poem: Vietnam 2005

Vietnam 2005

That long-haul flight then wow! the Hanoi traffic,
A hundred scooters zipping past at once.
To cross the road takes courage; watch the locals!
No rules, or very different ones apply.
Hanoi’s old quarter’s special little streets,
Just rope in one, another shoes then clothing,
Tin boxes, hardware, jewel’ry each its own
Packed lane o’erflows, and sidewalks choked with bikes
And stoves and chairs, nowhere to put your feet.
The noise and smells so far from home, yes so
Exotic. Wash it down with Tiger Beer
And noodles, end of day. The tomb of Ho
Chi Minh, great socialist block, and wide parade
Ground streets, heroic worker art in fine
Museums, grander scaled in newer parts
Of town. Then off to Haalong Bay, our guide
Named Lam has fluent English and Italian,
A mine of information, candid too
About his country’s politics. He’s trained
In economics, smart and savvy. Why’s
He in this job? Trung Nuyen coffee, that’s
His greatest gift to us. The blend so smooth
Is Number One. Huge karsts of limestone rise
Like jagged teeth from vast Haalong; the bay
Is full of tourist boats with captive folk
Like us, resisting weakly earnest sales
Of pearls and other lovely stuff. Return
To base by driving most combative, straight
Through crossings, horn in constant use. We’re tired.

Next day we fly to Hue, so ancient; huge
And complex tombs and temples, moats and lakes
Of lilies, bordering the Perfume River.
But sales remain the order of the day.
Da Nang, we pass its wide deep harbor, fringed
With sawtooth mountains, just before Hoi Ann,
A market town; our hotel grand and gracious,
Its grounds just gorgeous; run by state, its said
To be the biggest hotel in the country.
Then south again to Ho Chi Minh, a city
Of crowds, nine million folk in all. Quite soon
We leave for Angkor Wat in Kampuchea.
It’s stunning, vast and largely hidden by
The jungle of nine centuries; hectares
Of finely carved relief in stone. So many,
So fine the temples – nothing readied us
For this. A thousand steps or more and steep
Beyond belief. Our guide Sam So is yet
Another fount of knowledge, candor; what
A story! Father, general, killing fields
Survived by lying low, a bicycle shop
His living now. We fly to Vietnam dazed
And chart our course to Mui Ne, coastal spot
Beside South China Sea; past dragon fruit
Plantations, miles of rubber trees and then
A week of gin and mango juice before
Return to Melbourne, cold and quite deserted.

 

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