This is from December 27, 2004, from my SE Asia trip
"they are a quicker people" the old Austalian man told me when we waited at baggage claim and we were laughing about how the Vietnamese all unclicked their seatbelts and stood up before the plane stopped moving, when it was still braking really hard. It was like the plane was on fire and they all had to race off. He compared the thai to the vietnamese. The thai people move slower and I think he's right.
The taxi ride into town was interesting. Instead of palm trees there were boxy commie looking buildings, grey sky and more motorbikes than I have ever seen. NO traffic rules, no stop lights. Everyone keeps going in a continuous flow and people beep their horns constantly in a way that says "I'm here, don't hit me". I went right to the corner that I found in Lonely Planet that had a lot of cheap hotels. As soon as I got out, I started to panic because I didn't know how I was ever going to cross the street. Motorbikes came at me in every direction and exhaust fumes were really stinky. Everyone seems calm and smiley but Hanoi really got on my nerves at first. It makes me really jumpy and panicky. I found a little hotel in an alley that had little old people with black teeth making soup and grilling meat inches from the curb. They all sit on little chairs just a few inches from the ground. My hotel was nothing special - for $8 a night it wasn't horrible. Every place I've stayed had a hose attached to the wall for a shower, no stall, just a drain on the bathroom floor so the floor is ALWAYS wet. I didn't mind in Chiang Mai because the place was so homey and fun. But this lobby had no charm. Charming lobby and I can overlook a lack of shower stall. My room had big spots of dirt on the wall and I tried to imagine how they got there. I decided that a dirty guy had slapped his feet on the wall, perhaps he had a prostitute over. I did have a cute little french balcony though. And the alley I was in had great little hole in the wall restaurants. Literally, holes in the wall where they all squat by the street and eat noodles. I wandered around and figured the best way to cross the street was to wait until some Vietnamese people had to cross, then cross with them and look down. If you look up, you see no less than 10 motorbikes coming at you. They swerve just in time. It's crazy. You have to un-learn everything you learned about crossing the street. They have a lot of great little clothing/art shops in Hanoi too, it's nice and not slummy for the most part. I had dinner, then walked past a massage place and said why not?
Now, I've become quite a massage conniseur. I get them at work, in Chicago and I had a few in Thailand that were fantastic. In thailand they were $5 an hour. $5!! You may have a dog sleeping in the corner, or a lizard on the wall and it's a little grungy but that's part ofthe fun. Both times in Thailand they give you a clean cotton outfit to wear and they were very businesslike and knew exactly what they were doing. I walked in to this place and asked for the hour massage. The place had a sleazy, colored florescent feel to it and I could hear some guy grunting in another room but I figured it was all good. I went into a little room that had a window looking into the lobby. No outfit to change into. huh. OK, so I left my underwear on and got under the sheet. An 80 pound, maybe 20 year old Vietnamese girl came in and poured baby oil on me. That's not what normally happens! She looked at me like "I know you made mistake by coming in here, so I will try to give you a half-assed massage even though you not normal client". I could see guys coming in the lobby, all guys,and something just wasn't..right... I kid you not, I think people get things other than massages in there. It was just so wierd. The Vietnamese lady tried to pull off my underwear and I said "oh! no! I leave it on!" haha. So I got a half-assed massage by a vietnamese lady who is used to giving "other" massages. This was Christmas eve so in the background they played loud Christmas songs sung by Asians with bad synthesizer in the background."Iiiiiiiiim deeming of a whiiii Chrit-mit!".... that would be a medley with"jingle bell! jingle bell! Jingle all da way!" with a cheesy synthesizer beat in the background. It was like when I used to play my Grandma's organ and press the "bossa nova" button.I left the massage oily and a little more stressed out than when I walked in. I used the bathroom and set my bag on some tile by the sink. I picked it up and saw that it was wet and smelled it. Oh yes! I had just put it in the urinal. Luckily it was a disposable bag but it had some important papers in it.
Later I went into an irish bar for some christmas eve fun and talked to some irish guys for awhile and hung out with them. At midnight everyone toasted to Christmas. Christmas is a big party inVietnam and Thailand, .like St Patricks day. Just a normal day but an excuse to drink. I seem to hang out with a lot of irish people on this trip.
I booked my 2 day trip to Halong bay and left early the next morning on a bus with about 10 other people. Aussies, germans, some italians. Our guide was "Tinh", a cute tiny little Vietnamese guy. He gave us a speech on the bus, welcoming us to Vietnam, telling us about the boat and the trip.
"you will haf many fun and comforts on da boat fo you. At night we have Carole King on da boat"
"Carole King?" I asked
"yes! Carole King."
"Carole King....like the 1970s singer? huh?"
"I think he means "karaeoking" the Australian guy suggested.
We boarded a big boat with sleeping cabins and a nice louge. Cheng, a Taiawnese/Austalian girl was my cabin-mate. To make a long story short, we all ate a lot, compared travel stories, drank beer, kayaked and napped on the roof. typical excursion. At night for Carole King, Tinh sang some off-key Asian songs and the rest of us found songs and sang. Actually, I took a nap and missed most of it. There were bad songs - Richard Marx, some oldies and that stupid titanic Celine Dion song. Everyone else sang and drank but I went to bed early and slept more than I have slept in a month. I was in a rare antisocial mood and enjoyed sleeping very much -the boat rocked and the bed was really comfortable. Of course they had "Last Christmas" by George Michael. That is Vietnam's favorite Christmas song. I heard it at least 7 times in 2 days. On the plane, on the street,on the boat. I could hear my boat-mates singing it and jumping up and down upstairs.On the way home we made a pop and food stop at the "Handicapped children''s factory" where little girls sit in rows stitching cloth and we stood around buying snacks. There was a sign on the wall saying that all profits go to familes affected by agent orange.
I decided to leave Hanoi. I didn''t even see the most famous things there- Ho Chi Minh's body under glass, the Hanoi hilton and the anti-american film. I just wanted to leave town and go somewhere more chilled out. I will probably regret it later but dammit, I''m on vacation and I don''t need to run around and see everything. I know the history already and I''d rather do things like drink coffee (vietnamese coffee is so good! espresso with tons of sweet syrup in it) and take cooking classes and drink beer and be lazy. Oh well.
Now I am in Hoi An, a beautiful little tropical french colonial town with alot of art galleries and cool stuff to buy. I''m moving south so it's finally hot. Tomorrow night I take another cooking class and today I am just going to sit at a cafe and read a book about the famous photo of the burned running girl from the war.Well, my dad informed me that a tsunami has hit the thai islands and that's where I go next. I hope it's done by the 30th because that's where I wanted to go! I have not read a paper, or seen any news since the 16th so I have no idea what''s going on. I guess I need to check on that. I must say the Vietnamese are super nice though. They take no for an answer the first time and don't hassle you about buying things. They almost run you over with their motorbikes, but they are very polite about almost killing you. There have been a few occasions when they could have over-charged me or taken advantage of my confusion but they haven''t. I did have a guy say to me "america!" (rat-tat-tat-insert mock machine gun gesture here) But he was just joking around. Another funny thing - I''ve been catching myself talking in broken english. "how.. late.. you.. open?" I come back in ten meenute!" "i buyteeket?"
hope you had a Mehlly Chrit-mat!