Weasels ripped my flesh!


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Asia » Vietnam » Red River Delta » Hanoi
February 22nd 2009
Published: February 22nd 2009
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Actually, Vietnamese ripped off my cash! But that comes later in this account.

Yesterday my friend and I went for a long walk around his neighborhood, through both urban and functionally rural agricultural areas. In no particular order, we saw bonsai fruit trees, water buffalo, common kingfishers, ossuaries, cyclos, whole fried dogs, and much burning of paper money. As we walked, we talked about our families and former classmates, as well as his work for the World Bank. He has a son with autism, so we spent a long time talking about how his transition to adulthood has been going. The temperature was in the 70's but the humidity was high, so it was clammy.

We walked back to the house, then to a restaurant to join his wife for lunch. She had been shopping in crafts villages with the Hanoi International Women's Club and had returned with a carved wooden musk ox, a carved wooden depiction of the Four Supernatural Spirits (dragon, phoenix, lion, and tortoise), and some mother of pearl pieces intended for inlaying in wood. We walked back to the house and joked in English and Vietnamese with the guy who comes around to shine their shoes. He asked where I had come from; when I said "Phnom Penh," he pointed to my incredibly dingy and dusty leather Tevas and said, "Phnom Penh shoeshine.")

I took a taxi to my hotel in the Old Quarter. I stayed here the last time I was in Ha Noi and know my way around this area. Many stores were familiar, though there's been some shift in the neighborhood toward boutique-y clothing and home accessory shops. Buildings here are very narrow and long, with the street frontage leading back through the house or via a narrow alley some distance into the block, there to intersect a perpendicular alley or to end in a hidden courtyard, often with a small pagoda in it. I really like this part of Ha Noi. My hotel's street is too narrow for a taxi, at least right now with some construction going on. Thus, there's not q lot of traffic noise, though the staff tends to burst into song, which reverberates up the stairwell. Nevertheless, after dinner at Gecko, one of my favorite restaurants here, a few hours of university work and an hour or so of getting presentations sent to Min, I slept well. The bells of the Cathedral of St. Joseph half a block away ring prolifically and frequently.

I dreamed about my friend F, also a college classmate and a topic of our discussion yesterday. In the dream, F was talking about inconsequential things and I was desperate to engage him in a real conversation about his health and whether his AIDS was progressing. When I woke, I had the sad realization one sometimes has after a dream that in fact it was too late to have the conversation, since F did indeed die from AIDS in 1994.

This morning I had breakfast at my hotel (chicken pho), then worked on university business for several hours. After that, a walk seemed in order, so I headed south around the lake. This lake is famous for having disgorged a tortoise who presented the king with a magical sword. I first got some photos transferred to a disk, then visited some book stores. Like many places in the world, Viet Nam has clusters of merchants selling the same good or service (thus, in the Old Quarter, there are streets named "silk street" or "noodle street" and you'll see several stores selling paint or cotton batting or gold and red religious icons in a row. Near the south end of the lake and slightly east, there is a group of bookstores I like. I got a GRE study book as a gift for someone at USSH.

Now guess what this is:

"Những chuyện kể của Beedle người hát rong là một tập truyện được viết cho các phù thuỷ con. Suốt nhiều thế kỷ qua, đây là những chuyện kể trên giường ngủ được ưa thích nhất, khiến cho chuyện Cậu phù thuỷ và cái nồi tưng tưng và chuyện Nguồn suối Vạn Hạnh rất quen thuộc với học sinh trường Hogwarts y như chuyện Cô bé lọ lem và chuyện Người đẹp ngủ trong rừng đối với trẻ em Muggle (phi-pháp thuật)."

That's right; it's the opening of Jo Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard in Vietnamese. I had to buy it, didn't I? Nearby is a shop that sells CDs and in my quest to find the Vietnamese version of rock music (most of the contemporary music is what I might call "soft vocal stylings"), I purchased a promising-looking CD with an 80's-like cover featuring a
Young adult novelsYoung adult novelsYoung adult novels

Harry Potter I get, but must the children of Viet Nam be subjected to the poorly written Pendragon and dreadful Charlie Bone series?
woman in silhouette, offset pink silhouette, and groovy black and white swirl. You can see it here. It's "Mỹ Tâm Vol. 7" and "Mỹ" means "American."

I wandered north in the cool yet cloying air, enjoying the sight of a large group of European tourists being pedaled around in cyclos. I was heading for the top of the lake thinking about lunch. The street of fried fish features Chả Cá Lã Vọng, which is in 1000 Places to See Before You Die, though my student Kristen and I ate both there and across the street at Golden Land (Chả Cá Hà Nội) in 2007 and liked the latter better. Cha ca is pretty fine, though--it's fish fried at high heat (sometimes at your table) with dill, and it's delicious. I also thought I might search for a place where I could have a special kind of coffee. Civet or fox coffee can be made in one of two ways. The first, authentic way, is to ahem, run the coffee beans through a civet, collect the beans, and roast them. Don't ask me how someone discovered this, because thinking about the circumstances under which a person would be moved to use coffee beans that have been shat out by a weasel makes me sad. (It could be argued that searching out this coffee is also disturbing. However, it's supposed to be very tasty.) The second way is to treat the coffee beans with enzymes that replicate the civet partial-digestion process, and this, in fact, is what I was looking for.

As I walked, I saw two women carrying pineapples in shoulder yolks. The quality of light was good, so I thought I'd take their photo. I did, and they stopped walking and came over. One handed me her yoke and took my camera. I was uneasy with this, but went ahead anyway. The other one then put her yoke on my other shoulder. They took my photo (one stuck her hat on me) and gave my camera back. They wanted to sell me pineapple, which I was willing to buy since they had engaged with me. The one asked for 100,000 dong for a little bag. The exchange is 17,400 to the dollar, so this was either outrageous or incorrect by a multiple of 10. I said no and they became very insistent. I said that this was too expensive and that I didn't have much money with me. They continued to badger me and I thought I'd give them 10,000 dong for the photo (I often give a dollar). The one nodded vigorously and grabbed the bill, thrusting the bag of pineapple at me. This was still an inflated tourist price, but I was willing to take it. The other saw a $10 in my hand and started exclaiming that she would change my money. The first seemed to agree and was pointing back and forth between me, the bill, the pineapple, and the two of them. I said I didn't want to (meanwhile, the other is thrusting the pineapple at me) and she kept insisting. She reached over and plucked the $10 from my hand and strode away purposefully. I called after her to no avail. I asked the first woman where her friend was going and said I wanted my money back. I made her give me back the 10,000 dong and refused the pineapple. I hoped, without believing it was true, that the woman had headed for a money changer's stall to skim a little and give me a bad exchange rate. The first woman couldn't understand me and waved over a man from the sidewalk who said, "She no her friend." I said, "Then where did she go with my money?" He shrugged and turned away, while the woman, perhaps realizing that I had a photo of them, skulked off. I was a little annoyed but not especially upset. Of the many problems that can occur while traveling, being ripped off for $10 ranks pretty low. Still, it dampened my enthusiasm for being out and about, so I stopped at Golden Land for some spring rolls and fried tofu with salted egg, then headed back for the hotel. There's fruit in my room, and a good air conditioner for drying the air a little. I have work to do for this week.

Tomorrow it's supposed to be 102 F, and I'll be lecturing all day, so wish me luck! Perhaps a lion will fly out of a lake and hand me a Diet Coke.

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