More unpublished photos of flowers with colors that could cheer up our drab winter scene.
Like others on WordPress, I have been going through photos taken in 2016 to see whether some of them could be displayed here. Several are shown below, and others will probably follow in the last three days of this year. As you can tell, there is no rhyme or reason to the order of these images.
Going through my files from this past June, I found the following series showing a Red-winged Blackbird dive-bombing a Black-crowned Night Heron that had strayed too close to its nest. This all happened in less than a minute near the Ocean City Welcome Center in New Jersey.
Last week, there were two sightings of the Snowy Owl on the Jersey Shore, so yesterday I went to the southern tip of Long Beach Island to find and photograph it. After walking for almost four hours, I failed to find the visitor from the Artic. There were only Seagulls and some birds which flew by too fast for identification.
The above Ring-billed Gull had just walked out of a fairly large sea water pond on the beach. The pond banks, shaped by wind,looked intriguing.
Back home, it was cloudy today as the sun obstinately refused to come out. Our bird feeder, however, attracted the usual crowd of small birds, even after one of them was attacked and carried away by a hawk. I didn’t have a chance to capture the hawk, but here are some photos of the small birds.
Here are some miscellaneous photos I took during our visit to Việt Nam.
Fansipan Legend is an aerial tram completed at the beginning of 2016. It allows people to go from the town of Sa Pa to the top of mount Fan Si Pan, without having to make an arduous and dangerous climb sometimes lasting several days.
The Water Puppet Theater is a tourist trap that some say is not worth going to. It is, however, housed in a building where the Tự Lực Văn Đoàn group used to meet. In the 1930’s Tự Lực Văn Đoàn (Self-Help Literary Group) started modern Vietnamese journalism and authored widely popular novels aimed at the mass market of Vietnamese thirsty for modern ideals and ideas.
Both the French colonial government and, after 1945, the Vietnamese communists tried to suppress and eliminate Tự Lực Văn Đoàn. The communists even imprisoned and killed one of the three leaders of the group. That is why you will never see any mention that the building pictured above was ever associated with Tự Lực Văn Đoàn.
As we traveled in Việt Nam, I tried to take pictures of flowers whenever landscape and people were not dominating the scene. The following photos are arranged from South to North, starting from the top.
Vietnamese lowlanders (called người Kinh by ethnic minorities) number about 15 percent of the Sa Pa region population. However, they control much of the local economy by building hotels, the infrastructure, and the services needed to support the influx of tourists, both national and international. People from inside Việt Nam now go to Sa Pa on vacations, and they are the majority of the tourists seen there.
In talking to some H’Mong and Red Dao people, I sensed resentment that the lowlanders have taken a disproportionate share of the economy, monopolizing hotels and travel services.
There are several ehtnic minorities living in the Sa Pa region. The most numerous are the H’Mong and they can be seen everywhere in Sa Pa. There are also Red Dao, Tay, Zay, Xa Fo, and perhaps others as well. I only met and spoke to H’Mong and Red Dao individuals.
These ethnic minorities inhabit the Northwest corner of Việt Nam, and parts of Laos, Thailand, and China. The H’Mong are said to come all the way from Northern China and migrated South as they revolted and were chased by imperial forces during the Ming dynasty. In recent history, H’Mong in Laos allied themselves with America in the fight against communism. At the end of the war some fled to Thailand and most were eventually resettled in the United States.
Tourism in Sa Pa has brought many changes to the ethnic minorities’ way of life. Planting rice is still the main occupation for many, but the influx of tourism money and demands may have opened new horizons for some. Our guide was a H’Mong who spoke some English. As I walked around town I saw that the new way of life has begun to influence and shape the old way.
The final destination of our Việt Nam visit is a resort town named Sa Pa in the Northwest corner, at the foot of the highest mountain in the country, Fan Si Pan (3,143 m or 10,312 ft). Nestled in the mountains at 1,500 m (4,500 ft), Sa Pa benefits from cooler temperatures than in most of the country. Toward the end of the 19th century, the French discovered it and soon began building villas for French colonials to use to escape from the heat and humidity of the Red River delta. Today, both lowlander Vietnamese and foreign tourists from around the world come to Sa Pa for its beautiful scenery and to see the way of life of the ethnic minorities that inhabit the area.
I took the photo below from the window of our hotel room which faced Fan Si Pan. Clouds descended from Fan Si Pan to regularly shroud Sa Pa and the hamlets around it with a thick and fast moving fog. The scenery could actually change within seconds, and on many occasions, by the time I got set up to take a shot, fog had covered and hidden what I was aiming for.
A favorite for many are the rice terraces built over many centuries on mountain slopes by the ethnic minorities living in the area. The rice had been harvested when we were there, so most of the fields were brown and fallow, except where vegetables were grown.
The day before we left, the sun finally came out and illuminated the whole valley. Fortunately, we had climbed up to the top of Hàm Rồng mountain (1,800 m or 5,200 ft) which offered a clear view of the town of Sa Pa below it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Below are two of their creations.
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.
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.
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.
As we were sitting on a bench admiring the lake, a bridal party made its way to a photo shoot.
I think the bride was wearing a white áo dài, but I wasn’t fast enough to get a good shot of her.
After a few minutes, the following couple also showed up. The young soldier was apparently overdressed for the heat.
A curious balloon vendor watched them for a short while.
On a side street, a flower vendor nodded as she took a brief afternoon nap, but other vendors did not.
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 Jade Mountain (Ngọc Sơn) Temple.
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 of Việt Nam.
In 1954, my family was among the one million North Vietnamese who left to go to South Việt Nam rather than live 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.
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.
At night, the tower was brightly lit, the center of attraction for the lake area.
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.
Tourists, especially backpackers, love the Old Quarter which has added some Western flavor to the old French colonial buildings.
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.
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 sky high.
One important feature of Hồ Tây was Trấn Quốc pagoda built in the 6th century, and still quite well preserved
Back at Hoàn Kiếm lake, I was able to capture some shots of daily life.