First Full Day in Hanoi

After not a lot of sleep I wandered down to the hotel lobby quite early and had the free brekkie: one very fried egg, a small loaf of bread with jam and tea. The best part was chatting with Ray (I’m guessing at the spelling), the young man on duty. When I complimented him on his English he told me he couldn’t afford to go to school to learn it, he’d picked it up from talking to tourists.

I had decided to do a walk outlined in the Lonely Planet guide so headed down to Hoan Kiem Lake, the starting point. The roads in Old Quarter can be quite confusing as their names change, they twist and turn and they’re not always marked. As I wandered a student joined me for a circuit of the lake. At first I thought he might be trying to sell me something but he only wanted to practice his English. He left me when I headed off to find a cafe I’d read had a great view of the lake.

As I searched for it I was accosted by a man selling books, from whom I bought what now looks to be a bootleg copy of a Lonely Planet guide to Hanoi and HaLong Bay. The supposed pullout map isn’t there and the more I read it the more spelling mistakes I find. It looks quite real until you delve into it and notice that, besides the spelling mistakes, the graphics quality is not up to par. While I bought the book a teenager approached and started to shine my shoes. I told him I didn’t need a shine, and a jewelry store owner tried to shoo him away. But the bookseller instructed him to guide me to the cafe. On the way he managed to finish the shoe shine and, despite my telling him not to, added a bit of super glue around the sole. Then he charged me an exorbitant rate. When I tried to bargain him down he said the glue added to the cost. The first of many lessons about dealing with street sellers.

To enter the café I went through a small art gallery, down a passageway, ordered my drink from a girl and then climbed several stories to a rooftop with a fine view over the lake. After the cold coffee drink I started in search of my route. I never did really find it but had an interesting time trying to. Finally I settled for finding a vegetarian restaurant I’d read about. Even that took  time as I figured out the streets, walking by it at least twice. Lunch in the  Tamarind was excellent: a lassi drink, a Tower of Babel tempura veggie stack in sauce and lastly tea, while sitting watching the stream of life passing on the street.

You would not believe the density of stuff here. The stores are small, packed with all manner of goods, flowing out onto the sidewalks. I walked through a street market, past dry goods mixed with meat stalls including live snakes. I looked down at a bucket of snakes as one stuck it’s head over the edge towards my leg. Hope they’re not poisonous!  I think you could probably find anything you wanted if you looked long and hard enough.

T-shirt vender, Hanoi, Vietnam
T-shirt vender, Hanoi, Vietnam

Finally the heat and humidity drove me back to my air-conditioned hotel room. On the way back I encountered my T-shirt lady who managed to sell me 3 shirts for what I thought was a bit much, but she was a hard bargainer. Out of all the photos I took today she proved the best subject.We sat in front of an empty store. She on one side, a bookseller on my right and another T-shirt sales gal joining us. I tried to bargain but she was adept – and supported by her friends. And then just before I left a motorcycle taxi driver I turned down earlier arrived to add his two bits… But we parted friends with an agreement that they’d not try to sell me any more T-shirts. Although the bookseller will be there when I run out of the reading I brought with me.

Back in my room I started contacting schools and sorting my business stuff out. Then off before dark to find another recommended restaurant, this one specializing in one dish: Vietnamese catfish cooked on your table. A restaurant for locals – no one spoke English, but with a some hand signals, lots of smiling and my meagre attempts at Vietnamese all was fine. The meal was soooo tasty. It’s amazing how a few simple ingredients can combine into a culinary extravaganza. That and a Heiniken came to a grand total of $5-6.

And on returning to my room I found I’d received an email from one of the schools asking if I’d like to come in for an interview for part-time work! Things are looking up.

Wednesday is National Day in Vietnam, celebrating the anniversary of Vietnam becoming a nation. I’m looking forward to the festivities, including boat races on the lake apparently.

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