Before we get into Hanoi, there's one video -- one of my favorites, no less, which I forgot to post in the Beijing post.
As I mentioned before, Beijing was hella cold, and it took all our gear to keep everyone mostly warm. The best was this guy, just standing around at a newsstand, trying to stay warm.
He made me smile, is all.
So after a great time in China, and a bit of down-time in Korea chillin', Girlfriendoseyo and I got a chance to take a trip to Vietnam.
Soundtrack: this has nothing to do with Vietnam, but Regina Spektor is making me happy these days. On The Radio: Hit play and start reading.
Cool song, except that the melody's pretty much the same as this one. (Bowl of Oranges, by Bright Eyes)
Now, we went during the Lunar New Year holiday, got our tickets, took the plane down, and all the usual.
We got into the airport, got oriented. Now, Vietnam was quite a bit cooler than we expected -- temperature-wise. We were OK, but it wasn't quite the beachy-beach.
The first night was also the last night of serious shopping before the Lunar New Year holiday got rolling. Now, we were in the French Quarter -- the old old part of town in Hanoi, and also a totally nutso market area, to begin with, and even more so on, pretty much, the Christmas Eve equivalent in Vietnamese culture. Flowers are really important on New Year's, as are the tiny orange trees which were all over the place (and which are really difficult to make to produce oranges exactly at the lunar new year, and very expensive for a large one)...
I really like the energy in these pictures.
It was crazy busy. Too busy. Bikes everywhere, and junk and/or merchants blocking the sidewalks, so that you had no choice but to take your chances on the streets. After an hour walking around, it was too much for both of us.
The next day we piled onto a bus and headed out to Halong Bay. Yes, that's right. Halong Bay. I said it twice, so I could link to pages with information, and most importantly, photos, twice.
On the way out, we saw these flags on the side of the road. That was a little jarring to me, personally, growing up in capitalist Canada, and uber-capitalist Korea.
The houses were almost all tall and narrow and really deep, even free-standing ones that weren't competing for space on the street-front, and done up with really fun colours.
(this hotel's grey and baby blue, not TOO wacky, but a lot of buildings were yellow, red, orange -- fun colours!)
The tour guide was funny: we tourists had packed out a bus, and the guide stood up and said, "We have twenty more people to pick up" when the only remaining place to put them was either on laps or the roof. He was cool. Except when he tried to overcharge us for the Kayak ride, even after agreeing to a price before we got in the boat. (Nope, he didn't get away with that, folks. I'll pay for cool experiences, but I won't let myself get taken.)
We got on a boat, after a couple of hours on the bus. The boats were cute.
Halong Bay was misty, but still very nice.
I've mentioned how I like taking pictures of other people taking pictures of people. Right?
Some of the islands in Halong Bay have caves. Impressive.
The tour wasn't that illuminating (though the cave was well lit) -- most of it amounted to, "See those rocks? They look like a couple. See those rocks? They look like a dragon. See those rocks? They look like a rabbit."
This is the part that looked like the Madonna and Child (that's madonna mother of Christ, not Madonna the popstar) Whaddaya say?
We came back to town, and got off the bus near a lake called "Turtle Lake" right in the middle of Hanoi. It's famous and important there, and may or may not have a 300 year old giant turtle paddling around in the water. There's also a little temple/shrine in there. It's cool. Here's the lake during the day.
And here it is during the night, during the New Year's Festival countdown.
As midnight approached, and after, people were releasing these amazing paper lanterns into the sky, with a bit of burning cotton or something suspended at the bottom, to heat the air and cause it to rise. I took a ton of lovely pictures...
Including this one: one of the better pictures I've ever taken.
Here's a little video about the night.
It was lovely. Just lovely.
The next morning we set out and tried to have authentic Pho noodles, and on New Year's Morning, nothing, but nothing is open. Well, a few places, but not many. One we did find was a little street corner spot where the sliced meat and veggies waited in bowls, a huge pot of broth simmered, and noodles waited to be dropped in the bowl.
Different from the Pho noodles available in Seoul.That's how they do it in Hanoi, baby!
We ended up coffee...ing in a shop that was somehow open, and also quite charming. Girlfriendoseyo discovered the joys of french crepes (which I'd take over a crappy belgian waffle from most of those dumb waffle houses in downtown Seoul. Yech.)
But what I'd REALLY take over a dumb belgian waffle, is stuff made the way South-asians do bananas. Ever had a Thai-style banana/coconut milk dessert? Best part of the meal...and that's saying something with Thai food. Ditto for these fried bananas glazed in caramelized sugar syrup. I can't even begin to tell you how good they were, except that I'll say this: Seoul needs more people who know how to cook up a proper banana.We bummed around a coffee shop, and went onto the shrine island in the middle of the lake. It was New Year's day, so of course it was an important day for people to go and pay their respects to the Buddha, and the ancestors and such. The place was a madhouse, but it was really neat being able to attend a day that had a lot of importance for these people. Really cool, indeed.
This guy was outside the entrance to the island. I like the contrast between his face and the cow's. I don't know what Moses would have thought of all the golden cows around: it's the year of the Ox on the Chinese zodiac (which they call Year of the Buffalo, because water buffalo are more common than straight-up cows there)
This poor guy was trying to take admission tickets to let people on the island, but mostly he was just getting inundated. Look at his poor, beleaguered face.
We got tickets to the water puppet show, which was really nifty: these puppets are almost up to my hip, being operated by performers manipulating really long sticks. The stuff they can do is pretty amazing, and each of these puppets must have been really cleverly built.
The only problem with the Water Puppet show is that the theater was obviously designed for profit, and not for comfort: this lineup of (paying, so who cares) foreigners' knees gives you an idea of my degree of comfort during the last third of the show, gangly cur that I am.
We headed down to another eating district for dinner, and witnessed a scooter accident wherein the angry mom (her daughter had been knocked off the bike) tried, and nearly managed, to punch out some dude while carrying a baby on her hip. It was loud.
Then we got to the other food area . . . navigation is hard in the old quarter of Hanoi, because each street is named after what is usually sold on that street, so from one block to the next, the street might have a different name, and you might be on the right street, heading in the right direction, but without a map and a north/south orientation, you'd never know it.
Well, this other eating district was a complete washout: seriously, every place was closed. We spanned three blocks lengthwise and three sideways, and there was nothing open except one or two unsanitary-looking places serving the same Pho we'd already had that morning.
We headed back to the French Quarter, where we knew of a few places that'd be opened, and Girlfriendoseyo insisted on riding a pushcart just once, for the sake of the story. I negotiated a price, and he took us to a place called Cha Ca street.
The driver was nice, I guess. We didn't have exact change (mistake), so I needed to get change from the guy to get our agreed upon price. Without speaking any English but "beer" and "friend" and some cute body language, he pleaded for me to let him keep the change (so he could drink beer with his friends). The funny thing is, when I was insisting on getting all my change (because if he gets away with it on me, he's going to be emboldened to try something worse to rip off the next foreigner on his cart), I realized I was using the same voices and faces I used to use in trying to insist my little kiddie students obey my instructions to their fullness.
Wacky. The old guy was a rascal, though, and he made me laugh.
We went into this restaurant and got the best meal of our trip: cha ca fish cakes, fried and prepared with peanuts and some kind of magical sauce. The restaurant is called "Cha Ca La Vong" and they've been in business for about five generations now.
Remember how I said streets in the French Quarter were named after the items sold on that street? Well. . .
If the street you operate on is named after the dish your establishment serves, you're probably doing something right.
Finally, before catching a flight home, Girlfriendoseyo and I decided, spontaneously (and traveling spontaneously is still something GFOseyo is working on), to head up to the North gate of the French Quarter, and take a look at the huge market complex. Buddy, the spontaneous decisions have been the best ones, all the way through these epic journeys.
Now the market was closed, but the north gate was lovely in the dark. Really dark, though: this picture was a four second exposure, just to catch enough light to show you something.
Some kids were letting off fireworks in the empty (New Year's Day, remember?) market parking lot, and we saw this lovely tree on the side of the road.
However, the two highlights of the walkabout were the highway overpass/gate we found at the end of a quiet alley that looked like it should have dead ended instead: it wasn't as fancy as the old market gate, but having it right in the middle of sleepy little residential streets made it really charming.
The clear winner, though, was when I saw a fancy looking gate, and felt prompted to head inside. It was a buddhist temple, and not one of those "six hundred years ago, noblemen prayed to their ancestores here" temples, but one of those "two hours ago, a delivery man paid respects to his dead father right where you're standing now" -- and somehow, that authenticity rings true. What percentage of the visitors to Notre Dame de Paris actually go to worship God? I bet less than 10%. Probably 95% of the people at this place WERE there to call out to Buddha, either for themselves, or on behalf of someone. The garden, and the rooms inside reeked of real devotion, and in a back room, I could hear what sounded like the Buddhist equivalent to one of those bible studies that filled up my teens and early twenties. It was. . . real.
and beautiful. the interior pictures didn't turn out. There were statues in there and stuff, and they were nice, but they weren't impressive: that was kind of the point, really: they DIDN'T wow us; they just created a space for people to call on Buddha. The ornate lamps were covered with plastic protective coverings.
The garden was kept, but a little wild, and there was mildew on all the structures' corners.
Finally, we made our way back to the taxi waiting to bring us back to Korea. At the airport, they warned us. . . take a look. Apparently, I can't bring guns or tripods on the plane. . .
(look just right of center) nor medieval weapons.
OK, folks. That was Hanoi, and with that, my epic Winter '08-'09 China/Vietnam Triposeyo is concluded.
Thanks for reading, if anybody still is.
Probably nobody's still reading this. I could say all kinds of stuff and nobody would notice.
Pubic hair. Boobies. Wiener.
See I bet nobody even read that, because the post is so long. You've all tuned out and are just looking at the pictures.
That's OK. Hope you liked'em.