Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hanoi Pocket Universe

I'm having an...interesting time in Hanoi. Not necessarily a bad time. But it is unusual, in several regards.

My Airbnb is gorgeous. I wish I could pick it up and move it to the United States and live inside it forever. And it's the perfect place to have my own personal writing retreat--because it doesn't exist. Or perhaps, as my friend Tim suggested, it exists within some kind of pocket universe. If I turn on my GPS inside the house, it appears as though I'm on no street at all. That's because it's tucked away in a tiny alley behind other, larger streets.

This only poses a problem when I want to take a break from writing and, you know, see Hanoi. Because it does not exist on a street, taxi drivers can't find it. In order to use my Grab app, I have to go to a cafe on a major street and purchase a beverage that I don't want so that I can use their wifi and have the driver pick me up there. The same problem occurs when I'm on my way back. I point out the general area where I'm going to the driver, and tell them that I'll direct them when we get close, but they seem awfully skeptical. Which makes sense, I suppose. I don't exactly look like a local.

Why don't I just walk, you ask? Great idea! I love walking. The trouble is that there is a very large, very busy highway separating me from the direction I'd have to walk in order to reach any tourist attractions. Even if I could dodge the cars and bikes, the center of the highway is fenced in--a storage area for shipping trucks of some kind.

On the bright side: I'm getting lots of writing and editing done! But also: I'm trapped!

I'm being hyperbolic, of course. I have gone out and visited a few places. One day I took a Grab bike to the Vietnam Women's Museum, which was great. My favorite part was the "Women in History" section, which mostly discussed women's role during the revolutionary period. One young woman, when sentenced to twenty years in prison, apparently told the judge something to the effect of "I don't recognize your authority to give that sentence." Let us all be as bold as this young revolutionary.

Another evening I visited the Hanoi Social Club, which often pops up on lists of coolest places to eat in Hanoi. And it was cool--housed in an old colonial building, filled with eclectic vintage furniture and decor. What those reviews didn't mention (or maybe they did, and I didn't look closely enough) was that they only serve Western food. A little boring, I suppose, but the veggie burger was good.

There's a sweet woman who comes to clean the Airbnb each day, and she asked if I'd be willing to meet her daughter, Huang (I'm probably spelling that wrong), who wanted to practice her English. I said yes, of course. Turns out Huang is my age and also between jobs/life situations--I guess it's nice that it's such a universal thing? We're all in this together? Anyway, Huang has her own motorbike, so she and I went to the Temple of Literature--essentially Hanoi's first university--and the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

The second stop got a little weird--it's clear that Huang has been taught to believe that Ho Chi Minh was basically perfect, and I figured that inside the Ho Chi Minh Museum was probably a bad place to disillusion her. Not that I even have any right to disillusion her! I mean, I doubt Ho Chi Minh was quite as evil as the U.S. made him out to be, but he's definitely no saint. So I just sort of nodded my head and said "uh huh" a lot while we looked at the many gifts he received made from the scraps of downed American planes. Seemed to work out.

Side note: Ho Chi Minh was a polyglot, and he wrote lots of letters in French--which were the only ones I was able to read at the museum. It made me realize that I miss reading in French. I'll have to pick up a French book again soon.

We also saw the Presidential Palace and the house where Ho Chi Minh lived and worked while he was in power. Houses, actually--there was a Western-style home with a garage full of fancy cars, and a simple house on stilts that he apparently had built to remind him of where he grew up. The grounds on which both houses are located are stunning--a lush garden complete with a giant pond full of fish that Ho Chi Minh loved to feed.

I was so exhausted after our outing that I sat down to do some work and totally conked out. Woke up an hour later, completely disoriented. Overall, though, a delightful day. We may go out and do something again tomorrow.

I've had a few other misadventures. The first day I needed to go grocery shopping, but I couldn't see any grocery stores nearby on the map. There was, however, a giant shopping mall about a half mile away. It seems like most Asian shopping malls I've visited have grocery stores, too, so I decided to give it a shot. The Times City Mega-Mall is owned by Vingroup, which also owns literally everything else in that area. The luxury apartments were run by Vinhomes, and they were located next to VinSchool. I went grocery shopping at VinMart. It was a little creepy.

I always get nervous in grocery stores abroad because I can't read any of the labels--especially when it comes to produce. I picked up only things that were familiar to me--bananas, apples, tomatoes eggplant. I grabbed what I hoped was basil, and I lucked out. I made a strategic error, however. The loose produce--bananas, apples, etc.--I bagged and had weighed and price-tagged by a clerk in the produce area. But I didn't think I had to do that with the pre-packaged items, like basil or tomatoes. I was wrong. When I got to the register, I had to run back to the produce area, fix the un-tagged items, and run back--holding up the whole line, of course. That was fun.

Then there's my stomach. Well, not my stomach--my stomach actually feels fine. But I must have picked up some kind of bacteria while I was in Laos (it started on my last day there), and now whatever goes into my stomach does not stay there for very long. I'm not quite sure what to do. It seems alarmist to go to the doctor. My appetite is intact, I'm drinking plenty of fluids. No fever, as far as I can tell. On the other hand, how long do I let this go on? It's already day 6. Any advice?

Aaaaand I just shattered one of my host's handmade pottery bowls while I was trying to make myself a cup of tea. So that's cool. Guess I should probably stop blogging now and clean this up.

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