Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Over His Dead Body

By the time I finished writing yesterday's entry, I was wiped out. I went back up to the room and went right to sleep. I napped for about an hour, then woke up. I was still having trouble concentrating, so I napped again, and dad woke me up 15 minutes before our dinner reservation.

We had dinner in the hotel's french restaurant, one of the most famous and elegant in Hanoi. Both of us felt slightly under dressed. Dad had a Vietnamese beer, which he thoroughly enjoyed, but I thought it safe to stay away from alcohol given how tired I still was. I had a club soda, which came with ice cubes. I decided not to panic over the ice, and this morning I found that the ice in the hotel restaurants is made with bottled water, not tap, so I had nothing to worry about.

Dad ordered french onion soup and the grilled salmon (all of which he thought was wonderful), while I had the fig and duck pate with grilled leeks, and then the sea bass stewed in red wine and winter vegetables. I had thought about getting the soup, but I had had a big bowl for lunch. My fish was delicious and the pate was great.

The only off putting thing was they offered us an appetizer of beef tartar, and I won't eat raw meat. I debating telling my father, but decided I ought to, and he didn't want to eat it either, so we left it untouched.

After dinner, dad and I took a walk around the block the hotel is on. They have two classic autos (and 1953 and 1956 Citroen) in which you can reserve to be driven around the city. The streets were lit and still full of mopeds. We got back to the lobby, but it was too early to go to bed. We sat in the lobby for awhile and read, but dad went up to bed around 8:30. I tried to hold out to 9 pm, but ended following him up 20 minutes later.

We had arranged a wake up call for 7 am, but I ended getting up around 6:40. Still, that's 9 and a half hours sleep (11, if you include the earlier naps). We met with our fellow cruise mates at breakfast, as I struggled repeatedly to get names right. I really want to be better at this time.

The breakfast buffet provided by the cruise was a mix of traditional and American breakfasts. On the one hand they had congee, sticky rice, and steamed veggies (I had the latter two); on the other they had a omelet station, cereal, and milk. There was also some fresh fruit, though far less than one might find, for example, at an Israeli buffet breakfast.

As we waited for our first morning briefing, one gentleman, from Kenya originally, but now living in Texas, tried to start a political discussion by making some rather strident remarks about how giving hand outs to Indians after putting them on reservations only led to alcoholism, and why people should be encouraged to work or starve. Neither dad nor I rose to the bait. When the director talked about news on TV, such as CNN or BBC, I heard him mutter "and Fox!"

Many of the people we've met so far have been very nice. There's Karen and Janice, a very nice couple from Rhode Island, and Gloria and Tom, a retired couple from Palm Desert. I was surprised to see one man with a kippah at breakfast this morning. He and his wife split their time between Tsfat and Virginia City. I'm not sure how he'll deal with the food issues, but I heard him order the pho soup without meat for lunch today, so I guess he's going vegetarian.

We loaded up on buses this morning to visit some of the more prominent historical sites. First on the list was the tomb of Ho Chi Minh. A few people, dad included, wanted to remain on the bus, but it turns out this wasn't possible. You can really see how strong the Soviet influence has been on the aesthetics of the Vietnamese communist party. The uniforms and various public symbols are all redolent of Soviet iconography. Even the tomb itself, with Ho Chi Minh displayed in a glass box coffin (he looks very waxy), seems modeled on Lenin's tomb in Moscow.

Afterwards, we saw the old French governor's mansion and the small gardener's house nearby the Ho Chi Minh used. The buildings were interesting and they gave one a small feel for French Indochina. Our final stop this morning was the Temple of Literature. This Confucian Temple was dedicated 1000 years ago. There are a serious of courtyards, several decorated with dragons. One of the courtyards is filled with stone stelae, honoring scholars who passed the examination (the Chinese examination system was used to staff the imperial bureaucracy). Think of them as successful Ph.D. candidates. The final courtyard contains a temple with incense and statues, and places to pray. When I got on the bus, I noted the man with the kippah had not gone in, so I mentioned that it was just a little bit of avodah zorah (idol worship).

On the way back to the hotel, they distributed green silk ribbons (we're in the green group). We need to tie this to our big suitcase, since when we check out tomorrow, this will go directly to the airport and we won't get it back until we're in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We need to take an overnight bag for the junk in Ha Long Bay.

Two things about Hanoi that really stood out to dad and I:
1) Dad repeatedly points out the masses of electrical wires the flow across and down the street in a crazy, mixed up fashion.
2) I have been struck by the complete absence of dogs or cats. There's absolutely no dog droppings on the street nor can dogs be seen anywhere. Similarly, there are no stray cats at all. I asked the guide, but he asked me to hold all my questions for the long bus ride tomorrow. Among the questions that I'm waiting to hear answers for are: when and why did Vietnam adopt the Roman script; why are there no dogs or cats; and was Hanoi seriously damaged by U.S. bombardment during the war?

Dad and I went back to the poolside cafe for lunch (two more bowls of pho), and dad is now napping. In about 40 minutes, we rejoin everyone for our rickshaw ride through the old town and then a water puppet show this afternoon. We're going to try to get reservations at the Hanoi Press Club for dinner, as it's only a block from the hotel and the guide book describes it as one of the most popular "dining experiences in Hanoi."

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