It was absolutely gorgeous. And quiet. It was the anti-train bunk: a secluded oasis amongst bustling motorbikes. Just what I needed. Only I would only be able to experience less than a day here, due to the train delay. That made me a bit disappointed. But, off I went to my room. I uploaded a blogpost and went for the hour-long massage that came with my room. That made me happy! Yay!
At night, I went to meet with two artists that my friend Hiep put me in touch with . . . We decided to have dinner and drinks at a local joint next to a backpacker hostel. I was most interested in talking to the Le Brothers about what the art scene looked like in Hue. I had heard of a festival that happens there every two years, so I was curious. I was also interested in their space. As an installation artist, I am always looking for new and unique spaces to fill up.
On the way there, I got hustled by a pedicaber. The only reason I agreed to catch a ride is because I was slightly curious what it felt like to ride in one, but also because I had no idea where I was going and thought he could get me there faster. No. He tried to charge me about $20 USD for driving me down a street, about 8 shophouses worth (less than a 1/8th of a mile). Nope. I don't care how ridiculously hipster those things are, I am not paying $20 bucks for that. Sorry folks. I ended up paying him about 100,000 VND (about $5 USD). The weirdest thing about the whole deal was that a guy on a scooter did the exchange. He wasn't even the one operating the pedicab . . . To that I say shady. I guess he was the barker or something.
On my way home from dinner, I passed an interesting shop where a man was weaving a basket out front. He was weaving so fast, it was pretty amazing to watch. Hands flying! I hadn't thought to record him, primarily because I didn't think he would like it. But the shop he was sitting in front of was a craft store with handmade goods created out of recyclables and made by people in Hue with with diverse abilities. It was a fascinating store.
When I got home, I immediately crawled into bed. I don't know if it's because of the active and experiential week I had or what, but that bed (the one pictured below) was the most comfortable bed I have ever, ever, ever slept in ever! EVER! Unfortunately I needed to get up early the next day to try and figure out how I was going to get back to Hanoi . . . But, man! I would've stayed in that bed for 5 days if I could have!
After breakfast, I took a cab over to New Space Arts Foundation. This is the foundation run and managed by the Le Brothers.
It's a giant space above a cafe and store selling all sorts of Vietnamese tourist wares: hats, fans, bags, travel books. The New Space Arts Foundation supports a variety of arts-based activities: resident artists shows and workshops, serving as the Le Brother's studio and office space, and hosting creative events.
I was lucky enough to have them show me a piece they worked on in June 2012. It was the most brilliant piece I have ever seen in my life. Seriously genius material.
From their website, a description of the piece: "Two uniforms of the South Vietnamese Army and the North Vietnamese Army From before 1975 are cut and carved in conventional formulaic style and reassembled together, alternating and exchanging parts based on “Ying-Yang” rules. These uniforms are displayed with other Video Arts recording our images; two separate individuals are looking forward to concordance. We mean to present our point of view about the Vietnam War before 1975.
Two uniforms iconically indicate their opposition. They are cut and carved with symbols such as bullets, flowers, helicopters, and guns … these symbols are cut off from one uniform, and then sewed onto the other one and vice-versa. The blending of these pieces sewed onto the two uniforms eventually makes these uniforms become impressively and totally mixed together.
Although their shapes are maintained, signs and colors will change because of their interweaving. Consequently, this inspires a harmony of visual expression. We see them as our wish for accordance, an expression of our thoughts of healing and connection."
I asked them to wear the work so I could photograph them in it. It was such an amazing piece. I really want them to come and present their projects at MICA in Baltimore. This work had such relevance to person, place, and heritage. Three things that I have such a hard time tapping into in my own work. And the labor involved with this work was outstanding. (That's completely me talking, though. I am such a sucker for labor-intensive projects.) I still can't stop thinking about this artwork. I was completely blown away.
We walked through beautiful landscapes and gardens.
I took the above picture of one of the images of the King. He reminded me of a highly decorated musical theatre actor.
But my absolute favorite part of the tour was when we came upon the discarded festival items. Piles of colorful canvas strips covered in glitter used as hair for lion and dragon props. Hundreds of trashcans shaped as "kitchsy dragon pieces", as my guide offered. Two large headless dragons. I wanted to take all of these things home with me. Sure I could fit them into my apartment in Singapore, I thought.
We traveled to this giant pagoda where this massive marble tortoise lived. (He was ginormous!) Apparently if you touch his head, you will have good luck and live a long and youthful life. (I knew I loved tortoises.) I rubbed his head a few times. But there was a lady in there that kept kissing his head and held onto his head the entire time I was there. That's her hand in the image below.
Another fun thing we happened upon was the restoration taking place at the King's tomb. (I am such a behind-the-scenes freak!) Again, a reminder of Rome! I just stood there watching these people scrape away at these columns. I could've stood there for days watching them.
Oh!! And the dress-up corner!! As a perk for tourists, you could pay to dress up as a King or Queen and sit in the royal throne or rickshaw. Ah yes, the ol' royal rickshaw. Needless to say, I did not pay to participate. But looking back at these pictures makes me wish I had . . . Unbelievable coloring. Next time, Lindsey, next time.
I stayed in the Hilton Garden Hotel when I got to Hanoi. It, too, had a super comfortable bed and a complimentary breakfast. And I was able to sleep in just a bit: finally! My taxi arrived at 1130am, which was perfect timing for me to get to the airport and board my plane. One last chance to drive through the motorbike-infested traffic.
I know that this trip wasn't as easily pulled together as my past trips, as there were definite setbacks. But man-oh-man, I will totally be going to Vietnam again. I absolutely loved it! The energy of Hanoi completely reminded me of New York City. And the adventures I had--although unconventional--were new and exciting adventures that I wouldn't go back and change even if I could. Vietnam kept me on my toes! That's all anyone could ever hope for in an active and exploratory vacation!
I love you, Vietnam! I can't wait to see you again. And--someday--I hope to live in you . . .