My 3 words about Hanoi;
-selling crap (okay that’s not one word…)
Staying in the Old Quarter put you right in the center of excitement (and danger of bodily harm due to wild driver etiquette).
“Along the narrow twisting streets (where red lights are merely a suggestion and helmets are scant)… “Nobody gives way to anybody. Everyone just angles, points, dives directly towards his destination, pretending it is an all-or-nothing gamble. People glare at one another and fight for maneuvering space. All parties are equally determined to get right-of-way, insist on it. They swerve away at the last possible moment, giving scant inches to spare. The victor goes forward, no time for a victory grin, already engaging in another contest of will…
The air becomes toxic… high school girls wiggle their bicycles through snarls of minivans, construction rigs, 8-wheeler trucks, cars, and ox-drawn wagons. Construction workers push carts loaded with bricks and sand, peasants ride motorbikes hitched to produce carts. Pedestrians cross the roads in clusters, holding hands and eyeing oncoming motorists. mincing through the mad roar slowly, careful to keep their profile to a minimum.”
-from a very astute book Catfish Mandala which I read while traveling
Oh I was a dutiful tourist in Hanoi. Attempting to wander the streets I headed in cyclo (much safer!) to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum complex– I didn’t actually see Uncle Ho (who apparently is well preserved and looking lovely!) because visiting hours are a bit strict. I then meandered the whole complex area, saw a small picturesque ‘One Pillar Pagoda’ (which is supposedly very impressive although the pagoda is small and wood whereas the pillar holding it up is very large and concrete, so the feat of it’s construction wasn’t awe-inspiring, but beautiful none-the-less). I toured the Ho Chi Minh Museum, it was a very artistic exhibit depicting Ho’s splendor and the HAPPINESS, PEACE, and PROSPERITY of this communist state. (Interestingly enough a very capitalist minded woman at the museum cafe ripped me off with a double-priced melon juice, making her prosperous and me not very happy…).
Unfortunately I only saw half of the museum as I started on the top floor only to discover that there was a specific direction to flow through the whole shebang and I was funneled out the exit before making it back downstairs to the earlier exhibit stages. Not horribly heartbroken I sauntered to the Temple of Literature where I was quickly convinced that being a scholar who simply sat in manicured gardens and cool halls, thinking and reading all day, would definitely be the profession of choice in olden-day Vietnam.
The rest of Hanoi was a jumble of weeding through Vietnamese high fashion; a plethora of XS and S clothes (max 27in waist) all decked out with extra ruffles, gen stones, and buckles. Helping my friend Alana find something simple was a true task! After a day heavy in attempted-shopping, we went to see a traditional water puppet show. A wading pool was the stage of this interesting art (originally developed in rice paddies) where puppet masters hid behind bamboo curtains and used long bamboo rods to control funny men, women, water buffalo, bamboo rats, and other characters in a show accompanied by traditional musical instruments.
After being hounded feverishly to buy anything and everything (lighters, cigarettes, guide books, conical hats – and yes I finally caved in and bought the hat…) I’d had quite enough of this consumer frenzy unbreathable air – so I signed up for a tour of Halong Bay with some friends and escaped the clamor.