Good morning, Vietnam! We are in a coffee nation, thank you, thank you, thank you! I am not even much of a coffee drinker at home in BC but that is because we don’t have Vietnamese coffee. If I told you that the way to drink it here is to start with hot Carnation evaporated milk, then top it with scalding, thick, dark coffee, you would probably think I was mad, but seriously, there is nothing nearly as good. Starbuck’s is a sad sad comparison, I don’t care how you take it. And after so long trying and failing to find a decent cup of tea in China, it is so wonderful that I am up to 3 cups of java a day. Yum!
Getting here was the usual story of leaving China—late to get off the ground, for whatever reason. We landed in Hanoi an hour and 15 later than we should have, and then patiently made our way through the email visa process and customs. So far, so good. Things went south shortly thereafter.
Nowhere else in our trip have I bothered with a guide but for this leg I decided to use a contact of a friend. Problem was that he couldn’t be paid on-line with visa and needed cash upon arrival, millions of Vietnamese dong. (Ed. Note: 22,454,000VND – or $985 US – honest). It is really difficult for us to get money or do much of anything with banks in China as we are paid in Canada and do not have an account there. We had tried to wire the money or do an email transfer but neither would work, so we were a little worried about getting out as much cash as needed. Geoff spotted the ATMs and went over to start the process. Bad luck, the machines would only spit out the equivalent of $94 at a time, so Geoff told me to get going on other machines, which was when I discovered I hadn’t brought my cash card with me. Let’s just say he was not happy with me. (Ed. Note: No comment)
Let’s also say he was not happy when the machines stopped giving him money after only 2 transactions – $188.00. Continuing on, let’s say he was still not happy with me when we arrived at the hotel and he asked the bell boy to show him where there was another ATM. He was still not happy when the guide showed up and said no problem, he could be paid tomorrow or the next day or the next day, it didn’t matter. Stopping in the middle of numerous trips to the ATM, he called the TD bank in Canada and went on a rant about constantly having his card blocked in Asia and will they kindly see to it right NOW? (Ed. Note: they did) He was even less happy still when he realized that neither he nor I had his wallet and that he had left it, with his credit cards, driver’s license, $200, medical card etc. etc. at the airport ATMs. Several days have passed and although still no wallet, happily for me, Geoff is happy now.
Hanoi is not like any city we have experienced. Our friend Peter mentioned getting culture shock when they arrived here last year. Living in China we thought we wouldn’t experience that but what a shock! Remember that motorcycle count I did in Jiaxing, 65 bikes in 5 minutes? Downtown Hanoi, 65 passed in 37 seconds. The traffic is crazy in China and the sidewalks are sometimes a little precarious but in Hanoi, they are impassable. Motorbikes are parked from curb to doorstep and where you might be able to walk a little ways, you are constantly running into outdoor ‘cafes’ where groups of locals perch on tiny, smaller-than-child-size stools, drinking coffee and or eating pho.
So mostly, you walk on the road, along with thousands of motorcycles, a small number of cars, scooters and other assorted modes of transport. You must walk and watch at all times. Our son, Joe, described crossing the street as making a go for it, just keep moving, knowing the scooters will move like a school of fish around you. It works but not in a relaxed way. In one night and day, we had a good look around the old quarter and found some good food and great coffee (did I mention the coffee?).
We also took a one hour tour by bicycle. After a little awhile we noticed that other bicycle drivers were looking at us and making comments to our guy. It appears that although he offered to take both of us, it is normal for one person, one cart. This poor guy was wheeling somewhere in the neighbourhood of 320 pounds around. Plus, Geoff mentioned that every once in awhile he would slow down, to which I responded, “That’s because he’s lighting up another cigarette.” Go figure. (Ed. Note: Why are there so many scooters? Reason 1. Average annual income – $3000. Cost of gas – $1.00/litre Reason 2. Tax on cars imported – 2-3 times the cost of the car).
There are lot of street vendors – and some of them really get in your face. (Ed. note: A twinge of guilt when you say no – this is how they keep themselves and their family alive)
On the other hand some of them are quite trusting. I bought some t-shirts and needed a larger size for one of them. The woman handed Geoff her stock and took off down the street to get the one she needed.
This woman wants to keep up on current events.
And then there is the option to buy food.
Vietnamese New Year (anyone recall the Tet offensive?) is this week. They celebrate by bringing orange trees and peach blossoms into their home and decorating them. How do they get them home, you ask.
The Shoe Blog
The shoe blog may take a hit over the next couple of weeks. At first blush, Hanoi and perhaps Vietnam does not appear to be the fashion capital that Jiaxing and Shanghai are. Thus it is back to China for this entry. If you remember, a couple of postings ago Geoff talked about the Mercedes convertible outside Starbucks. Well one of these shoes belongs to the woman driving it and the other belongs to a woman who drives a black Malibu (Ed. note: when she is home.)