Friday 26 October 2012

Funny, peculiar and ha ha

I’m guessing the people dancing by the lake this morning weren’t the same ones we saw last night – respect for their stamina, if so. First thing, the pavements were busier than the roads, with a great surge of people striding anti-clockwise around the lake, sneakers on their feet and determination in their eyes. Others chose to get their exercise more competitively, playing badminton in teams with or without a net; and others still were dancing, some classical ballroom, others Gangnam style – that’s a very long and energetic dance, by the way, in such humid conditions, and respect again to the dancers who jumped and flailed their way right to the end.

Most fun to watch, though – literally – was the young man surrounded by a double circle of mostly middle-aged women with their arms linked, who were laughing for their exercise. Breathing first, and some chanting, but then a vigorous “Ho! Ho! Ho!” that ended every time in real laughter. It was peculiar but infectious, and as good a way as any to begin a day that might involve a lot of tedious sitting and not much human contact - or possibly too much of it.

Our day started with more – surprise! – driving, this time for just 3½ hours to Halong Bay, known for its thousands of scattered karst islands in a warm green sea. We were such a novelty up north, Western tourists, but here we’re just the raw material for a huge and efficient tourism machine that moves people out into the bay and back again in vast numbers. We set off in our junk-type boat with its fancy cabins across the bay into the network of islands – along with a flotilla of other boats doing exactly the same thing.

Being part of a mass tourism operation is a new experience for us here in north Viet Nam, but it's still worth it to see the beautiful and striking scenery, the floating fishing village with its accomplished stand-up rowers and cute schoolkids, the pearl farm where the shellfish were being seeded, and the sun setting behind these extraordinarily shaped islands with their sheer sides and fuzz of foliage. Limestone, eh: always such a star.

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