(Writings from my recent Southeast Asia travels)
Cliche or no cliche, after such a wonderful day I had yesterday cycling through the countryside waving to hundreds of Vietnamese saying “HELLO!” I’m unabashedly ready to proclaim, nay, open the bedroom window shutters and joyously shout, to a sea of glorious stained, brutally gray cinder block roof tops…..GOOOOOOD MORNING VIETNAM !!!!!!!!!!!
In Vietnam, with the currency exchange rate pegged at 17,000 dong to the dollar, it’s easy to feel like a millionaire. You ask the waitress, “How much for my breakfast? “Only 85 thousand. Here’s a hundred thousand…keep the change!”
Of course, back in America, if you arrived flushed with a million dong (sounds dirty doesn’t it) you could barely pay for a bus ticket from Albuquerque to Flagstaff, Arizona.
However, millionaire or no millionaire, February in Hanoi, even staying in its most charming Old Quarter section, provides little inspiration to shout Good Morning salutations to the world.
One might be tempted to say Hanoi is a great city to leave however I shall try to emphasize Hanoi’s positives. For instance, highlights included the best spring rolls I’ve ever tasted and the incredible artwork you see in the different galleries/shops. At night, sections of the Old Quarter look elegant thanks to draping, graceful trees, bright Chinese lanterns and a charming French ambiance, while the city’s prominent lake makes for a pleasant evening stroll. There’s also that unique Vietnamese energy in the streets; people sitting around the sidewalks eating from steaming pots and bowls while women wearing their conical hats pass by carrying everything from pineapples to bricks.
That said, the downside to Hanoi is the February weather; drizzly, gray with insufferable humidity; the motorbikes, creating total mayhem madness in the streets; the touts or hawkers, difficult to walk two blocks without a half dozen “Hey mister, hello, hello!” solicitors trying to sell you something, and the exhaust pollution which leaves you gasping for air.
Hopping on the southbound bus for Ninh Binh was a smart move. Renting a bicycle and “getting lost” among the villagers in the countryside an absolutely brilliant move! I was in my element, peddling away, taking pictures of picturesque karst peaks and ricefields, and encountering numerous smiley-faced Vietnamese, waving and shouting “HELLO, HELLO” a gazillion times; their motivations not self-serving, simply genuine greetings to this strange long-haired stranger riding through their village and sneaking up on them in their ricefields.
School kids in particular were fun to interact with and I received big smiles and “hellos” from a group of girls dressed in their Communist Party High School brown uniforms. Did I mention this was the Peace and Love tour? Just trying to bridge the cultural gap, remember…there is no “ism” in smile. Wait…actually there is, just the letters rearranged. Anyway, it sounds profound.
Creating a nice touch, occasionally I would hear soft Vietnamese music playing over the distant Communist Party community center loudspeaker. I assumed this was music to soothe “THE WORKERS” while they sowed the rice stalks for the next harvest. This reminded me of the MUSAK or elevator music that is played in some corporate capitalist workplaces to soothe the “OFFICE WORKERS” while they sow the seeds for the next set of useless corporate reports.
Are our worlds REALLY so different? Who is ready for a group hug!!!!!!
And, if life couldn’t get any better, even the village dogs (who are, contrary to popular myth, kept as pets, not as appetizers) were very friendly!
To see my Vietnam photography, travel books, and more, please visit www.michaelmcguerty.com