Hanoi: the Streets.
At long last, I am back. Since we last spoke, this is what has happened in my life: my computer broke, my computer was fixed, I got a job, we bought a house, and we sold a house, what with only needing one at a time, really. Based on all that, I'm sure you can understand that I've been a bit too busy to blog. Well, you can understand unless you are a mean, evil, sadistic person. Well, either that or a republican--same thing, pretty much, these days.
Anyway, as I have mentioned numerous times, I have a ton--literally, 2,000 pounds--of pictures from our trip. So rather than post them all at once--which would be quite a long post, obviously--I've decided to start with the first place we landed once we got off the plane from Shanghai (if you don't count changing planes in the HK): Hanoi. And, since I decided there were 80 or so pictures of Hanoi you probably had to see, I decided to further break those apart into even smaller posts, hence the current post: Hanoi Streets. And since pretty much this entire paragraph is completely pointless information that has nothing to do with most I'm posting--don't you feel better for having read it?--I'll just get on with things.
So, Hanoi. I had no idea what to expect when we hit Hanoi, which was nice in one way because it meant I couldn't be surprised, but in another way meant it was slightly terrifying, since I didn't know at all what was coming: I didn't know how "Western-y" it would be, how many people would speak English, if we would be able to get around, or what. I think it was definitely the one place we've gone that, going in, I wasn't sure how we'd fare. Turns out, though, all the worrying was for nothing--as usual--because while it is definitely not too Western yet (no Western chains at all, except for a few hotels, as far as I could tell), pretty much everyone we met spoke English and it was easy enough to just jump on a xeom (motorbike/scooter) or cyclo (a trishaw, I think--a reverse rickshaw with the bench in front and the person peddling in back) and pay the driver a ridiculously low sum of money to take you pretty much wherever you wanted to go.
It also helped that I pretty much loved Hanoi right away. It's got a very cool old French Colonial vibe that isn't really like anywhere else I've been. The Old Town, which was very French, was all narrow streets filled with people and tons of huge old trees that were all growing on a slant toward the center of the road (to get to the light, natch) that made a sort of canopy over a lot of the roads. And the streets were busy, with a capital B and a capital U and a capital S and a capital Y, so basically the streets were BUSY. Life was lived on the sidewalk--restaurants, grocery stores, shops, etc.--all spilled out onto the sidewalks, which meant everyone walking around had to walk on the streets, which was tricky since the streets were filled with people on scooters. As you can imagine, this made walking around a bit interesting, but luckily living in China for two years had trained me well for not getting run over immediately, although I'd be lying if I said there weren't a few close calls ...
But whatever--on to the pictures!
First things first: when I say the streets were filled with people on scooters, I mean it. Supposedly Hanoi has 4 million people and 3 million scooters. The amazing thing about this is that, if anything, that number is too low:
Speaking of streets, they were also filled with these tall, funny buildings. I guess things used to be taxed by width or something, so people made skinny, long, tall houses. For some reason, they also seemed to only have windows in front and only be painted in the front, which meant the sides were all just blank concrete:
Did I mention the trees? (Trick question, I know I did.) There were these big trees on every street in the old town, which is not the sort of thing you usually find in your major urban centers:
The view from our hotel room's balcony:
Hoan Kiem Lake sits in the center of Hanoi. It's slightly picturesque:
Still more Frenchified buildings. This was actually a Vietnamese/French fusion restaurant--Frietnamese?--called The Green Tangerine, which I strongly, strongly recommend. The décor is not bad either, as you can see:
Did I mention that Hanoi had a lot of scooters?
Besides the French architecture, there's also some random Chinese buildings as well. The Chinese were in Vietnam for about 1,000 years, so I guess that makes sense:
There's also the occasional church, which is always amusing in your few remaining Communist countries. But it brings in the tourists, so what can you do?
Did I mention that Hanoi had a lot of scooters?
(Side note: Have I ever talked about the phone numbers on the buildings? They're in China, too. Basically, there's no classified ads in the paper, so people paint them onto the walls. Consider that your fact of the day. See, learning can be fun!)
Besides the scooters--I've mentioned those, right?--there's tons of bikes, too. In fact, bikes are, as far as I can tell, the main way food and, well, pretty much everything else in Hanoi is delivered. I had a theory that if you wanted to buy something--whatever it might be--if you stood in one place in Old Town Hanoi long enough, someone would ride by selling it on their bike. Seriously. Here's a "green leafy vegetable" bike:
(Side note: I have a ton of bike pictures, obviously--there will be more in my next post.)
One good thing about being a former French colony? Baguettes. Hmmm, baguettes:
A kite shop. Also, a good example of what seemed to be typical Hanoi fashion for woman: loose fitting pants and a sleeveless top made out of the exact same fabric, so that for the first day or so I kept thinking, "Why is everyone walking around in their pajamas?" Not the most fashionable look, but when it's 95 and humid, I think comfort jumps to the forefront:
One of many close-up shots I took. This one is cooler than most:
Hats for sale! Get your hats here. Hats for sale!
Remember when I said life takes place on the streets? Barbershops are included in that ....
Another close-up shot. The shirt in the center says "Good morning, Vietnam," in case you can't read it. Luckily, I didn't see anyone actually wearing one. However, the red-shirt-with-gold-star seemed to be the official shirt of backpackers--they were everywhere. Naturally, I didn't get one:
I'm not even sure what this is a close-up of, but I like it! I think it was dye, but I forget for what. I want to say paint, but who knows? Blogging at its best, folks ...
This cracked me up for some reason. Traffic, as it is in pretty much every Asian city, is terrible, so Coke had a bunch of people just standing there giving all the drivers bottles of coke. I stood around hoping they'd give me one--it was really hot--but I was denied, possibly because I was disgustingly sweaty and on foot. Imagine that:
If you're ever in the market for an eerie tombstone that includes your picture on it, Hanoi is the place to go. Don't everyone rush off all at once now:
The best thing about this picture? You just know that barbequed pig tastes damn good:
This is the Ho Chi Minh museum, which is probably the weirdest museum I've ever been in. (No photos allowed inside, sorry.) The problem is that they basically have nothing from Ho Chi Minh himself: a few slippers that say things like "The slipper Ho Chi Minh wore in the palace," along with a few dirty old shirts and stuff. So since there's nothing to actually display, the whole thing is full of these big, highly impressionistic sculptures that have nothing to do with anything, like a big 3D model of Picasso's Guernica painting to symbolize the horror of war, and a few bombs stuck in the ground by a miniature set of broken gates to symbolize the fall of Saigon, etc. What his worn, unwashed pants were supposed to symbolize, I don't know--and actually, I probably don't want to. At any rate, here's the outside of the museum. If you ever decided to go inside, I would recommend taking a lot of drugs first--things might make a lot more sense. They couldn't make any less sense, at any rate:
One of the hundreds--if not thousands--of pictures of Ho Chi Minh scattered around Hanoi. They call him "Bac Ho," or Uncle Ho. There were, as far as I could tell, no pictures of Auntie Ho. I can't imagine why ...
Coming soon--Hanoi: the People. I can feel the excitement building already ...