Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ha Noi, Viet Nam, day one

I arrived on Hanoi last night at around 8:30 and awkwardly walked around the Hanoi airport, trying to figure out what to do with myself. Yesterday in Bangkok it rained all day, and of course I had lost my umbrella right before it started pouring. I've been carrying that umbrella around with me every single dry day for the past month, so I had to lose it just before the rains.

Despite the rain I ran some errands in Bangkok yesterday. I got in from Nan at 5:30 in the morning and finally, after searching fruitlessly for the bus that would take me where I needed to go, I took a taxi to Pra Athit. This is where I needed to be to catch the airport shuttle later in the day. I had a tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, and headed out on my errands. I've reached an intermediate level of accessing Bangkok. There are still hundreds of bus lines I don't know about, and parts of town I've never been to, but I know enough to get from the river to pretty much anywhere, by boat, bus, Skytrain, and subway. The battery on my digital camera has been dying rather quickly, so I took the boat and Skytrain to Siam Paragon to try and buy a second battery. Luckily there were about four stores inside the mall that sold my camera, its battery, and the knock-off versions of its battery (much cheaper!).

I walked through the Chulalongkorn University area again, just because it's fun to look inside the fancy boutiques, check out the fancy coffee shops and cafes, and see what all the rich Thai university students do for fun. I decided that I should get a haircut. Now, I got a haircut in Salaya, but it was just as though someone lobbed a few inches off my existing hairstyle without doing anything to modify it. Also, young Thai school girls are often required to keep their hair a certain length, and my cut was coincidentally identical to that. And it was noticeable; Rung laughed at me and some Thai people pointed at me and snickered. Haircuts near Chula were expensive, though, so I took the Skytrain back to Banglamphu and went to the 100 baht haircut place. It's a pretty cool haircut. It's the one I was envisioning in the first place: short in the back, longer in the front, with some longish bangs on one side. And how much was it, you ask? Less than $5, that's how much.

Wow, I'm blabbing about my haircut, but what I really want to write about is Vietnam. I'm in love. I've been here less than 24 hours but already I really REALLY really really like Hanoi. Today I had breakfast at the hostel (tasty baguette and a banana) then walked toward the lake for some coffee. I had heard that people in Vietnam are generally less friendly than people in Thailand, but I don't think this is true at all. Maybe I've just been less inclined to feel frustrated, or more smiley than normal, but people have been very friendly.

After I walked around the lake, I walked across town to the Temple of Literature, originally built in the 11th century as a Confucian temple. Much of it has been recreated and remade since the U.S. war destroyed a lot of Vietnam's ancient structures. But it was really pretty. I met a little girl there and we "talked"for awhile, meaning she spoke Vietnamese to me like I was a baby, a developmentally delayed person, or a doll. I responded with sound effects, smiles, and exaggerated facial expressions. She ate her yogurt near me and I shared some rambutan with her. It was a precious experience.

After leaving the Temple of Literature I took a xyclo (pronounced sick-low, also known as rickshaw or pedicab) to an incredible vegetarian restaurant. Unlike in Thailand where Buddhist monks like their pork, in Vietnam Buddhists are supposed to eat vegetarian, but there is a tradition of cooking mock meat dishes to make meat-eaters feel at home when they're guests of vegetarians. This meal was delicious. Spring rolls, greens rolled and stuffed with tofu and mushrooms, fake grilled beef, soup. I was in heaven.

I walked back to the hostel after gorging, and I'm planning on letting my food digest before heading out toward the lake again for some ice cream. This city is so photogenic. I want to take a picture of everything. It's hard not to romanticize it when it's beautiful in that way that is particular to things that are slightly run-down and colorful.

I saw a display of photos today of all these mangled body parts. It was some sort of public health announcement, but completely gruesome. A woman's exposed brain, a baby's arm ripped off, a huge gash on the side of someone's face. A disembodied hand. There are still some propaganda posters here and there, but Vietnam is quickly being swept along in the tide of globalization and capitalism.

I am excited to be here. It's even better than I'd imagined. I can't wait to share my photos, too.


Cokie said...

i can't wait to see your photos! i'm sure they are amazing.

Andrew O said...

Yeah, let's see that new haircut!

(also, never buy knock-off batteries! They can ruin the device!)