it’s quite large and I don’t want to buy a whole one only to find I don’t like it!

 

 

Upon leaving the pagoda we rode over to a Roman Catholic ‘cathedral’ of all places…. I guess there’s quite a Catholic population here and they’re very proud of their newly refurbished church.  On the ride over, Lam asked me if I was Catholic.  When I told him no, he was genuinely surprised.  He said he thought all Westerners were Catholic!   Nope.  Upon arriving at the ‘cathedral’ I was respectfully polite, but….how do I say this without sounding like a jerk…..well, I guess I can’t, so I’ll just sound like a jerk……this was no cathedral….yawn….it was a church….and a rather boring, not very pretty, uninteresting one, truthfully (but I was respectfully polite!) …..the pagodas here are beautiful……the churches, eh, maybe not so much….. but I did take a couple of pics:

 

I thought the front doors were very pretty…..

 

…..and out back in the courtyard there was this truly trippy sight….

 

 

…..a towering cement mushroom garden….thing….

 

 

 

After our tour of the church we rode over to a little sweet shop and had delicious rice ice cream with gooey, sticky sweetened rice at the bottom of the glass that you mix together.  The Vietnamese really know how to do sweets!   We then took off for a quite long bike ride.  I’m much more of a walker than a bicycler, so those bike-riding muscles were beginning to ‘feel the burn’….  We were headed out to another pagoda in the countryside.  Over the river and through the woo…..uh, jungle….to the pagoda we rode.  I am told this is the River Po:

Upon reaching the other side of the river we rode and rode…and rode.  It’s flat land, so it wasn’t really too difficult, but it was way out there.  Off the main road and onto a dirt one for a while, we passed by some very pretty sights and here are a few:

 

A rice field…..

 

 

 

 

….a cut rice field…..

 

 

…..and the ancestors in the rice field….

 

A small farmhouse and flower garden….

 

 

 

 

……Mr. Froggy…..

 

 

 

….and some beautiful gerberas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After quite the jaunt, we finally reached the pagoda.  And here it is….or at least part of it…..electric wiring was all over the place – even way out here:

I love the tiles on the roof and the way plant life just can’t help but grow everywhere!

 

It was impossible for me to get a more complete shot of this because I was backed up to a wall and my camera lens wouldn’t ‘zoom out’ any more, but inside this ‘cave’…….

 

 

 

 

…..was this tiger carved into the stone wall (double-click on the picture and you can see it a bit better).

 

I actually do know how to work my camera every now and then.  It was incredibly dark in this room, but I really wanted to get a picture of this iron (or brass…?) bell, so I adjusted my camera and yay, it worked!  Beauty, eh?  ….and here’s the roof of the pagoda….

It was approaching noon and everyone needed a break from the heat.  Time to go home for a nap.  Most everyone naps midday.  You can almost not help it.  The heat just wipes you out.  So we headed back to town…..dreams of an air conditioned nap drifting through my head…..only to find this sight as I walked into my room…..

 

…a ladder where my mattress ought to be…no AC….nobody around to install it….they were all at home….taking a nap.

 

But, right now, I’m sitting on said mattress, typing this in my lovely air conditioned room and I’m a very happy camper.

7 thoughts on “Tour de Thai Binh

    1. In most of the places I’ve stayed since I’ve been here, there’s been no other option! Hot as it may be outside, it’s still kind of hard for me to take a cold shower, but I did get used to it – had to. Here in Thai Binh, though, there’s a water heater….and now I take cool showers!

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