Friday, July 16, 2010

Adventures in Hanoi I

first a quick haiku:

silly old woman
attempting to squeeze past me.
I will yield no ground.

up early and meet sue,long, and the boys on the top floor cafe for breakfast. afterwards we all go for a little walk around our hotel, which is fantastically located near the heart of the "old city" and 1 block from beautiful lake Hoan Kiem - very picturesque, park like, nice bridges, neat old "Tortoise Shrine" in middle of lake - legend has something to do w ancient king defeating some enemies using sword he got from the "magic tortoise" who then returned the sword to the lake. No joke. A magic turtle. Go figure. Sounds quite a bit like arthurian legend - wonder which came first?

Boys a bit grumpy/mopey so they stay back at the hotel studying their vietnamese...oh wait a second, I mean playing gameboy and watching cartoons. oh well, true american boys!

3 of us wander around a bit more, rest, have some lunch at very local sidewalk cafe. very hot and muggy, back to room early afternoon for cool-down and naps.

Up around 4ish and we all head out again - we want to go explore the Hanoi Old Quarter not far from us. We wander around a bit, find yet another big street market and also find the "36 Streets" which is old and historic and each street represent one of the 36 trade gilds. So there is one street just for shoes (breathe mary ann!) one street just for clothes, one for kitchen-wares, etc. Sue is in heaven and could shop for days, Long and I in hell, boys fading fast. But they are excited to ride some "cyclos" around town - these are the bicycle-pedaled rick-shaw type seats for one or two w nice little canopy. The 5 of us rent 3 cyclos and have nice little trip around old quarter and back to hotel. Boys are going thru withdrawal from video games and TV so we get them quick sandwich and they very happily retire to their hotel room. Sue, Long, and I have very nice walk some more around the lake and markets. We are all thirsty and find this wonderful little ice-cream/cocktail cafe right on the lake where we stop and refuel w a few beers and smoothies. It has been a bit overcast and windy all day and it finally starts raining which is just wonderful. We enjoy the rain for a little while at the outdoor cafe, then decide we better high-tail it back to hotel since the rain can become monsoon intensity without any notice. we head back.

"Rob is culturally insensitive and embarasses everyone except Rob"
On the way back a very nice young lady selling fans peaks sue's interest and they start chatting and bargaining for prices. Seemed to me (WRONG!) that they were at it for a while, the lady was not dropping her price to where sue was ready to buy, and sue kept walking away, and the lady kept following us. Seemed rude to me (WRONG!). So I sort of block her way so she can't get to sue and maybe was a bit gruff/angry w her so she would get lost. This was the culturally insensitve part I later learned. Turns out Sue and the Lady were simply involved in the age-old bartering ritual of I offer price you refuse I walk away you follow and drop price a bit but not enough I walk away again you follow me some more and eventually we agree on price and everyone is happy...Sue informs me of my rudeness (go figure!). Lesson learned. DO NOT GET BETWEEN SUE AND ANY POTENTIAL PURCHASE. So sue and I have our first (amazingly) little mini-spat since the trip began.

Sue goes back to hotel (w her new fan) but I don't want to go back yet - still raining not too hard and very nice out and Long and I are both hungry so we find nice small local sidewalk restaurant and enjoy a couple of beers and some grilled chicken and beef, under a nice canopy, enjoying the rain and watching people and traffic. Long wants to head back but I am still not ready and I figure I can navigate the 2 blocks between the hotel and the lake, so I head back to the lake. Now is probably around 8 pm, completely dark, little rainy, very nice out, friday night so still quite a bit of activity.

"Rob is saavy enough to not get shaken down by young vn punks" or "Rob is incredibly rude to a couple of nice young vn students" - you decide...

So I find a very nice little bench along the walkway around the lake that is just a bit secluded and away from too much people and noise. I am sitting enjoying the scenery and just relaxing and taking it all in when a young vn guy sits down right next to me. (bench is small bench meant for 2 maybe 3 people) He asks me how I am, and I decide to assume the best but keep on my guard so I figure he is just being friendly practicing english etc. I say I am fine how are you at which point he signals his friends and I am now surrounded by 3 young vn guys and feel a bit uncomfortable. The 2nd kid says he is 17 (which he could have been) and we continue chatting just a bit how are you? how old are you? (a std vn question, common and appropriate) and I answer and we joke a bit. He tells me his 3rd friend is also 17 (no way). All a sudden he asks "you want massage? and I say "scuze me?" and he says "you want massage?" so I now know these are not just nice young kids. I say no thanks no massage and of course they don't leave and the kids keeps asking me stuff that I'm not quite sure what he is saying and by this time I am starting to act dumb so they will leave. I have my wallet and camera in a fanny-pack that I wear in front of me and of course it has several hundred dollars in it. I also have my nike golf cap hanging around my waist next to the fanny pack. All a sudden, the first guy (still sitting next to me) reaches across my lap and touches/grabs my golf cap and I fairly aggressively slap his hand away. So the younger kid in front of me says "We need some money - maybe 10,000" which is 10,000 dong and is about 50 cents. I ask him to repeat himself and he says it again - not particularly menacing, but I very quickly say in vietnamese (I had just learned to word for money) "no money, thank you, goodbye". At least that's what I meant to say. They stick around just a bit longer and ask again for money and I repeat "no money thank you goodbye" at which point it seems like they figured this wasn't the easiest of marks and maybe they should move on since there are plenty of people around in general. So they leave and I am pleased that I handled the situation pretty well. Of course maybe it just frightened them when they asked for money and this big white crazy guy keeps repeating "horse charcoal! kick water! Rice Soup!!" I guess I will never know...

I manage to make it back to hotel where I will now enjoy watching a little of the british open golf tourney.

Overall Hanoi is very neat and I like it. As w rest of VN, a very interesting blend of old historic city, french influence, poverty, communist center of the country, new wealth, and a city on the verge of blossoming into a major international city. (which maybe it already is?)

ok enough for now. rice soup.