Friday, January 13, 2012

Hanoi 2012

Hanoi was a resting place for us this time around - taking it easy, walking around the Old Quarter ... "This is the Asia we dreamed of from afar. Steeped in history, pulsating with life, bubbling with commerce, buzzing with motorbikes, and rich in exotic scents, the Old Quarter is Hanoi's historic heart" (Lonely Planet). Just photos are here.

Recall that I left my pack in the airport in Hong Kong and eventually got it back. The only time Leslie carries a purse traveling is when we fly. Now, Leslie left

her purse at the visa issuing area in the Hanoi airport and when I raced back to where she'd left it, there it was, sitting on the bench. Lucky twice! On to the Camellia 4 and into our room around 9pm. Really tired. We went across the street to the King Cafe for chicken with garlic and chillies, an order of french fries(!), and beer. Photo: Passages like this are everywhere

The next day we had the Camellia's outstanding breakfast buffet, including pho ga + massive amounts of Vietnamese coffee, then walked to the bank to change money. Last year while we were at that bank there was a baby shower going on. Leslie asked the woman who was helping us about the shower and after some puzzlement (Why is this foreigner asking about this and how does she know?) it turned out it was for her, so she and Leslie had a good time talking about the baby. Photo: Flower vendor - tons of goods are sold like this

We walked to the Intimex Store, walked around there looking at this and that food, kitchen wares, etc. (Leslie and Charles getting jiggy), and bought some yogurt and 250 grams of Trung Nguyen coffee. We walked to the well-known (and not highly recommended by me) bun cha place on Hang Bo Street. We had bun cha (grilled pork served in nuoc mam [fish sauce] with vegetables) and nem (fried spring rolls), which was very good, but expensive ($4.50USD) and way too much food for us, so we got almost a full order of bun cha to go and went back to the hotel.

By now I was feeling pretty bad with the onset of a sinus infection, so I started a course of azithromycin and took some ibuprofen and rested. The last thing I remember as I fell asleep was the maids outside our door, laughing, talking, carrying on – happy me.

Later, as Leslie was getting the bun cha out of

the refrigerator in our room, the shelf it was on collapsed and the plastic bag of pork and fish sauce burst, sending the smelly stuff everywhere. I roused myself from bed and we got a pretty big mess cleaned up pretty fast. Is this the Flub and Dub Asia tour? Photo: Well to do child near Hoan Kiem Lake

The next day we had the breakfast buffet, but were a little more restrained with our coffee intake. After breakfast we decided to walk straight up Pho Hang Giay from our hotel. After the first block there were no more women selling souvenirs or shoeshine guys wanting to fix my shoes and the street got more and more congested with vendors, stores, and tiny cafes along each side, pedestrians, people carrying cafes on a stick (little stove on one end, food, and a

few stools on the other), impossibly laden motorcycles, trucks, so on and so forth. Photo: Selling bread

Eventually we realized we were at Dong Xuan Market and went inside into narrow, crowded aisles with people pushing past us in that insistent, but somehow not very intrusive Vietnamese way. Even so, people who are easily irritated or who have personal space issues should never come to a place like this.

Leslie added to her pepper collection with 250 grams black pepper from a woman – a good deal for the woman and for Leslie. After 30 or so minutes we left and quickly found the narrow food alley near the market where we've been before. Straight away Leslie spotted a woman selling banh cuon so we squeezed into the bench and a stool and had some decent banh cuon with pork and very good nem for 20,000VND each (20,000 VND = $1USD). Photo below: We ate at this banh cuon place every day

The woman sitting next to Leslie got us squared away on how to fix it in a bowl of sweet nuoc mam with peppers and garlic and we tucked in for an outstanding and massively fun meal with people brushing past (lots of body contact), motorcycles scraping by, people reaching over our heads and between us and we're in the juice now! On the way out we spotted another western couple at another stand having a good time eating snails – of course they were Australians (the people, not the snails). I asked if they had a camera for a photo of them and took their picture. We're

all having a good time.

Oh man, how did Leslie and I find each other. From the halls of Thomas Jefferson High School more than 50 years ago to this narrow alley somewhere in Hanoi. Yes! Photo: Leslie buying pepper

The next day we visited Jim (an internet friend) at the school where he teaches. We visited his class and talked with the students, who were poised and articulate. Really a good time with these lovely young people and this man who has found a good home in Vietnam. Photo below: Impossibly jammed street that nevertheless manages to move

Our scene in Hanoi is much like anywhere else – walking around, enjoying the street action, checking out the little stores selling everything

imaginable, eating most meals on the street, visiting markets, finding the flow. Hanoi has astonishing traffic – people walking, people carrying huge loads suspended from each end of a split bamboo pole, countless motorcycles, fair number of cars and trucks – and zero traffic rules, except for the only rule, which is bigger has precedence (motos over people, cars over people and motos, trucks over everything). You have to really pay attention and never stop or flinch. It's the pedestrian's responsibility to choose a line of walk which doesn't challenge the vehicles and the motos and other vehicles then flow around the pedestrian. Also, when there are sidewalks, they're usually

completely filled with vendors, people working on this and that, and parked motos. It's a little dangerous and sometimes overwhelming, but still, a good or at least engaging time (what with so much to see and to keep track of). Today I somehow ran into a motorcycle, which fortunately wasn't moving, otherwise I'd have more than a sore knee. Photo: A brilliant selection of garlic goodness

We went back to the food alley near Dong Xuan for lunch: banh cuon (steamed rice flour crepes wrapped round a little seasoned ground pork), banh with egg and no meat, bun cha, nem (fried spring rolls) – all served with a bowls of sweetened fish sauce to eat out of and tarted up with

fresh garlic and chillies in vinegar, fried garlic, ground roasted chillies, and tiny limes to squeeze

onto it all. All of this for 70,000 dong (~$3.50USD). On the way out of the alley we stopped and got two fried dumplings, one stuffed with yellow bean and some coconut and the other a "salty mystery mix" that included meat of some kind. Photo: Hoan Kiem Lake

This vendor is described here on Sticky Rice: http://stickyrice.typepad.com/my_weblog/2006/03/fried_cake_ball.html.0.....3. The next day I ordered two with bean paste and coconut, which I think is the better way to go.

Classic Leslie: We're having bun cha at another place in an alley and in addition to the usual grilled pork and pork patties, there is a third item. Leslie picks it up with her chopsticks and says, “I don't know what this is,” and takes a bite.

The night before we left I was finally well and walked to meet Jim at a cafe near the cathedral. I got there first and stood on the sidewalk, as I've done before, looking across the street as the

motorbikes, pedestrians, bicycles buzz in several directions across my consciousness until I'm in a trance of motos/people/Vietnam/alive/ good and the incessant voices talking, laughing, bargaining and the smells and dust and colors flashing. Photo: Little temple in the Old Quarter - crematorium door

That's pretty much what we're doing in Hanoi: walking around the full, noisy streets, seeing what there is to see (we've already seen most of the “tourist attractions”), eating fabulous street food, experiencing the intense street vibe, resting … Photo: St. Joseph's Cathedral - a far cry from our clinic site in St. Joseph's Catholic Mission (serving Vietnamese refugees)

Here is a weblog on food and the scene surrounding it in Hanoi: http://stickyrice.typepad.com/my_weblog/extreme_ch

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