The heat is on in Nghe An


Going around the countryside of Vietnam on a rickety bike reminds me of the frequent visits I’d pay my grandmother on my father’s side in the province when she was still alive.

Both landscapes take sometime before one fully takes them in.

The countryside of Nghe An is very similar to Iloilo’s except that Nghe An is more expansive and its landscape less interrupted by hills and mountains.

The heat is searing here. No wonder Ho Chi Minh is always portrayed in a loose linen top that is left half-unbuttoned. I really thought he was just very fashionable, way ahead of his time in terms of sartorial decisions.

No. One really needs to wear light here. And Ho Chi Minh’s fashion taste was more for practicality than aesthetics. Though he seems to me be very fashionable.

Young men here go around riding their motorbikes half-naked and without a helmet, in open defiance to a national law requiring all motorbike riders to wear a helmet.

What’s the point anyway of wearing one when the roads are unpaved and in the event of an accident one would definitely fall into the muddy side of a ricefield? Or perhaps it’s just the heat. One can’t go around with a substandard helmet in this heat. It will not protect the head and it just traps heat in the temple.

The heat here is evil. It gets into one’s soul and habituate there until the individual is left with nothing much but a desire to just estivate the whole day until around 6 at night only to wake up with that ugly feeling of breathlessness because of the humidity.

Nghe An despite the heat is beautiful. Ho Chi Minh was willing to die for it.


Nhọ and Tẹt

Caught in my made up and self-declared ‘tumultuous’ daily existence, I tried to distance myself a bit from thinking too much and writing in the past week. But realizing that I can only survive without writing and blogging for five days, at most, I thought of having a line up of things to write about so that when finally I find enough time to write the things on my mind down, they’d come handy.

So a week ago I asked my Vietnamese friend, Chi Le, to send me pictures of her cats. In her email she promised to give me as pet her newest cat she named Nhọ, meaning ‘dirty’ in Tieng Viet, if I one day decide to live permanently in Hanoi.  Nhọ is a stray cat in the neighborhood whom she and her mom adopted.

And to make sure she’ll remain true to her words I’ll use this post and that email she sent me to remind her someday that she made this promise, that is, if I eventually decide the Vietnam is the place for me.

Nhọ looks like Puss ‘n Boots in Shrek. And who wouldn’t fall for a cat as cute as this cat? And besides, this cat does what chi Le’s other cat should have been doing but failed to do: ridding the house of mice.

Meet Tẹt:

Tẹt, her only cat that time when I was still staying in their house, was by default my favorite. This aging fat cat has grown too old, too fat and spoiled by my friend and her mother, Co Doanh, that it has completely abandoned its responsibility of catching little mice in the house. According to Chi Le, Tet has come to feel more superior now because of seniority, and he’s more than willing to show Nho who’s boss in the house.

Tet used to stay in my bedroom located just beside the kitchen except for times when my friend would carry the lazy cat upstairs. In the cold Hanoian winter of 2009 he stayed most of the nights with me, together with the big but docile dog, Gau. Tet always made it a point to sharpen his vestigial claws at midnight and gave out those scary wails to signal he’s in heat and ready for romancing (he’s a castrated cat, by the way). Still, I tolerated him.

This gave me enough confidence that if bad comes to worse and worse comes to worst, he’ll give up her old mistresses for my warm embrace. But I was wrong. No matter how much I goaded this black cat to take my side and come with me to the Philippines, he didn’t bother to consider my proposal and even thought of it as absurd by giving me that tired yawn and proud grin. He, of course, chose to live a comfortable, shielded, and lazy life in my friend’s house until this day.

Something from last year

From the web, I found this photo taken exactly a year ago when I left Hanoi. (Front) Duong, Le, Co Doanh (Le’s mom and my second mother in Hanoi), Chau. (Back) Son, JP, and me. I can’t believe it has been a year ago.

Letting go of my favorite Chucks

I am thinking of throwing away my pair of white Converse shoes but a friend, who is very sentimental, told me to keep them because they represent the hardships I have gone through during my study in Vietnam. The sole of the right pair looks like the mouth of a gaping alligator and the left, although a little decent-looking, is already showing signs of imminent demise.

Like a pair of Levi’s, the more they are worn and torn the better Converse shoes look, to a certain degree of course, as they are also governed by the law of diminishing marginal return. My pair of white Converse, which served me well, have gone past their serviceability. Being sentimental myself, I am reminded of the bicycle I left in Hanoi which I named Peggy.

That pair of Chucks were half a size smaller than my normal shoe size but eventually after repeated wearing matched perfectly the contour of my feet. They were too comfortable that I never washed them since the day they were bought more than a year ago fearing that I would be depriving myself of their comfortable fit. And I could not afford to let go of that sense of security the pair gave me even for a single day for washing.

Letting go of things we have gone accustomed to can be painful especially if we already personified them, gave them names, and associated our life’s most important highs and lows to them.

I’ve always loved wearing Converse shoes. They represent comfort, quality, and style. A pair of black or blue canvas is so versatile that it can go with any kind of statement and mood. The worn appearance is dependent on the owner’s history of wearing them which make each pair of Chucks unique.

It is also why an old Converse shoes is too difficult to let go because it is like throwing a way a certain part of your self, of your spirit that the pair has already imbibed and become part of it.

I will store them somewhere to be revisited someday when memory will have to need something concrete and corporeal.


A return to television viewing

Except for watching excerpts in, I had no access to any of the television programs in the Philippines while I was still in Vietnam. For the first time tonight I watched a TV magazine program Jessica hosted by GMA7 head of news Jessica Soho that featured how Filipinos deal with poverty. Nothing much has changed since the time I left, and I do not expect for changes to happen any time soon.

The narratives used were that of the tried and tested, trite order: the poor and how despite in the midst of poverty are still able to make their lives better, livable, almost fairy tale-like. The program is guilty of romanticizing poverty. Poverty is never romantic; it’s not beautiful; poverty’s face is ugly.

Production-wise, Philippine TV is definitely better than that of Vietnam or Malaysia. It is safe to say that Philippine TV is the best in Southeast Asia, if not in the entire of Asia only as far as the execution of the program concepts is concerned. However, in terms of content and whether these programs result to national development, most television programs in the Philippines are often found wanting.


Take for instance the investigative program Imbestigador hosted by Mike Enriquez. It seems to me that the producer of the program has high propensity for showing entrapment of people or establishment that are involved in sex trade, as if the poor in this country are maniacal when it comes to their quest for carnal pleasures, a line of thought an ordinary viewer is led to take. No Saturday night is complete without a girly bar in Pasay or a gay bar in Quezon City being infiltrated by an undercover from the National Bureau of Investigation or a production assistant acting as a gay customer and being raided after necessary evidence are already at hand.

If there is an adjective that would appropriately describe Philippine investigative media, especially those airing in prime time it would be so-funny-because-they-assume-all-viewers-are-dumb-or-pathetic.

I’ve been keeping myself from watching Filipino shows since college except for news program, although I was a media student, because I got fed up with sensationalism, bad humor, gore, blood, and sex. But I guess this has to change. I’ll be writing more about the good and the bad faces of Philippine media more frequently from now on.

The heat is on in Saigon

After a grueling thirty-hour train ride, I finally arrived in Saigon. I was shocked to find out that the hotel my friend recommended to me was full (probably because today is Valentine’s day) so I was sent scurrying to find another hotel. Good thing was that the hotel beside that has one spare room. Hungry and fatigued, I was left with no choice. So I left my passport with the girl in the reception (not at all a concierge) and was shocked to find out that the hotel has no elevator. My room by the way is located on the 6th floor.

With my 25-kilo baggage, laptop bag, and an extra luggage, I climbed my way to the 6th floor and collapsed on my bed right after I reached my poorly ventilated room. I then changed clothes and went outside to find food. I called my friend Chi Le that I arrived safely. Then my mom, with some pride in my voice, told her that his son has reached Saigon, all by himself. I tried to look for pho stands but opted to be less experimental and settled for KFC instead.

I have no plan yet for my two-day stay here; I’ll probably think about what to do later tonight after I finished writing my account of the train ride which I will be posting tomorrow. For now, I feel contented having reached this other great Vietnamese city.


The taxi driver who took me from the train station to my hotel asked me in a very odd Vietnamese accent as to which do I think is more beautiful Ha Noi or Ho Chi Minh City. I said, Anh chua noi vi bay gio dem, anh co the noi ngay mai neu Ha Noi dep hon. Tuy nien, suy nghi Ha Noi dep qua. (I can’t tell yet if Hanoi is more beautiful because it’s dark. However, I think Hanoi is very beautiful.

I wrote the first draft of this post using a free internet provided by Highland’s Cafe which of course required me to order an iced cappuccino for 47000 dong. Then I went back to my hotel, took a bath and changed clothes. I have to access a 24-hour internet shop since the woman in my hotel told me that the wi-fi connection is available only in from 9am until 7 in the evening. And since I can’t wait to write my first post here in Saigon, I have to make do with this hot place that offers me the most convenient connection to the world.

Tomorrow, to answer the taxi driver’s question, without any bias and with utmost objectivity, I shall try to compare and contrast these two great cities of Vietnam.

Tomorrow, the heat is going to be on in Saigon.

Before leaving

Just when I am starting to love Hanoi do I realize that I am leaving the city ten days from now. I tried not to be overly sentimental, and so I did the things I routinely do – cycle around with my red bike, do my afternoon jog, write, and go to the gym in Thai Ha. I think that by doing these I am keeping myself from thinking about sadness; keeping myself from thinking the good, bad, happy and sad things I have been through in this city; keeping myself from being too attached to things that I’ve learned to live with for the past months.


I am living in Hanoi not as a tourist staying in a hotel for a week and bringing around with me my camera taking pictures of cultural oddities I will never encounter in my country. Instead, I am living the life of an ordinary Vietnamese. I never took tourist buses that would keep me from the dust and grimes of the city roads instead I fought my way every time I ride my bike; I never took a cyclo and paid 10 dollars to see the old section of the city, instead I walked and thinned my white shoes to meet a Vietnamese in Tran Hung Dao and talk to him in a language he is more expressive.

This afternoon, I went to an Adidas shop along Nguyen Luong Bang to buy another traveling bag for my trip to Ho Chi Minh next week. And it dawned on me that I am indeed really leaving soon. How hackneyed the expression “time is too fast”. But it is indeed too fast. I reread my entries in this blog as well as the ones I wrote in my private journal and came to a conclusion that my fears during those times were a bit petty. Probably I’ll look at all my fears now in the same manner I view the fears I had before.

I am not saying I have gone mature, what I know is that I’ve become a man more experienced every time I travel.

I’m going home soon. It scares me.

Right after I arrived in my room after a grueling exam last Friday, I felt that everything in my room – ballpoint pens, my white bath towel, Columbia windbreaker, a doll made of rice hulls Chi Le gave to me, my laptop, everything – seemed to remind me of cold nights, humid nights, boring nights, tiring nights, happy nights, sad nights, nights I’m in love that I spent in this country.

I’m avoiding this trap most travelers fall into, loving so much something that letting go will be impossible. The way I see life is also similar to this, to cherish something but keep some distance, enough to make the disengagement less difficult.

I’ve been doing this all my life. It will not be hard this time.