Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Vietnam part 2: Hanoi

We arrived in Hanoi Friday afternoon. After some brief trouble with the taxi driver not understanding my father's less than impressive attempts to pronounce his own suburb name we were on our way.
For reasons I still don't quite understand, Vietnam have scheduled blackouts in each area due to not having enough electricity to supply everyone all the time. Apparently they buy it as opposed to making it and there's a bit of a discrepancy between supply and demand. On the day we arrived in Hanoi, our suburb was electricity free.

After a tour of the 4 story, deep and narrow house there wasn't a huge amount to do within its walls (what with there being no electricity. GEEZUS) so me and Steph went fruit shopping in the surrounding streets with Twee. Everywhere we went people stared. I think the fact that there were Caucasians in such a locals-dominated area, especially since one of those Caucasians had red hair and happened to be taller than anyone else as far as the eye could see, generated a lot of attention.

That night we headed into town for dinner at a restaurant where you can actually go into the kitchen and simply point at the various things you want. I left Twee to do the pointing and just stood in awe. After dinner we went to my dad's favourite bar in Hanoi- Bucket Bar. Now I was thinking it would be a fairly quiet sort of place full of locals.

I was wrong.

My dad's favourite bar was packed full of young backpackers staying in the hostel across the road. There were coloured lights and loud music. It was a club, that must have doubled as a creche, judging by the average age of the patrons. After one and a half Long Island ice tea buckets, we decided Dad had had enough and that it was a good idea to cut him off. So we swapped his half full bucket for an empty one when his back was turned. Unfortunately, it didn't fool him and he noticed that his drink was considerably dryer than before.

At around the time that people started drunkenly dancing on the bar we made our exit and found a taxi home. Dad was rambling away in the front seat about he'd like to open his own bar and have proper bar dancers- scantily clad Vietnamese women to be exact. Yes, cutting him off was a good idea. Shame it didn't work.
Getting to sleep wasn't easy that night. there was a strange cacophony of sounds, mostly from an indeterminable source. Firstly, there was a dog barking. This mingled in with what sounded like someone dropping planks of wood on a tile floor in the middle of a very aggressive ping pong match. On top of this, there was a sound that can only be described as being exactly like an army of people walking up and down the stair withs woks strapped to their feet. It's still a mystery as to what exactly was going on in that street. 

On Saturday we went into town again for some shopping. We started with an early lunch (second breakfast if you will) of Pho Ga at one of the many restaurants lining the streets. I manage to embarrass myself with the simplest of things, including eating soup and that day was no exception. I was perched on a stainless steel stool, in a chiffon maxi skirt. Steph asked me to move over because she didn't have enough table space. My body moved but my stool sort of stayed where it was and I went tumbling downwards- thankfully able to catch myself before I ended up arse on floor and covered in soup.

Vietnam is a great place to shop for a few select things: DVDs and paintings.
You will only pay 25,000 dong a disc. That's just over $1 AUD. It's madness.
Now yes, they are illegal and yes you could say it's also morally wrong but who cares? Most of them are surprisingly good quality. Just avoid the movies that are still in cinemas because they're not even worth trying to watch most of the time. Unless you like hearing the audience cough, or seeing the screen move out of view when the camera falls down.

As for paintings, in Hanoi at least there are a tonne of art shops. It's all hand painted and it's all cheap. there are plenty of copies of well known works- Lichtenstein is quite popular- as well as a few original designs or ideas that seem to keep popping up from store to store- they're really big on the four seasons thing. I got two small square canvas paintings for $18, which is ridiculously cheap compared to what I'd pay at home. There's something so nice about buying art. it really makes me feel good and ti was nice to actually be able to afford some.

That night we cooked our own dinner. We went into town and sat on tiny plastic chair at a street food place and cooked the most delicious beef. While we were eating, a woman carrying a basket of some unidentifiable fried dessert things came past about 4 times, trying to convince us to buy some. Clearly, as we were eating dinner, we weren't really interested in dessert.

After our meal we went across the road, back to Bucket bar for more buckets and inappropriateness. We sat out the front and hadn't been there more than ten minutes when a different dessert lady came around to offer her desserts. At this point, after seeing them so much, i was getting pretty damn curious so I asked her how much they were. Without responding, she started filling up a bag. I turned away to find my wallet and when i looked back, she was attempting to empty her entire basket of fried goods into a single freezer bag- for me. I tried to explain that I only wanted one, my sister and father doubled up with laughter beside me, but that didn't work so well. We managed to cut her down to half the amount and send her on her way.

Not long after, the original dessert lady came past and tried once again to offer me fried things. Finally, i had a reason to say no! I pointed at the freezer bag and said "I already bought some" and she fixed me with this look as if she though I was solely responsible for everything bad in the world. She stood there for quite some time, trying to stare me down and guilt me into buying more fried things, but I stood my ground. Eventually, she left. It may have been the funniest 15 minutes of my life.

Vietnam, being a communist country, has a 10pm curfew on all bars and restaurants. The locals, who depend so much on the tourists to make money, ignore that curfew. at around midnight the police came round and kicked everyone out of Bucket Bar. Me and Steph were standing on the street, waiting for a taxi when a very helpful yet slightly creepy local man who had more hair on this mole on his face than on top of his head offered to drive us home on the back of his bike. Being drunk and impatient, we accepted. Thankfully we got home without any trouble.

On the Sunday, our last full day in Vietnam, I didn't use my camera at all. Dad had a housewarming party and i spent the entire day wishing i was any where else. I wasn't in the mood to be socialising with strangers, particularly strangers who seem to think it's acceptable to get drunk to the point of puking in the middle of the day, and strangers with whom I had a considerable language barrier. Seriously though, don't give Vietnamese people alcohol- they drink like crazy! Middle aged people, throwing up at 4pm! What is the world coming to? Eventually, most of the guests had left and all that remained were a few stragglers. Instead of lying in a dark room by myself or plonking on the couch with some DVDs and a bowl of pasta like I really wanted to do, I had to go for a walk around a huge lake.

Eventually everyone cleared off and I happily made spaghetti arrabiata (the sauce was from a jar, fyi) and plonked on the couch with some DVDs. We watched two movies, with my dad snoring on the couch next to us the entire time. I woke him up no less than four times and told him to go to bed but he'd just say "in a minute" then promptly fall back to sleep.

The next day we'd hoped to head into town fairly early to make the most of our last day. Unfortunately, because the irresponsible party host (my father) had gotten drunk in the middle of the day, there was a lot of cleaning up to do from the day before. I, smug because I hadn't drank at all, felt no guilt at all in sleeping in and then sitting on the couch staring off into space and eating mango while the cleaning was taking place. I was the only one who didn't spill any drinks, there for I should be absolved from mopping up the sticky balcony, yes? I think so.

At around noon we finally left and went into town for the last time. We didn't have much spare time but we had lunch (Pho Bo this time) and did some quick browsing. I had 1,000,000 left still (considering I withdrew 2,500,000 at the start of the trip, I'm quite impressed with myself) which I was hoping to spend but nothing doing. We went back to the house for one last time to pack and then jumped in a taxi to the airport.

The trip home was even more torturous than the trip there. From Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh a fat little girl was sat behind me and kicked my chair the whole way. I told Steph that I would be immeasurably delighted if I was behind her on the next leg so i could exact my revenge. I shocked Steph a little by following up with "she was fat so I wanted to kick her anyway."

Let me just point out fat children make me really angry. It's wrong, unfair and bad parenting. Fat kids are set up for a life of obesity before they can even make conscious decisions about their health and it's a very difficult cycle to break if you've been brought up to eat wrong.

It was an overnight flight which meant I should have been sleeping but of course was completely unable to. I did, however, watch a lot of movies. I was truly happy to get home to a land where showers have walls and there a reasonable noise pollution laws. I've realised that travelling with other people isn't really something I enjoy. I got home, unpacked, showered without fearing tinea/serious injury from the wet floor and went straight to Top Ryde for sushi train with James.

There's no place like home.

-m xx

1 comment:

  1. You know Mel, I'm feeling nice today so I am going to compliment you. I really enjoy reading your narrative stories. I can visually follow your trip in my mind and I imagine it was quite interesting. Your dad sounds awesome. I had no idea Vietname was communist...and immature of me yes, but I LOLed at 25,000 dong.

    I don't get mad about fat kids, but you argue a very good point about them. Have you seen Kindergarten Cop? I posted a youtube link on your FB.