Bucket lists from readers. (Add yours in Comments, below!)

Since I have been all over this world, the one place I would still like to visit is New Zealand. Another would be to finally get a hole in one, and lastly, catch a trophy trout.

I am eagerly anticipating touring the new heaven and the new earth when I will have lots more time to see and be and listen and learn.

Iceland, Switzerland, Austria, Tahiti and New Zealand

See the aurora borealis in huge displays more than once and become a world class musician and composer and uncover effective new alternative healing treatments and rockhound to find top class rocks and minerals

48 – Muggy, hot Vietnam (but it’s only April)


Visa-less

“What?! I didn’t know I needed a Visa…  dont panic dont panic dont panic dont panic dont pan–I surrendered all hope of my ride to the Dragon Palace Hotel during the two-hour delay in HCMC Tan Son Nhat International Airport to resolve (my) mistakes with visa requirements. It was almost 10pm when I at last entered the area of waiting friends and family, still having not seen an Information Desk with maps and transportation options.

A Cinderella scene by the Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Returned Sword) in the center of Hanoi

Surprised, I reflexively turned at my name, and there stood my young escort, having waiting faithfully. I’d not seen him in over a year and would never have picked him out of a line-up of 25-year-old Vietnamese men. Thankfully, like in Japan, my face was easy to spot.

When was I last “met” at an airport? And would they have waited 2 hours? 

We exited the building, into a sauna! As my lungs fought stagnant water-air in search of oxygen, I realized I’d have never found the bus stop on my own, much less navigated the sim card purchase at a fair price.

Had I at last over-extended my adventuresome inclinations? Quieting my heart against fear, I pressed my lips together, forbidding commentary on the debilitating heat and tightened my grip on my roller bag and finding oxygen in the mist.

Apparitions swarmed the Saigon of Ho Chi Min City

They were at the park, on street corners, riding scooters. Their faces recognizable but unnamed, unbearably hot in fatigues and army boots, shouldering heavy packs.

Most, but not all, were young men, well-loved. Over the years, friends have told me their stories of loss — a buddy, sweetheart, father, brother — ever-fresh losses of decades ago, of a generation.

Women? From the U.S., dying in Vietnam? 67 died in accidents or battle (8 military, 59 civilians) here’s the info http://www.virtualwall.org/women.htm 

An Air Force Vietnam vet, my friend for over three decades, told me of waking each morning knowing that mechanical failure of his “MASH” evacuating helicopter or a momentary loss of focus of anyone on his team could end his life. He didn’t mention the chance of enemy’s “lucky” or random hits.

And over half-eaten meals in a build-your-own salad joint in Denver, he entrusted to me The Moment, the seconds-turned-eternal of climbing a hill, and taking a life in defense of his own.

Everywhere I “saw” their precious selves – the pieces of so many whose lives were forever changed in Vietnam.


peeking through the window into a preschool classroom

My young escort, Nam was one of eight Vietnamese graduate students I met while living in the Arava (Israel’s farming region along Jordan’s border). “Why would Vietnamese farmers study in Israel?” is explained by Israel’s astounding success in turning dessert sand into world-class produce, combined with 21st Century technology — management of soil moisture and pests. Students from thirty nations in Asia and Africa compete for Tel Aviv University’s under- and graduate programs.

Nam’s girlfriend took a day-off from her several jobs and he took a day from his farm to show me highlights of Ho Chi Minh City.


Hanoi
dolled-up doggies for my canine loving readers
bleeech

40′ C (104 F) compels adaptation to sweat’s glow in the mirror and everywhere,… Adaptation made easier knowing it’s only a week, not a lifetime.


What about Communism?

The conversation I was hoping for happened on my last day in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon), at a Highlands Coffee Shop. Escaping into blessed a/c and the last of what had become a daily ritual for outstanding java, I climbed the stairs to the huge seating area — the largest I’ve seen in any coffee house anywhere — filled with comfy wingback chairs and side tables mixed with cafe-style seating.

My wander-search yielded only two available seats beside:

  1. an animated group of young adults collaborating over laptops and textbooks, and
  2. a man sitting alone, talking on his phone

The latter acquiesced with a begrudging nod to my pleading expression and gesture toward the empty wingback staged beside his. His story unfolded in bits between phone calls, beginning with immigration to Vancouver in 1982 click here for the story


Choices

Option 1:  4-hour dusty, hot bus ride that may or may not have adequate a/c    Option 2:  45-minute speed boat on Saigon River 

The boat we passed is a “homeboats” – a family lives on them (clean water stored in huge tanks, refilled as needed). We saw many more along the way.


Cu Chi Tunnels

North Vietnam (Viet Cong) built and used an expansive network of underground tunnels to hide from and capture/kill South Vietnam and U.S. forces. To learn more –   https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/cu-chi-tunnels 

death pit hidden under fake-jungle-floor trap
WW2 era tanks were used in Vietnam. Perhaps a Veteran reader knows tanks well enough to identify this one’s age
Entrance down into the tunnels, which have been enlarged and structurally secured for tourism. Even so, they are unlit and the walk is awkward, bent over, under ceiling height a little better than 4-feet, narrowing to a mere 2 feet across — as absolute claustrophobia trigger for those so inclined
Our guide left us to explore, and then demonstrated how invisible hiding places could be

If your knowledge of the war is as fuzzy as was mine, the history-very-lite in this link is an easy read  https://www.tripsavvy.com/hoa-lo-prison-the-hanoi-hilton-1629296


“Excuse me, please. I am learning English. Do you have time for a conversation to help me learn?”

Having a tourist-face drew more than invitations to shops filled with postcards and trinkets, or peddlers of Menta mints, lottery tickets, and I love Vietnam T’s.

It attracted the attention of  serious English students of all ages, and brought the most fun of the 10-days.

A ten-year-old caught my eye. I smiled, and she approached, her mother lingering… Click here for my Trip Highlight Story


Both Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi — the two largest cities — were frenetic. Trash and garbage filled streets and sidewalks that were in gross disrepair, and many private and commercial buildings seemed cobbled together, and yes, they do have earthquakes https://www.earthquaketrack.com/p/vietnam/biggest.

The “Hanoi Hilton” Hoa Lo Prison and Ho Chi Minh’s War Museum the Vietcong and current Communism regime as honorable and benevolent prison and government administrators, as well as the long-suffering and ultimately-victorious victim of the war.

I was told I had little to worry about as a woman alone in most areas of both cities during reasonable hours, but warnings abounded against theft: “Your phone will be snatched from your hand while taking a photo or video!”

Statistics collide, but all support my guestimate of 10 scooters swarming each car. “Grab” is their Uber by auto or scooter

BICYCLING THIEF: An American-English speaking man of around 40 stood on a street corner videoing scores of scooters swarming with abandon around cars, when a bicycling man rounded the corner and grabbed the phone. The tourist clutched his phone just long enough for the bicyclist to wobble, and the phone flew and skidded on the concrete. It would  be inappropriate to write the words I heard, and it did not appear the phone survived.

DANGEROUS BUSINESS: 10,000 die annually in scooter accidents each year, and 95% of registered vehicles are scooters, which is a reflection of unregistered cars on the road. Plus, police enforcement against drunk drivers is lax.

Modern = could be a descriptor of both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. It was easy and inexpensive to purchase a cover for my iphone, and wifi functioned perfectly in most venues.

Scary = I was cautioned to not consider sampling street food from vendors pushing carts. And after the brilliantly clean toilets of Japan — well, “scary” is an apt description for many public facilities.


ESCAPE to Serenity = Halong Bay

Halong Bay’s natural beauty was sharp contrast to the harsh realities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. Serenity abounded in the shades of ever changing gray mist over quiet water with gentle hills staggered in the distance, providing balance and interest. Soul-restoring art.


AND FINALLY, answers to questions from readers:

Thus far, I’ve found Israeli’s in every country — Hebrew is the giveaway — and results in a fun conversation.

English, in all its dialects, has been most prominent in the nations I’ve visited, but is too commonplace to lend camaraderie.

47 – Japan! Hiroshima, Onsen (Bathhouses), Airport Security, and more

The bullet train – 200mph (320km)

Several days were filled with Shrines and Temples, representing both of Japan’s primary religions, Shintoism and Buddhism. Shintoism is based on nature as explanation of life’s mysteries — simply, that good or bad things happen because the “gods” are pleased, Or Not.

Buddhism found its way to Japan in the 6th century, and the Temples depict the Buddha in many forms. I’m told that many Japanese embrace both Shintoism and Buddhism to varying degrees.

Like ants at a children’s ice cream cake birthday picnic were tourists and worshipers swarming Kyoto’s countless Shrines and Temples, so catching these sites not mobbed was an accomplishment. The next was aborted, because photos and videos were forbidden. ooops. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.

Food = Adventure

Like a child sent to the market with a shopping list, I’d offer my note since few menus were in English. “I am a vegetarian and don’t eat meat. Will you please help me?”
Imagine a 6-year-old learning their home address for this street

Onsen vs Sento

Japanese bath house experiences were countless naked women, more comfortable in their own skin than I’d ever seen among any group, and that should  clarify why I have no photos to share, but click here for the story

Sea Cucumber
The domestic flight south to Takamatsu included first-ever burp: Airport Security snagged my tiny 2” pocket knife, which no other security (even in Israel!) has ever bothered, forcing me to “check it” in a shoe box size container they graciously provided. The punch line is that they missed a 4” paring knife in my carry-on, about which I’d forgotten.
Japanese school child’s lunch

Packed like sardines

Squeezing into a Tokyo commuter subway car is like wedging another shoe into the box on moving day, and then another… I saw locals graciously surrender every centimeter of personal space, adjusting shoulders or whatever can be moved to accept yet another stranger, but even on a subway among an otherwise orderly, courteous people, getting to work on time can be dangerous

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmEh-1pK87Y   ThankfullyI didn’t see this in person, but check it out 

Free medical care and sometimes alone is better!

Two days before leaving for Japan I took a bad fall — tangled in a dog leash between two angry dogs — and injured an already damaged-ACLrepaired-thus-fragile knee. Swelling and pain slowed me severely through the first week but I did my best to be a good travel companion (the story of my companion, Yo, is Post 46). However, the first morning I was on my own and more tuned-in to my surroundings, I noticed for the first time an osteopathic/acupressure medical office we had passed repeatedly.

Leaving my shoes at the door, I took advantage of the receptionist’s attention and whined while pulling up my slacks to show the severe swelling. She fetched a colleague from a back room and the end of the story is that after 15 minutes of pantomime and sympathy, my knee was compression-wrapped for the deplorable swelling and I was gifted a package of 10 poultices to apply. Dr. Google Translate and the staff’s collaboration was 21st Century, and I was not asked my name or for a Yen of payment.

Can you imagine?!

 

Coke in small bottles not supersized!
Torii Gate (to Shinto Shrine) on Miyagima. The Shrine is entered through the gate, begging the question, “Do visitors arrive by boat?”

 

Hiroshima

Hiroshima’s Atomic Dome Memorial
What can be said about the losses of war?

Atomic Bomb Dome, the National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims, and the War Memorial Museum, all must-see sites of sorrow left me wishing the World War Two museum of New Orleans to be alongside. So many deaths and destruction east and west. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/

(deep breath)

 

How to set the a/c in this hotel room? Generally, expenses were comparable to major U.S. cities, but hotels offered tiny single rooms for nearly 1/2 price. 🙂
Choices. Most were immaculate.
Airplane view of a few of Japan’s 6,852 islands
1,000yen lunch is about $10, although  those $0’s took a while to “stomach.”

 

Darn

Image result for teshima art museum
Teshima Art Museum

Imagine cccold, damp, abusive winds off the water, pricey tickets, and a long line of fellow tourists. We were instructed to take shoes off outside the entrance, at last entering the facility which was a concrete shell with vast sections open to the unfortunate elements. Here’s the museum link: http://benesse-artsite.jp/en/art/teshima-artmuseum.html

Warned to not ruin the “art” we stepped carefully around it — tiny drops of water, gravity-pulled or wind-pushed along the sloped and very-cold-to-stocking’d-feet concrete floor. That the paintings, sculptures, and artifacts I was hoping for were nowhere to be found, and admittedly labeling it Disappointing reveals me lacking the sophistication for modern art.

Miyajima was our next destination and beautiful and charming in every way the Teshima Museum wasn’t. Sometimes extreme disappointment is followed by near perfection. READ MORE HERE

~~~

Taco Bell, Shibuya
The last of Cherry Blossoms, because the season came a week early
Snoopy, the world traveler

The “As much as we can see in Japan in 10 days” trek rolled through Tokyo, Takamatsu, Miyajima, Hiroshima, and Kyoto via bullet trains, planes, ferries, buses, taxis, and a ride in private car.

Japan added six to my beds-total since beginning structured homelessness in June 2016 (total at this posting is 79.)

Next stop: Vietnam

46 – The Land of the Rising Sun

Golden Pavilian, Kyoto

Below: Shibuya Intersection Light — a quiet day. (As many as 2,500 at other times) 

The setting was Denver, a Tech Center Starbucks

“Would you be interested in touring Japan together?” The question formed and launched itself, and as always the words refused my summons to return. Instead they lurked between us, a heavy fog.

My friend, Yo (short for Ryohei) kept his eyes trained on mine without expression, a beat too long. Oh what have I done?

Shinto priest

Below: the moat around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo

Yo did at last say “Yes” on that already-too-hot August morning last year, and by the time I left for Poland (see blog 42) three weeks later, we had AirBNB and hotel reservations in places of which I’d never heard, as well as flights to Tokyo (his from Denver, mine from Tel Aviv) arriving within 12 hours of each other. We’d see Japan’s famous cherry blossoms in full bloom! Or so we thought…

And throughout the months of planning, the trip’s risks made me itchy with uncertainty.

Sidewalk instructions in Kyoto
Disney Store in Tokyo. Did you know Disney Tokyo Resort opened 35 years ago and is 3rd most visited?
Miyagima Island. Close enough to touch.

Yo came to Colorado to ski sometime in his twenties, and made it his home. We met ballroom dancing in Denver six years ago, and while I’ll never be the dancer he is, there was a magic moment when my skill was tolerable and he began asking me for an occasional dance. I did everything in my power to work a night of dancing in Japan into the itinerary, but it wasn’t meant to be and it was with great disappointment that I didn’t pack my dancing shoes.

Traveling together was a risk, since a major or minor incident could cost the friendship. Yo could have laughed at the very idea of wasting a moment of his precious, infrequent visit to far-away family and friends just to tour with me. We might have conflict with planning particulars or during the trip. What if he misinterpreted my interest as romantic? The potential interpersonal risks were real to me, and yes, I know he probably never gave it a thought.

~

Chancing the risk to ask, and surviving rejection or disappointment is a symptom of living life with which I’m at last reconciled.

~

It was a trip of history, beauty and culture… 

This family, dressed as Geisha mother and daughter with father dressed as the men who “employed” them. The book to read is “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden
Spending the day costumed as history in Gion, the neighborhood of the Geisha, is popular recreation, and I heard more of these Geisha wanna-be’s speak Japanese than English
Torin Gate (to Shinto Shrine) at Miyagimo Island
Hiroshima Dome

Tokyo held another sort of history that was uniquely precious to me, when… 

Yo and his five forever-friends dating back to elementary and middle school invited me to join them one evening, and after the restaurant we migrated to the  Ryoichi’s apartment. As we filed in behind him, he shouted, “Alexa, play —“ (Why can’t I recall the song he commanded? It was Boomer rock, and caught me by surprise, but then, why not?) While the modern apartment and decor typified upper-middle class apartments/condominiums in the U.S., the Japanese words and melodies filled the air with “Exotic.”

Surrounded by conversations and laughter in a language I cannot understand has become the norm since immigrating to Israel in November 2014, so I played the game of imagining the lives, guessing at their temperaments. There was a story teller who put grins on their faces, another whose laughter could surely be heard next door, and the tall quiet one, fully engaged but ne’er a word. The one sitting beside Yo reached for the bottle to refill his shot glass more than the others, and towards the end of the evening retrieved a guitar from another room and…  I didn’t see it coming: the voice of  Kris Kristofferson!

I’d been invited into the sanctum of Boys’ Night Out — terrain forbidden to wives and girlfriends, but my USA passport set me in a different category: “Special”

It was not lost on me it was Yo who was special to them. Their precious male-friendship history warmed my heart more than an entire evening of ballroom dancing.

On a flat screen TV larger than the bathtub in my AirBNB unit, we watched scratchy films (converted to DVD from original home-movies) dating back to 1960’s high school camping trips. I studied the faces and forms of today compared with their shirtless selves’, teen-lean bodies, and smile as I write about their laughter and play, past and present.

Where no woman has gone before! The inner sanctum …

Pay attention! Don’t miss the moment.

The subject of how we met came up, so I whispered to Yo, “Let’s show them how well you dance.” In minutes, furniture was moved, Alexa was playing “Lady in Red,” and I savored the perfect, precious dance in Tokyo, a dream come true.

Gardens at Imperial Palace Kyoto

P.S. Yo and I are still friends after a great trip.