Journal: Thu 6.27. SGN Day III / Mekong

What’s the Delta. Still in Saigon and a Farewell to SE Asia.

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Today is about exploring the Mekong Delta a bit, more SGN stuff, seeing more of southern Vietman overland, and uh, our last day in SE Asia before a return to Indo.

It’s insane, I am hyperbolic I know, but really every day, it just is.  Another hot night.  Get 8 e tickets printed, go and do it.  Get ready for the next day, and hope/pray the tour you hired for the day touches down and what not because you and your wife drilled it . . .

I have faintly printed boarding passes on two flights (8 total) for tomorrow for SGN — SIN — BDO (java).  Pink paper.  Ok.  I’m in.

Hey, we score, for what we want and what we pay on the tour.  It’s rad.  Low season a bit so the touron circuit not so deep and the magnitude of the Delta is on display, not a river more an inland sea or something, islands and these bristling with canals and crops/fruit/honey/ etc.  Kind of tourn-y on some levels but delightful at a core.  Bee pollen.  Bee’s nests.  Punch a finger in for the honey, that is what it is, the honey, raw.  Bee pollen tea.

A fruit stop is yummy but we are such tropical fruit vets after 4 months it’s more like a value play just tons of fruit!  Keira names all 5 in order: (jackfruit, dragonfruit, lychee, papaya, pineapple).

More boating and cruising on little boats and big boats and then coconut island.  We love the coconut.  Always have, and still do.  Fat meets fruit or something.  The Bacon of fruit?  I don’t know.  But rad to see the core manufacturing process for coconut products.

We dirtbag our picnic lunch, not that it was necessary after the honey/fruit/coconut stops!  But fun, Turtle island.

We round things out after more rad river time w/ a land based Pagoda visit, that turns spiritually real for our crew as we get ready to exit SE Asia and pure adventure travel.  It’s rad, the buddha’s are from everywhere and marble and the scale is rad.

More 60 cent Bahn Mi sando’s and goodness for snacks and kids dinner, and dialing the kids in for sleep, then Megan and I roll out for a farewell SE Asia dinner at a relatively “real” restaurant, and we track down some gelato (that costs half as much as our dinner, $2.50).  Huge travel day coming tomorrow to Java and our hearts are full.

Journal: Wedn 6.26. SGN Day II. Huge.

Of a cheeseburger.  And Beautiful SGN Love in a Day. (huge day and post, grab a coffee or beer or tea or whatevs :) 

War and other Museums, boutiques, markets, parks, family spa zone, storms, skyscrapers, bia hoi (fresh beer), night rager , magical date night, amazing . . . 

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I’ll finish yesterday’s post now, picking up w/ a pick up by Taxi for a short but late flight to SGN (21:50 depart).  This is the local, bus w/ wings, I’ve never seen as many peeps on a 737, just stacked, and mostly families w/ kids (?).

Before we go and after we are settled at the airport a bit I mow some surprisingly awesome and inexpensive Pho. Then, it happens.  I see a burger king.  It’s $1.50 for a double cheeseburger . . . I’m in.  And yeah, it’s insane.  So good.  I have no idea the mix, it just as well could have been gross or whatever.  We’ve made tiny forays into western food but for the most part just been on a black/white NO program.  It costs more and is less nutritious so why?  And besides we’ve had/have decades to eat it.  But this little slice of americana poison death just tastes so damn good, I think I’m eating americana more than a cheeseburger, and yeah it’s novel and freaking rad!!  Oh, we love what is different, and now a cheeseburger is different.  And I’m sorry at a core level a cheeseburger is damn awesome.  It is freaking Bahn Mi in a slightly different form factor.  It is Nasi Goreng in a different form factor.  It is synonymous w/ American imperialism and fatness and evil on so many levels . . . which is sad.  Because it is awesome, and just as nutritious if/when done right as a bowl of pho or a plate of nasi goreng, etc., etc.  All about the ingredients and preparation and freshness, blah, blah.

We land 11pm, the crew is torched but carries on.  Megan has dialed the on the ground logistics beautifully however.  The bags show up, we see our guy/sign/taxi to our guesthouse.  Random but we don’t exchange 2 grunts worth with this guy.  He is on the late shift, so are we.  It’s ok, it works.  His car is falling apart in an insane way I can’t describe that rattles my brain, but the trip is short.

At 11:45 we amble down a lane w/ all bags, we are per usual in backpackers zone.  Smoke and bars and the street is going off.  But it is oddly walkable which is rad, we are in a side alley kinda place.  Real estate is so precious in vietnam, and nowhere moreso than SGN, that all is vert.  I think our guesthouse has the footprint of our walk in closet at home, and 6 stories / 18 rooms.  The mad efficiency is inspiring, actually.  And if you don’t mind stairs (we don’t), it’s all good.  Lifts (elevators) are not in effect, that would take too much room.  We will climb 5 stories up and down, all good.

Midnight, our room is clean and spartan as advertised.  And all bed.  We are not all in one bed, but we are kinda.  It’s cool, but I decide to peel out and see SGN after midnight.  Yeah, it’s still nuts.  This is where Will and I landed 15 years ago.  My first real taste of non-western/Asia.  I remember sitting at the foot of a bed and railing a huge cold bottle of beer, at an hour I had no idea.  I actually think we were staying in a much more spacious and nicer place than I am w/ my fam.  It was different, a month w/ my buddy and we had money to burn both single and on our way up the $$ ladder.  We weren’t starving backpackers so to speak, just travelers trying to do it on a budget and w/ style for the best experience.  Should have done more of all of it.  Lessons.

My SE Asia street food days are numbered, I head out in the alleys at midnight.  Note: DO drop the pickled garlic cloves from the condiment bar in your Pho of choice, just do it.  If there is pickled garlic clove in the condiment tray, and huge plates of herbs and veggies to put in your soup, just do it.  Don’t stress about the next day, the next month, the next year, just do it.  Dive in.  Explore and explode.

Aili and I wake up first, of course.  Always. It is crazy.  No matter where we are, this is the program.  Home Truckee or wherever no matter any sleep dynamics or locations or variables, always.  Why?

It’s cool, we are in tent/fam camping zone in this tiny room all mattress, and we chill.  Sort of, struggling AC and fan and blah blah its just hot but whatever we know how to roll.  I always use the kids to figure it out . . . sometimes they have nighties/pj’s on and a sheet and a blanket, sometimes just a sheet, sometimes just their nightie, sometimes stripped of that and just laying out — we’ve all learned this, how to sleep 80F+? —  I don’t know.  When I see the kids w/ no covers and nighties pulled up to their heads, that is when I know it’s a hot night.

Bfast is included and awesome if simple, fine for us.  Eggs?  done.  The bread / rolls are insane, really, in Vietnam.  Megan and I are sort of not big bread/gluten avoidance peeps but making some exceptions of course.  Rice is rad base, but an rad french roll is a mad french roll!.  Homemade guava jam and amazing coffee.  We eat in a garage / dining room / kitchen kind of thing on the ground floor, economy of space.  Cool.

The kids are stoked to take it chill in our room.  All good.  We are so advanced now, I think. We know how to put ourselves in the right tomb/cave/community/ protected vibe set up.  So Megan and I roll out.  2 hours we tell the kids.  All good.  We mission the war museum (yeah, still pretty mind blowing on all fronts, regardless of your political / belief system or whatevs) and Remembrance Palace and a couple of the more famous markets and the waterfront and Megan I cover SO much more ground on foot solo and all that just an amazing “walk” for us, so different w/out the kids.  Oh yeah, we stumble into the $7 yoga mat for me.  Rad.  Done. Megan dropped $20 on something like this in Indo.  The random cost of things in different places and spreads and whatever just continues to blow me away.

My overwhelming sense for SGN is really about very livable, and walkable.  A city in balance in a good way.  Cool. I love that from block to block I am world class boutique to street zone to wild market  . . . smart, value, all on display.  Bahn Mi sandwiches http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahn_mi  so comedy they are 13000 dong (60 cents).  And so delicious.  All the rage in SF and w/ the american foodie scene.  We grab and go for the kids for lunch, fill in banh bao pork dumpling/steamed buns stuffed with pork/egg/filling insanity.

I cool down from the 42C day a bit and do some work then back out on a solo mission for some logistics dialing and what not and work.  All good and fun, and snag a XE OM cuz hey when in motorbike city, you gotta get on a motorbike right?  More on this to come but I’m blown away at how “civilized” the city is, really — trending more towards Bangkok than what I saw 15 years ago — so much more infrastructure in place and some really smart planning.  And we all post up for $1 pedicures across from our hotel!  Fun.  Never had one.  We are sort of in a all you can eat spa zone, mani, pedi, paint, massage, whatever.  It’s just fun w/ the four of us and 3 ladies loving the blond girls (if not the dude/patron on the side!!).

I do some cafe time and write.  Love it.  So many smart and wired peeps in this country.  Not the friendliest, but dialed and fair.  VERY colorful practitioners of the oldest profession are all over me on the street.  Seen it across our trip when I am solo but this is intense. Find the right balance of music and vibe and view and travel muse.

I head back to the crib as the plan is to get high as a family.  The Bitexo tower.  6pm for fun.   It starts nuking rain and we power through to get there, whatevs. It’s kind of goony but it’s rad.  This thing really is a space ship.  3x anything around it, all about relief.  Like if there was an empire state building and NOTHING else in manhattan higher than 6 stories or something.  Relief.  We end up skuzzing through the nice “resto” because no kids in the bar and deck is out w/ the rain insanity.  These guys are all about separating us from our money for a view and we play the game — we “pay” a banana split for the kids dessert and it really is amazing.

The rain backs off and we roll back, it creates actually amazing images and atmosphere.  100% humidity and steam imbued with street food and peeps and we are wearing this city now!  We put the kids down and we are out.

We find the Bia Hoi (fresh beer) — spot — it is about 40 cents for a huge mug of amazing beer.  We are sitting by 8pm and things are empty around us and we don’t care.  We toast our zone, Megan has done an amazing job dialing in Mekong tour for the next day, and chill.  Then, it’s like a stadium fills up around us.  For real.  And awesome.  We spend hours drinking these amazing beers and chatting w/ locals and travelers we are sitting on top of each other but oddly comfortable.  How about some snacks of hard boiled quail eggs and peanuts.  Cool.  Out interactions w/ the locals and travelers and each other are really magic.  2 hours later we pay a bill, not kidding, of $2.50 (equivalent). 4 beers, 10 quail eggs, and a plate of peanuts.  We check our kids, we buy a street food buffet, we go the rooftop and dine on amazing food.  It’s incredibly romantic, if I do say.  Which is to say romantic does not equal $$ on an absolute basis.  It equals experience, unique and good.  Sometimes that aligns with big $$, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

We sleep again in a hot zone, 4 people vs. a struggling AC unit.  I’ve figured out some optimizations but on a core level I don’t care.  Sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it’s cold and the skill is to adapt within reason when paying $7/head . . . not GRIND.  The grind comes when you are paying hundreds a night for something and it is not “perfect” in some way shape or form.

This is a magical day.

Journal: Tue 6.25. Hoi An to SGN.

Lessons in perseverance and faith. A beautiful day.

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I’ve spent no less than 16 hours grinding through air travel bookings in the last 3 days.  I’ve learned a lot. Live journey over destination.

We have a lot riding on a particular booking that will take us from Java to Lombok on July 6.  Warning this is the sausage factory of making it happen logistics wise. If I had to do it all over again I would approach differently but now I’m at the mercy of FOUR parties to make it happen.  I need my US bank to execute a wire transfer to a middle man paypal kinda service.  I did this last night at 9pm via Skype — this is when the bank call center hours for wire transfer were on — it was either 9pm or 4am!  Sorry family, I wasn’t stoked to be doing it either in our hovel while you were trying to sleep.

If the middle man service can get the money, they claim (via 4 emails and 2 Skype calls/etc.) that yes, they will deliver the funds to the Indonesian ticketing service/agent.  And that it will happen automatically.  The ticketing service of course claims my reservation and rate is being held for another 24 hours, 8am on the 26th.

So I wake up this morning hoping it’s all happened . . . it hasn’t.  Of course my bank has done the outgoing wire.  But nothing on the other end so far . . . Skype calls and emails over coffee.  This is a big one.  Pre Ramadan zone of travel and if it doesn’t go through we will be paying through the nose or not even get off Java or something, which I decide is fine.  We have a cool day ahead!  I’ve done all I can for now, I have some other paths I can take and should have taken in hindsight but whatever.  Yes, be shocked, you can’t just dial in some Indo plane tickets online from Vietnam :)  It’s like you have to forget so much about how we roll in the U.S to thrive in this game.  As always, the option to just throw money at every piece of friction is there . . . the trick is finding that perfect balance of value and satisfaction that you were not played a fool.

I am played a fool on the other side.  Again I would have done it differently.  Now I HAVE to wait to see if transactions will go through or I risk having multiple plane tickets and on and on.  As long as I’m grinding let’s figure out how to get enough but not too much DONG for the rest of Vietnam, pay the hotel in the right currency of hightest value at the right rate (XE app on iphone is insane companion or get jammed at your leisure), etc.

So, my morning grind-ol-a complete — but always w/ a smile on my face and we are saving face both ways yo!!  we get ready for a crazy day!  We are flying tonight from Da Nang to SGN (dba as Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, I’ve decided the airport code “SGN” is easy to write and apolitical!).

We pack up bags to store at the guesthouse, sort out some bikes that should work, and I’ve ID’d some cool places we might hang out for the afternoon/eve at An Bang — really I was an idiot the other day to not put us here but all good, I did the thing you should NEVER do which is just show up and take the first chair in a place like this before at least scoping 100m either side.  But whatevs, that was an awesome day too and we never would have met “Andy and Megan” from London, a couple of 20-something travelers who for real are those names.  Our kids rattled their ear off in the twilight waves and they claim they are still planning on having kids, so all good I think.

Anyway, I find a great lounge/beach club area.  Jaspas is closed we learn but the two others I was scoping Soul Kitchen and Banyan are in effect . Unf the super mild surf (but kookily surfable!!) that was going on 2 days ago is flat today, but at least I’m not as focused on making sure the spot we invest in has board barter/hire or whatever.  It’s awesome at Soul Kitchen.  All of it.  Kind of wild as I have money belt on me so a little less freedom wrt jumping around in the ocean all 4 of us but ok.

We meet some fun Irish travelers w/ kids, we swim in the cooler and saltier sea than we are used to.  We climb in and around amazing chill zones, the kids owning the local fishing boat/cum day bed.  All good.  Let’s stay longer.  Sigh, ok.  The shower is amazing, and we ride back to town in amazing twilight w/ paddies juxtaposed w/ horns of buses and taxis and motorbikes.  This is Hoi An zone, don’t think you are chilling here, please.  But the vistas are rad.

We get back and I start checking / logistics and put the crew in the default food game — and bang — it went through.  The four parties have made it happen — at 5:50pm!  My heart soars.  It will for days.  I will drill into why it means so much.

Our taxi man picks us up 7pm from our hotel (2100 please, I only roll these numbs now and put the (7pm) kind of stuff down for the benefit us readers, all 3 of you, ok).

That is our departure here, real time.  Farcast to SGN.

Journal: Mon 6.24. Hoi An Day 4.

My Son.  Ancient ruins, modern wars.  Hoi An tailors meet family dirtbags.

Champa 8th century Jetboil.

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Stunning day at My Son

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Scripts mashed up w/ bullets, ruins ruined by bombs (crater in foreground)

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Hoi An and sourcing tailors and amazing street treats all going together

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Today we head out to the My Son ruins.  I first scoped these w/ Will on the backpacker tip in 1998.  They were far less developed.  In fact, he and I too XE OM (motorbikes) out there, paid nothing/fees/etc., and just walked around the jungle half afraid we’d step on a mine.  There was no “park” that I recall.  Marveling at bomb craters, bullet holes in ruins, hacking through a jungle trail in 110+/40+ degree heat wave (not actually kidding on this).  I’ll never forget it, connecting through time and centuries to the ancient, and nature with us in a magical valley, feeling the Feng Shui of the spot, the jungle just nuking and heat insane.  Buzzing out of my head, the juxtaposition of ancient beauty and recent terror (war) all mashed up in the most amazing of natural settings. Skulling it all w/ Will during and after — it is an experience that has never left me.

Now, it is way developed.  Still rad, but different, for sure.  I think I see more “ruin” but less experience.  Albeit with the family it is altogether different.  And we are lucky to be hitting it on a festival period waving entrance fees and what not.  And still zero crowds compared to something like Angkor ruins.

The same palpable energy from 15 years are around, and discussing w/ the kids is amazing.  Above all there just aren’t that many places that vibe like this one.  It truly carries spirit, humanity, beauty and terror on display.  A time portal across centuries.  All the beauty and horror we are capable of mashed up.  So much more “nature” than Angkor, if not the grandeur.  Reminds me of camping in the high sierra in a remote valley when the spot is just right or something.  A nature temple, that 1300 years ago the Cham decided to lay down some manmade as well.

In the afternoon we ride bikes and do more town exploration.  We have some clothes that need repair and alternation and go for it!  Hoi An is famous for handmade / amazing clothing.  People come here and get a custom wardrobe or a bespoke shirt or suit at a fraction of what it might otherwise cost.  We are not on that program.  We have two swimsuits that need repairs/alterations, thanks.  We find the $1/$2 zone although they want us to order $50 custom tailored shirts and skirts and all that .  . . Sorry, no room or demand or need right now.  Just hem the waist on my boardies and fix Keira’s swimmers!  Fun, as always.  Both alterations are perfect and flawless btw, and take the ladies less than 5 min.  So good one for all :)

We split up and I track down some local snacks to tide the crew over before dinner — the grilled sweet potato/coconut/etc. cakes and pork/rice buns are insane.

Journal: Sun 6.23. Hoi An Day 3.

Are we in INDO???? Not yet . . . but the whiff is sweet.  Ranking Peeps on friendliness.

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More crazy logistics attempts while the weather clears some.  Literally buzzing bug laughing at the same time, my mix of mobile phone dialing international, email, websites, blah, blah .  . .  what we take for granted in the U.S. is insane, really, it is — not insane — just so not how the rest of the world rolls on so many levels.  This is so burned into me at this point, but this “final” push of booking lodging and flights in period we can’t just “show up in person” — i.e. in advance — from vietnam — is amazing.  There could not be more friction on peeps pulling money out of my pocket.  More on this to come, all good, the pre ramadan zone and high season in lombok bali have our spidey senses rocking.

But we finally do get out on bikes to explore the area more, town and beaches.  Rain let’s up.  We end up at An Bang beach as planned and it is awesome, except it seems like it is going to nuke rain  . . . or is it?  Some drops are tickling us.  Megan tried to source new suits for the kids but the fit was no good.  It’s tough, the Vietnamese, so much respect but also they really are so aggressive and anything remotely tourist-ish we feel attacked.

It is only by my spidey senses of what is and is not required or law or whatever we get to this amazing beach w/ umbrellas and chairs.  I don’t even nail it, but better than the shanks we would have experienced had we “listened” to the goons and touts and whatever that were physically accosting us on our way into the beach.  With family, to be on bikes is the best, rolling w/ mass at a minimum and speed.  To be on foot is to be prey for real in some zones.

The rain holds off, the afternoon is rad.  The ocean is a bit colder and saltier and not so clear.  But whatever.  It just feels so good.  I spend hours reading and zoning and playin in the ocean w/ the kids and just enjoying no horns in my face or whatever and decompressing.

Then — yeah, I see waves one could surf.  And yeah, sure enough I see a dude on a board.  I go investigate . . . can’t find a formal rental but understand how to get one of these (it might cost me 6 beers first, ok!), but fun to watch and adds to the man we are gonna be there soon, fam friendly and peeps friendly and surf friendly, SOON!

 

Journal: Sat 6.22. Hoi An Day 2

Rain.  Travel agent.  Going deep Muslim, Ramadan.

Here is what June 22 holds, a big curveball, of the fates.  Our plans for biking and wonderful Hoi An and the surrounding environs are squireled by mad rain.  But we we don’t fight it because some planning has to be done.

So we roll.  It turns into a crazy nesting and planning and kids recovery day.  R and R for the crew, and a mad adventure for me across the interwebs of phone and email and how to get us from Vietnam to remote Java zone safely and economically and with minimal time/travel suffering. The net is we are going back to Indo but when and where and all this the ball has to be called.  Hey, we are going to Java and to Lombok.  These are Muslim peeps and Ramadan is coming and wow.  So lodging and flights and getting anything booked is amazing now, amazing hard.  Like 50m peeps in Java heading to where we want to go?  Pre Ramadan rager?  All good.  We have not experienced deep Muslim zone yet so I’m stoked if not freaked.

By the end of the day I’m close, we I think can get there w/ planes and overland transfers booked and two different accommodations in the remote Pangandaran/Batu Karas Java area dialed in.  I so far can’t get us OUT but hey that is another day, right? Let it go . . . I am firing with a combo of multiple credit cards and phones and email and on the ground agents and just jamming it out!

We hit dinner in the awesome old market area and street it out as a crew, w/ the fam going daddy style and seeing how I roll w/ the local vendors and street program and they are rockstars and laughing at my pointing and shank/viet lingo/pigeon style but seeing something, too.

Tomorrow, is tomorrow.

Journal: Thu 6.21. Phong Nha-Ke Bang to Hoi An

Locals Train.  Moon festival.

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We are out early from Phong Nha, transfer to Dong Hoi w/ a cool couple from Oz to the train station, for the train to Danang (for Hoi An).  Piece of cake!

As always.  We’ve been up since 5:30 am and are so over being stared at.  It’s tough.  Especially Aili, she is so young, so blond and tan, so beautiful.  Hey, all the Scott ladies are!  But Aili’s the youngest and everyone wants to pinch her and touch her hair and take photos . . . and she and I are simpatico on the introvert side I think — it’s just tough.

I don’t want her or me or our family to be rude to friendly and well meaning peeps but sigh, I am dragging my crew through madness w/ heat and odd hours and what not and this little girl of mine just wants to eat her FREAKING mango please and wake up!!!!  It’s ok, we manage through.

How to teach the kids (and myself) patience and learning and boundaries and sucking it up sometimes and on and on.  Ahhh . . .travel, we are just getting a little thin and crispy on all of it.

The train ride is rad.  Except I spend an hour combined at least on a viet train toilet.  I won’t go deeper than that.

Aili ends up playing w/ a local girls hair and I love how the tables have turned!!!  And that is the luckiest girl in the world now (background is touching/being touched by blond girls mad good luck in general SE Asia peeps that is why all are trying to touch/cuddle/get pics/etc. w/ my girls and younger the better for them).

Anyways, the train trip is awesome, and Megan and I actually go pretty deep on some “when we get back” kind of stuff . . . and a theme opens up further which is this sort of wow the end of the trip is in sight and it is fraught with everything — stoke to get home + stoke/fear to what is next + how have we changed/or not what is deep and real vs. shallow how strong or weak are we + how will our family function same or different + VALUES is what it is and discipline or willingness to sign up or what not.  Wild stuff.

We’ve learned so many lessons tactical travel wise and thank goodness no stress to Hoi An hotel.  At 4pm Megan and I literally tell the kids we are out and go explore the zone on foot.  They decline the option to join and we are so sure they are just stoked to nest that we roll.

We’ve arrived on the full moon festival date AND the solstice and it’s gonna be nuts tonight.  Fun though.  We are all spanked but this is one of those nights we’ll just make it happen.

The visuals and environment are really magical.  Lights, peeps, etc.  We let river lanterns go and say Metta’s together.  It feels good.  We find desserts for the kids, we soak up the Hoi An or maybe get firehosed it  — a better description probably — it’s so tough because sometimes in travel mode the pace is not what you want and the timing doesn’t work . . . all of it is accentuated w/ the kids — the Hoi An we want to soak up is here now but we are tired, but we get some anyway, because who knows what tomorrow holds? For now, we revel in the soft light of the lanterns and the lights floating down the river and just pedestrian traffic, and we are together and seeing something again that is truly new and different. Cool.