Just another day in Hanoi

backpacker hostel Day XXVI – April 13

I get up still in time for the included breakfast; fluffy bread that’s been lying out so long it got hard, and what I guess might be vegemite, the apparently popular Australian spread. Never mind.
So I go for a look around, comparing deals. I arrange my open bus ticket to Saigon at the friendlier hostel Backpacker Central, just around the corner, to which I move right away.
I hear Hanoi Backpacker Downtown, the new lodging, is more fun. I suppose it is, the location is better too. But I’m done with this chain.

After a look at my calendar I decide I have time for a 2-day trip to Halong Bay, and a Unesco World Heritage should be worth the 1,260,000d budget cut – that’s $60 all inclusive. It’s the cheapest deal I could find, with that same hostel.

I’ll take today to discover Hanoi, thus I take my camera out for a stroll.
It’s no less busy than yesterday. But now that I’ve become more accustomed, I notice everyone is very laid-back and moves like time doesn’t exist. Which is exactly what the streets look like; a little dusty, and layer after layer built on top of each other; I like to call it Convenience Architecture – whatever is necessary, with whatever is lying around; nothing more, nothing less.
This really cool thing I noticed, is how many houses have the roof raised up a set of columns, so an extra floor sprouts in between: a sort of outdoor attic.

scam bitch At some point I do this thing I never do. I take a people-picture. Of a woman walking with two big baskets filled with bananas on a pole over her shoulder.
She smiles, and then signs for me to take her carrying device and her cone hat so she can take a picture of me. I think “what the hell” and go with it.
After she hands me back my camera she asks me to buy something. Fair enough. I ask her the price, 30,000d sounds right? That’s what I paid for the one and a half pineapple I just bought. “No!” she says “300,000!” I tell her that is way too much.
But I was stupid enough to already take out my money, so after I hand her a 50.000d note she can give me change from, she just yanks another 100.000d note out of my hand.
Things happen quickly, and I don’t want to make too much fuss, being the tourist, the guest, and all. But she won’t give me anything.
So I’m left with a bunch of bananas –that I used to be allergic to as a kid so never learned to even like- and €7,50 poorer. I got ripped off good!

Life goes on.

I hop on the back of a mototaxi, into the wild. It still feels very relaxed though, in the middle of it all, in the eye of the storm.
You know how I always said that once I’d have my driving license, I’d go to Paris to join the insanity at Place Charles de Gaulle? Well, I have a new goal: driving a motorcycle through Vietnam, Hanoi to Saigon. Can’t wait!

The ride takes me to Lenin Park, where Hanoi does their gambling, fishing, cuddling, yoga exercises and silly walks.
Cone hats everywhere, gagging and spitting, burping. Those last I’d noticed before, but it’s much louder and –to a westerner- disgusting here.

The boardwalk is most everywhere crammed with bikes, which the streets are still filled with. And where there is space, it is littered with these tiny plastic chairs and tables, the ones you see at Toy’r’Us.
In the afternoon, this is where the many Pho-stalls suddenly appear. And at night it’s where the youngsters sit, sipping their cocktails and nibbling their sunflower seeds, or the old men do their gambling, under a ceiling of trees and electricity wiring.
I go for an afternoon snack with one of those stalls. One of the guests speaks a little English -I am the only tourist- and points me to a tiny seat at a tiny table and hands me a plate with three different versions of fried meatmash in a doughroll “All same same, you try yes?” but she won’t tell me exactly what is in there. It’s tasty though, and one has to embrace the local dish right? So I do, happily.
sidewalk hanoi 2
I come back to the hostel to take the best shower ever under that massive rain-unit.
And then it’s free-beer-o’clock, so I go into the bar downstairs to get me one. The beer factory hasn’t delivered, so, darn it, cocktails will have to do. “Jus’ one though” the bartender says.
I join a table that’s already gathered around a bucket, and more than willing to add me in their conversation. One of them is the Swedish doppelganger of my friend Cedric, another is the Irish look-a-like of an old acquaintance by the name of Bril. The weirdest thing is that these two people from back home actually know each other, and seeing their doppels hang out here together like this.
There are two more Sweeds, another Irish, and David [UK] I met earlier at the computers in the front of the hostel.
I’ve hardly finished my glass before the bartender puts another one in front of me with a wink.

I pull out my journal as I haven’t written anything yet today, and 10 minutes later David comes over.
“If you’re this bored it’s time for me to step in and entertain the lady,” and asks me where it reads about this cute Brit I just met. And from then on he doesn’t stop throwing compliments my way in a very charming British manner, taking it a little far maybe with this line: “Imagine how beautiful our children will be?!” He’s quite cocky that way, but otherwise attractive so I choose to just go with it, and return his kiss when we get up to go for dinner.

Where I might have been a little scared last night, I walk the streets now with the greatest of ease – so easy even that David feels the need to hold me back whenever crossing, scared I’d get caught under a car.

We sit down with a simple stall and have my first but best pho –Vietnam’s traditional streetmeal: beef noodle soup- ever.

Then we go to this hip bar Flow, hidden upstairs in a backside building: cool place, I like that underground vibe. But it’s the same lame music and crowd and I can’t get into it tonight.
I run in to Patrick, whom I was on the Straybus with in Laos; small world again.
The Irish, David and I hang out at the balcony a while. We’re chatting and sipping our cocktails, overlooking a hot night in the still mumbling city, until the voice in my head starts ushering me home; I do have an 8am bus to catch.

David, being all gentleman, walks me home. Although by now it was already obvious we’d be leaving together. When we stop to make out in an alley, a taxidriver asks if we’re OK. But couply behaviour is allowed here –locals do it too- so he was just looking for business.
I should explain: everywhere else I was since Thailand, physical contact is pretty much taboo.
The rest of his room is still out so I let him take me up there. They come back all too soon though. But we’ve got blankets and we’re in the far end. So now’s the time to get over that uncomfortable-with-other-people-in-the-room feeling…
It only gets really awkward when his neighbour comes home. Too late now though, whatever.

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