Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Days in Đà Nẵng (1): Arrival

It is a sunny day, 26 degrees, and I am sitting on the balcony. Motorcycles and cars are driving on the road below, but it is not very crowded. I am on the fifth floor of a new apartment building. A couple of high hotels are blocking the city from view, but there is still plenty of open space around here. In the distance I can see the sea, and the dark green mountains of Sơn Trà peninsula. I wonder whether it is possible to climb them. A giant white statue of Quan Âm, the bodhisattva of compassion (known as Guanyin, Kannon or Avalokiteshvara in other countries), is guarding the city. I still remember they were building it, a couple of years ago.

We arrived here on New Year's Eve. We had spent our Christmas holidays packing our stuff, cleaning our apartment, and moving everything to a friend's place. Next, we moved out of the apartment where we had lived the past year and a half, and went to Danang - the city where we are going to spend the next three months. It was a long journey - we had stopovers in Amsterdam, Singapore and Siem Reap - but everything went well. We even had the chance to pay a short visit to a famous Buddhist temple in Singapore, and enjoy some delicious local food. When we arrived in Danang, we were too tired to go out and clebrate the new year - but then, Vietnamese new year is not until next month.

It is windy, and not very hot yet, but I am glad it is finally sunny. The past two weeks were cloudy and a bit chilly, but it seems to be getting better. This morning, I went running along the beach, and the sea and sky were beautiful. It is hard to imagine a better place to do your morning exercises.

This is no vacation, though. I am supposed to submit my dissertation in August, and I still have a lot of reading and writing to do, so there is little time for playing or relaxing. Time is going fast. Still, I much rather read my book in a nice Vietnamese café, under a palmtree, than in a dark Norwegian apartment. And I much prefer writing my dissertation on a balcony, wearing shorts and flipflops, drinking ice tea or fresh fruit juice, to doing it at my office in Oslo - even though it is a nice office. Hence our decision to live in Vietnam for a couple of months. Of course, being able to spend some time together with our family was another important reason for coming here.

Danang is changing rapidly. It is the largest city in central Vietnam, with a population of approximately 900,000; strategically located between sea and river, it has been an important economical centre for quite some time. But in recent years 'development' has truly taken off. The city's skyline is ever-growing; more and more new shopping malls and office buildings are erected; shabby old neighbourhoods are giving way to new roads and apartment buildings; several impressive new bridges are being constructed; and last year, a brand-new airport building was inaugurated. New hotels and restaurants are eagerly awaiting foreign tourists, who have not yet shown up in very large numbers.

It remains to be seen whether the costruction craze can continue, however. Only a few years ago, Vietnam was touted as Asia's new tiger. Its economy was growing fast, impressive new buildings and roads were built in the big cities, and a middle class was emerging, leading to increasing domestic consumption. But today, there is less reason for optimism. The national currency is weak, and inflation very high. Foreign investors and companies are withdrawing, frustrated as they are by the corruption and state patronage of 'national' companies (usually owned by powerful members of the ruling oligarchy). Lack of investment is leading to the cancellation of construction projects; as a result, estate prices are dropping, and banks are getting in trouble.

I am getting thirsty. A couple of days ago, we bought a blender, and now I am experimenting with fresh fruit juices, shakes and smoothies. Thus far, I have made watermelon juice, pomelo juice, and a mango shake, all of which were very nice. The best was perhaps my soursop smoothy, with aloe and yoghurt. Today, I am thinking about making a dragonfruit-banana shake. Or shall I try passionfruit juice...?

Finally, let me apologise for not having been a very good blogger recently. I promise to update my weblog more recently this year. As I will be busy with my dissertation, for the time being I will not have time to write lengthy essays or travel stories. But I do promise some short stories about life in Danang - once a week, perhaps twice. And, who knows, some pictures. Please stay tuned.

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