12.09.2011 - 12.12.2011 22 °C
I like choosing the road less traveled. It generally takes a lot more time, but you become hyper aware of your surroundings because you have no choice. My flight landed fairly close to midnight at Noi Bai International Airport, a 45km trek to the city of Hanoi, my true destination. I pulled my 2nd ghetto airport sleepover (first was the long layover in South Korea) as it was much safer for me to travel in the morning (I unwillingly admit that being a solo female traveler, there are just somethings I shouldn't undertake - even if I'm Mr. Chang). The hostel offered to pick me up from the airport for $15 US, but what's the fun in that? It took a bit of research, but the #17 bus would take me less than 3 km to my accommodations, AND at the ridiculous cost of 25 cents (but also 3 times as long; no need to make it sound amazing)!
My next 10 minutes of exiting the airport and walking to the #17 bus garnered me no less than 4 men on motorbikes asking if I wanted a ride. The first 2 were parked just outside the airport so I get why they asked. The next two were actually driving down the road, 1 skidded to a halt to ask, the other made a U-turn and drove back against the traffic to ask. You quickly learn to gesture the walking motion with 2 fingers on how to reply what you'd rather do than hop on a stranger's motorbike.
Curious things noted when taking the public transit bus. There is the driver, who is in charge of more honking than driving. He also only does "rolling stops" for passengers getting on/off; I witnessed a few people making some running jumps, for stops where there were more than 10 people waiting. Then there's who I call, the "Master & Commander". He takes the money & provides change, he also barks order to people to give up their seats for the elderlies.
There was plenty of standing space, but this woman, without asking the other woman in front of me, sat in the miniscule corner bit of the seat. The odd part was that, it was just ok. I know this because I saw it happen again & again with others, but only with women.
My walk towards my hostel took some effort, mainly because I didn't have a map (Lesson 1 - always have a map; what the hell was I thinking?) I took a picture of this map from a bus stop, only to realize that I had walked North for the last 15 minutes, rather than South. Brains, I'm all brains. Sadly, it's still the only map I have.
The streets were wide (the one I started my trek on had 4 lanes for one direction and 3 lanes for the other) busy and hectic with no signs of traffic lights after walking for 10 minutes. I needed to cross the street and didn't quite dare to step out into the traffic, especially with my bags that weighed me down. Witnessing the following gave me the confidence I needed:
1. Old grandma strolled across the street.
2. Man on bike carrying a mega load rode slowly across the street
3. Dog walked calmly across the street.
The only way to do this is pretend you're blind and just stroll across. The scooters will very quickly swerve around you, cars and trucks are less likely to swerve but will generally slow down to accommodate you. Honestly, thinking about it will only guarantee you an accident. Traffic lights don't seem to matter in Vietnam... so I'm not sure why those few exist because at every red light there are many who act as if it's simply a stop sign then continue on.
Along my walk I saw some other interesting bits:
There were many of these "barber shops" along the side of the road. You can pretty much find set-ups of any & every kind imaginable, the minimum that is required are mini plastic stools and perhaps a mini plastic table to display the goods you're selling.
I think these may have been Pets? Not too sure, they were not scraggly like some of the others I had seen roaming about.
Glamour shots. Remember those from the 90's? I'm sure they still do exist somewhere in surburbia. In most of Asia... This is a definite MUST! Girls live & die for this! I also had pics of Taiwan Glamour Shots, but it was part of the accidental deletions. Not even joking, I see this everyday and everywhere!
Glamour shots for you!
aaannnnnddd Glamour shots for me!
Here's one where the photographer asked the bride & groom to be to stand in the middle of traffic and spent a good 5 minutes detailing before taking their photos. The worst is when I get up close & personal with these brides; stunning from afar, but caked with an inch thick makeup when I get near. Ignorance is bliss, I wish I could unsee. UNSEE.
So I checked into my room at Golden Time Hostel, reviews on it were not numerous but all great stating how kind and sweet the employees were. I walked in and was greeted by the owner who apologized immediately but unfortunately my room wasn't ready. ALL conversations with any strangers so far involves the following 3 questions:
"Are you married?"
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Where are you from?"
Shuffle it in any order you like but it's certain every time! So within moments I was asked if I'd like to join him with the other employees for lunch while we wait for the travelers to exit my booked room. I unfortunately don't have any photos of the lunch, but it was quaint. The 4 of us sat on the floor on a large thin mat, the dishes were laid on the floor in a very tiny space that contained a bed, the entire room was approximately 5'x8'. We attempted to communicate, and without much success ended up in laughter instead mostly on my account. I was very happy to have been given such an insight. The owner then said that the room won't be ready for another hour or so, and offered to show me around Hanoi on his motorbike free of charge. The other employees then affirmed that he was a safe driver and that I would have lots of fun... so why not?! It was thrilling to be amidst the traffic but I had to surpress the urge to throwing my hands up in the air and shout at the top of my lungs. Why you ask? It was like eating bits of sand, so I had to settle with a big closed mouth smile the entire way.
He asked if I wanted to go anywhere special and I told him that I wasn't really interested in the tourist destinations and the drive itself was already above & beyond my expectations. He then suggested to go his sister's for a little bit. This is where we went, in the middle of nowhere (I got what I asked for...) that was being developed with many expensive homes.
He told me that the workers here get paid $5 US per day. These little huts occurred frequently, some with tarps others just stools & tables (like I said, it's all you need). They generally have people taking a quick stop & drink especially when you're in the city centre, but it was surprising for where we were because it appeared so desolate. Due to some inabilities to communicate I am led to believe that this is someone's home, not just a little hut for convenience goods. I saw a heavy blanket, some used toothbrush and a small mat kept all folded away in the corner. At one point, the owner & I were left alone and this was where he professed that he loved me and wanted me to be his wife. Total time since first meeting: 2h25m.
I was then invited to a lunch trip the next day to meet his sister, which was about 1 hour away. I graciously declined, but he reassured me that there were lots of people because it was a party in honour of his sister's new house. It will fun and won't take much of my time. I stressed that my going with him only meant as us being friends. I genuinely found him to be a kind person and it would have been silly to say no to a friendship.
The next day, after having a quick breakfast we parted for his sister's at 9am. I was elated to be back on the motorcycle once again. LG! So exciting because no one obeys traffic, take a look at the signs posted below. There was no order to each lane as specified.
We meadered further and further into the country side crossing rivers and streams continuously and finally came to a stop.
I wasn't told where we were, other than this was our stop. My head rang alarm bells of "where's the party? and where's this new house?".
I was welcomed into the kitchen by 3 other men to have some tea.
I was asked what I thought of this house (what house?!), they were easily pleased when I replied to them that it was immense and beautiful. Before we left onto our true destination, the owner of the house took some time to "lock" it up. I was the only one among the crew who found this amusing... what was the need? He barely had walls to contain anything, let alone a door. The blue tarp was all that prevented anyone from barging right in.
I met nearly 40 members of his family. I was immediately welcomed with ample food & drinks. It took me another 30 minutes to realize that there was an obvious gender divide. The women sat together on a couple of tables and the men at the rest.
Mr. Chang obviously sat with the men and participated in the multiple drinking and cheering sessions they conducted throughout the meal.
Any garbage, tissues, bones, fruit peels were tossed straight onto the floor - this was the norm.
I became referred to as "Canada" and kept hearing it often, in particular when more family members arrived. My ego became enormous when they kept telling me how pretty I was and then insisted on taking photos with me. I'll spare you most of it, but the following is just sampling of what I endured. As you can see, my smile was well practiced. And if you haven't already noticed, I was the tallest of them all at 5'4"! A giant! A freak!
I essentially became kidnapped for the day. At 1pm rather than heading back to Hanoi I agreed to go with them to a karaoke session. It was difficult to refuse all these faces who kept urging me to come along. Karaoke was maybe a 10 minute motorbike ride away, and there continued the drinking, eating, smoking and laughing. It took place at a stranger's home, essentially a room that was set up for karaoke. When we arrived one of the residents was lounging on a hammock, one was feeding the ducks and another was washing his motorbike. This was their duck pond.
At 5pm when leaving the karaoke house, I was once again coerced into going back and having dinner with them. It was fun helping out preparing the meals and watching them work away so naturally in their environment. It was mostly women, with a couple of men pitching in here and there (they handled the meat). All the food was prepared outside, from washing, chopping, cooking and preparing portions.
This time around, they catered to my vegetarian diet. Can you tell which of these platters of food was for me? Let me give you a hint, it's a white mound of tofu.
I then was dragged up to the unfinished roof to play with the kids. It was crazy watching them running around and screaming at the top of their lungs. The pictures don't quite tell the full story, but there were these large foot high spikes that were cemented into the roof. The actual wall railing along the roof was less than 3 feet in height with a drop at the front end. There was also men working on some sort of spiky metallic antenna, along with a giant bamboo sticks laying here and there.
Everyone was ok with the furious running admist all these obstructions. This led me to wonder, do we truly need to baby proof? Evidently their norm was just fine. Dinner was held with all doors open and everyone wearing multiple layers. The entire time I was with them there was never an empty cup of alcohol. They drank the entire day! Upon leaving, the entire clan came and bid their goodbyes. I felt ashamed that I couldn't fully express my gratitude for how well they cared for me and welcomed me into their home. Many big smiles, bowings, hands to my heart and the gramatically insufficent English of "Me - Happy!" was all I could offer. Motorbiking home once the sun sets is much less fun, in fact it was painful as speeds upwards of 60km/h makes it feel much, much colder than it already was. Overall, even though I kept getting unwanted love affirmations from the hostel owner (as of this writing I still do not know his name) I am still profoundly happy to have experienced such a lovely day.
Here are just some bits of Hanoi and it's beautiful culture and I'll keep the comments shorter from this point on.
I love the cone hats and the traditional use of these bars. One lady actually asked me to buy something, which I said no. Then she put her heavy bar onto my shoulder and asked "take picture?" I also said no. She took a bit of a rest while she kept asking "take picture" for a third time as the heavy bar still sat on my shoulder.
This was Hoan Kiem lake, at night it has very flashy Christmas neon lights. I preferred the look of the day.
Would you believe me if I told you that these ladies were dancing to "I like to move it, move it!" FULL BLAST? I watched for quite sometime.
And finally my new found fascination of Hanoi, the crazy bundles of electrical cables and the hazard it proposes.
This last one makes me believe that the internet connection must be REALLY good.
ps All the Christmas songs I've heard thus far (and there have been many, they start at 7am in the morning until about 10pm at night) are techno versions... except for Silent Night.
pps I just booked a open ticket from Camel Bus company through my hostel. Then only afterwards, read horrific reviews online about these buses and the company. Fun times ahead!
ppps I've never even seen The Motorcycle Diaries.