Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hanoi 2013

Looking out of temple entrance on bamboo street
(I don't know what's up with font changes. I have no control over that.) 

Last night (our first night back in Hanoi) we went to the King Café for a toasted cheese and onion sandwich, French fries, and Hanoi Beer. While we were waiting for the food I walked outside to the narrow busy street and shift, I was there, all the way. A young woman told the man she was sitting on a motorcycle with to move up a bit so I could walk past easier. Such a small transitory action – and it opened a window for me to again feel the magic of Vietnam. I thought, my God, these people!
Passageway inside a temple
From email Leslie to David: We arrived in Hanoi last night earlier than we expected, but getting through airport immigration, etc. is a very lengthy process. The Camellia Hotel driver was waiting for us (Hallelujah!!) so finally got to the hotel about 9:00.
The night club next door is back in business and combined with
a Saturday night street crowd was LOUD! But they must have a midnight curfew, at least on clubs and bars, and all was quiet after that.
We have a balcony that looks out over a nice neighborhood from a bird's-eye view, beautiful old multi-floored/multi-layered building that looks exactly like you'd want a VN building to look like: green and red tiled roofs, balcony railing with the green porcelain tiles like at the Citadel, and an ancient old woman sitting on a balcony, looking out…
We have no onward plans yet but will keep you posted. Your Dad wants to go the Delta area so hopefully the weather will allow.
I hardly ever remember my dreams. Last night I had the longest most complex dream I’ve had in many years.
Leslie and I were standing outside the old Ross Avenue Sears. I asked her if she wanted to go in and she said no. Then I was nearby in a place like a park, with huge ancient trees, birds all around, and a male cardinal on the ground strutting his stuff, making his wings flare out and forward, singing for a female and the female hopping amongst the leaves making sweet little cardinal sounds,
Then I was running toward my car, up an incline that was getting steeper and steeper and then I was climbing and the ground was unstable and there were two people below me and a black woman to my right, digging her hands into the dirt to keep from falling and I was wishing the people below weren’t there because if either the woman or I fell
What a load; what balance!
we’d take the others down with us and I was wondering how the car got to where it was and what I was going to do if I got to it.
Then I was in a car with a couple about 60 years old and a boy about 8. The boy was explaining to the couple how Obama is a very bad man trying to destroy America. One of them asked where he got that idea and he answered, from “a 4 hour DVD.” They were patiently talking with him, trying to help him understand that maybe he’d been misled.
Then I was somewhere else and saw the couple. I was telling them how impressive their patience was. We were talking about how we never saw that sort of political or religious indoctrination when we were children. But then we realized that when we were children, at least for the middle class, America was basically all right wing and we were all being indoctrinated all the time.
Bun cha and nem (see below)

I awakened, realizing that what broke us out of the right wing rigidity were the Vietnam war and the consciousness revolution. I felt tremendous gratitude (not gratitude for the war, for God’s sake) that so many of us got out of that mind prison. I felt so sad about the terrible tragedies of that war. I thought what I thought last night on the street and what I’ve thought every time I’ve been here in Vietnam: why on earth would we ever go to war with these people.
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
Here we are, all under the same sky. Sitting here looking out of the hotel window across the rooftops of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.
We were in the process of getting tickets to Hue this morning and while the woman doing the
On the street
deal was on the phone with Vietnam Air, Leslie fell into conversation with a Vietnamese woman who said it’s flooding in Hue. I went to our room to check the internet: 14 inches of rain in two days, deep water in the streets. Never mind about the Hue tix!
The woman who gave Leslie the heads up works with a foundation procuring books and o
Woman at Hoan Kiem Lake
pening lending libraries in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. She said an American veteran was the energy behind the foundation. He showed up and we talked. He was an 03 (US military designation for infantry). Pretty amazing encounter – two old veterans, both 03s, with deep connections to Southeast Asia, he with books, me with refugees. We got ready to go our separate ways and hugged, hard, “Welcome Home!”
Here is the Children’s Library International website. (For a real good time, check out the photos on the home page.)
We went on a banh cuon quest today and the place we were looking for was closed. My sharp-eyed travel partner had noticed people eating on the sidewalk a block earlier, so went back to that place, which turned out to be a stellar bun cha café 
with two menu items: bun cha and nem cua be. Bun cha is grilled pork and grilled pork patty served in a fish sauce and lime juice soup with daikon radish (or something like it) + cool noodles and a generous plate of cilantro, mint, etc. Chilies and garlic in vinegar complete the picture. More garlic! More chilies! Nem cua be is sort of like a square egg roll with a flaky crispy wrapper enclosing crab and assorted mysterious substances. What a feast! More on bun cha here

Another day… several things went wrong today. We used up too much time arranging for a trip to Sapa; we used up way too much time discovering that no bank in Hanoi will exchange travelers checks; we got a little lost; when we found what we were
Banh cuon
looking for we couldn’t find what we were looking for there; we got a little lost again; le sigh. The good parts of the day included time together in the morning, a motorcycle ride with a pretty Vietnamese woman named Quyen, trip to Sapa arranged, more bun cha, and through the frustrations we kept it together.

The next day. We found a bank that will change TCs. Breakfast (hotel buffet – including credible pho ga) with Leslie. Went to a coffee shop the man from Children’s Library International man. Later headed out on a banh cuon mission – it was great. We’re sweating garlic now. Nap. Another heart-stopping motorcycle ride with Quyen. She took me to apparently the last bank in town that will exchange TCs (1% commission on dong, 2% on USD). It’s interesting that she would take me. There was nothing material in it for her – maybe just wanted to help the old people. Taking it easy in our room. King Café for chicken with lemon grass and chilies, Hanoi beer.
Quyen and CK

From the Forward (by Gen. Schwarzkopf) to We Are Soldiers Still: “… we see the evolution of that country (Vietnam) and people as they find peace after a thousand years of war. And we see a surprising concern and tenderness for each other among men who once had done their best to kill each other. If those men, veterans of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War, can become friends and pray together for all who died on that ground on both sides, then the war really is over and we can all be at peace.”

Train to Sapa tomorrow night. These are the days.

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