Note: As anyone who has read this blog has realized, I’m not longer in Vietnam even though I’m writing this like I am. I’m doing so because, well, it adds to the immediacy of the experience, and it helps me remember the details. But I’m back and in the middle of getting chemotherapy – I started 10 days after we returned – and it is whipping my butt a bit more than I expected, which means I haven’t been blogging as religiously as I should. I’ve been talking to people about babylift, gathering more info, and will update this blog accordingly. But I just wanted people to know what was going on.
The first thing I noticed about Hanoi was how modern the airport was, not just the buildings and the like, but how an actual freeway lead away from the facility.
The second thing were the billboards on the freeway. Billboard after billboard, for what seemed like miles, touting a wide variety of products and services from Internet to travel to milk. Of course, the fact many of these billboards stuck up out of rice fields made it seem a bit different but still it seemed odd after being in the south and central Vietnam.
And it became clear as our time progressed how very Western Hanoi had become. And that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
After finishing our time in Hoi An – I got all the shirts I ordered and liked them, but it took forever – we flew out of Danang to Hanoi. I’d spent most of my full day in Hoi An hiding from being a tourist, working on this blog, swimming in the pool and otherwise just vegging out. Getting up early to take the bus into Danang and then catch the plane to Hanoi got us back on the tour track.
I must admit, though, I fell asleep on the ride into the city. The hotel in Hoi An had futon beds – slabs of pseudo-foam that felt like concrete. And I don’t just say that because I’m a nambi-pambi softy poop. You laid on those beds and literally didn’t sink at all, no indentation, nothing. So on the bus, on the freeway, the slight rumble and jostling lulled me into sleep.
And, damn it all, I missed the dog district. Not the area where people find pets. Nope, the area when they buy their next meal – a bowser buffet, if you will. That is one of the first questions you get about Vietnam, do they eat dog. Well, yeah, they do. Vietnamese aren’t too sentimental about eating most anything because, after all, if it’s something that will help them survive, they’ll eat it. They can’t afford to be sentimental. We did hear, though, that there is some slight stigma attached to eating cats because cats are useful – they eat rats and other pests. So if you want a restaurant that serves cat, you have to find one that serves “little tiger.”
Not that I wanted to eat dog or cat. I mean, I’m the sort who’d run in and try to free them all, or buy them and release the hounds. And I didn’t really want to see the dogs in cages waiting to be dinner, sad eyes, lolling tongues, happy grins. Nope, didn’t want to see that, not at all.
But I would have liked to see the area, I think, just to say I had.
Like many cities, Hanoi is divided into areas, the tourist area, the business district, etc. The shops seemed to cluster together, too – a block of toys, a block of paper products, a block of electronics. Our hotel was in the business district, which was fine, I guess, but it made it hard to find places to eat or places to shop. Also, our hotel was what one might call an older, European-style hotel, which some might have called charming but, well, it was just kind of run down to me. The rooms had high ceilings and the beds were at least beds and not slabs of torture racks. I shouldn’t complain, it was better than Hoi An, but I was tired and cranky.
A few others of the group must have felt the same way because they didn’t join us for our first tourist roundup that afternoon – to see the Ho Chi Minh complex and Hanoi Hilton.