13 October – 13 December 2016
Xin chào! Welcome in Hanoi! Where you from? How old are you? You like Vietnam?
Hello! Thank you! I’m from America. I’m 23 years old. I like Vietnam.
Directly from the airport, the mayhem of rush hour greeted all five senses to a degree I had not previously experienced. The chaotic din of the hundred motorbike and car horns and mufflers surrounding us, the blinding pollution, the sticky hot humidity, and the over-ripe pineapple sitting in the cup holder of the taxi was altogether a sultry and sensually overwhelming phenomenon. This was not culture shock, mind you. This was simply Lang Ha Street, Hanoi at 4:30pm.
We fell into the first of a few scams with that taxista. Doing dealings in Vietnamese Dong was damn difficult! 22,000 VND is about $1 USD; it’s quite inflated. Exhausted from our respective 35+ hour journeys east from Vienna and physically and mentally unprepared for the madness of Hanoi, we gratefully welcomed the hospitality of the hotel bed and promptly fell asleep. We woke up that evening and decided we couldn’t muster up the energy to emerge from our room. The following, puzzling memorandum provided us with some good entertainment, however.
The initial fatigue of those few days of combined jet lag, linguistic headaches, and exhaust exhaustion eventually tapered off. Since then, a wonderfully extensive series of truly rare experiences have made this massive change, well, change directions. Before I get into our first two months in Hanoi, please refrain from asking why I settled on teaching English in Vietnam. Other than the affordability of living in Vietnam, the vast number of teaching jobs, and the disproportionate high pay, I genuinely do not know. In any case, we’ve found ourselves in the epicenter of this crazy quake called Hanoi.
Please enjoy some anecdotes and photos of our recent adventures! They are not in any particular order, but that wouldn’t be helpful to you anyway.
Anecdote number 1: Motorbikes.
The thousands of motorbikes were the first thing I noticed out the airport. Hanoi is home to some 7 million people and an approximate 6 million motorbikes. And those are just the registered numbers. Within one square city block at rush hour, you can easily experience a good thousand motorbikes spitting out their exhaust and honking up a sonorous storm. And my favorite, the motorbikes fill every empty space, which means the sidewalk turns into a diamond lane for motorbike commuters! This is, in fact, often how I ensure an on-time arrival to work myself.
As well, the majority of motorbike and foot traffic use a cloth mask to pre-filter the black dirt before their lungs have to do the rest. (If Hanoi’s pollution levels at rush hour can’t convince the unbelieving anti-science sector of society that claim little or no human involvement in climate change…mate, please.) Here’s a little look:
Weaving in and out of traffic, honking the horn 50 bpm (beeps per minute), and contributing to the CO2 emissions really makes you feel like a part of something. Seriously though, there’s something to be said of riding a motorbike in Vietnam!
Anecdote number 2: Friends.
We knew one person in the whole of Hanoi prior to our arrival. This meant there was some work to be done in the acquaintances department.
All thanks to Lizzie’s salsa addiction, one of the first places we went to was a salsa bar called La Bomba Latina. This is where we have met the majority of our new-found Vietnamese friends. Johny and Yen, the nicest Vietnamese couple we could possibly meet, have shown us countless good times with hot pots and even a few Vietnamese lessons! In fact, Johny is the manager at La Bomba, and he hosts a culture and language exchange every Friday. So we are sure to meet some new people hell-bent on practicing their surprisingly decent English, or Spanish, or even German. How great is that?
Also, it is not abnormal to walk along the road, especially around Hoan Kiem Lake, and get a number of young Vietnamese people politely confronting you to ask where you’re from, how old you are, and when you have free time to hang out. While initially very charming, we soon realized that we couldn’t keep up with all of the nevertheless kind randos we had accumulating in our contact lists.
We have also made a few friends from the small number of restaurants we frequent. One such friend, in fact, made it on Lizzie’s birthday picnic invite list: Trang Indian 🙂
Anecdote number 3: I voted.
My first time voting was in this print shop in Hanoi:
The shop assistant didn’t speak any English save for the two words “okay” and “Clinton.” I okayed and Clintoned back, and sent in my absentee ballot. It was strange observing the presidential election from abroad… In some ways, I was glad to be away from the negativity, but I feel my return to the States will somehow involve the need to be a good citizen and protest inequality.
But for the time being, I can commiserate with this trump sandwich:
Which brings us to…
Anecdote number 4: Food.
Speaking of, The Hanoi Social Club is quite the charming restaurant (obviously for more reasons than our above mutual understanding). It also has wonderfully welcoming western breakfasts, second only to our apartment’s!Our visits to this locale are equal only with a nearby Indian spot of such delectable savories…you couldn’t.
Also, Vietnamese food is delicious! Everything I have tried has been great. With the well-known pho aside, the most unique and interesting blend of flavors I’ve experienced has been in something called a hot pot. Hot pots are, as the name implies, pots that are hot. First, they put a hot plate on your table, connect it to an outlet, and then place a pot of delicious broth with ginger, galangal, turmeric, cilantro, and garlic. Along side the pot is a plate or two of veggies, random leaves, potato or banana, and normally some type(s) of meat. You can ask for nearly anything in a hot pot: frog, pig’s heart, beef vein, chicken, tofu, fish… Inconsequentially, the hot pots I’ve enjoyed all come with a peculiar story. This story might just take the cake:
Anecdote number 5: Umm.
Our good friend, Johny got us invited to a rather bizarre occasion of a double birthday celebration. It was the birthday of a wealthy and generous wealthy woman we had met not four days previous at a random school halloween event, doubled with the 13th anniversary (birthday) of a rather fancy hair salon company owned by this woman’s friend. After waking up at dawn, waiting two hours for the transport (during which time we downed a good bowl of Pho Ga), we at last found ourselves at a luxury holiday resort an hour and a half outside Hanoi. The event was to start at 12:30, so we got to wait the hour and half till the party started. Here’s a little of what we got up to:
The elaborate opulence of the party created a vibe so vastly different from what I’ve felt in Hanoi that I felt like I was suddenly dropped in another country, or certainly in another culture. In some ways, I think we were! In any case, day-to-day living in Hanoi makes me feel averagely out of place… This party was a whole other phenomenon!
Unsurprisingly, the food was scrumptious, especially the sweet coconut fried bean rolls and the fish hotpot. Since Lizzie was due to dance salsa at the shindig, she and I sat at different tables but close enough to exchange a few confused glances of hilarity. The kindness of my table mates was unparalleled. We communicated through food due to a clear linguistic barrier. They saw to it that the foreigner’s bowl remained full at all times. And they did not cease to toast with me which was fun for a time, but after my hand started cramping from the chopsticks, my feigned confidence began to dwindle. But enough of that, here’s some excellent photographic evidence of the occasion:
Anecdote number 6: Fruit!
We have frequent success with fruit. Unfortunately, the mango season has recently completed, but we took full advantage of it by eating a mango each most days. Additionally, we consume around 20 bananas a week. Pomelos (big grapefruits) and their numerous varieties were until very recently flooding the markets. We contributed to the demand.
And now it’s time for everyone’s favorite: Random Four One One!
The little meat I have had has perhaps slightly more gristle from that I’ve had elsewhere. Also, they stuff ground meat into tofu, a specialty for the flexitarians.
Don’t stick chopsticks into your plate of rice. It disgraces the dead and is discomforting.
Photos have great importance placed upon them. “Camera culture” alert.
Toi co anh em sing doi, they never understand me, though.
Don’t pick up the random bills of real money that can occasionally litter the streets. It’s dead people’s money. I speak from experience.
Well, that’s all for now folks. Stay tuned for more, you know, in a year or so. For now, I’ll leave you with this: