Friday, April 4, 2008

Coming Home

So the plan is that I will leave Hanoi tomorrow in the morning and arrive in Brooklyn late Sunday night. And then go to work on Monday morning...well, we'll see about that. I've had a great trip, but I also miss my Brooklyn home, with my Brooklyn cat, and my Brooklyn man.

I'm in love (part whatever)

This is one love I am glad I did not discover until the last day of my visit--Vietnamese French pastry. I don't really have a problem with French French pastry, but the pastry here isn't quite as sweet, not quite as rich, so you don't have a terrible sugar-fat hangover right afterwards. Instead, you just feel a little indulgent, a little choc0late-drunk, and very satisfied.

Water Puppets!

I was under the impression that water puppet shows were performed in natural bodies of water and that the Hanoi water puppet shows were performed in Hoan Kiem Lake. It turns out that they are performed in a pool in a theatre across the street from the lake. Which, um, okay. I guess that's cool too. I'm not sure really what to say about it, except that it's a puppet show in which the puppets bob on the water and the puppeteers manipulate them behind a screen. They act out legends and fables. There is a sparks-breathing dragon in one of the sections, which is really cool, but makes the theatre smoky for the rest of the performance. The photos I took do not do the performance justice, but it's a taste, I guess.


As I walked in the gates to the History Museum today, there was a large group of Vietnamese teenagers and a couple of buses were parked outside. As I walked through the crowd, there were shy smiles, whispers, and giggles; as I entered the museum, they surrounded me like locusts. Hello, where was I from, did I speak Vietnamese, how do I like Vietnam, how many days am I staying here, where is my husband. There were, no joke, at least twenty kids surrounding me. Most of them were girls, but there were a few boys thrown in, trying to act unimpressed. Eventually, the crowd dissipated a little bit and the few girls who stuck around, said that they wanted to practice their English with me. So I said sure (again), somewhat flattered by all the attention. However, they had pretty much exhausted their vocabularies, and when I tried to show off my winning pronunciation of "thank you" in Vietnamese, I just got confused stares and one girl loudly squawked, "What?!"

English Lessons

Long story short, my schedule went a bit wonky today. But I had an hour or two to kill, so I ducked into a cafe not too far from the Vietnamese Women's museum. I wrote a little, read a little, enjoyed my last ca phe sua (coffee with condensed milk). The owner, who seemed thrilled with me the moment I walked in, struck up a converstaion and asked me to help out her waiter with his English. He's in University and was struggling because he didn't have any native speakers to talk to. So I said, sure, I'd help. But he was struggling so much, that we had trouble with the very basics. When he left to wait on a few tables, the owner talked about her husband, who was an ambassador or economic consulate (whatever, something fancier than you or I will ever be) all over the world, including Iran. She talked about her travels, all the people she had met. When I left, both she and the waiter thanked me and insisted I come right back to the cafe the next time I am in Hanoi.


The downside of Hanoi is the humidity. It is muggy (although not hot) and overcast all day, then finely misty in the evening. While this doesn't generally bother ME, it does bother my hair. It reminds me why I shouldn't have bangs no matter how cute Barbara Stanwyk looked in that one movie. Because they feel gross on my forehead, I sweep them across, but they aren't quite long enough to "sweep." They end up doing a bizarre duck tail off the left side of my head and the rest of my hair becomes the consistency of cotton candy. It makes me very glad that I don't know anyone in Hanoi.

Vietnamese Women's Museum

The Vietnamese history museums always go out of their way to mention how involved women were in the Revolution. So I expected that the Vietnamese Women's Museum would be a puff-piece monument of a similar vein--still, I was excited to see it. i nearly skipped there this morning. After all, the U.S. doesn't have a women's museum. We only remember Betsy Ross' sewing needle as women's contribution to Independence. Wee, how nice to be in a feminist country!

Yeah well, the museum has been reduced to a third floor, one-room exhibit about one woman (decidedly more kick-ass than Betsy Ross stories, but still). I have two pictures that are just the English plaque translations to school all of you on your history.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Temple of Literature

Finally, a religious site I can understand!

The Temple was founded in 1070 and the first university in Viet Nam was founded there a few years later. Despite Vietnamese culture's relative appreciation of women, only men (sons of mandarins) were allowed to study there. There are stelae erected in one of the courtyards that list the doctoral graduates for a certain span of years; each stelae is mounted on the back of a huge stone tortoise. And that's all very well and good, but the reason to come here is that it's peaceful and pretty to look at.

Fine Arts Museum

Unfortunately, my camera's battery died before I got to the Fine Arts Museum, so you'll have to take my word on all the great stuff that can be found here. In the basement, behind a large ceramic pot, there was evidence of a fire of some sort coming from the air-conditioning knob. Then in the next room, a worker was whistling and waiting for someone before he started making repairs to a wall. And in the next room, I stepped closer to examine something, and felt the tile under my foot slip a bit and heard water bubbling up. I guess you can do that if your country isn't lawsuit-happy.

Ho Chi Minh Complex

So if I want to see Ho Chi Minh in his Mausoleum, I have to show up at 7 am to wait in a line. The last group is shown in at 10:15 am. So, needless to say, I will have to forgo this pleasure. Also, you aren't allowed to put your hands in your pockets, a restriction that guarantees that all I will want to do in the Mausoleum is put my hands in my pockets.

I did go to the Complex today, which includes a Museum about Ho, his old house, the Presidential Palace, and the Mausoleum. The grounds were really beautiful, soldiers were everywhere (like the guards at Buckingham with less ridiculous hats). Before I even paid my admission to the Museum, I was being asked if I wanted a tour guide. I really didn't. I knew that I would understand little of what was going on, but I hate being a one-person tour group. So I respectfully declined. And then I was approached again. And again, by three students. Luckily, the museum closed before anyone else had a chance to ask me.

Vietnam loves me!

So besides male students and motorbike drivers who want to practice their English and debate Obama vs. Hillary, today I was showered in love by giggling Vietnamese teenage girls. I'm usually trepiditious around giggling teens (experience has proven that they tend to be laughing at me), but even if they were Mean Girls, how much does that really matter? Anyway, they all wanted to take pictures with me. Alone, with their friends, arms around me, holding hands. Being a semi-seasoned NY-er I felt the need to check for my wallet after each encounter, but it was perfectly innocent. I'm clearly too jaded for Hanoi.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


So, as you can see, I haven't been taking a whole lot of photos on the street. Generally, it's because I think it's weird. Also, my regular day in midtown Manhattan is constantly interrupted by jerks on the street trying to get the perfect shot of Grand Central. And yet, the streets (the buildings, the people, the everday life) is exactly what I want to share with y'all. I tried drawing again in Dalat--those who have seen my drawings (or paid for lessons hoping that I would improve) can guess how well that turned out. So I guess I'll have to continue to rely on words instead of images.

Hanoi: Day 1

Well, I'm not in love with anything in Hanoi because my allergies prevent me from tasting anything. Except for my "Hue-style beef" tonight, which is what I call "Sunita-hot," because it is just spicy enough that my boss might opt not to add more pepper flakes.

Mostly I just wandered around today. I'd say I got lost half-a-dozen times except that that would imply that I ever had an actual direction. But I love Hanoi. It's beautiful and chaotic and friendly in a nonchalant kind of way. I may not come back.