Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bumper-Level View of Hanoi Traffic

The highlight of Wednesday afternoon was a rickshaw ride through the heart of Hanoi. These are also called "cyclos" or pedicabs, and seat one person. I only had to close my eyes twice as we went through particularly busy intersections. The ride was a blast, and we not only got to see Hanoi traffic up close and personal, but we also could see whole aspects of contemporary Vietnamese life.

One of the things that most stands out is how young the society is. I don't know the average age, but it is far younger than in the U.S. You really can see how people are hustling to make a better life for themselves. There are also three classes (in this communist society). There are those who dress very stylishly, in suits, ties, dresses, or other very fashionable outfits. Then you have the working class, who sit on small stools or squat on the pavement. Sometimes, you see groups of workers eating meals together. The third group are more "peasant-like" than the workers, and wear the conical hat one associates with peasants. Mostly women, you see them carrying two baskets suspended on a pole, draped over their shoulders.

After 45 minutes, we reached our final destination (dad said he thought he'd seen all two million scooters in Hanoi), and we began our walking tour of the old quarter. I love markets, and this was particularly colorful. I saw my first dog and cat of the trip (the guide pointed the dog out to me since I had asked him about why there weren't any dogs this morning; I still have to wait until tomorrow's bus ride to find out why). We saw people lathing wood, doing metal work, cooking food, and butchering, all on the sidewalk.

The hard part was finding a way for 24 people to cross the street safely and all stay together. The guides had us all line up in rows and then cross slowly in a group (the guide stood on the side closest the oncoming traffic). We did this three times, with no injuries.

We ended back where the cyclos had dropped us off. The guide told us we had 10 minutes if we would like to go into the building and visit "the happy room." Ah, I said to the confused woman next to me, "it's a bathroom break." After 10 minutes we went in to watch the water puppet show.

I think dad liked this best of all. I, however, was starting to fade. It was 5 pm here, or 2 am in Los Angeles, and even with 11 hours sleep, my body is still on California time. The puppets were skillfully managed, and the music was enjoyable, but I nodded off (or would have had there been any space). Afterwards, we came back and gave the guide our passports, extra photos, and cash for our Cambodian visas.

When we got on the bus to go back to the hotel, I took the first two seats available. I noticed that someone had left something in the back of the seats when we had used these buses in the morning. A few minutes later, a woman angrily accused me of sitting in their seats. I reminded her that the main guide had said we would be rotating our seats over the trip. She huffily responded that she didn't know that meant we would be doing that today. Personally, I was rather surprised she had left anything on the bus earlier as there was no guarantee we would be having the same bus on other days (there are two buses being used). She is a rather fabissineh woman from Canada. On the day we arrived, dad and I heard saying she had no intention of providing a credit card impression to the hotel. Dad thought that she hadn't traveled very much.

I had made reservations for dinner at the Hanoi Press Club and it certainly lived up to its reputation. Across the street from the hotel, the restaurant has dark wood floor, beautiful, dark wooden shutters and pillars, and an overall feeling of French colonial rule. I start off with the cream of leek soup, which was hot and tasty. Dad and I both had salmon: his was steamed, while mine was grilled. We both loved our meal, and were too stuffed for dessert.

Now I'm going to head up to finish packing up my luggage. I'll post this tomorrow morning before we head to Ha Long Bay, as I don't think we'll have internet access on the junk, and any further update will have to wait until we're in Cambodia.

I went to sleep around 9 pm last night, and woke up at 6:20 this morning. Slept rather fitfully as the thermostat in the room was set at 25 (I found it this morning). Far warmer than I'm comfortable with. We're all packed and we're leaving in a few minutes for Ha Long Bay. I probably won't have another update for 36 hours.

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