Day 59 Mar 3 (Da Nang, Vietnam)

16º 07.13' N and 108º 12.91' E

I was up until 1 AM because of the late show and stuff. I slept 'til 9. Breakfast on Lido where I met Brian, Pat and Claire. Claire and I decided to do Da Nang together. We had no excursion tickets so we met at the gangway at 10:15 and took the shuttle bus into Da Nang. We had to negotiate a gaggle of "guides" and venders when we dismounted the bus but it was not too hard because we had decided to go into the hotel where the bus stopped (The Riverside Hotel - or was it Riverfront or Riverview...) for a cup of coffee and to plan where to go from there. We decided to walk rather than take a cyclo (sort of a combination rickshaw and bicycle) or a cab. So after trying some Vietnamese bread, butter and jam with coffee (coke in Claire's case) we set out. Our first stop was a nearby post office. Clare likes to collect stamps from each country. They have some lovely picture stamps in just about every country. Not a word of English was spoken but the purchase was made. Spanish, German, and most other European languages aren't spoken much here. They sometimes speak a bit of French. We then walked about a kilometer or so (2/3 of a mile to you Americans) to the west on Le Duan Street, away from the Han River. We saw many interesting shops and buildings. We eventually made a couple of turns and returned on a parallel street toward the river. We passed a temple and a military post. There are many different influences evident in Vietnam. The Indian, Chinese and French influences are obvious in architecture and statuary. The city is like a swiss cheese with decay, new buildings and mixed cultural influences all mixed together.

One of the things that made our walking fun was crossing the streets. Think New York City without traffic lights! (I know I'm probably a sick puppy for thinking that is fun but ....) We were sternly warned by Barbara (our Port Lecturer) that we would be run down if we were not careful. Well, I took the warning to heart but to be honest it was overstated. We couldn't wait for the light to change (no lights remember - well, there were maybe three in all our walking) so we had to venture into the streets. As for waiting until there were no vehicles in sight, forget that! This is a busy city. My findings are that the moped drivers are all pretty aware and as long as you are clearly visible they don't try to run you down and will even slow down to allow you to walk! (They don't stop mind you but they will slow just a little - probably so they can avoid hitting you and damaging their mopeds.) You do have to pay attention but it isn't scary at all if you have any experience in city streets. Surprisingly, Claire was so relaxed that she almost stepped into traffic a few times without looking. I found that I was saying, "heads up" fairly often. But we got pretty good at working the flow of traffic and it was fun.

We returned to the river and headed south along the bank. The riverwalk is quite nice. They have a lot of sculpture including a Buddha. We continued along until we reached the Cham Museum. This is a small but well done collection of ancient stone carvings from the country. Claire is a bit of a fan of Indian carvings (that's Asian Indian). She recognized the carvings as clearly Indian in origin. There were many parts of temples and buildings which showed ancient Hindu gods and legends. The signs were in Vietnamese and English and the pieces of columns and corners were positioned for display as parts of walls, etc. so they appeared like they might have where they were originally found. Very nice. I'm told this is the #1 place to visit in Vietnam for this sort of thing. I'm glad Claire was with me because her knowledge helped me appreciate what I was seeing better.

After we had seen enough we crossed the street to the quay and boarded a floating restaurant for lunch. It was late for lunch so we just had soup and a beer. I drank Tiger beer and Clair had a Saigon beer. Both were pretty good. Claire is a bit more germ concious than I. She wasn't going to pour her beer in a glass until I did and then she decided that maybe it would be ok after all. My attitude is that we're in a big city and I don't see people dropping around me so the odds are favorable that the water and food won't kill me. She on the other hand has travelled to places like Nepal where sanitation and pasteurization are not so good.

Earlier, while we were walking to the restaurant, a Vietnamese moped rider tried to talk us into letting him ride us around on his moped (a "guide"). I held him off saying we were going to eat but would think about it. (If all goes well there will be a picture of the floating restaurant and the moped "guide" attached.) I guess it was a slow day because he was waiting for us when we came out. I told him we had decided to just go back to the shuttle bus stop (a little over a mile up the river) and he said he would take us there. I asked how much and he said $1 US for each of us (he had a friend with another moped). I looked and found I had no $1's so I asked if he had change. His friend did. I then realized I was out of excuses but I hadn't asked Claire if she wanted to ride. With her cautious attitude about things (she has good reason for most of it) I was not sure she would be up for riding mopeds but she said, "sure". So we were off after strapping on helmets. Yes, believe it or not, Vietnam has a well enforced helmet law! Apparently they are ahead - or behind depending on your point of view - Texas in this area. I'm told that the law was pretty much ignored until they raised the fine for noncompliance to about twice the cost of a helmet. Since then everyone wears them.

The moped ride was fun and quiet enough that we even had conversation on the way. Claire's driver asked me if I had been in Vietnam during the war and I said no but my brother had and he said his father had fought with the Americans back then but was now in California. This was not the only reminder that we had been here for ten years back in the 60's and 70's but overall I think there was no sign of bad feelings or other problems. The country (based on Da Nang) seems to be doing fairly well overall. Our guide in Ha Long Bay had said unemployment was only 3% but was quick to follow that by saying that since they didn't pay taxes the data on which the 3% was based might not be all that accurate.

On returning to the pier via the shuttle bus we stopped at the few stalls there and shopped a bit. I bought a T-shirt but nothing else caught my fancy.

We had dinner onboard the ship (sail-out time was 6 PM). The show at 8 PM was another multi-"talented" guy. His name is Andy Bünger. He was billed as one who played many instruments. Well, he did. He played the Marimba, vibraphone, pan pipes, steel guitar, drums sax and trumpet. All were played in a mediocre manner. Once again proof that more is not necessarily better! Oh yes, he also sang - you guessed it...mediocre. He might have played some instruments better if he stopped jumping around so much. Whatever. All shows can't be gems right? Jack, Anita and I watched together and afterward Jack voiced the same thought I had had during the performance. We both came very close to walking out. I'm pretty critical of musical performances. I guess it comes from having a good ear for music and not liking it to be assaulted by incompetence. Andy wasn't totally incompetent but if I have to wince more than two or three times during a particular number I start to think about the exit. This was close.

At 9:45 PM it was time to go to the Piano Bar for Music Trivia. This is where my shipboard trivia career started if you recall. Ron and Sheila were there waiting for me. (Ron had told me about the trivia game earlier in the day.) The songs were from the 70's, not my best decade, but we did get 6 of 10 right. Buddy, the piano player, said there would only be 10 songs because there were not many more good songs than that from that decade. The winners, not us, got 7 right. Tough night. Maybe I can blame my weak performance on Andy Bünger...hmmm.

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