Cat Ba Island is the largest of an archipelago of islands in Ha Long Bay, recently selected as one of the world’s seven new natural wonders. I don’t know what criteria was used in this selection, but it is a truly beautiful place. It is winter in Vietnam, and it is far enough north of the equator here to be cool even in the mid-afternoon. It is not the time of year to go swimming, although we did wade in the water. But we didn’t come here to swim, we came to walk and take a boat ride out into the islands. This afternoon we contented ourselves with a walk around the edge of the bay from our hotel into town. It was a spectacular vista.

Ha Long Bay is dotted with karsts; formations of limestone thrust upward by ancient tectonic movements and then eroded by wind and water into unusual and sometimes lovely shapes, made more dramatic by the scenic bay itself, tranquil and serene, and dotted by fishermen plying the waters in their tiny, ancient boats. The boats themselves are made of rattan, woven bamboo, and sealed with pitch. They are flat and gently rounded and are rowed either forward or backward, as there is no discernible bow or stern. There are larger boats as well, of course, and houseboats which serve either as living accommodation or as floating restaurants, specializing in seafood entrees of dazzling variety.

After walking into town for a lunch of noodle soup, we booked a motorcycle for tomorrow from a young Aussie entrepreneur who seems to have a corner on the expat market. He doesn’t have a lot of competition, as he is the only one who had sufficient English to actually negotiate a deal. I do understand that I am in a foreign country and the locals have every right to their language. However, we have never encountered such a lack of English in any of the countries we have travelled to and it does make negotiating travel details difficult. The young lady in the tourist office had no English whatsoever.

Tonight we have bought a ticket to a local New Year’s Eve party from our new Aussie friend and we are going to use the occasion to celebrate a fulfilling year. Pam has seen her ministry efforts in Cambodia turn into on the ground training. She returned to Canada in time to see the birth of her new grand-daughter and help to nurse our son following his unfortunate accident. We met together in England for a memorable and emotionally uplifting visit with family and then we celebrated our daughter’s truly touching wedding to her fine young fiancé, Greg. This year also saw the end of my previous contract and the purchase of an older vehicle with the bonus due on its conclusion. The car has allowed us a new freedom to see Malaysia, and a new ability to minister to our colleagues. It has been a full year.

We trust that you will have a fun and safe New Year wherever you are. May the Lord direct your path in the coming year; either to a closer walk in His presence if you know Him, or a closer walk toward Him, if you do not. Blessings, gentle reader.