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Published: March 7th 2006
Woman selling fruit in Old Quarter,Hanoi
Learning to walk around the streets in the Old District of Hanoi is like learning to dance…the only catch is if you make a wrong step, or lose the tune…you’re dead on the road. When I first arrived I would stand on the sidewalk, looking across the road to where I wanted to go, for a good 10 minutes before getting up the guts to take that first step into the traffic. By the time I left, it was like instinct. I just put myself out there, the first step is always the hardest, and danced. It’s amazing how easy it is once you get the hang of it.
Hanoi was good, if a little overwhelming. I discovered Bia Hoi on my second to last night there, and it caused me one of the worst hangovers I have ever had. Bia Hoi is literally ‘fresh beer’. It is a local brew with no preservatives and is served fresh out of kegs at little Bia Hoi bars (really just a storefront with a few kegs, some plastics chairs, and a lot of drunk people). A glass costs you 10 cents, and it is good beer. Get the point? You can drink
10 beers for $1USD…and for locals who don’t have much money, and Westerners on a budget; it is the perfect way to spend an evening.
The one thing that has really surprised me about Vietnam is the capitalist feel, even in the North. For a people who fought so hard (and won) against the “capitalist swine”, they sure have taken to the relaxed economic sanctions well. It seems everyone here owns their own business…whether it’s driving people around in cyclos, owning guesthouses and hotels, restaurants, electronic shops, fruit, flowers, everything you can think of. The Vietnamese are sales people…some of the best! But their number one hero is Ho Chi Minh, “Uncle Ho”.
I took a trip out to Halong Bay. A beautiful bay in the China Sea about 3 hours outside of Hanoi. You cruise around the bay visiting caves and just hanging out on the roof of the junk boat watching the amazing karsts rising out of the beautiful sea. Real peaceful…nice change of pace from Hanoi. There were 10 of us on the boat…we ate all meals on the boat and slept in cabins that were actually pretty nice. The weather was overcast the whole
time, so we didn’t get to swim or anything…but it was still an amazing little trip. A good group of guys from Sweden and a mother and daughter from Australia were great company on the boat.
The funny thing about my plan to visit Vietnam is I really didn’t think about the war. I think with all I have heard about Vietnam, it’s beauty, it’s beaches, etc…I forgot about what went on here not so long ago. But once I got to Hue, I was reminded of the horrible things that happened. I visited the Citadel there where the NVA raised their flag when they took the city, and the destruction done in the battle when the Americans retook the city. I am the second person in my family to be in Vietnam…but when my uncle was here, it was called ‘Nam…and it was a whole different time and place. I wish I could say it was another world…but unfortunately we are fighting another unwinnable war right now. But at least this time, even though the war is so unpopular, there is still strong support for our troops. (I am going to write another blog about the war…to be
Ho Chi Minhs Mausoleum
He requested a simple burial in a simple grave...this is what he got.
sent shortly). The people in Hue were some of the nicest people I have ever met. They would do anything for you. Sure, they are expecting a tip or something for it…but they will really go out of their way for you. For example I was waiting for my bus yesterday morning, and I was trying to call my sister because it was her birthday…but I needed to get a card for my phone. The store near me was closed…so the guy at my hotel took my money and went and bought me a card. When he came back I couldn’t get it to work…so we hoped on his motorbike and went to the store so they could do it for me. He did all of this without asking for a penny. Stuff like that happened all the time there…and they didn’t even flinch when I said I was American…and I’m sure they all have family members who fought against us in the war. They also always wanted to know what I was doing…”where you go now?, “what you do today?” “What you do tomorrow?” “What you looking for?” At first I thought they were trying to sell me something,
but then I realized they were just curious…and helpful!
I am now in Hoi An…which is supposed to be a great place to just relax. The ancient trading port, now a World Heritage Site, looks not much different than it did in the 15th century. Unfortunately I have not been able to explore yet. The truth is I have been in my room for a day and a half now. I was on a bus for a total of 20 hours over the past few days…and on one of them my seat was broken. It was an all night ride with a suicidal bus driver. I couldn’t sleep because I was so scared…and it takes a lot to scare me when it comes to driving (you should see me drive!) It was a bumpy ride and my seat kept flipping up, leaving my ass unprotected from the metal below. I am so bruised I can barely sit down…and am currently taking painkillers! Fun, fun!
I guess my big news right now is I have decided where I am going next. I was supposed to be coming home after Cambodia on April 1st…but I’m not ready. So I’m going
Bia Hoi Shop
Cheap beer...10 cents a glass!
to take a break from Asia in Australia and New Zealand for a couple months, then come back here and do Malaysia, Singapore, and maybe Brunei. Should be home July 1st. I’m pretty excited about it…but also nervous because I have a lot to take care of with changing flights…picking up tickets…getting taxes done, renewing my travelers insurance, etc…and nothing is easy out here. But I guess that’s just all part of the experience!
Happy Birthday Sarena! (now you’re almost 30 too! ;-) and if anyone talks to Steph, tell her I said happy birthday too.
Talk to you all soon!
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