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Published: August 15th 2009
Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi
The jewel of Hanoi's old quarter. At dawn, you will find dozens of people walking, running, playing badminton, and practicing Tai Chai around the lake.
Joe and I are happy to report that Phase I of the Rehumanization tour was a resounding success. In just under two months, we traveled the length of Vietnam - from Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta, and Phu Quoc Island in the south to Hanoi, Sapa and Halong Bay in the north (see forthcoming blogs for stories and pictures from Sapa and Halong Bay). In between, we pedaled across the rolling hills of Dalat, drank beer on the beach in Nha Trang, swam in the still ocean waters off of Quy Nhon, shopped-till-we-dropped in the mercantile mecca of Hoi An, and paid homage to Vietnam’s ancient emperors in the Imperial City of Hue. We saw breathtaking sights on our journey, met hundreds of smiling Vietnamese adults and children, swapped stories with countless sweaty travelers, and consumed more white rice than we have eaten in our 40+ years living in the U.S. Day to day, and sometimes moment to moment, we fluctuated between feeling excited, joyful, awed, peaceful, moved, scared, frustrated, and tired. We spent a lot of time walking, bicycling, and driving around lost as a result of trying to navigate streets that are either unsigned, suddenly change names,
Water Puppet Theater
Attending a performance of Hanoi's water puppet theater is a very popular and traditional tourist activity in Hanoi. Its very cute and we thoroughly enjoyed it!
or have a seemingly random numbering system. We spent every single day feeling hot!
We could tell that we were at the beginning-of-the-end of our Vietnam tour when we were in Hue at the beginning of July. We spent way more time than usual inside our air-conditioned hotel room - partly because I had a cold, partly because we were exhausted by the heat, and partly because we were fed up with being a perpetual target of someone trying to sell us a cyclo ride, boat trip, pagoda excursion, bus ticket, train ticket, fan, baseball cap, t-shirt, pineapple, manicure, and everything else that is relentlessly waved in front of a tourist’s face in Vietnam. Our travel exhaustion climaxed after spending the night on a grungy sleeper bus as we traveled from Hue to Hanoi and then waking up to a taxi driver who tried to charge us ~$14.00 for the 1km ride in his “metered” taxi from the bus station to our hotel room. We were starting to feel like we were way too old for this!
Things started looking up again shortly after we arrived in Hanoi, and we got a good feeling about settling down there
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi
Joe checks out a traditional minority house at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. The re-creations were extremely well done and we learned a lot about the dozens of ethnic minority communities in Vietnam.
for a while. We found a very comfortable hotel with a fun and friendly staff. We took in some sites in the lovely old quarter of the city, including watching the Hanoians play badminton, speed-walk, and practice Tai Chi at dawn around Hoan Kiem Lake. We took advantage of being in the capital city and went to the Water Puppet Theater, Opera, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Temple of Literature, and Vincom Towers - a highly air-conditioned modern shopping mall with a cinema on the top floor that sells popcorn and runs mainstream American movies in English.
We also had a very productive meeting with a fellow New Yorker who has been running an English school in Hanoi for the past six years. He gave us the low-down on teaching English in the city and offered us jobs after we completed a teacher training course. With that, we rented a lovely apartment in the center of the city and signed up for a CELTA course, which will provide us with the gold standard credential for teaching English to non-native speakers … if we pass. Our class began on August 3rd and will run for the entire month. I have also
Bia Hoi Corner in the Old Quarter, Hanoi
Thanks to Lonely Planet, this corner is one of the most famous in the old town of Hanoi. There are fresh beer joints on all four points of this corner. Tourists flock here to drink beer for 3,000 VN dong ($1 is 18,000 VN dong) per glass. Its a little over-rated (i.e., touristy) but we met some really nice Vietnamese (and Korean) people here, and had some decent cheap beer!
been keeping an eye out for public health opportunities with the U.S. Embassy, the W.H.O, UNICEF, and Save the Children.
We consider July 23rd to be the official start of Phase II of the Rehumanization tour. That’s the day we moved into our furnished one bedroom apartment at 26 Ham Long Lane II in the Hoan Kiem district of Hanoi. We love our new place, which is on the 4th floor of a 5-story house on a small alley behind the main street of Ham Long. It has a small balcony, a living room large enough to do a yoga workout, a spacious dining room with seating for 4, a kitchen larger than the one in our house in Denver, a bathroom/shower room combination, and a comfortable bedroom with a wardrobe to hold the few clothes that we brought from home. A refreshing cross breeze blows through the length of our long, one story flat and there are air conditioners in the living room and bedroom if we need them. Ms. Binh, our landlord’s nanny/housekeeper, comes twice a week to clean the bathroom and wash the floors (but I try to clean them the day before she comes so
Temple of Literature, Hanoi
One of Hanoi's treasures, the Temple of Literature was founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong and dedicated to Confucious in order to honor Vietnamese scholars and men of letters. In 1076, it became the sight of Vietnam's first University. It is now used for important ceremonies and is one of the most distinguished sights in Hanoi.
she won’t think we’re messy).
Although we’re not Catholic, it’s a comforting reminder of home to hear the bells of the well-attended cathedral down the block and smell the incense that wafts into our apartment on Sunday mornings when mass is held. We know of two movie theaters within walking distance; the one I mentioned above, which shows blockbuster American movies and sells popcorn, and one that is a member-supported, not-for-profit enterprise which shows international art-house films. The latter has been running a festival of films made by or about Vietnam where we have caught several sobering documentaries about the Vietnam-American war. We are also within walking distance of the famous Hoan Kiem Lake and Lenin Park, which is a peaceful and shady oasis with its own large lake (albeit extremely polluted and stinky). There is a gourmet market across the main street from us, a boulangerie around the corner that makes killer bread and pastries, a Pho restaurant that is reportedly one of the best in Hanoi, and the Cho Hom market (“cho” means “covered market” in Vietnamese) - a covered street market which sells fruits and vegetables, tofu, meat, fish, sweets, clothes, and probably lots of other
Hanoi Opera House
We havent been inside yet, but the building sure is beautiful. Its right next door to the Hanoi Hilton (the hotel, not the prison camp).
things too. There is also an open-air morning market right on our street, which sells everything you would need to eat in a typical day and will even kill and clean your choice of chicken or fish right on the spot. The morning market only runs until about 6:45 a.m., at which time the police come and kick all the sellers out to make room for the morning traffic. Our landlord, a young Vietnamese mother with two children and an older British husband, was kind enough to escort me there one morning and teach me the prices of different foods so I wouldn’t get overcharged when I went on my own!
Joe and I are gradually adjusting to living in a Vietnamese neighborhood where relatively little English is spoken and where we get stared at a lot - sometimes with an accompanying smile but more often without one … even when we smile at them! We feel certain that our time in Hanoi will be filled with lots of lessons about what it’s like to live as a foreigner in a country where the culture and language remain outside of our grasp. We sometimes sense that we are viewed
Community Opera in the Old Quarter
We didnt understand a word of this community opera performance, but the theater knew that there would be "foreigners" in the audience so they typed up a synopsis of the performance in English. We could sort of follow along but I have to admit to snoozing for a bit at the end. It was still a great cultural experience and the Vietnamese audience members seemed to be thrilled that we were there!
with disdain. Over time, however, it seems like the people we see each day are warming up to us. We are immensely appreciative for every welcoming smile, friendly gesture, and offer of assistance.
We have made two friends during our short time in Hanoi - a 24 year old woman named Hien who works in the laundry where we took our clothes to be washed when we first arrived in Hanoi and her 29 year old boyfriend Trung. They were our first guests in our new apartment. They arrived on the morning of my birthday with a dozen red roses tied in pink ribbon and they took us to the market to buy food for lunch (and teach us about the food and the prices). Hien took me by the arm and escorted me, arm-in-arm, down the street (talk about stares!!!). When we returned, Hien and Trung took over our kitchen and cooked us a delicious Vietnamese meal of tofu, water spinach, bamboo sautéed in scallions, beef cooked with vegetables, and steamed rice. It was great fun and it made us feel so happy that we could begin building bridges over the vast cultural divide that separates us
Nancy and the Gecko Hotel Staff
Joe and I stayed at the Hanoi Gecko for two weeks and got to be good buddies with the young adults who worked there. There were hugs all around when we said our goodbyes!
from the locals!
As of this writing, Joe and I are halfway through our CELTA course. It has been SO MUCH work and unbelievably stressful but we are surviving (but just barely). We typically work from 8 in the morning to 12 midnight Monday through Friday and all day Saturday and Sunday. We have each taught about six classes to adult/young adult Vietnamese students studying English. The students are an absolute joy to work with - we ADORE them. We wish we could scoop them up and bring them all home with us! One of my students is the priest at the church across the street from our new apartment! We will blog much more about our CELTA class when we finish at the end of the month. Right now, it’s Friday night of our second week and we are exhausted! The only thing we want to do is drink a beer and get some sleep!
That’s all for now…until September.
Much love, Nancy and Joe!
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