|Well, it is day 4 of our adventure and I am finally ready to start writing. Getting here was long and tiring but not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. A 12 1/2 hr flight to Dohu Qatar an another 8 1/2 to Hanoi, both on Qatar Airlines. I plan on only flying Qatar from now on; comfortable seats with room so my knees didn't even graze the seat in front of me, real food, and gracious service by beautiful flight attendants. With the help of Ambien I had a good 6 hr sleep.
The Dohu airport is very large, elegant and sleekly modern. It is filled with high end American and British stores; Gucci, Harrods, Diesel. I was surprised to see a Victoria's Secret!? Woman's lingerie in a Muslim country? Ah, on closer inspection, a large display of perfumes, soaps and creams.
We arrived in Hanoi at 7:30 am, having jumped 12 hr ahead. The basic serviceable airport as well as the highway leading to it are only 3 years old, necessitated by a recent rise in tourism.
Our day in Hanoi was an overwhelming, adrenaline rush, jumble of sights, sounds and activity. Everything is new, different, and happening at the same time. We dropped our luggage at our lovely boutique hotel in the Old Quarter and were greeted by young men in long royal blue jackets and women in long tight black velvet dresses. A welcome drink of passion fruit and a dish of colorful fruits was a perfect introduction.
Our walk through the city started on the narrow railroad tracks for the old train leading to China. People' s houses, shops and small cafes are feet from the tracks on either side. House are very small, cement, austere 2 or 3 story buildings drowned next to each other. Many first floor house a small store with fresh produce , butchered meat, chicken,basic food or goods, or small "cafes". Simple food is cooked over gas burners on the sidewalk for people crammed into a jumble of plastics stools and tables fit for elementary age children.
Ha skillfully led us through narrow winding streets, protecting us from a constant onslaught of death and rule defying motor scooters, to the market. The market is teeming with women buying their fresh food for the day's meal and farmers selling their goods. Every fruit and vegetable imaginable, so many I have never seen before. My new favorite is dragonfruit, inside is white flesh with a Polk a dot of small black seeds and the skin is a beautiful shade of deep rose. It is sweet and delicious. Other venders sell fresh tofu, freshly butchered meet and poultry featuring every possible part of the animal. At the same time cars and motor bikes cram the streets.
Our next stop was the Temple of Literature which is a restoration of an ancient school, the only university in Vietnam Nam, teaching Confucianism. a beautiful and peaceful series of 5 gardens representing the five elements surrounded by classrooms and an alter to honor Confucius. This is a very important site for Vietnamese and there were two groups celebrating their college graduations. In one group the men were in black and the young women wore white with garlands of colorful flowers on our their heads.
On our return we followed Ha through many more winding streets to the sight of a women downed B52 bomber remains in a pond in the middle of the city. From the perspective of the Vietnamese this was a turning point in the American War when they begain to win. It is upsetting and chilling to see remnants and think of our role the most recent in a series of countries that have fought and devastated this already poor country.
Any impression of Hanoi must include a description of the traffic. There are some cars, a few buses and trucks, but most people ride motor scooters. Solos, pairs and families of four (with young children standing on the seat between their parents or sitting in front of the driver) can be seen zipping around. There are no rules, stop signs, lanes or left turn signals. The scooters travel in ever moving swarms (safety in numbers) with faith that pedestrians, cars and scooter will all arrive at their destination unharmed. Not deterred by rain, comutters zip around in brightly colored rain ponchos. Few wear helmets which are expensive but many wear masks to protect themselves from the diesel pollution. This seemed a feeble gesture toward health since the same fumes and dirt are on the foods they buy at market and what they eat in outdoor cafes just inches from the street.
In the evening we attended a show called “Our Village” which Ha recommended because it depicted Life in the countryside. I expected something simplistic and trite. Actually, it was amazing. The performers were acrobats, jugglers, arielists and a contortionist who used village life as the theme for their performance. They were accompanied by live music made from traditional instruments.. They were dressed in costumes of simple flowing browns and the skillful lighting created many moods. The stage was bare except for two stands of bamboo, one very tall and one of medium height. The performers created still and moving tableaux of village life; playing, planting, sieving rice, cooking.They lashed the bamboo into structures they could climb, hang from, and flip off of. At one point they created a structure they used as a tightrope.. A woman stood on a man’s shoulders as he walked half way across. She tranfered one foot to the man who met them from the opposite direction and the men mover backwards causing her to do the splits. Then she transferred to the shoulders of the other men and walked the rest of the way. A group of performers held the bamboo, at least ten feet tall, upright and two woman walked from bamboo top to bamboo top. A contortionist hung from bamboo, creating images of adorable bugs. Three men juggled gourds together creating patterns and rhythm as one tapped on a gourd as part of the juggling sequence. Later he whole group pounded the shorter sticks rhythmmatically on the bamboo and juggles woven baskets used to sieve rice. All the.time the group was smiling and playful. I was awed by their creativity, skill and exuberance.