Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Close Your Eyes and Pray to God

or how to cross the street in Hanoi.

The seats on our Dragonair flight to Hanoi had even less legroom than our Cathay Pacific flight, but at least these could recline. Unfortunately, that meant when the guy in front of me reclined, my paper was in his scalp. Luckily, it was a short flight.

We breezed through passport control in Hanoi. I've never, ever gone through passport control that quickly. A slightly nerve-wracking wait for luggage, mostly because we got an earlier flight to LA and I wasn't sure our luggage would catch up, but then we breezed through customs.

We had no trouble finding AMAWaterways, but they had trouble finding us. Someone goofed and they had us down on the no transfer list. Luckily, we happened upon them and they took us to the hotel. Had there not been others waiting for them, however, we might have had to wait in confusion, not understanding why no one was there to pick us up.

It was rather hazy and misty when we landed, and on the drive to Hanoi, someone asked the guide about smog. No, he said, this wasn't smoke like in China; rather, this time of year is generally misty and overcast. Walking around afterwards, we weren't choking, so I think this is mostly right.

Certain things really strike you right away about Hanoi. First is the enormous number of scooters and bicycles, zipping in and out, with only a few trucks, cars, and vans. The second thing is the architecture. In many communist countries (at least the ones in eastern Europe that I've seen), the state put up large, monotonous, generic apartment blocks where everyone lived. I generally describe such buildings as "charm free."

In Hanoi, by contrast, we saw almost no large buildings or flats, and none was generic. Most buildings were very thin, but varying in floors and depth, each differently decorated. I was really surprised by the variations.

Our hotel, the Sofitel Metropole Legend, is gorgeous. The room was clean and elegant. At first dad didn't think we had the complimentary water, so they brought more bottles. Then he found that the velvet wrapped bags didn't hold alcohol but the complimentary bottled water, so now we have 6 bottles of water. The room faces the old Opera House bar, but the windows are well sound proofed, so there's no street noise.

After showering and shaving, we went to lunch in the pool side cafe. We split an order of fried spring rolls, and we each had a bowl of pho, Vietnamese noodle soup. I'm trying to stay awake as long as possible (though I feel myself fading quickly), so after lunch we took an hour-long walk around the main lake at the center of old Hanoi.

The guide warned us about how to cross the street. Since the cars, scooters, and mopeds are constantly zipping by, they navigate based on where they think you're going to be. As a result, you can't stop, pause, or run while crossing the street, because that makes your position unpredictable. Instead, you just have to close your eyes, say a prayer, show no fear, and step out into the bedlam of traffic. The first major intersection, we crossed with a trio of middle aged women (always keeping them on the side of the oncoming traffic - no easy feat). The next time, there actually was a traffic cop.

There's a lot of communist-style posters (stuff one my see on display in the history of communism museum in Prague) commemorating the 65th anniversary of the beginning of the First Indochina War on December 19th. For new year's they have large numbers of kumquat trees for sale, so people can decorate their homes. Finally, there are a whole bunch of things under construction that seem to be rather kitchy displays, but of what we don't know.

At the center of the old part of Hanoi is a large green lake and park. Dad and walked around the perimeter of the lake, and then we returned to the hotel, where he went up to take a nap. I thought I might read my book for a while, but I'm so wiped that I may take a nap myself. Our dinner reservations are for 7pm (the French restaurant in the hotel), but I don't think I'm going to make it without a rest.


Steve said...

Hey Jeff (Phred). From the small world department, a friend of mine, Sheryl Beisman is also traveling in Vietnam and was at your same hotel on Friday Dec. 30th at least. I tred to describe you and your Dad to her so if you get one of those out of the blue "I know you" kind of greetings, you will know the source. Sheryl and I met on a UJA Mission about 8 years ago and we've remained friends. She is about 5-2, brown hair, lives on the WestSide and works in Marketing for a natural supplements company. So if you happen to run into each other, say hello for me. (She's also one of my FB buddies)


J.B. said...

We left the hotel in Hanoi on Thursday morning, December 29th, and spent that night on the junk in Ha Long Bay. Yesterday (the 30th), we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia, so there was no chance to meet her.

You also need to remember the time difference. Vietnam and Cambodia are 15 hours ahead of California. Put it this way: I'm typing this at 6:45 pm, Saturday night, December 31st. In California its 3:45 am, Saturday morning.