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Published: November 11th 2007
A TASTE OF VIETNAM IN HANOI
Since in a country nearby, why not take a peek at Vietnam, the communist country with capitalist ideology? I took a nice flight on Vietnam Airways from Siem Reap in Cambodia to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
Arriving at 10pm, took a $10 taxi ride to the Vietnam Hotel to find out that my booked room was taken and the alternative hotel around the corner was awful. At 11:30pm I am on a taxi to an unkonown hotel, which was barely okay. Exausted, I crushed..
Breakfast was, let's say, contradictory: I said "no" eggs, and got eggs; I said "no yogurt, but fruit" and I got yogurt but no fruit; I asked for salt but got pepper. Oh! But I did get the coffee I asked for, as a treat. Paid the $20 for the night and left.
I ventured out and couldn't believe my eyes and ears: A MASS of motorcycles (over 10 million in Vietnam), cyclos and pedestrians "weaving" each other on the narrow streets of the old quarter, inches away from collition, ALL BEEPING their horns at the same time. I froze in panic, too scared to cross the
Beauty on 2 wheels
Everything you can imagine is transported on 2 wheels, from pigs to flowers and ...
streets. A cyclo stopped, and scared me sat on the seat in front of a pedaling guy, as I was certain he could handle the maddness I couldn't. Wow! The traffic was inches away from me, in all directions, and I survived it without having a heart attack! It was a wild ride to the efficient Handspan travel office, at he back of the cozy Tamarind Cafe, where later I'd spend quiet down time away from the beeping streets.
I booked a 3 nights trip to SAPA and since the overnight train didn't leave until 8pm, back to the streets of the bustling 1000 year old OLD QUARTER I was ready to suck in all the loud Vietnamese culture exposed on the streets of Hanoi. Food preparation, eating, selling, hair cutting, lice pulling, newspaper reading on public board, and so much more happen write there on the crowded sidewalks. It's colorful, it's alive. It didn't take long for me to be fascinated with the atmosphere and even to start weaving thru the traffic as a pro, which means without being hit. A billboard announces the number of traffic deaths and I was surprised that only 1.5 person dies per
day. I was glad not to be one of them!
I chose to decline the cyclo and moto rides and walked the tangled web of narrown streets, witnessing Vietnamese life: funeral flowers, silk, retired water puppets, bridal shops with unusual colorful dresses, designer stores, restaurants and cafes all mixed up. I opted not to visit Ho Cho Minh's Mausouleum, as having "visited" his buddies Lenin and Mao was enough, but around the area were classical French colonial buildings, "tube" house, and posh hotels. Medieval and modern side-by-side.
I visited the TEMPLE OF LITERATURE, dedicated to Confucius. Traditional Vietnamese archtecture, but reminded me of the temples in China. A relaxing retreat from the mad streets, I sat to read up on Vietnam when I noticed a local man with his cameras lenses pointed right at me. He was taking so many photos it made me feel uncomfortable and asked him to stop. After a while he did, only to come back later with another man with camera, and clicking again they started. I insistently asked them to stop, they left, and later on they were waiting to take more pics of me as I passed thru an arch. Very
strange in a place I feel very safe at, but by now I felt safer riding on the back of a motocycle than walking to the delicate ONE PILLAR PAGODA. It symbolizes purity, rising out of the sea of sorrow, and the original one was destroyed by the French.
Two university students approached me and asked me 4 pages of questions about my impressions of Hanoi for a class project. Than, it was my turn to ask them questions, and I risked: "What do you think of Americans, considering the war?" Them said "Young people like America but old people don't feel very good."
Walking again, I arrived to LENIN PARK, where by his huge statue were serveral young men practicing some sort of martial arts. I crossed the street to the ARMY MUSEUM, we the intension to learn a little about history. I paid for the admission and was asked to leave my back and camera. I asked if I could take my diary, and was told "no". I headed in to buildings and after to the open air display display of US weapons captured during the years of war, alongside French and Chinese ones. The signs
read "Vietnamese army shot down, destroyed and capturesd... " Than I noticed that all the other tourists, which happen to be all orientals, were caring their bags and taking pictures. I headed back to the entrance and asked why I was the only one not allowed to carry my back and camera. The answer was a simple "no". They talked among themselves. I said I was leaving and needed by bag. I than walked to the restaurant on the grounds to ask for directions to a backery, and since the woman's English was so good, I dared to ask why I was the only one to have restriciton, and her asnwer was: "You American". I said no, I'm Brazilian. She added: "They thought you American". Well, I can understant the feeling behind, but not the action, so I sneaked back into the the museum grounds thru the resaurant and took pictures like the others.
I had a hard time getting understood on the streets but after many inquires I manage to find a hospital for me to visit. Although I had been wanting a pediatric hospital, I ended up at a dental one! Never seen one before, but all
Tranquil One Pillar Pagoda
It was rebuilt after being maliciously destroyed by the French
they did there was oral surgeries! Well, since I was already there, I talked to a doctor and left some stuffed animals for the kids who where in surgery.
After 10 hours exploring the city, I realized that I unexpectedly loved Hanoi, with all it's loudness and "coordinated" caos. (I went back for one more day of exploring after my trip to SAPA)
A LITTLE ON VIETNAM and IT'S PARADOX:
- Communist government, capitalist economy. People free to make money but not to express political views. Ho Chi Mihn (founder of V. Communism) popular as ever, Lenin and Marx are still alive. I saw pictures of Che as well.
- Minorities don't have a voice and protests have repressive reaction.
- Chinese occupation lasted 1000 years. I can see all the cultural influence.
- Portuguese started the European interest in Vietnam and brought in catholic church. There is a huge cathedral in Hanoi and I saw a church in SaPa.
- ... and than the French, and the Americans, and 15 MILLION BOMBS DROPPED here
- THE AMERICAN WAR: About 1 million V. soldiers killed and 4 MILLION CIVILIANS (10% OF THE POPULATION) INJURED OR KILLED. Over
300,000 Vietnamese still missing in action.
-The American war also brought in "ecocide", "the most intensive attempt to destroy a country's natural environment ever seen". 72 million of herbicides sprayed, forests to villages bulldozed, forests ignited to flames, elephants killed with bombs, landslides deliberately created.
- "Amerasians": kids born of American fathers during the war, also called "children of the dust". Being reminders of the American presence and War, these kids were often mistreated, abandoned,denied education.
- 1994 USA embargo ended; Clinton restored full diplomatic relations, Economy is fast growing
Personally, I am amazed by how forgiven the people of Vietnam and Cambodia can be.
Would you forgive and forget if it was your people, your land, your life taken away or flipped upside down?
I leave you with this question to think about, and while at it, add this other one: What about Iraq?
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