Vietnam: one day at a time

Random photos taken in Vietnam


Making noodles 4

Once the stuff has been stretched over the frame it is put out to dry, usually in the street where, apart from smelling something awful (like vinegar, very acidic), it also collects dust, exhaust fumes, etc. I don't know what kind of colouring is added to make this bright orange colour (they call it 'gold').


Making noodles 3

I've decided to be more thematic and less random. I'm losing track of which pictures I've posted and which ones I haven't!

So here is the 3rd step in the manufacture of mien. Last time I showed the cooked mixture being rolled up. Next it is stretched over a bamboo frame. At this stage it has a fairly rubbery texture, so is easily stretched to cover the whole frame.

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The manufacture of matches was the first manufacturing industry established in Vietnam by the French - in the 1880s or '90s, I forget exactly. There were two factories: one in Hanoi and one in Vinh. Under central planning the factory in Hanoi was renamed Thong Nhat (Unification) and contines to produce matches to this day. So, outside the traditional handicraft sector, it is Vietnam's longest established manufacturing enterprise.

Centrally planned matches were not so great. The problem was the red stuff, which had to be imported. Poland was a major supplier, but often would not sign contracts because the chemical (sulphur?) could obtain higher prices on the capitalist world market. At world market prices, the Vietnamese government couldn't afford to purchase a sufficient supply. It was not uncommon, therefore, for Vietnamese matches to be dipped in so little of the stuff that they could not ignite. Moreover, the wood is brittle (still). If you strike them too hard they just break. They come in boxes of about 45, but until recently probably only 20-30 were actually usable.


The new Lenin Park

Every time I go into the city from my abode in Hanoi, I pass this little park. Since the old Lenin Park in the city south has changed it's name, this one has unsurprisingly acquired the name. The message written in flowers says 'Ha Noi - Thanh Pho vi Hoa Binh' (Hanoi - City of Peace). I haven't noticed it before - perhaps it was put there for APEC or, more specifically, George Bush.


Institute of Tradtional Medicine

I once visited this place with a friend who was visiting the doctor. The doctor in question can do all those things like diagnosis from reading your pulse, but on this occasion both the examination and the medicine prescribed were disappointingly (for me) of the Western type. Vietnamese tend to use the traditional sort for minor or chronic complaints. They never recommend it for anything acute or for anything that you need to clear up quickly. I was once recommended to a traditional practitioner for my frozen shoulder. I had three weeks of acupuncture, massage and black, foul tasting liquid. My shoulder was certainly fixed, but I wondered if it couldn't have been done faster and with less pain!


Urban alley

This alleyway is actually the main street of one of Hanoi's urban villages. Most of the village alleys are narrower than this. It's easy to see why the motorbike has taken off as the main means of motorized transport. A few of these alleys have been widened, but the process involves demolishing houses, or parts of them, so it is difficult to achieve over the short run. While the narrowness of the backstreets means that the relatively few arterial roads tend to be clogged with traffic, it also makes for a more peaceful atmosphere inside the village.


Making noodles 2

A couple of months ago I posted a photo of stage one in the cooking of mien noodles. The second stage involves rolling the cooked mixture up as shown and transferring it to a flat frame made of bamboo that is then set out in the sun. The cooking part is hot work and the weather was hot too.


Family altar

Everyone who has a dead parent or two has an altar in the house. Usually there are a couple of mug shots on either side - in between a small platform where incense is lit and food placed for the ancestors. Wealthier people go in for a much grander scale and you tend to find money, flowers and other paraphernalia on the altar as well. In Khe Tang the mug shots were replaced by these much more charming digitally doctored photos in which only the face is a representation of the real person. Some of the pictures were even prettier than this one, but I didn't want to go around snapping everybody's family altar, so this will have to do as an example.


Water and mountains

These are the two main components of Vietnamese legend, which isn't surprising when you're passing through a landscape like this. In the beginning there was a mountain fairy and a water dragon who married and produced 100 sons who, in turn, spawned the Vietnamese people. I dunno, but I suppose they made the women up out of their spare ribs or something. It always bemuses me that Vietnamese family trees never have any women in them.


Delta landscape

It's hard to keep up this 'one day at a time' thing!

Autumn is everybody's favourite time of year in northern Vietnam. I've never found anyone who thinks otherwise. It is the only time of year when the weather is moderately decent - a couple of months when it's not too hot, not too cold, not too humid and not raining. Moreover, the fields are glorious gold. The checkerboard pattern comes from the different varieties that ripen in sequence, giving a window of about two weeks in which the harvest must be completed.


Hang Dao, Hanoi

An oldish photo - taken in the winter of early 2002 - of Hang Dao in the old quarter. I meant to repeat the shot on my last visit to see how things have changed, but I forgot. Maybe I'll have time next visit.


Roadside stall, Dong Trieu

This is Ms Loan in front of her shop. She rents this permanent structure on the footpath (presumably from the local authority). Actually her products are spread out along the path for about 50 metres and every night at 5.30 she must carry them all, including the large, heavy pots back to her lock-up. We went back the next day, but she wasn't around though all her stuff was laid out. It seems that all the shop keepers provide security for each other. And if a customer turns up while the person is out, a neighbour will do her selling for her and hand over the money later.


B52 junk pile

The tail section of the B52 that was shot down over Ngoc Ha village in May 1972. These days it's mainly a playground for kids - young boys who, from whatever country, always seem to be fascinated by weaponry!


Bullock cart

Bullock and pony carts are not such a common sight in the city - you're more likely to see them out in the countryside, though even there you're more likely to see tractor-drawn trailers. This one was spotted near the ceramics depot on the river bank.


Basket weaving group

These village women were weaving baskets for a contractor based near Hanoi dozens of kilometres away. It was a source of income to supplement that from farming which, for many households in the Red River delta, doesn't really supply enough to live on. They were paid by the piece and, although it didn't provide them with much money, they did at least get to work in a social environment. Their kids wandered in and out and the TV was on when we got there. I'm not sure what I think of handicraft industries like this. On the one hand, it's a chance to earn some cash and keep hunger at bay. On the other hand, it isn't exactly providing them with skills that could be parlayed into a better paid job in future. It seems to leave them stuck in the village on the margins of poverty. The contractor, on the other hand, was very rich.


More from the B52 museum

The mural encapsulates the main themes of Vietnamese nationalism in war time: modernisation and tradition, the unity of soldiers, farmers, workers, intellectuals and children. These days the themes are a bit different, modernisation is still there, but family life is much more prominent. Idealised mums and dads have replaced the four adult figures here. Indeed you're much more likely to spot an ad for Heineken or Hyundai than something like this.


Washing the dust off

Late afternoon in the backstreets of Hanoi.


Front gate

The front entrance to somebody's residence in Khe Tang village, Ha Tay province. I've no idea how old it is - but it's most likely to date from a more prosperous era, before the decline of the local silk industry around the 1930s. There is a handful of houses demonstrating more recent prosperity (since the economic reforms of the 1980s), but they are in a completely different style. I particularly liked the ceramic bowl as the centrepiece of the archway.



I find pigs vaguely disgusting. They smell and are snotty. They also make a huge amount of noise. Often when we were sitting in some farmer's house there was apparent bedlam, something like a very drunken party, going on in the pig stye. But they're also curious animals. The piglets in this photo all scuttered inside when I came near, but within a minute they were peering curiously out at me, gradually getting up the courage to come outside again. You always get the feeling that they'd like to be friends. Even mama roused herself from her slumber to come over and check me out. She seems to be a crossbreed of a commercial pig type and the traditional, much smaller, sway-backed pigs of Vietnam.


Fishing apparatus

This structure lowers a large net into the water. When the fisherman is ready, he lifts it up and hopefully the net is full of fish. While he's waiting he has a nap or chats to his mates in the shelter. When I took the photo, he'd gone home to lunch. This particular river, however, seems rather unclean - it is also clogged with weed - so I suspect the catch isn't great.