This morning my destination is the large Dong Xuan Market, three floors of merchandise whose target audience is locals, not tourists. However, the market is recommended as a sight to see. So off I go, out of my air-conditioned room and into another hot, humid Hanoi morning. For the first time I see traffic stopped at a light. Imagine if there were no light and all the folks were just zooming along, merging with the flow. That’s the more typical scene. I’m becoming quite accustomed to stepping out into the flow myself now.
After going a bit beyond the market I circle back and following the flow of humanity down streets and narrow alleys discover the huge building which itself is surrounded by, first, the vehicles unloading and then by numerous street stalls. Inside the center is huge and cavernous but each floor is tightly packed with hundreds of venders selling an overwhelming variety of dry goods. The top two floors are strictly clothing and fabric.
I make my way up stairs, over ramps and through tiny aisles between the densely packed merchandise. It’s early in the day and many vendors are still setting up. The sheer volume of goods is overwhelming. I try focusing but, not being much of a shopper and looking for nothing in particular, all I can do is marvel at the plethora of consumer goods. Who buys all this stuff? I can imagine shopping for things like fabric or spices but all those plastic knick-knacks? The fabrics are endless as people haul in huge bundles, open them up and lay out the materials beside the multitude already there. I step aside in the tiny pathways as people struggle with the massive bundles they’ve carted in out of trucks or off of heavily loaded scooters. Some fabrics are the stuff of suits (blacks, blues and grays) and others are more exotic looking.
After leaving the market I walk back into the Old Quarter exploring more streets and find the street market I had walked through yesterday. I duck under the tarps strung out to protect the vendors from the weather, step aside to let scooters pass in narrow space and once again marvel at the sights and smells. I narrowly miss being splattered as a merchant wacks a large fish with a cleaver, turn down offers of strange foods and find what I thought were live snakes are eels. A girl is busy taking some from a pot and dumping the writhing slimy critters into a basket.
I exit the market, past the flower vendors and go for a bite to eat. At the veggie restaurant. After lunch I continue my explorations, finding the area that specializes in shoes (where else could you see thousands of shoes in store after store?). Then back to the hotel to cool off. I try sitting in the lobby but it just isn’t as comfortable as my air-conditioned room. However, I can only stay so long in there with its lack of a view. Although it’s the hottest time of the day off I set again. I get lost venturing south and west of the lake, but eventually find myself at the southern end of the lake. Unfortunately the wandering street sellers inhabit this touristic area and I’m approached by a couple of gals who recognize me as the sucker who bought T-shirts from their friend the day before. One woman trails me for blocks pleading “Please just buy this one T-shirt!” Her price keeps dropping and I am reminded again that I need to bargain hard. I go past my hotel, one girl still following me, and nip into a tiny coffee bar. She stands outside and pleads with me through an open window. The young guys in the café try on some of her shirts while I sip my strong iced coffee, trying to ignore her and watch the traffic and the scene on the corner.
After the coffee I decide to visit Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. It’s a fairly long walk, past many government buildings including the Presidential Palace. When I get there I’m waved away. But it’s not just me, everyone is waved back. A motorcycle taxi driver comes over and tells me that the site is closed for the day but will open tomorrow, National Day, at 7am. He offers me a ride for a reasonable price, so, soaked in sweat and tired, I take him up on his offer. First we stop by a museum where the debris of the various colonial wars is on display, including the wreckage of a B-52 bomber and a tangled mess of metal from fighter jets.
Inside the museum I read how the bomber was shot down over Hanoi by anti-aircraft fire. In the photos I notice that many of the fighters, both regular army and volunteers are women. The text describes how strong the Vietnamese woman are. That helps explain the persistence of the T-shirt street vendors. My driver tells me he was a little boy in the war and how his father lost his arm. My only comment is that all war seems so stupid and pointless. Yesterday’s enemies are today’s friends. Couldn’t we have gotten to this place without all the bloodshed and devastation? We get back on his bike and wind our way back to the hotel, my driver pointing out the sights along the way, asking if I’d like to stop to photograph the statue of Lenin (no thanks). The ride is a refreshing relief from the heat and a bit of fun as we dodge other bikes and cars, at one time crossing into oncoming traffic to get ahead of the crush. I shot some video from my perch. Once I figure out how to prep it for the web I’ll post it as it is quite entertaining.
I chill out back in my room for awhile but my wifi connection is flakey and I don’t have a whole lot to do so once again I venture forth, this time in search of dinner. Thinking I’ll go back to the veggie restaurant I head down the street but am signaled over by a waitress to view a menu. The price is right, there’s a balcony overlooking the street and, so far, lots of seats to chose from. I sit and watch the scene and enjoy a seafood stirfry and a Hanoi beer. More and more people come in and soon it’s a lively place. On the way out the owner chats with me for a few minutes, telling me his entire family, kids, parents and grandparents all work there.
After dinner I walk around a bit enjoying the night light, which helps focus attention on the lit areas. Some stores are still open, people are burning ceremonial money on the sidewalks and an elderly, toothless policeman fanning himself in a doorway nods and smiles in greeting. Back at my hotel I ask if I can switch rooms for one with a view. I’ll also be directly across from an internet cafe (better wifi connection) and that’ll resolve the issue of the bathtub plug I can’t seem to get out to drain the tub where I washed my sweat-soaked clothing.