Friday, July 3, 2009

Bac Ha, the beginning

July 4, 2009, Bac Ha
First morning waking up in the Cong Fu Hotel, where I’ve committed to staying and writing for the month. It’s 5:35 and a couple of hotel employees are having a lively conversation about something and just basically yelling their asses off, the voices bouncing up the marble stairways and rattling around the building. If I understood more than a few words of Vietnamese, I’d be able to understand them as if they were standing in this room. And then, coming in from outside, the propaganda loudspeakers have just started. Is that the VN anthem I hear? And some inspirational words about work? Warnings about social evils -- one of which is apparently sleeping past 6:00. Perhaps some deal could be arranged whereby loudspeaker sponsored the now moribund wifi service. I could take it, I swear.

So, the promised wifi service is “broken,” and “needs a part from Hanoi, we’re told. I had no idea wireless routers had “parts.” What do need here, a flange? Bushing? a timing belt? Sheesh. I’ll be able to plug my netbook into their connection for a few minutes a day, but will have to sit in a corner in the lobby and shove aside one of the two big computers they available for guests (and teenage boys from town). On the bright side, the internet on these two didn’t work at all during the days we were here last year. Progress.

Arrived last night in hour 40 of total elapsed travel time since I left my house in Austin, and had a bit of a struggle getting a suitable room, one that did not have two tiny twin beds, had a/c, and a balcony. I ended up on the front side of the building, which isn’t ideal (see loudspeaker), but I do have the other features, and a bed no softer than the well-padded dinner table. I had remembered the Cong Fu as more luxurious than it is, but it’ll be okay.

Thanh and I had a light dinner at a restaurant we had visited last year, which appears to be something of a gathering place for locals and those working in the tourist industry. You notice ruddy-looking middle aged Dutch couples in specialty trekking pants, and other typical western tourists eating in one room, while their guide shares tea and other kinds of food and swaps stories with owners and other guides in the front room. Last night Thanh and I sat in the front room, but not at that “cool” kids table. But after dinner we did get up and move over there and talked some business about the school. Met Mr Sa, the man who owns the resort just outside of town, which we’ll go look at today, and Mrs [TK], an entrepreneurial sort who owns the restaurant and hotel, and whose brother, they say, is the minister of minority affairs for the government. He could be a big asset in negotiating some of our bureaucratic obstacles, and she, of course, owns a construction company. See how well that works together?

The plan for this raining morning is to have breakfast in the hotel and then take the motorcycle out to a market, then maybe meet with one of the school teachers, see Sa’s place, browbeat the hotel staff about the wireless service, and whatever else we can get into. Thanh is good at making plans, but I never seem to know what they are, so I’ll just dress for riding in the rain and mud and will see what happens next.

Aghhhh….the loudspeaker! You win: your music is most patriotic and inspirational, yes, it is best to work hard for the fatherland, work is happiness. Okay, now please stop. Where is Bart Simpson when you need him?

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