Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sculpture by the Beach, Nha Trang

11 January 2015

Vietnam shows Chinese influences in some of the art and architecture, at least that which is not influenced by the French.  At the same time, more people here are Buddhist than any other religion, but the next major religion is Catholicism (again from the French).  So while we see Buddhist shrines in various businesses, sometimes the Buddha statues are replaced by saints and madonnas.  With bowls of fruit and other food items as offerings.

And I think that's the visual metaphor for Vietnam, a mix of old and new, traditional and modern, east and west.  This country has been a crossroads of trade for centuries, with a concurrent trade of culture, religion, politics, belief systems that happens when foreigners come through.  All of this has made Vietnam one of the more laid-back countries we've visited.

Nha Trang is a beach town, with a golden sand beach spanning some six kilometers (about 3.5 to 4 miles) of coastline.  The water is the South China Sea, which sounds as if it should be warm.  It isn't.  Nha Trang is about 12 degrees north of the equator, which also sounds as if it should be warm here, even in winter.  It isn't.  Daytime temperatures are in the low 80s (25 C), and nights are downright chilly, requiring a sweater.  All we can think is that the weather is influenced by winter winds blowing around the Pacific Ocean, making this area colder than one would think.  Hardly tropical.

But most of the tourists here are Russians.  To the point that signs are in Vietnamese and Russian.  Menus are in Russian.  Taxi drivers have responded to our questions (in English) with, "Da!  Da!"  So, we now recognize a few words in Russian.  Always helpful.

Anyway, the water temperature and cool days that we think make us not want to swim seem to be quite warm and perfect beach days for the Russians.  We dip our toes and begin shivering - the Russian tourists are swimming around and diving in waves and acting as if this is warm!  Well, okay, temperature is all relative; it probably is warm compared to the Volga right about now.

I like the Russian women, many of whom are not small by any means.  I'm of Russian descent, though I'm actually rather small compared to many of the women we see on the beach.  Who are wearing bikinis.  I admire their confidence and self-assurance.  So different from those of us who live in North America, and think we can't wear a bikini unless we're a size 2 or 4.

Nha Trang is built along the shore, with one of the main roads running along the coastline, and the town spreading inland from there.  Separating the road and the beach is a lovely long park, with benches and exercise stations and trees for shade.

And sculpture.  A variety of stone sculpture.  Some of them have little information plaques, but of course the information is written in Vietnamese, so we have no idea what is said.  This seems to be a city park, with crowds of local people and tourists and travellers and visitors, all hanging out in the park or on the beach.  Or at the various coffee bars and drink spots along the beach itself.

There's a whole crew of women who sell food on the beach, carrying around baskets of fruit, or bags of breads and crackers.  Or my favorites, the lobster ladies.  These women carry a huge kettle of freshly cooked small lobsters, with a little pan of coals attached to the bottom of the kettle.  We were informed by one woman that the small lobsters taste better than the big ones.  Although it seems to us that these small ones might be too young to reproduce, and there's a chance the population of lobsters may be depleted at some point in time.  But I love the idea of freshly cooked lobsters being delivered to you on the beach!

I had an interesting little interaction with a lobster lady this morning.  Richard and I headed out for a walk on the beach between rainstorms.  I noticed a lovely bouquet of flowers in the mud by the side of the walkway, with some other garbage.  Well, I'm not proud, I picked up the bouquet, found a clean plastic bag, and bagged up the flowers, figuring we could put them in our hotel room.  And we went merrily on our way.  Got to the beach and started walking, and went to pass by a lobster lady and her friend who was selling something else.  Well, Lobster Lady was one of the tiny older women we meet in Asia, who isn't even 5 feet tall, and could be anywhere from 50 years old to 300 years old.  I think these women are adorable, they always smile and seem so happy.  Anyway, Lobster Lady gives me a huge gap-toothed smile and motions that she'd like to look in the bag to see the flowers.  So I showed her and she oohed and aahed and gave me a big smile.  Well what could I do, I gave her the bag of flowers.  You'd think I had bought her diamonds, she was so thrilled.  She kind of asked and gestured, "For me??"  I nodded, said yes, we bowed and said thank you in English and Vietnamese, and her friend was all over trying to see the flowers and they started talking with each other as we wandered on down the beach.  A simple gesture, but may have made her day.  (And we're leaving on a train headed north tomorrow, so we wouldn't have had them for long anyway.)

At the major intersection between the beach road and the other major street in town, there's a building that looks something like a seashell, or maybe a flower, in shades of peach and terra cotta.  With pale peach rolling cement waves in each corner of this cylinder.  No sign to give an indication of what the building is used for, no idea.  We thought maybe it was a lighthouse, or some government building.  According to our hotel staff, this is a temple.  We've been by it a few times, and it never seems to be open.  But it's just an interesting structure.

So we're continuing our travels northward tomorrow, where it probably will be a bit cooler, and we'll break out the sweaters and jackets.  Da Nang is at about 20 North, not much further north than the Virgin Islands, but apparently much colder.  We'll find out when we get there.

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