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24 April 2016

Soloist with the Hanoi Philharmonic

Viviana Guzman Hanoi Philharmonic2

Viviana Guzman, Soloist with the Hanoi Philharmonic

I arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam and I was picked up by Ha’ung, my designated driver during my stay in Hanoi, Vietnam and immediately went into rehearsals with the Hanoi Philharmonic.  Every night I would find a new place to eat as I really had not experienced much Vietnamese cuisine before this visit.  As a vegan, it was sheer delight as there were so many wonderful vegetables to choose from.  I was so happy to get to work with Maestro Clyde Mitchell.  We had a great time putting together our program, which included Dream Sequence by Jeff Tyzik, Czardas by Vittorio Monti and also Brahms Symphony No. 1 and Michael Conway Baker’s Through the Lions Gate, Op. 83.  The concert was a huge success.  And then I realized I had a whole week where I could just put on my tourist hat and have fun.  And so I did!

Journal Entry, March 13, 2016 

Changing planes in Guangzhou, China for a few hours after Hanoi and before Bali

I had such an awesome time in Vietnam.  My favorite peoples were the ethnic minority groups of the hill tribes in North Vietnam, my tour guide in Sapa, and my driver in Hanoi who spoke very little English.

The one week that I had as a “dead” week turned out to be amazingly epic!!!!!  I still have heart palpitations just thinking about it.  I was originally supposed to go Myanmar.  But when I accidentally booked a single entry visa for Vietnam, I decided to just go with that, and stay to enjoy Vietnam.  The day after my concert with the Hanoi Philharmonic, I booked a trip to Halong Bay and another trip to Sapa.  Little did I know what I was getting into.  I had no idea I would be living a dream come true, in BOTH instances!

I had been wanting to go to Halong Bay since I first saw the movie Indochine.  The funny thing is that I used to think the scenes shown in the movie were parts of China.  The bus ride from Hanoi was 3 hours long which was somewhat interesting for the first hour and then it was plain boring.  But once we got to the seaport, it was just breathtaking.  And then when I saw the color of the water, the historic, all wooden, first class, pirate-ship-looking floating vessel we were boarding, I was in absolute heaven from start to finish.  I opened the door to my cabin room and I was overwhelmed at the beauty, the hand carved decorations above the bed.  The small artful details in the bathroom and closets were magnificent.  I only felt complete elation and sheer bliss.  The food on the Royal Palace Cruise I was on was outstanding and our tour guide kept us fully entertained.

Viviana Guzman in Halong Bay

Viviana Guzman in Halong Bay

Once we boarded, during our first meal, lunch, we sailed past the wondrous monolithic stones I felt completely enraptured and taken by the splendor.  On the first day, after lunch we did so many activities!  We we visited a pearl farm, strolled through some breathtaking enormous natural caverns, and even went swimming (!).  After dinner we had an international karaoke fest which turned out to be quite entertaining as we all took turns singing songs (in my case, I played my flute!) from our respective countries, English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Hebrew, etc.  There were about 25 of us total and somehow we all managed to bond quickly and easily.  The following morning I woke up at 5am as I was too excited to sleep!  We had a group TaiChi Class that started at 6:30am.  After breakfast we went kayaking to where the monkeys lived!  It was a protected, exquisite small bay that we kayaked into.  To glide silently into the enchanting surroundings was life changing as the sheer beauty of the place was awe-inspiring.  Sadly, we had to pack our bags and leave the resplendent ship by noon in order to make the 3 hour bus ride back to Hanoi.  It was as if I entered Heaven.  I didn’t want to leave.  Some of the guests had signed up to stay overnight in a bungalow on one of the islands.  I wished I had done the same, but comforted myself in realizing the need to leave something to do next time!

Viviana Guzman in Sapa, Vietnam

My moped driver in Sapa, Vietnam

I arrived back in Hanoi at 6pm and I had to leave for my train to Sapa at 9:30pm.  I quickly downloaded concert footage onto my computer and then treated myself to a massage.  The concierge of the hotel took me to the train station and made sure I got on the right train.  I ended up having to share a sleeper train with a French family which at first was shocking, but quickly, as we all just fell asleep, we eased into acceptance as we yielded into slumber with the gentle sway of the train.  At 5am, they woke us up as we had arrived in Sapa.  As I walked outside the train station, I saw that someone had my name on paper.  I followed the tour guide along with about 20 other tourists to the bus that would take us to Sapa.  It took about an hour from Lao Chai up narrow winding roads.  The driver was a complete lunatic and were lucky to come out of that experience alive.

Viviana Guzman with Red Dzao

Viviana Guzman with Red Dzao, ethnic minority

Once I arrived at the hotel, it was so early that we had to wait for our rooms to be available.  I had to wash my teeth in a public unisex bathroom with very little privacy.  I sat outside to eat my breakfast.  The Panoramic Hotel lived up to it’s name.  It was just glorious to eat breakfast and stare at the mountains and into the sacred valley.  Staring at the serene, landscape, watching the fog gently lift with the commencing day, once again I found myself at the gateway of complete reverence and gratitude.  At 9am, my tour guide introduced himself and told me that the 6 mile trek was starting at 9:30am.  6 miles!!!  That’s just way too much walking for someone who was never supposed to walk!  I told him that I was limited and that I would prefer just to go around on a moped.  He acquiesced and ordered a moped driver for me to stop by at 1pm.

Viviana Guzman with Red Dzao

Viviana with Red Dzao people of North Vietnam

I had always wanted to visit the Hilltribe peoples of North Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.  It all began when I started collecting headdresses.  I remember on one of my first trips to Vietnam, I found a headdress and asked the store owner where it was from.  He proceeded to tell me that it was from the Hilltribe peoples of Northern Vietnam.  I had been wanting to go ever since.  All of the sudden I found myself surrounded by the women from an Ethnic Minority Tribe called Black H’mong.  I felt so drawn to their dress, their crafts, their ways.  They are simple people who live in nature, farming their lands and making and selling their handicrafts.  All the ethnic minority people I met reminded me so much of the native peoples of Peru and Northern Chile.  They resembled distant cousins in stature, facial features as well as in way of life.  They are gentle and creative people with a history of being deeply spiritual as well.  Haha!  I fit right in!

Viviana Guzman with Black H'mung

Viviana Guzman with Black H’mung

I ended up buying first the clothes of the Red Dzao people.  And as I rode around on the back of the moped, all the other Red Dzao people would see my dress, and greet and instantly embrace me.  I felt so welcomed by all the women and they, in turn, fully appreciated that I had chosen their costume as my own.  I toured around Ta Van, and all the way to Ben Ho and as far as the very small Red Dzao people of Nam Cang.

I felt instantly enamored of all these people for some reason.  I felt closer to the Tribes of my Dreams, the Kuchi of Northern India and the native people of Turkmenistan, whose clothes and jewelry I have been gathering and collecting for decades already.  I felt excited to find another group whose aesthetic and way of life completely appealed to me.  I felt like I had found my sisters…. my tribe!

I took so many amazing shots.  I started using my GoPro in a new way that I had learned from the Singaporean guys in Halong Bay.  I felt just as euphoric as I had in Halong Bay, but for totally different reasons as the landscape and the people were totally different, but inside I was reacting with utter bliss and appreciation.

Viviana Guzman in Tam Cok

Viviana Guzman in Hoa Lu

On my last day in Sapa, I REALLY didn’t want to leave to return to a noisy, dirty and chaotic city.  I wanted to stay in the mountains, in serenity.  My guide on this day was Te, who turned out to be the nicest, sweetest guy EVER.  He was 30, handsome and we shared the fact that we both had met our loves online.  He was knowledgable, charming, kind and sensitive and a very good moped driver.  I felt tremendous sadness welling up inside when I had to say goodbye to him and my beloved Sapa.  Again, I wished I had booked the longer trip and had to console myself that I was going to have to return when I could bring my husband so that we could enjoy the beauty together.  That night, I ended up sharing the train ride with an Italian family which again, was a bit weird initially, but in the end, we all bonded as we feel asleep and interwove our Sapa dreams together.

Hanoi Opera House

Hanoi Opera House

I woke up at 5am in a cold, drizzly, dark, noisy and dirty Hanoi.  After so much bliss, this was  harsh reality jolting me back to life.  I decided to walk to the Opera House to see if I could visit it but I was confronted by a barking hostile Vietnamese guard who dared me step one foot inside the garden of the Opera House.  I wanted to tell him, don’t you know who I am??? International Flutist, Grammy Nominated, who has performed in 125 countries, but alas, he wouldn’t have understood me anyway.  I felt deeply disrespected on this gloomy, frigid and lonely morning.  I went and picked up the Vietnamese dresses I had ordered and headed back to my hotel where I found out that in fact, I would not be allowed to stay again in room 802 which I had implicitly requested.  I had to accept a darker lower level room which faced a wall.  How glorious.  This was not particularly a great day especially after having had such an amazing time in Halong Bay and Sapa.  To top it off, I realized that my GoPro camera with all my amazing footage was missing!!  How could it be????  But it was true.  I looked everywhere and sadly, I had lost it somewhere between Sapa and Hanoi.  It was just the footage of all the faces I saw that was heartbreaking to loose.  I couldn’t sleep as I kept trying to figure out in my head where I could have possibly left it.  But it was hopeless.  I felt devastated.  I lost those beautiful moments forever.

I decided to see if there were any other tours I should take.  I felt that spending $50 on a silly city tour was simply not worth it, and I chose another trip into the countryside for $35.  So off I went the following morning, completely unaware of what I was in store for me in the day.  Again, we drove for about 2 hours into the outskirts of Hanoi, heading north this time.  We ended up in an area that looked very similar to Halong Bay!  Apparently, this whole area used to be underwater, million years ago, and now it was the same landscape, but instead, on land!  I was back in my bliss as I exited the bus to go look at Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Viet Nam, the former residency of the Royal Palace between the 10th and 11th centuries.  It was a temple and since I consider myself part Buddhist, I once again, stepped back into heaven.

with my driver in Hanoi

My always smiling driver in Hanoi

We went on a boat ride in Tam Cok on the Ngo Dong River.  They were little row boats that accommodated up to 6 people, driven by local boat drivers.  It was a silent and majestic ride floating through caverns, ancient waters, and there was even a small on-the-water market that sold snacks and drinks.  The serene excursion lasted approximately 1.5 hours.  It was so much fun seeing all the other local and international tourists.  We were all having a blast.  After the boat ride, we hopped on bikes and went riding down rice paddies.  It was sooooooo  sweet…. so peaceful…. so inspiring in the secluded, plush tranquil, emerald Vietnamese countryside.

It was the perfect way to end my stay in North Vietnam.  I whet my appetite and now I’m more passionate than ever to want to return to this ravishing country with it’s magnificent landscapes, rivers, mountains and people.  My first ride into Hanoi was with my driver, Ha’ung and it was he who left me and gave me a warm hug goodbye at the airport.  Until next time, lovely and charming Vietnam!

Viviana Guzman in Tam Cok

Viviana Guzman in Tam Cok