Sunday, October 16, 2016

Memorable Hoi An

Charming streets of Hoi An
One reason we were enticed to move to Nanning, Guangxi is that, just 100 miles from the Vietnam border, it's the Chinese gateway to Southeast Asia.

Due to a national holiday, I had a few days off from my teaching job at the beginning of October. So we decided to travel to Hoi An, Vietnam, to meet up with our friends Karen and Widi. Happily, they were headed there during a break from their teaching jobs in India. It had been three years since we last saw them in Chennai.

Dave and I flew from Hanoi into Danang, where at the airport he posed for this picture:

"Danang" is a song by the Radiators, a band he has followed for years. Here, his passion for music and travel collided. (As did his love of friends and community when he posted this picture on a fan website and received many fun responses.)

The Danang airport is small, so it was easy to connect with Karen and Widi when their plane landed. A car provided by our Airbnb was waiting to zip us down to Hoi An, an hour drive.

friends reunite
Before coming to China, we spent a couple of weeks in Vietnam, in cities and the countryside. Hoi An provided us with another side of Vietnam: a gorgeous beach and a quaint, ancient village. Having survived modernization and war, Hoi An is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It's definitely set up for tourists. We were approached by more people trying to sell us things than anywhere else in Vietnam. However, they weren't terribly aggressive--and many had things worth buying. Talented seamstresses are everywhere in the town. It's a great place to buy custom clothes at good prices.

On our day spent exploring the town, we sat in a small, crowded theater for a sweet hour of music and dance.

Then we explored some historical sites. At one time, Hoi An was a port city filled with not only Vietnamese but Chinese and Japanese families, which influenced the architecture.

Japanese bridge

Chinese assembly hall.

The day was hot. Cold fruit drinks, fresh fruit and spring rolls helped us re-energize.
Everywhere we went, people were fascinated with Widi. Because he speaks their language, they were convinced he was Vietnamese. He's actually Indonesian. He learned the language when he taught English in a Vietnamese refugee camp in Sumatra. That's where he and Karen met almost 30 years ago.
street food
The next day, we hopped on bikes and rode to Hidden Beach.

It lives up to its name: not overly developed and not crowded. But with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and good food. Oh, and one of the best massages I've ever had (for only about $7). They were able to massage all four of us at one time, while an ocean breeze blew over our bodies.
Dave and Widi getting their Tai Chi on at Hidden Beach.
At the end of the day, Dave and I were both a bit sunburned. We'd neglected to reapply sunscreen after lounging in the warm water. The whole experience had been so heavenly, it was easy to forget. Fortunately, aloe vera gel from the pharmacy came to the rescue.

We took the trip back all in one day, which involved an exhausting m√©lange of taxis, flights, airport waiting and a confusing transfer. When we hit the Nanning airport, a Vietnamese-American woman at the taxi stand asked if we might be able to help her. The taxi driver didn't know where her hotel was--and she didn't know how to say it, as it was written in Chinese on a piece of paper. Dave had her get in our taxi and said perhaps a taxi driver at the university gate would know, since the university is close to downtown. His genius plan worked.

In the cab, we soon learned we all used to live in San Jose! And when she heard I'm a writing coach, she said she wants my help writing a book about her family's journey from Vietnam to America. Just my kind of gig.

That experience was like an exclamation point on the week of the divine rendezvous. How sweet it was to have a travel experience with friends, making Hoi An even more memorable.

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