If you pace by them, they’re easily missed. One is tucked away like a closed drawer. They nestle further back behind spacious forecourts with patterned iron incense urns. Inside sits a Buddha filling an altar. Before it, rests flowers, fruit, artifacts and a table. Inside, a main forecourt is richly furnished with plants and colors. Tall gates of wood or cement are set in front. Calligraphic painting lines the top where there are engraved curved dragons, and sometimes down the sides or elsewhere. Their religion is long-standing. It is why three or four are built close to each other.
“I’d like to go to Mui Ne. Is it possible to go today?”
“Yes, there’s a bus at six o’ clock.”
“How much is a ticket?’
“Can I pay in Dong?”
‘Yes, it’s five hundred thousand.”
I handed over the money.
“Don’t I get a ticket?”
“It will be given to you just before the bus arrives.”
I decided I’d had enough of Hoi An. I could see the rest of the tourist town today. Mui Ne is a beach resort on the South China Sea, and popular with Russians. It’s also famous for red and white sand dunes. Glaring pictures of the attractions become boring. It was time to see the real thing. It was also time to head for needed sun and sea: I got too much of the former, it turned – or skinned – out.
Ruth was ensconced in the restaurant, making the French exp-pat listen to her prattling knowledge. I ordered a cucumber and cheese sandwich for 15,000 Dong.
“Would you like to walk around town with me? I have to go and get a blouse and pick up some shoes.”
I thought it would be too impolite to refuse or sneak away from, and I was in the mood for some company.
“Okay, but I have to exchange some money.”
Traipsing around the curved street, I assumed I could get the same rate from a 100 Yuan note as I’d got in Hanoi – 301,000 Dong. Not likely – 290,000 was the most. Only one agency obliged with Chinese currency.
At the tailor’s shop, the blouse wasn’t ready. I took a few shots of the first of several Chinese temples in the town. Ruth didn’t mind breaking the walk and also didn’t mind saying how much better Vietnamese are at making clothes than Chinese.
“Well, maybe it depends where you go,” I argued.
“I don’t think so. Most Chinese don’t know how to make clothing that will last. My country has stopped receiving Chinese imports.”
“I’ve only found the shoe quality a problem and a zip fastener or two. I’ve had a nice sweater knitted, and a Canadian woman who lived in China for five years was satisfied with outfits she had tailored. She’s very particular about clothing.”
Making our way round to a section that was hiving with activity, I admired a row of shoe stores. We stopped at one where she’d had a pair of orange leather
“They fit comfortably. A bit too much space at the front. As long as they don’t give me pain. I want white laces.”
The assistant came back and threaded them onto the shoes.
‘Do you have that peculiar green color? I know you’ve got it. I’ve seen it.” She thumbed through a sheath of leather samples.
“No, it’s not here. Where is it?”
“Tet will be here in about a week,” the assistant excused.
“All they’re thinking about is Tet,” Ruth grumbled.
Tet is the Vietnamese equivalent of Chinese New Year, and held roughly at the same time. Like China, it’s probably the most important event in Vietnam’s calendar. Most shops, businesses and stores run dead.
I was beginning to think that the distracted effects of these inflated complaints were a bad idea. I was more in tune with the plights of motor bikers – how they ride pillion. One passenger clutching a cellophane bag containing a plastic ornament, probably to do with Tet, comically skimmed by as the conical hat being worn had slipped to one side. Another held a pair of ducks upside down by the legs. Stopping at a book store I grinned at a helmeted guy who sat cheerfully astride his machine and grinned back bearing a full set of teeth. We had lunch at a restaurant she recommended because it served Hoi An food. A seafood menu: six small courses of mainly shrimp, soup and rice pancake.
“Traditional Hoi An food,” she said. “They don’t make the pancake in Thailand.”
She continued to express her first-hand knowledge of traveling the world.
“Stay clear of The Philippines. The tribes in the jungle eat people. It’s very dangerous. The people don’t remove the hair from the pig’s skin.”
Trying to pass on this warning to four girls sitting at a nearby table, didn’t hold water.
“I think it’s a wonderful country,” a Swedish one said.
“Okay.” Ruth was forced to back off.
We sat by the river:
“Stop it! Stop it!” She angrily yelled at a Vietnamese woman boat punter who kept gesturing us to take a ride.
Smoke from her cigarette wafted in my face. It was difficult to wave it away without causing offense.
“They are an ignorant selfish people,” she caustically remarked as we snailed through a crowded market further down the water.
“Having a bike, you can go out and see the ordinary folk among the rice fields. I prefer to do it when the weather’s warmer.”
If she thinks Vietnamese people are ignorant and selfish, why would she want to?
I’m glad I’m not married to her, or I’d be down to the nearest divorce court quicker than you can say ‘Jack Robin.’