Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hanoi....March 13, 2009

It is almost 10:00pm here in the Old Quarter of downtown Hanoi. This has been a long day, but before trying to sleep off the jetlag, here in the Hoang Thanh hotel, I wanted to get some notes down. I'll have to ask somebody to post this on blogger, because is in Vietnamese, and I don't have the energy to try to fix it to accommodate my inability to read it. This quarter of Hanoi is bustling, with streets full of motorbikes, some with three riders, going both directions. There are no lanes in these streets, and no traffic lights, it is a free for all, between the motorbikes, bicycles, pedicabs, automobiles, and pedestrians. Luckily, it is such a crap shoot, that people are driving pretty slowly and using the horns liberally. We saw two accidents today with no injuries. I see no homeless, no panhandling, no mumbling wanderers. Everyone is occupied, going someplace with freight on their bike, or bags/baskets of fruit/vegetables hanging on bamboo planks carried on one shoulder, or sweeping the sidewalk in front of their home/business, or cooking up food to sell to passersby. People seem happy and friendly, attractive and well- but not over- fed. On the trip from the airport, the man who will be our contact during our Hanoi stay, Hieu, a very nice, 30ish type guy, gave us a quick lesson on Vietnamese pronounciation, party membership, the Red River Valley, market economics, healthcare and schooling, and how bygones are bygones regarding the American War. He said his father had joined the army in 1974, and stayed in until retirement.
After Hieu deposited us in the hotel, the wife of the man who will be our real tour guide for our bicycle trip dropped by to settle business, collecting our fees for the trip, another very friendly and polite exchange. The exchange rate here is more than 17000 dong to the dollar, so we are typically dealing with tabs and charges in the hundreds of thousands of dong. It takes getting used to, and we're still cloudy from the long flight.
We did a lot of walking today, dodging motor bikes, enjoying the mix of aging, colorful architecture. Aspects of this city remind me of Puebla or Oaxaca City, crowded, but neat, with people living behind or above a sidewalk business, with lots of food being cooked on charcoal stoves on the sidewalk. In the course of our walking we found art galleries, antique stores selling old Buddha statues and opium pipes, and a store devoted to revolutionary posters left over from the struggle years from 1945 to 1975. This store also had lots of pictures of NLF troops working on tunnels, standing atop blown up American armor, and slogging through rice paddies and jungles with RPGs and AK-47s held high. Very interesting.

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