Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hanoi 1

We flew Dragon Air to Hanoi – a good flight, except for an obnoxious woman sitting next to Leslie doing some serious monkeyfying (playing with her toes) and complaining. We got in a little after 7pm and cleared customs/immigration before 8. Our hotel, Sunshine 2 had a car and driver waiting and were in our okay $22 room around 9. Photo below: Produce sold door-to-door

We’re staying in the “old quarter” area of Hanoi – streets ranging from narrow with room for one car to very narrow with room for motorcycles and bicycles only. The basic road rule of Southeast Asia is in place: bigger always has

precedence, i.e., buses and trucks trump cars, cars trump motorcycles, motorcycles trump bicycles, and everything trumps people. There are countless motorcycles on the road (not to mention parked packing/blocking the sidewalks) and so far we’ve seen only one traffic light. The way people cross the street is to spot some sort of a slight break and start walking, never slowing or hesitating and let the traffic flow around you. Rotten people that we are, we try to walk next to an old person or women and children, in hopes that this will increase our chances of survival.

Friday

Like most other budget hotels, the Sunshine 2

includes breakfast in the price. We had a nice, leisurely meal with strongly strong coffee, baguette, noodles, egg, fruit, but skipping the barely cooked bacon. Then out to the streets to fin

d another place to stay. It was too late to check out of our current place so

we put a deposit on a room at the Camellia 4, which is half a block from where we stayed the first time we were in Hanoi. Then it was a major expedition to change money. We’re so old-fashioned that we still use travelers checks and not many places change these, so we made our way through the maze of streets (the map makes it look straightforward, but it’s not) and part way

around Hoan Kiem Lake to a bank that does change TCs. Had a late lunch of cheese, tomato, and onion sandwiches and fried potatoes at the King Café near the Camellia. Then back to the hotel to rest. Are we getting a little old for this? Probably. We’re pretty tired. But here we are, together again. Photo: Flowers door-to-door

When we left the US, plans were being made for Leslie’s sister Becky to start chemotherapy in early December. We just got word that Becky died a few days before chemo was to start. She was diagnosed just about a month ago, so progression was shockingly fast. What a terrible thing – early 60s, seemingly healthy, big family, a good life. I’ve known her since she was 15, such a beautiful girl. It’s all too sad.

Last year we cancelled our trip to Asia because Leslie’s father was sick. This year we decided to go ahead with our plans as Becky would have gotten only 2 or 3 chemo treatments by the time we returned, so the long haul of cancer –

where we could have truly contributed – would be still to come. Another part of our thinking was that we don’t have many, if any Asia trips left in us. So here we are and there they all are and it’s impossible to return in time for the funeral. After talking with another sister and David, we decided to stay here and continue the trip because, really, what else is there to do?

No good options in this deal.

Walking in a daze around the streets of Hanoi, where people know something about death, with life and death close to the surface, we walk. Unreal.

Tuesday

We moved hotels from the Sunshine 2 to the Camellia 4 – a good move. Our room is twice the size, better breakfast buffet, an

d better (quieter) neighborhood for $25/night. Like other budget hotels in VN, the Camellia is very narrow with about four rooms on each floor. Our room is on the top/7th floor and has a good view over the rooftops of the Old Quarter. The roof covers a work area above us and we’re treated to random pounding, clattering, and what you might call unrestrained conversations among hotel staff. Photo: Room at Camellia. Photo below: This is an entire portable cafe - they're everywhere.

I met an internet friend at “chicken street” for a good time and good food. Chicken street, a block of nothing but places serving grilled chicken. We had 2 orders of great chicken served with cucumbers and vegetable in sweet vinegar and garlic, grilled bread, and chili sauce + beer over ice and I’m flashing back to the 1960s going to little lane-side stands in country villes and drinking beer over ice (don’t drink the ice

– they put ground up glass in it and you’ll die a horrible death – whatever, man) and one time going on a night ambush with a “civic action” squad somewhere near Danang, but what we really did was set up on some elevated railroad tracks not far from the ville where their position was and hung out on those tracks for hours drinking ba muoi ba (33) beer over ice getting pretty loaded and now in Hanoi, sitting on (what else) a little blue plastic stool next to a faded yellow stucco wall eating grilled chicken and drinking beer

and talking about the magic of Vietnam (and make no mistake about it, this IS a magic place) with an old Asia hand and then a motorcycle ride through the

matrix of motorcycles beeping, bicycles, people, people people, narrow streets, dark streets, light streets, markets, voices, voices voices and believe me when I say it doesn’t get much better than this. Someone else’s blog description of chicken street: http://www.pikeletandpie.com/2010/01/pho-ly-van-phuc-aka-chicken-street-hanoi/

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