October 26, 2007

No Have Island
Cat Ba Town (Cat Ba), Vietnam

"No-have, no-have, no-have, no-have"—that's all I seem to hear from locals in Cat Ba.

Tatiana laughs because it reminds her of an old Mexican television comedy show called "Que nos pasa?" (What's wrong with us?), where the character El "No Hay" (Mr. No Have, pronounced "el no eye") is played by actor Hector Suarez.

El No Hay is a clerk at a hardware store, where customers come in and ask if he stocks a particular item. The bit is that El No Hay perpetually cuts people off without even hearing what they want. "Excuse me sir, but do you have—no, no no no. There isn't any, there isn't any, no." …No hay, no hay, no hay, no hay.

That's exactly what it feels like here in Cat Ba Town, and to some extent, Vietnam in general. Tatiana and I have lost count with the number of restaurants/eateries where we've pointed at an item on the menu, only to hear "no, no-have, no-have, no" as a response.

Stopping into one particular establishment today we pointed unsuccessfully so many I just said, "why don't you just tell me what you do have?" Out of a menu full of beef, chicken, and seafood noodle and rice dishes, the woman said "eggs and bread." (sigh)

I'm f**king sick and tired of chicken fried rice and egg sandwiches.

Getting food in this city without paying for it with my first-born son (cooking in Tatiana's belly), is slightly problematic. It amazes me how little English is spoken in a place that receives so many international tourists. Often times the only menu that's available in English is an expensive one, and the Vietnamese seem more than willing to take my money, but are less enthusiastic about trying to understand me when I make an attempt to order food in their own language.

Lights Out

Although I believe this town to be one of the quietest spots in the whole of Vietnam, the place completely shuts down by mid-evening—except of course for the obligatory dirty massage parlor, and the small collection of karaoke bars (where tone-deaf Asians sing with excessive amplification while hammered Europeans and Aussies try and drown the sound out with another round). This means if you want another serving of fried rice or a few egg sandwiches to-go for a midnight snack, it's best to conform to the local dinner schedule so you're not left flapping in the wind.

Cash Flow

Over a 150,000 tourists visit this town every year, and there's still not a single ATM in town. Morons.

Plan accordingly.

Little Rio

The waterfront of Cat Ba Town reminds me quite a bit of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—minus the beach and bikinis, of course. Both cities have this gentle horseshoe shape of buildings pushed up against the waterline, intermixed with a backdrop of eroded limestone peaks. It's actually quite an interesting sight when the haze lifts enough to see the place.

Beach Scene

Beaches are within easy walking distance from town, thanks several thousand tons of rock having been dynamited and cleared to create a road though one of the lovely foothills obstructing an otherwise direct path to the destination. An amazing (rusting) catwalk has been constructed around the intriguing, protruding limestone hills that separate several small beaches. It's actually quite an amazing piece of engineering, of which I've never seen anything as remotely expansive or picturesque.

Amazing Geology

The composition of the Cat Ba and the surrounding islands in Halong Bay is fascinating. Rock-buffs would really get off on this place. Arteries of quartz can be found infused with the eroded limestone that saturates every outcropping of land for as far as the eye can see. It's actually quite a sight.

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