The long anticipated arrival of Sue finally happened on November 17. I taught one class that evening, went home and then caught a taxi to the airport. The traffic was quite bad due to the repaving of one of the major bridges over the Red River but I got to the airport about 20 minutes before she arrived. I’d made a small “Susan Kronen” sign and mingled with all the other greeters. It took her a moment to spot me but finally, after a three month separation, we were reunited.
We caught one of the larger van taxis back to Hanoi and got stuck in the traffic jam on the bridge. Sue got her first experience of Hanoi driving style as we wove through the jam, then along the dusty streets and finally down a very dark and quiet Cau Giay Street to the entrance of our lane.
The next day I gave her a short tour of some of the lanes around the neighbourhood. We went south as far as one of the small lakes by a temple where we paused before heading out of the lanes and back along the river to Cau Giay.
She’s been here a week now and adjusted, fairly quickly, to the time change and the hustle and bustle of the city. We’ve been on several excursions around the city. Sue wanted to see the Old Quarter so the day after she arrived we spent the afternoon touring the Old Quarter. We stopped for lunch at one of my favourite restaurants, with a view from an interior balcony over the bustling street below.
We enjoyed soup and entrees at the Bar 69 and then went to visit my old lodgings, the Camellia Hotel, where the manageress arranged our air tickets to Laos. Then it was off to see the show at the Water Puppet Theatre.
After the water puppets we wandered around the southern part of the Old Quarter. One stop was at Victory CD/DVD where we checked out the thousands of DVDs on sale. I picked up a copy of The Boat Rocked which, luckily, plays fine on my laptop. We later bought another DVD which also works (unlike my initial purchase of the Wim Wenders collection). Hard to resist the low low prices and no big loss if one doesn’t play.
Later in the afternoon we stopped for refreshments at one of the many pub/restaurants in the Old Quarter. After a couple of cool ones, as the sun set, we decided we had better have a bite to eat. In the photo below you can see one of the restaurants I’d previously eaten at, and photographed from, across the street from us. We wandered a bit more in the twilight but that was enough for one day’s exploration. Tired and happy we headed back to our home in the ‘burbs.
The next few days we passed by exploring the lanes, visiting the local markets and supermarkets. Sue acclimatized during the comparatively cool week and I taught my final classes at EduCare.
On Saturday we decided to visit the Museum of Ethnology. Little did we realize what a treat we were in for… it was their annual one day craft market. On the grounds in front of the museum were many stalls from various areas of Vietnam, selling all kinds of crafts. The market was run by Craftlink, a not-for-profit organization. The quality was high and the prices reasonable. The area was buzzing with activity; it seemed many expats were doing their early Christmas shopping. We had a fun time browsing the stalls, meeting the sellers and ended up buying a few, hard to resist, items.
After our little shopping spree we wandered through the museum grounds where Sue toured the buildings made by various ethnic groups (pictures of which I’ve previously posted). We took a break and stopped for lunch; which turned into a very long wait as the cafe was very busy. After lunch we watched the water puppet show – much simpler and shorter than the one in the Old Quarter theatre – but still fun, especially watching some of the kids watching the show.
Then back out through the craft fair, where the vendors were starting to look a bit tired after such a long day.
Sue and I walked home, rested up a bit and prepped for a our Saturday night excursion to a bai hoi, otherwise known as Vietnamese draft beer restaurants, popular with the locals. We caught a taxi down to meet Peter at a bai hoi with a rooftop terrace but, unfortunately, the terrace was closed because of the cool weather. We sat inside, quaffed cool ones, enjoyed bowls of food, tossed our bones on the floor and had a great visit. On the way out I snapped a photo of Sue and Peter at the Bai Hoi Xom entrance. In the background you can see the ground floor of the four floor establishment.
Since Saturday night we’ve been keeping busy, but I haven’t always had my camera with me. We’ve made a couple of more trips downtown. Sue bought a Chinese Bridgestone one-speed bicycle on Tuesday so we’re both pedaling now. On Wednesday we made an extended journey: first to visit the school where Peter works and Sue might volunteer. There we got a tour and then each of us helped with the lunchtime feeding of kids in the classrooms. The kids are all handicapped and the school is one of the few in Vietnam that not only helps the kids but also trains teachers to work with them. We stayed for lunch and met some of the volunteers, many of whom are travelers and spend a few weeks working as volunteers at the school.
After our visit to the school we made a big loop back up and into the city center. I’ve been trying to change some of my Vietnam dong into dollars for our trip to Laos but it’s not easy here. The economy is a bit chaotic and the government has restricted the foreign exchange. That and my bank, HSBC, has been less than helpful. So finally I got a lead on a ‘private bank’, basically a business that buys and sells currencies and gold, some of it either fringing on or in the black market. We rode our bikes to the street and there, out front, was someone with a broadcast quality video camera recording the chaos at the store. I went in and when I pulled out my wad of dong was directed to a back room where around a large dining room table people were exchanging money. In five minutes I was back out the door with a smaller wad of US dollars. Here’s a recent news story about this situation: http://english.vietnamnet.vn/biz/200911/Vietnam-needs-wartime-solutions-for-foreign-currency-market-880924/
But finally I got an official contract from my school, which means I can eventually take my earnings out of the country – or so it looks at the moment. Anything could happen here. And the school gave me letter inviting me to teach, which means I should be able to get a business visa when I re-enter. Once again… wait and see.
Meanwhile Sue’s settling into the routine of life in Hanoi. We continue walking the lanes, visiting the small markets for veggies and fruit and exploring. She’s had her first few rides in the traffic madness and survived. Yesterday a young teenage girl rode by us on her bike laughing and waving at us. I guess we make quite a site: two tall Westerners pedaling along outside the usual tourist haunts.
I had my last classes for this session last night. I’m going to miss my students. Despite some ups and downs it was a rewarding experience and I think it’s getting better all the time. I’ve been contacted by another school also so may pick up some more part-time hours there. But that’s after Laos. Tomorrow we’re off and I’ll be leaving my laptop behind so we may be out-of-touch for a week or so. I think we’re both ready for the greenery and culture of Laos; I’ll be sure to have some photos to post!
Here are a couple of shots of two of my final classes…