Hanoi is ridiculously beautiful, although there are a few problems. One is that the street my hotel is on shares a name with two other streets, just the tones vary between the three names. So I tried to meet up w/some people a friend knows who live here, and I texted my address, but since I coudn’t include the accents that specify the tones, they had to track down which of the streets I live on. But we met up, and went out. The other unfortunateness is the Vietnamese currency, named the Dong. Not only is its name a silly schoolyard bad word, but it’s also in cartoon-large bill sizes. The smallest is 1000 dong, and, at 15,000 to the dollar, that’s not much. So I changed just a little money but I have a massive roll in my pocket:
So, first to dinner: my friend from school Phuong, who lived in Hanoi, gave me the number of some of her friends. We met up and they took me to an authentic Vietnamese restaurant and they plied me with all sorts of food. And it was great! I kept saying “yes, make it authentic” and they kept doing it — even when it came to serving me Nem, or tasty eggrolls stuffed with pig’s ears. We’re going out again tomorrow, and I can’t wait.
In general, I’ve been eating authentic; I actually thought about going to a tourist place tonight, for convenience’s sake, but the menu was so awful. Who gets Stroganoff in Hanoi? That’s just a waste of a plane ticket (watch me crave for a hamburger in a week). I’ve been to both Pho and Con places, Pho being the typical Vietnamese noodle soup, and Con being rice + anything. Tonight I climbed to the third floor of a narrow streetside cafe, and was served whatever the proprietress felt like:
In general, that’s been the hot ticket — if I come up to a restaurant and smile, I get some sort of specialty, and the world is good (Vietnamese food is wonderful). It’s an amazing change after Bangkok, a smile goes far with any Vietnamese and almost all of the touts will leave you alone after a pleasant “no thanks!” Meanwhile, at every cafe I’m the only Westerner, and, even though we don’t share a language, they give me big smiles every time they see me doing something authentic — and even a gasp or two as I pour “nuoc mam”:http://www.answers.com/main/ntquery?s=nuoc+mam&gwp=13 over everything, Vietnamese-style. The only real problem is that I kept trying to pronounce the word “tea” southern-style, as “dha”, instead of northern-stye, “tza”, leaving me with no drink, until one kind waitress stuck around for a minute to read my dictionary.
Today I tooled around the Old Quarter, the historic part of Hanoi, just outside my hotel door:
This part of town is half tourist trap, half old skool — get off the main drag and I’m the only white man on the block.
Then I walked around one of Hanoi’s two beautiful lakes:
For my older readers, I also walked up to the Paul Doumer Bridge:
During the Vietnam war, the Paul Doumer Bridge was the only span crossing the mighty Red River in all of Vietnam. The US attacked it over and over but never managed to get it down for good; the bridge was a lifeline for North Vietnam’s war effort.
Hanoi is wonderful. Hot as all get-out, but less humid than Bangkok, and I’ve only been ripped off once, by a “cyclo”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycle_rickshaw driver with whom I stupidly forgot to agree on a fare before we took off on a long trip. I think he earned a whole month’s income off of me. But at least I didn’t sweat getting there — I’m taking three showers a day here, I get so soaked walking everywhere. Fortunately, Vietnam TV has great soap operas, Socialist-themed potboilers that discuss major issues like the country’s growing prosperity, foreign investment, the declining infrastructure, and social changes in reverence for past generations. Who knew that all you needed to do to get me to watch _novelas_ was to make them political? (Of course, one might argue that all culture is political.) I just can’t imagine missing an episode.
But now it’s to sleep, and then up early to hit Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, and get a good night’s sleep to prepare for a bar visit with real Vietnamese!