Communism works. Very hard. I hear it hammering away, even on Sunday mornings, to create more shops, hotels, guest houses and bridges to connect commerce to the world. Guess this must be one of those SEZ (Special Economic Zone).
Right now my head wishes the hammer was more a symbolic tool or that the Vietnamese never learnt the ways of the angle grinder. One country’s development is another tourist’s developing headache. (top tip: check if you hotel is near a building site, esp if you can after hours.)
I have crossed over into the North – a divide once political and ideological and now merely cultural. Hue, was the capital city of the South and serves as the dividing line. So Ninh Binh is my first experience of the “north”, more communistic than its social southern counterparts, or so I am told. But propaganda and PR are two sides to the same coin. And I sure as hell can’t make heads or tails of it.
With its hundreds (maybe thousands) of limestone outcrops, Ninh binh is tipped as the landlocked Halong Bay. It doesn’t get much tourism though, just day trips organised from Hanoi, so there isn’t the usual backpackers scene here, just a few stragglers pretending they are doing it “off the beaten path” when really that path has been etched in limestone, along with the big factories that turn the beautiful limestone into something worth buying. To be honest we are only hear to cut costs so we stay two days, make our motorbike tours and move on. No time for real relationships, just beautiful pictures that will make your friends emulate the hundred hues of green you witness, many times over.
I am staying at a hotel with a flashing red neon board that says “massage” outfront. I know I know. But they don’t. Which is probably why there aint no happy ending to their sales story.
On that note, I have to mention that Ninh Binh is a land of great fertility. I have never seen so many pregnant woman in one city in my life. No joke. Just because I am a spinster (don’t you just hate that word) doesn’t mean I notice these things more. The proof is in the streets and streets of maternity and baby clothes shops. No joke. So when this aussie guy commented that the streets were deserted on a Saturday night, that just sealed the deal for me. communism is indeed hard at work, breeding a nation of farmers, all doubling as builders, tourist service providers and motorbike taxis, in their spare time and off season.
Right now, It’s harvest season, which means that people are fulfilling their original communist role.
The harvesting process is a visual one, and one best taken in on a bike: women and men in conical hats trudge through the luminous green fields, cutting the grass.
Piles of chaff (green grass or brown straw) line the streets to become buffalo fodder.
On any given country road you will probably have to squeeze past small teams of people working a machine, feeding it the long grass, which it poops out as brown seeds.
The brown seeds are bagged and transported to… you guessed it…another road, any road or flat surface where they are laid out like a street mural for all to watch the women raking it out to dry before piling it up into little hills that made me think it was building sand when I first cycled around one.
It’s these small “sideline” tours, ones that aren’t planned or turned into brochures and packages that really interest me. As tourists we often see people in their “other roles”, the ones they play to feed their families and our interests for their country. It’s not that they are fake, it’s just that they are not natural or without agenda. So coming at a time of the rice harvest, which happens but twice a year, should be right up their on the cultural calendar for tourists of these parts. Or at least tourists of my parts.
So that’s the roundabout story of how the tourist came to eat the rice and get the picture perfect postcard.
More musings to follow…