Episode 7 - Ho-Chi-Minh-City - Guangzhou (Jan 27 - Feb 12, 13)
From the metropolis Ho-Chi-Minh City we drive up north along the Vietnamese coast passing tropical villages and old coast towns, until we reach the subtropical city of Guangzhou in China. Christian Klemke directs this stage.
Sunday, January 27, 2013 - We travelled from Saigon to Nha Trang yesterday. Today is our first shooting. We are up early to find a fisherman with a round woven boat called guffa. Early in the morning on the beach, at the ocean side of Southeast China… And not only one, no, all fishermen use these boats. Not, of course on the open sea, but to get to their fishing cutters. Our cameraman Thomas is on board on one of them, a very wobbly affair.
Monday, January 28, 2013 - The Asian Highway No.1 takes us along the coast line, so we will see a lot of the ocean. Driving on the Vietnamese part of the AH 1 proves to have its "pitfalls", it demands its own rhythm: Accelerating - pulling the breaks - accelerating - pulling the breaks. Continuously. Every 50 metres we must pass a creeping giant lorry, each time confronting the oncoming traffic merrily. Our average speed at this rate: hardly 40 km/h. Thus, we only make 400 kilometres to Quang Ngai. Forgot to mention the thousands of mopeds bumming around and between the lorries.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - Driving to Hoi An, the town by the ocean. Hoi An was once the most important port in Southeast Asia back in the 17th and 18th century. And the old town was spared from the Vietnam War. Hard to imagine. The old town is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the town of tailors. One tailored suit is said to cost around 100 dollars and be ready in eight hours. We don't quite make it to Hoi An, so we spend the night in Quang Ngai.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - Should I mention that we are strolling along in Hoi An under palm trees the end of January, having 30 degrees Celsius in the shade? But we actually prefer shooting rather than strolling around, since the air is very hot and humid. I notice that in the old town, some merchants are burning money, goods and clothing in front of their shops. Not because they have too much of it all, but because the Vietnamese New Year Festival, the Tet-Festival, is around the corner. The burning is a friendly gesture for the ghosts (or gods?). Whatsoever, you can buy cheap, laminated sets of money made especially for the festival: Vietnamese Dong, US-Dollars, even gold bars made of gold foil. The heavens have not yet complained about this small bluff.
Saturday, February 2, 2013 - Today we want to arrive in Ha Long. The preparations for the festival are getting along; the Asian Highway is proof of that. One should compare it to our preparations for the Christmas holidays. Everyone is buying and carrying things around like crazy. Orange trees the height of a man, e.g., transported on the back of mopeds. And pigs, most probably still living, in two baskets on the luggage rack. And huge amounts of bushes everywhere, which will probably bloom on the 9th of February. So, at the moment, there are more people and transports on the street than usual. Gregor and Ingo, our very skilful drivers (I can say that, because they always bring us to our destination safely) are pretty exhausted.
A word to the Vietnamese houses on the Asian Highway, which seem very peculiar for Europeans: At night you can look directly into them. Just imagine two, three or four shoe boxes piled up on one another, the narrow side facing the street. On the top you have a pointed roof. The house is three to five metres in width, the length depends on the wealth, the height is impressive. The street side is richly decorated with avant-corps, parapets, posts, pillars and flourish, and, if possible, yet another little gilded turret on top. The sides of the buildings, however, are grey and windowless, as in a high bunker.
Night has fallen, and in the hotel restaurant a rat strolls over the Swedish breakfast buffet already prepared for the following morning. Good night.
Sunday, February 3, 2013 - Doing research in the Ha Long Bay, an incredibly beautiful landscape, a heavenly piece of nature.
Monday, February 4, 2013 - It is raining. We want to shoot in the Ha Long Bay, but can only get there by boat. Tram has chartered an entire excursion steamer for us. With this giant we dock at a little floating school. The weather is improving. The children are fond of Thomas, our camera man, for he seems so unusually tall to them, so they use him as a climbing frame. But even underneath a heap of small children, Thomas can still shoot. We shoot with the teacher, Miss Velvet (translated from Vietnamese).
These children probably learn to row a boat before they learn to walk. Artistically they row the boat using their feet. They lay back in their bamboo basket boats and move the oars using their feet.
After eating lunch on a ship we head for Hanoi. We can sense that slowly the chaotic traffic on the streets is getting to our drivers Ingo and Gregor. The last 40 kilometres to Hanoi are on a four-lane street, where the traffic runs almost normally.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - It is again very hot and humid. We will leave the very good hotel in Hanoi to head for a pretty remote village. There awaits us a little cultural treasure. Farmers of the village are playing theatre. Not as actors, but with puppets! In the water! Just for us... for the camera, that is. It is a pleasure watching them. One more thing worth mentioning: Thomas and Gregor are shooting, but Thomas is shooting in the water, in a borrowed chest wader in Vietnamese size. Which means, it was of no use to him.
Thursday, February 7, 2013 - It is the day of passing the border from Vietnam to China. Tram accompanies us to the checkpoint and takes care of the formalities for us. Another goodbye, because Tram’s family awaits her at home... The Tet Festival, the Vietnamese New Year’s Festival, is the day after tomorrow.
She was simply irreplaceable for us and has become a dear friend. On the Chinese side, to our great surprise, we are welcomed by dignitaries and a local tv-team with flowers and food. They interview us and take photos while we shake hands and give speeches.
First we have to deal with a few formalities concerning Ingo’s and Gregor’s Chinese drivers permission, then we are on the road again. In the mountains on a wild serpentine road, passing incredible landscapes, from jungles to endlessly spread out banana plantations. Night has fallen again, making driving a difficult manner. We spend the night in Yanshan.
Friday, February 8, 2013 - After an unpleasant mountain trip we are now back on the highway. Accompanying us is Jürgen - called “Yügen” in Chinese, our China-expert from Berlin. He has been here before us and has done some research beforehand.
There is also Mister Xu Shusheng from the Chinese capitol, who is invaluable, since he can pave the way for us and open doors. Those are our companions in crossing China, and today driving on the highway on our way to Yulin. So far, so good, we must have travelled 750 km today. Our dinner was, well... Chinese.
Saturday, February 9, 2013 -In the afternoon we reached the village Foshan.
The village turns out to be a metropolis of a million with sky scrapers! We apparently still have to get used to the shifted relations. But Foshan is a city preoccupied with itself. Almost all shops and restaurants are closed, but the Foshan inhabitants are in the mood to celebrate. Tonight, everyone welcomes the year of the snake with their families. Well then, Happy New Year!
Sunday, February 10, 2013 - Today, all Chinese are back and all seemingly assembled in front of our hotel. Opposite the hotel is a Buddhist shrine that the people are on a pilgrimage to. And today is another day off. Jürgen and I were doing research in a neighbouring town. Here, there exists only city around the megacity of Guangzhou. Travelling on foot is impossible, since everything is gigantic, the streets, the highways, the residential areas, the sky scrapers, the malls, the bridges, the towers... Everything, except for the people. We remain the same.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 - We are on our way to Guangzhou, driving on enormously wide highways. Jürgen, our China-expert, guides us through the city centre to the old town – there, Guangzhou is beautiful. We are envious, since Jürgen seems to speak Chinese very well, which is of advantage here. Tomorrow, we will visit a very old village…