The wedding plans are coming down to the wire, and I haven’t had much time to write. I have been taking lots of notes on things around here, which could make for some interesting reading. I have been living in Hanoi for the past few weeks, and making the best of it in this strange world.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
The house that my family is renting is located in a rather busy area. We’re about 1 block from the Red River, and about 1 km from Hoan Kiem Lake. There are all kinds of noises and smells that I can experience by just opening my balcony door. I call it the essence of Hanoi, while others call it the essence of spoiled garbage.
The house opens into a busy street. Directly across the street is a beauty salon, and two doors in either direction are Bia Hoi and Bia A Chau. Both are places that serve draft beer. Every once in a while, there is a lady that cooks and serves food right from the steps of our house.
There’s a couple infamous spots very close to the house. About a block away is the Titanic Night Club, which is moored in the Red River. Also not far away is the Bia Toilette, which is another infamous hang out for locals and expatriates.
My last trip to Vietnam convinced me that this country is not as backwards as I had thought. This trip is quickly proving how much Vietnam has in common with America. One thing that’s common are supermarkets. Hanoi has a few chains of supermarkets, which FiviMart is my favorite.
The FiviMarts are stocked somewhat similar to a Super Wal-Mart, but about half the size of a regular supermarket. There is a food section, clothing, household appliances, etc. The items lean toward an Asian market (for obvious reasons), so you will a lot more rice and vegetables than huge meat department. The FiviMarts are so similar to an American supermarket that I don’t think Ha will experience as severe of culture shock as I had originally thought.
A perk for me is being able to reach the top shelf for an item, because everything here is designed about six inches lower than in America.
Bia Hoi literally means gas beer. It is draft beer found virtually everywhere in Vietnam. Locals come to these places for more or less the same reasons Americans go to a bar. There is an infamous Bia Hoi location not far from the house, which is nicknamed Bia Toilette. The name of the place almost sounds like toilette. The place is huge, and is usually packed every night.
Food is abundant and incredibly cheap in Vietnam. You can get a decent meal for less than $2 US. Lunch with Chuck Searcy, Ha and myself cost about $3.00 US. Much of the food here is very similar to Vietnamese food that I’ve eaten all of my life in America. What I found interesting during this trip is the abundance of Western Food available here.
As I mentioned in a previous E-mail, Ha and I went out for pizza. Although the pizza was a far cry from the quality found in America, it is edible. What’s interesting was the salad bar, where local greens and things of different colors was served.
For the Dog Lovers
If you are a dog lover in Vietnam, you will have to determine exactly what you love about dogs. There is an ancient myth about Vietnamese and other Asians eating dog. The myth is actually true, but I still found some irony about how Vietnamese look at dogs.
Believe it or not, owning a dog is considered a status symbol here. I had seen many Viets walk their dogs around Hoan Kiem Lake, just like they were Americans taking a stroll with their trusted four-legged friend. There seems to be a commonality among these “man’s best friend” varieties. They all are very small or toy dogs. Putting it bluntly, there’s not much there to eat. I believe that staying below appetizer size is what keeps such dog alive.
For the record: Some Vietnamese do eat dog. Furthermore, dog is not served in secret from a street restaurant in the dark allies of Hanoi either. My uncle went to a huge “dog” restaurant that could seat over 300. Also for the record: I did not eat dog, cat, rat, mice or anything exotic during this trip (yet). I’m sure this snippet is not going to go over well with PETA.
The Missing Communist Flags
If I can choose one distinct difference between Saigon and Hanoi, then that difference would be the numerous hammer & sickle flags found in Hanoi. The communist flag was seen in massive numbers around Hanoi and North Vietnam, while only seen on government buildings in Saigon. The communist flag is flown at the same level as the Vietnam country flag, which symbolizes that the party is equal to the country.
There is something distinctly missing in Hanoi today. I haven’t seen a hammer & sickle flag anywhere in the city. Even Lenin Park failed to display a communist flag. This is unusual because the communist flag was quite prevalent during my last trip here.
Ha jokingly said that the Vietnam Government knew I was coming, and removed all of the communist flags while I was staying in Hanoi. She said the flags are stored in Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.
Actually, the APEC conference is in Hanoi this weekend, starting the day of my wedding. A special guest to this conference is George Bush, which spells out why any trace of communism in Hanoi has been hidden for the time being.
Spa & Massage
My uncles, Dad and I had visited this incredible spa and massage place. My Uncle Hung claims that he has never visited the place before, which seem unusual because all of the staff there knew him. Nevertheless, we weren’t there to meet one of my uncle’s girlfriends, but to see if the therapy treatment could help my Dad with his numerous health issues. Also, I had a stomach flu that I was having problems trying to shake off for the past few days.
The therapy starts with a cup of tea made from herbs and ginseng. The tea was like a miracle elixir, because I could feel my stomach problems go away almost immediately. Afterwards, we sat in a wine barrel filled with warm water mixed with herbs and then sat in a whirlpool filled with the same herbal elixir. I was beginning to wonder if I was going through a health spa or being prepared to be the main course at a dinner that night. My Dad went immediately to massage therapy, which I sat for a while in a sauna that was steamed with lemon grass.
The real experience was the massage therapy. A tiny Vietnamese girl contorted my body like a rag doll for about an hour. She was doing things to me that I’m sure would be illegal in several states, and especially Utah. She massaged just about every bone in my body, from my fingers to my toes. She even walked on my back, and I didn’t know someone could do things like that with their feet.
The session ended with a bowl of hot chicken soup. My stomach flu disappeared, and my Dad was walking without his cane, where he could barely stand up just a couple hours before.
I have a few other things that I’ve taken note of around nere, and will save it for another E-mail. Ha is yelling at me to eat dinner now (looks like she’s getting used to married life very quickly), so I gotta go.
Talk to you later!
Dan Harley, Jr.