Việt Nam Visit: Bát Tràng

Tags

, , ,

With a population of 6,500, the village of Bát Tràng is dwarfed by its neighbor, Hà Nội, on the other side of the Red River. However, for the past six centuries (some say it could have been even longer) it has supplied beautiful ceramics to all of Việt Nam and to countries around the world. In the United States, some big and small stores carry Bát Tràng products, prized for their quality and reasonable prices.

We made a special trip to go see Bát Tràng, only 9 miles (15 kilometers) away from the center of Hà Nội. Almost every house is either a store or a place where they make ceramics from giant vases to dinnerware and small figurines. The place we visited and where I took the following shots made smaller vases and good-luck products in the form of animals and dolls.

Worker pouring liquid clay into mold. The area around Bát Tràng had many deposits of white clay, but now the clay must be brought in from other parts of the country.

Worker pouring liquid clay into mold. The area around Bát Tràng had many deposits of white clay, but after six centuries, clay must now be brought in from other parts of the country.

Electric bulbs are used to dry clay inside the molds.

Electric bulbs are used to dry clay inside the molds.

During an effort at collectivization in the 1960’s, villagers were forced to use communal dragon kilns set up by the communist government. However, the dragon kilns were big and uneconomical, so Bát Tràng villagers built and hid small box kilns inside their houses. Over time the box kilns won over the inefficient government kilns. Today the box kilns are gas fired to reduce pollution, improve efficiency and maintain better quality control.

Products ready to be baked inside box kiln.

Clay products ready to be baked inside the box kiln seen in the back of the room.

A worker washing and smoothing products before they can be decorated by other workers.

A worker washing and smoothing products before they can be decorated by other workers.

Decorator/painter at work.

Decorator/painter at work.

The decorators worked fast but never seemed to have misplaced brush stroke.

The decorators worked fast but never seemed to have a misplaced brush stroke.

Products ready to be placed inside kilns.

Products ready to be moved inside kiln.

Some finished products after they were baked in kiln.

Some finished products after coming out of kiln.

Of course the main street in the village consisted of nothing but stores where ceramics products are sold. Tourists can buy whatever they like, and larger pieces can be shipped back home for them.

Typical store in Bát Tràng.

Typical store shelves in Bát Tràng. Blue and white are the classic colors, but there are many more today.

Lamp shades?

Lamp shades.

Vases.

Vases.

Figurines.

Figurines.

Việt Nam Visit: Hạ Long Bay

Tags

, , ,

Hạ Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site off the Northeast coast of Việt Nam. Consisting of thousands of oddly shaped islets of limestone karst, with some containing sizable caves, over an area of 600 mi² (1553 km²), Hạ Long, which means Descending Dragon, has been called one of the wonders of the world.

We only took a one-day tour to Hạ Long Bay: a 4-hour bus ride from Hà Nội to Tuần Châu island where we boarded a boat for a 4-hour cruise, then back to the capital. Given the circumstances, it was good enough, but Hạ Long Bay definitely requires a much longer visit. It has become more developed in recent years, and now boasts plush, a la Club Med facilities on remote islands while more bridges and docks are being built to accommodate the increasing road and maritime traffic. There is even a seaplane for those interested in getting a bird’s eye view of the bay.

The bus trip had a half-way rest stop in the province of Hải Dương at a giant store filled with gift merchandise. There was also a shop where workers, some disabled, were busy creating pieces of embroidery art.

Embroidery worker.

Embroidery worker.

Below are two of their creations.

Embroidery art for sale.

Embroidery art for sale.

Embroidery art for sale.

Embroidery art for sale.

The weather was not cooperating that day, with thick clouds and an occasional drizzle. Yet the following shots will still give you an idea of what can be seen in Hạ Long Bay.

Karst rock formation near shore.

Karst rock formation near shore.

Fighting Roosters is the name of this formation.

Fighting Roosters is the name of this formation.

Kayaks and boats were available rentals for exploring close to the islets.

Kayaks and boats were available rentals for exploring close to the islets.

Boaters and kayakers off to explore islets and caves.

Boaters and kayakers off to explore islets and caves.

Entire families live on boats like these.

Entire families live on boats like these.

Boat owner waiting for tourists.

Boat owner waiting for tourists.

A challenge to rock climbers?

A challenge to rock climbers?

Inside a cave named Đầu Gỗ discovered by the French in late 19th century.

Inside a cave named Đầu Gỗ discovered by the French in late 19th century. They called it Grotte des Merveilles (Cave of Marvels).

Inside Đầu Gỗ cave.

Inside Đầu Gỗ cave.

Cruise boats at Đầu Gỗ island.

Cruise boats at Đầu Gỗ island.

Việt Nam Visit: Hà Nội – Around the Lake

Tags

, , , ,

A couple days ago, a reader wondered about the absence of turtles at Hoàn Kiếm lake. Here’s a shot of baby turtles at the bigger West Lake only a few kilometers away. The turtles were being sold so that they could be released and set free, a common practice called “life release” in Buddhism.

Baby turtles to be bought and released in West Lake. There were also a few larger turtles for sale.

Baby turtles to be bought and released in West Lake. There were also a few larger turtles for sale.

Meanwhile, Hoàn Kiếm lake had many spots where people from all over the world came to take or have their pictures taken. In the following shot, the two young ladies were wearing the traditional long tunic (áo dài). The tunic is not often seen these days, except at weddings and other formal occasions. They are pretty, flattering, but not too convenient for riding motorbikes.

Posing for pictures at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Posing for pictures at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

As we were sitting on a bench admiring the lake, a bridal party made its way to a photo shoot.

Bridesmaids at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Bridesmaids at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

I think the bride was wearing a white áo dài, but I wasn’t fast enough to get a good shot of her.

Bridal party at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Bridal party at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

After a few minutes, the following couple also showed up. The young soldier was apparently overdressed for the heat.

Young couple at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Young couple at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

A curious balloon vendor watched them for a short while.

Balloon vendor.

Balloon vendor.

On a side street, a flower vendor nodded as she took a brief afternoon nap, but other vendors did not.

Flower vendor napping on street.

Flower vendor napping on street.

Fruit vendor in Old Quarter.

Fruit and vegetables vendor in Old Quarter. Perhaps she was thinking whether she would make enough money that day as she had hoped.

Fruit vendor at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Fruit vendor at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

The sky, which had been cloudy for several days, cleared up a little allowing me to take a good shot of the red bridge leading to the Jade Mountain (Ngọc Sơn) Temple.

Bridge to Ngọc Sơn temple on Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Bridge to Ngọc Sơn temple on Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Mountain Jade (Ngọc Sơn) temple, to the right of the picture, at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Mountain Jade (Ngọc Sơn) temple, to the right of the picture, at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Finally I tried to take the following night shot of traffic around Hoàn Kiếm lake. I don’t know what happened, but it turned out much different from what I expected. Maybe it is an apt illustration of the chaotic traffic in Hà Nội, and in the larger cities in Việt Nam.

Traffic at night around Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Traffic at night around Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Việt Nam Visit: Hà Nội

Tags

, , , ,

In 1954, my family was among the one million North Vietnamese who left to go to South Việt Nam rather than liver under communism. Sixty two years later, I flew back to Hà Nội, the capital of a unified country under a communist regime, with the ubiquitous red flag with one yellow star flying on government buildings, public monuments and even some temples of worship.

This year, the number of tourists visiting Việt Nam may reach 10 million, and the economic impact can be seen readily in Hà Nội. We stayed in the Old Quarter area, in a hotel only a block away from Hoàn Kiếm (Returned Sword) lake. According to legend, a turtle from the lake brought a sword to King Lê Lợi. He used it to liberate the country from Chinese rule, and when he was done with that task, returned the sword to the turtles in the lake.

Hoàn Kiếm lake was visible from the top floor of our hotel.

Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Hoàn Kiếm lake.

The Turtle Tower was on a small island at one end of the lake. Once in a while, turtles can still be seen climbing up on the island to sun themselves. I saw them at least once in the 50’s when I was small, but not this time.

Turtle tower.

Turtle Tower.

At night, the tower was brightly lit, the center of attraction for the lake area.

Turtle Tower at night.

Turtle Tower at night.

As can be seen in the above pictures, there has been a lot of building around the lake. Even the Old Quarter with its narrow and winding streets has had a lot of new construction in the form of several storied and narrow hotels rising up where row houses used to be.

Street in Old Quarter. Every house has become either a hotel, a coffee shop, or a restaurant.

Street in Old Quarter. Every house has become either a hotel, a coffee shop, or a restaurant.

Tourists, especially backpackers, love the Old Quarter which has added some Western flavor to the old French colonial buildings.

Part of Old Quarter as seen from Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Part of Old Quarter as seen from Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Traffic in Hà Nội, a city of almost 8 million people now, rivals that of Sài Gòn in congestion and common disregard for traffic laws, despite government billboards urging all to obey them.

Traffic scene in Old Quarter.

Traffic scene in Old Quarter. Note the Western tourist enjoying a cyclo ride.

Street scene in Hà Nội. Old colonial buildings on the left, new high-rises in the background.

Street scene in Hà Nội. Old colonial buildings on the left, new high-rises in the background.

In the city northern area, another famous and much larger lake is Hồ Tây, where one can see some of the high-rise and villas built in more recent years. Real estate prices there are especially high, even by recent Hà Nội standards.

Part of Hồ Tây (West Lake) which used to be on the city outskirts.

Part of Hồ Tây (West Lake) which used to be on the city outskirts.

One important feature of Hồ Tây was Trấn Quốc pagoda built in the 6th century, and still quite well preserved

Trấn Quốc pagoda on West Lake,

Trấn Quốc pagoda on West Lake.

Back at Hoàn Kiếm lake, I was able to capture some shots of daily life.

Women practicing some form of Tai Chi with swords on the bank of Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Early one morning, some ladies were practicing some form of Tai Chi with swords on the bank of Hoàn Kiếm lake.

A young girl preferred something more modern for exercise.

A young girl preferred something more modern for exercise.

Ready to ride to work.

Ready to ride to work.

At 7 AM, this lady was going around selling fresh vegetables in the Old Quarter.

At 7 AM, this lady was going around selling fresh vegetables in the Old Quarter.

Weeding flower beds at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Weeding flower beds at Hoàn Kiếm lake.

Việt Nam Visit: Hội An 2

Tags

, , , ,

While strolling through Hội An, I tried to capture images of daily life in a town which is almost picture perfect for a photographer.

Woman gathering water spinach (rau muống), a very popular vegetable which grows near water.

Woman harvesting water spinach (rau muống), a very popular vegetable which grows near water.

Hội An, where non-tourists live.

Hội An, where non-tourists live.

The town is renowned for its tailor shops where a suit can be made to measure, or duplicated from an old one, in one day. On the plane I even read an article saying that high fashion has found a niche in Hội An.

Hội An tailor shop. This one will make Western dresses to order.

Hội An tailor shop. This one will make Western dresses to order, from any kind of fabric, in a day or less.

Tour boats on the Thu Bồn river.

Tour boats on the Thu Bồn river.

While I was taking pictures, a small girl waved to me. I saw her standing next to her grandmother and made her day with this picture.

Grandmother and girl in Hội An.

Grandmother and girl in Hội An.

Three sampans on Thu Bồn river.

Three sampans on Thu Bồn river.

Modern ceramics on display near the Hội An art gallery.

Modern ceramics on display near the Hội An art gallery.

Việt Nam Visit: Hội An

Tags

, , ,

We flew to Đà Nẵng in Central Việt Nam, and from there went by road to Hội An, a small coastal city designated a World Heritage Site in 1999.

Hội An was a busy trading port until the end of the 18th century, with Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Indian traders establishing themselves in various parts of the city. Then two factors contributed to its decline: the Nguyễn dynasty which came to power in Việt Nam gave their French allies access to Đà Nẵng as a main trading port; and the Thu Bồn river passing through Hội An silted over, making it more difficult for ships to use the harbor.

Soon eclipsed by Đà Nẵng, Hội An languished until recently when international tourism discovered its charms. The old quarters along the river have been preserved much as they were originally. The pace of life is much more relaxed than in cities like Sài Gòn or Đà Nẵng, and it is possible to stroll leisurely along its streets without being bothered by cars or motorbikes. Walking is what we did over two days in Hội An from our homestay lodging to the old quarters, both during the day and at night.

Hội An old quarters at night.

Hội An old quarters at night.

A restaurant in Hội An old quarters.

A restaurant in Hội An old quarters.

Street of Hội An old quarters at night.

Street of Hội An old quarters at night.

During the day, it was easier to see the old assembly halls or temples, some dating back to the 16th century.

Japanese covered bridge.

Japanese covered bridge built in 1590.

Entrance (or exit) to Japanese covered bridge.

Entrance (or exit) to Japanese covered bridge.

Tiều Châu assembly hall.

Triều Châu assembly hall.

Quan Công temple.

Quan Công temple.

Hoi An Traditional Art Performance Theatre.

Hoi An Traditional Art Performance House.

Cine Minh Hương ancestral worship house.

Chinese Minh Hương ancestral worship house.

Hội An Art Gallery.

Hội An Art Gallery.

Việt Nam Visit: An Lộc and a Falsification of History

Tags

, ,

An Lộc was a town we visited on our second day of this trip. It is famous because of a major battle that took place there from April to June of 1972. It was the provincial capital of the South Vietnamese province of Bình Long, in an area with many rubber plantations, including large ones owned by French companies.

Three communist divisions, reinforced by an artillery division, two tank regiments, and numerous smaller units, attacked and encircled An Lộc. An estimated total of over 35,0000 North Vietnamese soldiers were thrown into the battle. The communist brought with them long-range artillery as well as tanks provided by the USSR and China. The goal of the communist offensive was to take over An Lộc and declare it the new capital of a liberated South Việt Nam.

The town was defended by three regiments of the South Vietnamese 5th Division, augmented by local defense forces (regional and popular self-defense forces), and later reinforced by several ranger and airborne battalions. The South Vietnamese forces inside the town eventually numbered 7,500. Only scores of American advisers stayed with the town defenders, but they were crucial in requesting air support from the US Air Force located in South Việt Nam and from as far away as Thailand and Guam. The 5th Division commander, General Lê Văn Hưng, vowed to defend An Lộc to his death, galvanizing his troops’ morale.

The siege of An Lộc lasted 94 days, longer than the 56 days it took to defeat the French at Điện Biên Phủ. In the end, communist troops failed to overrun the town and had to retreat to their sanctuaries in Cambodia after losing 47 tanks and suffering in excess of 10,000 dead. No exact figures has ever been released by North Vietnamese authorities. The South Vietnamese side lost 2,280 killed, 2,091 missing, 8,564 wounded.

During the fight, surrounding communist troops fired on civilians who tried to flee the fighting. Communist policy was to force civilians to stay inside the town to compound human and logistical problems for the South Vietnamese defenders.Their artillery thus fell indiscriminately on the town at rates as high as 10,000 shells per day. More artillery shells fell on An Lộc than on Điện Biên Phủ.

Many civilians sought shelter with the soldiers in their trenches or bunkers, sharing their meager battle rations as the town was completely cut off and airdrops were the only sources of food and other provisions.

There was no building left standing in An Lộc at the end. Schools, hospitals, churches or temples were not spared. Often civilians and soldiers killed remained unburied for many days, only to be shredded to pieces by subsequent artillery bombardment. The stench became unbearable especially for those soldiers conscripted into burial duty. Several mass graves had to be excavated and thousands of bodies or body parts were dumped into them. There is no official number for civilians killed in the battle, but they may very well have been in the thousands.

My first visit to An Lộc was in 1959 when it was still a bucolic town being populated by refugees from the North. Fifty seven years later I returned, but recognized almost nothing.  Streets appeared wider and practically all houses were new, at least compared to other Vietnamese cities.  There was even a plush new hotel and spa.

Family riding motrobike on the road to An Lộc.

Family riding motrobike on the road to An Lộc.

Along Highway 13 in An Lộc.

Along Highway 13 in An Lộc.

Main street in An Lộc.

Main street in An Lộc.

An Lộc hotel and spa.

An Lộc hotel and spa.

After some initial difficulty, I finally found two places were the fighting was very heavy in 1972.

Rubber trees lining up along the Quản Lợi airfield that North Vietnamese troops overran in the first days of fighting.

Rubber trees lining up along the Quản Lợi airfield that North Vietnamese troops overran in the first days of fighting.

The road to Windy Hill where a South Vietnamese airborne battalion sacrificed itself to hold the hill and allow ther units to move to reinforce An Lộc.

The road to Windy Hill and Hill 169 where the 6th South Vietnamese airborne battalion fought to hold the hills and allow other units to move to reinforce An Lộc. Only 80 of the battalion paratroopers survived.

These days, there is an official mass grave with the bodies of about 3,000 dead in An Lộc. It was built about a year ago and declared a “revolutionary national historical monument”. However, it bears a blatant and easily debunked falsification of history. A stele at the center of the monument carries the following inscription: “Grave for 3000 people of An Lộc, killed by American imperialists on 03-10-1972.” B-52 strikes by the US Air Force were singled out as the culprit for the 3000 dead.

However, on March 10, 1972, the battle had not even started.  If the date were October 3, 1972, the battle was well over by then. During the battle there were many B-52 strikes, but they only fell on the surrounding areas occupied by communist attacking forces. The American advisers inside the town would have been completely foolish or inept to call for B-52 bombs to fall on their own positions and thus kill themselves as well as their allies and civilians. As it turned out, no American adviser died during the siege of An Lộc.

Unidentified flowers on a tree  along Highway 13 in An Lộc.

Unidentified flowers on a tree along Highway 13 in An Lộc.

Việt Nam Visit: Sài Gòn at Night, Conical Hat Dance

Tags

, , , , ,

Perhaps nothing illustrates better how Sài Gòn has grown than the following pictures taken at night.

Sài Gòn at night, from Thôi Điền district looking back.

Sài Gòn at night, from Thôi Điền district (where many foreign expatriates live) looking back.

A good place to capture the city’s skylight is from the middle of Thủ Thiêm bridge, built in 2008. The city has grown by crossing the river toward the North, on the left side of the picture.

View of Sài Gòn at night from Thủ Thiêm bridge.

View of Sài Gòn at night from Thủ Thiêm bridge.

Traffic on the bridge was typical for the city. Thousands and thousands of cars and motorbikes going in both directions.

View from Thủ Thiêm bridge at night.

View from Thủ Thiêm bridge at night.

On our last day in Sài Gòn, we went to Tao Đàn park, a green oasis in the center of the city.

Flower beds in Tao Đàn park.

Flower beds in Tao Đàn park.

The park has added several attractions since the last time I saw it.

Replica of a Cham temple from central Việt Nam.

Replica of a Cham temple from central Việt Nam.

A temple to the Hùng Vương kings who ruled from 2879 BC to 258 BC.

A temple to the Hùng Vương kings who ruled from 2879 BC to 258 BC.

The following photos are from a water lily pond in front of the Hùng Vương temple.

Water Lily.

Water Lily.

Water Lily.

Water Lily.

Water Lily.

Water Lily.

I was surprised to see many young people in a corner of the park. Some were practicing a conical hat dance, with each dancer holding two hats. They got better with their practice as I kept shooting with my camera.

Conical hat dancers. The man with the hoody seemed to be their coach or choreographer.

Conical hat dancers. The man with the hoody seemed to be their coach or choreographer.

Conical hat dancers.

Conical hat dancers.

Conical hat dancers.

Conical hat dancers.

Việt Nam Visit: Sài Gòn, by Any Other Name …

Tags

, , , , , ,

When the North Vietnamese conquered Sài Gòn in 1975, they renamed it after their beloved leader, and changed many street names to those of luminaries in the communist pantheon. Still, after 41 years, people in the South as well as the North only refer to it as Sài Gòn, unless they have to make an official or public speech.

From the hazy airplane window, I saw that the city had grown vertically and had also spilled over to the north side of the Sài Gòn river, which was not renamed like the city was.

Sài Gòn from the air.

Sài Gòn from the air.

After we landed at the airport, I had trouble recognizing the old capital. It had grown both in size and in population, from 3 million in 1975 to well over 10 million inhabitants now. There were literally millions of motorbikes and cars competing for space on the narrow streets, and traffic was a nightmare day and night. It seemed impossible that people could ride or drive in such conditions, but they did, and traffic laws were constantly being violated by everyone including pedestrians who climbed over dividers to cross highways because there were no pedestrian overpasses.

Subways, light rail, overpasses exist only on paper in the planning stages. There was a tunnel running under the Sài Gòn river and several bridges were either built or expanded, but nothing seemed to help. Việt Nam has one of the highest highway fatality rates, and it is going to take well into the next decade, or even beyond, before things could get better.

Sài Gòn traffic scene.

Sài Gòn traffic scene. Note mother carrying young child crossing street.

Sài Gòn traffic scene in the rain.

Sài Gòn traffic scene in the rain.

We stayed at a hotel near the Bến Thành market in the center of the city, and from there we walked or sometimes called an Uber taxi to explore the city and find places that we used to know.

North side of Bến Thành market in the center of Sài Gòn.

North side of Bến Thành market in the center of Sài Gòn.

There were restaurants and food stalls everywhere in and around the Bến Thành area, or in the rest of the city as well. You can find people eating and having coffee, soft drinks or beer at any time of the day and night.

Food cart

Food cart selling sandwiches made to order.

Food cart selling beef soup in the Huế (old 19th century royal capital) style.

Food cart selling food in the Huế (old 19th century royal capital) style.

Some buildings had not changed much.

Old city hall.

Old city hall.

Opera house.

Opera house.

Nearby all the hotels and buildings had been rebuilt to be taller and more modern, so you won’t find the looks and atmosphere of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American any more.

Hotel on Tự Do street.

Hotel on Tự Do street.

Nearby there were signs that not all had benefited from the economic boom.

Scene on Lê Lợi boulevard, the widest in the city.

Scene on Lê Lợi boulevard, the widest in the city.

The other side of Lê Lợi boulevard. Poster on building wall applauded the

On the other side of Lê Lợi boulevard, a poster on building wall praised the “pioneer [ruling] class of the Party”.

Some buildings hardly changed, at least from the outside.

Sài Gòn cathedral, built in 1880.

Sài Gòn cathedral, built in 1880.

Regina Pacis, Our Lady of Peace, was added to the square in front of the cathedral in 1959.

Regina Pacis, Our Lady of Peace, was added to the square in front of the cathedral in 1959.

In 2005, the statue was reported to be shedding tears on the right cheek. People flocked to the cathedral in great numbers. The tear shedding was not confirmed by any authority.

Việt Nam Visit: Night Scene and Floating Market

Tags

, , ,

That first night in Cần Thơ I went to the tenth floor of our hotel to photograph the night scene. The city had grown a lot since 1969, with many tall buildings in the Ninh Kiều district, where we stayed, and in the neighboring areas. Pop music and singing could be heard from several spots. The district was popular with foreign tourists who dined, walked around, and some even danced here and there.

Cần Thơ downtown at night. The long string of lights in the upper half of the image are from the new Japanese bridge.

Cần Thơ downtown at night. The long string of lights in the upper half of the image are from the new Japanese bridge.

Cần Thơ at night.

Cần Thơ at night.

At 6 AM the following morning, I took a small boat to go to the famous Cái Răng floating market about half an hour away. The hotel arranged for a boat, a driver, and a guide who came along with a new guide in training. The two guides and I sat on the cushioned seats, while the driver stood and drove the boat with a small outboard motor called a “shrimp tail”.

Boats to take tourists to the Cái Răng floating market.

Boats to take tourists to the Cái Răng floating market.

The photo below gives a general view of the floating market which only catered to wholesale customers. The larger boats were loaded with fruit or vegetables, with samples tied to long poles sticking out of each boat to advertise their goods. Smaller boats would approach the boats that had what they wanted to buy, did their haggling and then transferred what they negotiated into their boats.

Floating market seen from some distance.

Floating market seen from some distance.

These two poles advertised sweet potatoes, white and red.

These two poles advertised red and white sweet potatoes.

We weaved our way around all the boats several times to allow me to shoot as many pictures as I wanted.

Several smaller boats surrounding wholesaler boats loaded with weet potatoes.

Several smaller boats surrounding wholesaler boats loaded with sweet potatoes.

Wholesaler throwing pineapples to buyer on smaller boat.

Wholesaler tossing pineapples to buyer on another boat.

Peeling outer leaves from cabbage before sale.

Peeling outer leaves from cabbage before sale.

Buying and selling jicama.

Buying and selling jicama.

There were smaller boats selling drinks or something hot for breakfast.

There were smaller boats offering drinks or hot soup for breakfast.

Done with his shopping a boat driver walked toward his outboard shrimp tail.

Done with his shopping a boat driver walked toward his outboard shrimp tail.

Taking fruiot and vegetables back to another market on land, or perhaps to a restaurant.

Taking fruit and vegetables back to another market on land, or perhaps to a restaurant.

Woman with a load of watermelons driving her boat as she sat on the motor.

Her shopping done, a woman with a load of watermelons drove her boat home as she sat on the motor.

Việt Nam Visit: Cần Thơ, the Western Capital

Tags

, , , ,

For the last three weeks, we have been travelling in Việt Nam, from South to North. I took over 2,000 photos and will try to post some here to give you a flavor of what I saw and experienced.

Naturally the country has changed a lot since I left in 1975 at the end of the war. After wasting 15 years carrying out political retribution against the South, by the time the Berlin wall fell down, the communist regime in Hà Nội finally realized that free enterprise was the best antidote to economic stagnation and poverty caused by blind adherence to marxist-leninist doctrine. Since then a virtual flood of foreign aid and investment, coupled with local initiative and hard work, has transformed the economy for the better. The South which has historically led the country in economic development and growth, found itself again at the forefront.

No city exemplifies it better than Cần Thơ, the fourth largest in the nation, located at the center of the Mekong delta. It used to be called Tây Đô, the Western capital, and has lived up to its ancient moniker. In my youth, one of my fist jobs was to travel from Sài Gòn to Cần Thơ, by car, a journey that took almost a day because one had to line up and wait for the only two ferries that allowed traffic to cross the Upper and Lower branches of the Mekong river.

The ferries are gone, replaced by two beautiful bridges. The first is Mỹ Thuận bridge spanning the Upper branch (Tiền Giang river). It was designed and built with Australian aid, and was completed in 2000.

Mỹ Thuận bridge crossing a branch of Mekong river between Vĩnh Long and Cần Thơ.

Mỹ Thuận bridge crossing a branch of Mekong river between Vĩnh Long and Cần Thơ.

View from car crossing Mỹ Thuận bridge.

View from car crossing Mỹ Thuận bridge.

We also had to cross a longer and higher bridge, the Cần Thơ bridge over the Lower branch (Hậu Giang river). It was built with Japanese aid and was completed in 2010. During construction, in 2007 one of its ramps collapsed, killing 54 people and injuring 80 others.

Cần Thơ bridge.

Cần Thơ bridge.

The Mekong delta has always been an agricultural wonder, sending its rice and other agricultural products to feed the rest of the nation and the world. Its Southern cuisine appeals to many with its variety of dishes and flavor, no doubt due to the abundance of food and innate culinary talent. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch, one that was frequented more by the locals than by tourists. The kitchen was at the front of the restaurant for all to see and observe.

Open kitchen at a Cần Thơ restaurant.

Open kitchen at a Cần Thơ restaurant.

Open kitchen at Cần Thơ restaurant.

Open kitchen at Cần Thơ restaurant.

Open kitchen at Cần Thơ restaurant.

Open kitchen at Cần Thơ restaurant.

A meal being prepared at open kitchen. The one on the right was a typical South Vietnamese sour fish soup.

A meal being assembled at reataurant’s open kitchen. The pot on the right was a typical South Vietnamese sour fish soup.

For dessert we had jackfruit, freshly extracted and peeled by this young lady.

For dessert we had jackfruit, freshly extracted and peeled by this young lady.

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Tags

, , ,

In a few hours I will be going to Viet Nam, the country of my birth, for about three weeks. During that time, I will not be posting or viewing and commenting on your posts. Until then, I hope you will enjoy the following shot of a glorious Grand Canyon sunset taken six years ago.

Grand Canyon sunset

Grand Canyon sunset

Pelican Formation

Tags

, , ,

One more shot taken in the spring of this year at Garrapata State Park south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. This one is of a flock of Brown Pelicans flying in formation over the park where spring flowers were blooming in abundance.

Brown Pelicans flying over Garrapata State Park.

Brown Pelicans flying over Garrapata State Park.

Updates: Jackie and Bougainvillea

Tags

, , ,

Jackie, the puppy Golden Retriever, has been with us almost four months. She went from 9 lbs (4 kg) to 30 lbs (14 kg), but she is lean, very fast, and excels at tennis balls retrieval. Here’s how she looks today.

Jackie at 5 months,

Jackie at 5 months.

Jackie at 5 months.

Jackie at 5 months.

The Bougainvillea plant I posted about a couple weeks ago are now blooming. In the following photo, the flowers are small and whitish surrounded by pink bracts, which are actually a kind of leaf.

Bougainvillea flowering.

Bougainvillea flowering.

Long Trip Coming

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Busy preparing for an upcoming long trip, I have not had a chance to go out and take any photo. The following images were taken many months ago, but have not yet been published on these pages. There is no rhyme or reason to them, just interesting shots of landscape and wildlife that I have seen.

Long-billed Curlew on Moss Landing beach in California.

Long-billed Curlew on Moss Landing beach in California.

Marbled Godwit at Moss Landing, CA.

Marbled Godwit at Moss Landing, CA.

Eagle taking off at Garrapata State Park, CA.

Eagle taking off at Garrapata State Park, CA.

Controlled burn at Atsion, NJ.

Controlled burn at Atsion, NJ.

Cassidy Arch at Capitol Reef National Park.

Cassidy Arch at Capitol Reef National Park.

Black-crowned Night Heron at Ocean City, NJ.

Black-crowned Night Heron at Ocean City, NJ.

Unidentified flower at Sayen Gardens, NJ.

Unidentified flower at Sayen Gardens, NJ.

Potash mine ponds at Dead Horse State Park, UT.

Potash mine ponds at Dead Horse Point State Park, UT.

Autumn Splendor

Tags

, , , ,

Most of us can never have enough of the vibrant colors of fall foliage. Throughout the years, I have tried to capture its beauty with my camera. Last year, while travelling through Glacier National Park and Great Basin National Park in late September, I finally felt like a kid in a candy store. With the following photos, I hope you too can feast your eyes on the wonderful colors of autumn.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Lighthouse and Sanderlings

Tags

, , , ,

Barnegat Lighthouse at the north end of Long Beach Island in New Jersey is well known and usually looks pretty much like in the following photo.

Barnegat Lighthouse

Barnegat Lighthouse

Today, I stood at its feet and pointed my camera up toward the top of the structure.

Barnegat Lighthouse

Barnegat Lighthouse, a different perspective

Half a mile away, Sanderlings were congregating on the shoreline, flying in and out as the surf pushed them around.

Sanderlings

Sanderlings

Sanderlings in flight

Sanderlings in flight

Sanderlings landing

Sanderlings landing

Bougainvillea: Vera

Tags

, ,

Vera is the name of a small bougainvillea plant that we have been growing in a pot for five years. It does not flower every year, and in the fall and winter it has to be brought inside the house to survive the cold. The flowers are small, the bracts surrounding them are colored a pale purple, almost pink under good sunlight. This year there were many flowers, and I took that rare opportunity to take a series of shots under a bright afternoon sky.

Bougainvillea: Vera

Bougainvillea: Vera

Bougainvillea: Vera

Bougainvillea: Vera

Bougainvillea: Vera

Bougainvillea: Vera

Bougainvillea: Vera

Bougainvillea: Vera

Bougainvillea: Vera

Bougainvillea: Vera

Weekly Photo Challenge: H2O

Tags

, , , , , ,

The link for this challenge is: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/photo-challenges/h2o/

Photos of water make a good chunk of the shots I have taken since 2010 when I started doing digital photography. In the following series, the shots are of water from its sources high in the mountains, to waterfalls, and finally as part of the giant ocean mass around our globe.

Small brook in Glacier National Park.

Small brook in Glacier National Park.

Kootenai Falls near Libby, MT.

Kootenai Falls near Libby, MT.

Kootenai Falls.

Kootenai Falls.

Niagara Falls, from the American side.

Niagara Falls, from the American side.

Close up of Niagara Falls.

Close up of Niagara Falls.

Wave crashing on Jersey shore near Barnegat Light.

Wave crashing on Jersey shore near Barnegat Light.

A Favorite National Park

Tags

, ,

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado was the last national park that we visited last year on October 5th and 6th. For me it was also the best spot of the entire trip.

The dunes come from sand at the bottom of a lake that evaporated some 440,000 years ago. Over time the winds picked up the sand and drove it toward the Sangre de Cristo mountains, where counter winds blew it back. The shifting winds created the dunes, moving them back and forth day in and day out against the mountainous backdrop.

Great Sand Dunes at sunset.

Great Sand Dunes at sunset.

Great Sand Dunes at sunrise.

Great Sand Dunes at sunrise.

Today the Great Sand Dunes is a great playground for everyone. Young families let their children play on the sand by Medano creek, a shallow stream that flows at the lowest point on a side of the dunes. People of all ages camp in the well-maintained park’s campgrounds, and hike on the dunes or on the wilderness trails that take them into or around the mountains. The only minor disadvantage, but one that could be considered a plus, is that there is only a bare minimum of businesses and services to cater to park visitors. There is only one nearby restaurant and one lodge, while the nearest town, Mosca, is 23 miles (37 km) away. So if you want to leave all that urban and commercial stuff behind, go to the Great Sand Dunes to see and enjoy nature at its best.

Contemplation at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Young woman in a contemplative pose at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Fall Foliage Along Highway 550 II

Tags

, , ,

Here are a few more shots along Highway 550 in Colorado last year on October 2nd.

Highway 550 in Colorado.

Highway 550 in Colorado.

Sign on Highway 550 near Telluride, CO.

Sign on Highway 550 near Telluride, CO.

Trout Lake.

Trout Lake under a waning moon.

Mountain side near Telluride, CO. Note houses at bottom left corner.

Mountain side near Telluride, CO. Note houses at bottom left corner and ski slope on the right.

Fall Foliage Along Highway 550

Tags

, , , ,

Fall arrived early this time last year in the Uncompaghre mountains along Highway 550 south of Montrose, CO. Aspens were a vivid yellow for large swaths on mountain slopes and along the highway, one of the most beautiful in the world. It passed by towns with famous names like Telluride, Hermosa, and Durango. Every few miles I wanted to and did stop to capture scenes like the ones below.

Along Highway 550 in Colorado.

Along Highway 550 in Colorado.

Along Highway 550 in Colorado.

Along Highway 550 in Colorado.

Crystal Forest

Tags

, , ,

At this time last year, a highlight of our visit to Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook, AZ, was Crystal Forest, an easy hike through a rolling landscape adorned with many chunks, and even entire tree trunks, of petrified wood. But before entering Crystal Forest, the view of the butte across the parking lot was quite amazing.

Looking across highway at entrance to Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Holbrook, AZ.

Looking across highway at entrance to Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Holbrook, AZ.

I am promising myself to some day going back and taking the time to hike around that butte and look at the back of it.

Petrified wood.

Petrified wood.

Petrified wood.

Petrified wood.

Factory Butte

Tags

, , , ,

A year ago, on a drive from Capitol Reef National Park to Green River, UT, I saw a beautiful mesa on the western side of Highway 24 near Hanksville, UT. It was still early morning, the sun was shining brightly, and upper atmosphere winds whipped clouds into fascinating swirls. Here are two shots of the mesa which was named Factory Butte by early Mormon settlers who thought it resembled a woolen mill.

Factory Butte.

Factory Butte near Hanksville, UT.

Factory Butte.

Factory Butte.

High School Rodeo

Tags

, , ,

Last year, on the way to Glacier National Park, I stopped for about an hour at Broadus, MT. Population 387, the sign said. High school girls were competing in a spirited rodeo and lacked nothing in prowess and skills as you can see in the following photos.

Rodeo scene at Broadus, MT.

Rodeo scene at Broadus, MT.

Rodeo rider.

Rodeo rider.

Rider jumping off.

Rider jumping off.

Rider roping goat.

Rider roping goat.

Another rider.

Another rider starting her turn.

Rider jumping off.

Rider jumping off.

Once a rider jumped off to tackle the goat, their horses kept running until someone caught them. One horse came real close to me, literally breathing off in my face!

Close shot of horse.

Close shot of horse.

Cee’s Odd Ball Photo Challenge

Tags

, , ,

The link to this challenge is: https://ceenphotography.com/cees-challenges/cees-odd-ball-photo-challenge/

A few weeks ago I drove by a Russian Orthodox church in Jackson, NJ. It’s St Vladimir Memorial Church which was built over 50 years, starting in 1938. The onion domes, brightly lit by the afternoon sun were too tempting, and I had to stop to take this shot.

St Vladimir Memorial Church, Jackson, NJ.

St Vladimir Memorial Church, Jackson, NJ.

Young Swan

Tags

, , ,

Almost two years ago, I saw this beautiful cygnet swimming on a pond at the Abbott Marshlands next to the Delaware river.

Young Swan.

Young Swan.

The parents were watching close by and enticed her (I am assuming it was a female) to swim away with them.

Young Swan and parents.

Young Swan and parents.

The young Mute Swan was almost full size, and differed from her parents by her feather colors and a gray bill. Here’s a look at the three of them preening together.

Three Mute Swans preening.

Three Mute Swans preening.

Chicory and Sweet Pea

Tags

, , ,

These two photos below show chicory and sweet pea flowers that I encountered on a walk yesterday.

Chicory is an edible plant and its roots, when baked or roasted, can be ground and mixed with coffee. Some claim that it makes coffee taste better and healthier.

Chicory flowers.

Chicory flowers.

Sweet peas on the other hand are toxic if eaten and should only be admired for their beauty and scent.

Sweet Peas flowers.

Sweet Peas flowers.

St Mary Sunrise

Tags

, , , ,

On this day, a year ago, I drove from East Glacier Park Village to St Mary in Montana on one of the most tortuous roads. It was 6 AM and still pitch dark when we left our hotel. Driving distance was only 30 miles, but it wasn’t until almost 7 AM that we reached a hill near St Mary. The town was invisible, shrouded by clouds, but the sunrise was stunningly colorful.

Sunrise near St Mary, MT. The town was totally under the clouds.

Sunrise near St Mary, MT. The town was totally under the heavy blanket of clouds.

Sunrise near St Mary, MT.

Sunrise near St Mary, MT.

Sunrise near St Mary, MT.

Sunrise near St Mary, MT.

One Year Ago: Hay Bales

Tags

, , ,

Montana is a big state, and you can really feel it when your try to drive from one corner of it to another. A year ago today, I drove for almost two days from South Dakota to reach Glacier National Park near the border with Canada.

On the way there were miles and miles of ranches, fields, or just open country. To prepare for the winter, ranchers and farmers had harvested hay and piled it as cylindrical or rectangular bales. Their cattle, horses, and sheep would feed on those bales throughout the winter. Never having seen so many hay bales, I had to stop several times to take the following pictures.

Hay bales, Montana.

Hay bales, Montana.

Hay bales, Montana.

Hay bales, Montana.

Hay bales, Montana.

Hay bales, Montana.

Hay bales, Montana.

Hay bales, Montana.

A Year Ago

Tags

, , , ,

A year ago a friend and I were in the early days of our transcontinental trip to visit as many national parks as we could in 33 days. The first park we visited was Badlands National Park. Despite its name, the park was beautiful, easily accessible, and not as crowded as better known parks such as Grand Canyon.

Going through my photos, I reprocessed and am posting one image published on this blog last year on the same date. This is one of the first sights of the park when one enters it through its north gate near the town of Wall, SD.

View from Pinnacles Overlook at Badlands National Park.

View from Pinnacles Overlook at Badlands National Park.

Here’s an image taken near Yellow Mounds Overlook just 3 miles (5 km) from Pinnacles. As you can tell, the sun was setting, adding its vivid colors to those of the Badlands striated rock formations.

View from Yellow Mounds Overlook, Badlands National Park.

View from Yellow Mounds Overlook, Badlands National Park.

Praying Mantis

Tags

, , ,

The Praying Mantis has been the subject of several blogs that I read in the past two weeks. This must be the season for them, for when I came home today I found one on the patio door.

Praying Mantis.

Praying Mantis.

With a mostly green body with brown wings, it is a mantis that originated from Asia but since 1896 has escaped captivity, and is now a common insect in the Northeast United States. It is called a Chinese Praying Mantis (Tenodera sinensis). As I came closer and closer to it, it only made minor moves, jumping from the glass door to the screen as I opened the door.

Praying Mantis.

Praying Mantis.

Praying Mantis.

Praying Mantis, closer.

Praying Mantis.

Praying Mantis, even closer.

Praying Mantis.

Praying Mantis, closest.

Birds, Bees, and Butterflies

Tags

, , , , ,

This female hummingbird has been fiercely defending her feeder, except when the male is around.

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird: “Nah! This is my feeder!”

However, the squirrel did not get the memo.

Squirrel climbing on feeder hanger, to no avail.

Squirrel climbing on feeder hanger, to no avail. He did climb down and went to another feeder with the same results because it was squirrel proof.

The following images are from last year’s summer end.

Bee.

Bee.

Yellow Tiger Swallowtail on thistle flower.

Yellow Tiger Swallowtail on thistle flower.

A bee and two Swallowtails.

A bee and two Swallowtails.

Before the Storm

Tags

, , ,

Tropical storm Hermine is coming toward our area in the next day or two. This morning I went to Barnegat Lighthouse and walked from there to the beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean. Many people were fishing, while parents, children, and even some dogs, were strolling along the beach, trying to enjoy this last weekend before school starts again next week.

It was very windy and going toward the water was harder than usual. The wind was blowing sand and droplets of water on everyone. I tried to protect my camera and lens as much as possible, and hurried to take the following shots before the elements got too destructive.

End of jetty at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

End of jetty at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. The small steel tower at the end of the jetty was constantly struck by high waves crashing against it.

Another view of the end of the jetty in a momentary calm minute.

Another view of the end of the jetty in a momentary calm minute. The tower is probably 20 ft (6 m) high.

Waves at the beach at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

Waves on the beach at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

Beach front at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

Beach front at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park. Note the 2-foot drop shoreline already carved out by the waves.

Looking back at Barnegat Lighthouse. These were thousands of swallows flying near a fresh water hole on the beach.

Looking back at Barnegat Lighthouse. These were thousands of swallows flying near a fresh water hole on the beach. They are those black dots on the lower right of the photo.

 

Tennis Ball

Tags

, , , ,

Jackie, the puppy, has learned to retrieve a tennis ball that I throw away as far as I can. She enjoys it, for that is bred within the Golden Retriever genes, but she also likes the small treats she gets after each successful retrieval, which is most of the time.

Jackie running toward me with the tennis ball.

Jackie running toward me with the tennis ball.

Flowers, Rain, and a Dove

Tags

, , , ,

I took the following two photos last year, forgot about them, and only today got the time to review and process them.

First a Mourning Dove seemed interested in the flowers of a Desert Rose kept in a planter.

Mourning Dove.

Mourning Dove.

The same flowers after a rainy night.

Desert Rose after rain.

Desert Rose after rain.

This last shot of a Cosmos is from this morning, when temperatures were still below 90 F(32 C).

Cosmos in morning sun.

Cosmos in morning sun.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Trees

Tags

, , ,

Cee’s Black and White challenge, Trees, is at this link: https://ceenphotography.com/2016/08/24/cees-black-white-photo-challenge-trees-2/

I took the following photos at Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest near the town of Bishop, CA. These trees are said to have lived for several thousand years, some over 4,000 years, at elevations of about 10,000 ft (3,300 m) and above.

Bristlecone Pine.

Bristlecone Pine.

Bristlecone Pine.

Bristlecone Pine trunk.

Bristlecone Pine.

Bristlecone Pine roots.

Bristlecone Pine.

Dead Bristlecone Pine.