- No food selfies
- No foreign food (meaning Western or American)
- No getting suckered—bargain for everything
- Wherever possible, travel by train
As a result, I didn't take photos of any of the foods I ate in Hanoi, more's the pity. I'll just have to make do with other people's, I guess. Thank Gawd for the Internet.
I had a lovely, full sleep the night of July 13th, after catching barely ninety minutes in 36 hours. I awoke at mid-morning, "had a good gap and a stretch," and peered out the window:
I went back up to my room, e-mailed my parents to let me know I'd arrived safely, updated my journals, and slathered on sunscreen. For some inexplicable reason, I decided not to pocket my rain poncho—figuring, perhaps, that it would be easy to find and buy a cheap bumbershoot at a convenience store somewhere.
I stopped in at the first store I saw to buy 1.5 liters of water. It cost 12,000 VND—about 75 cents at the time. No umbrellas though.
Next stop was Hoan Kiem Lake:
I wasn't hurrying. I was strolling. Even so, I was drenched. Great wet spots appeared on my linen shirt, the bandanna I'd stuck under my hat was already soaked through, and my thighs were as wet and squeaky as trained dolphins. My sweaty fingers smudged the postcards I bought and addressed and sent at the moldy, water-stained French colonial post office.
My luck ran out during the long walk from the post office to the Maison Centrale—better known as the "Hanoi Hilton." The skies broke. The clouds weltered up and burst. There was nothing gradual about this kind of rain: full in the grip of monsoon season, the Vietnamese skies vomited all their contents upon me with wanton abandon. One minute it was dry; the next minute the air was filled with drops of water that would have done that godawful third Matrix movie proud. I thought I'd been sopping with sweat earlier. Now I was truly soaked. Unwilling to appear unprepared or chagrined, I stood defiantly out in the open for a few moments; then I slunk under the eaves of a nearby government building with a few other feckless souls. We stood there for some 20 minutes, trying to wait the damn storm out. It was too wet to light up a smoke. None of us would meet each others' eyes. All of us felt the caustic shame of being caught without an umbrella or poncho during monsoon season.
Presently, there was the wet slapping sound of flip-flops on rainy pavement. A pack of dripping young English and Irish women, their tank tops and shorts plastered enticingly to their bodies by the fruits of the monsoon, sprinted up to our hiding-place. They inquired of everyone present whether the Hanoi Hilton was nearby. Your humble correspondent, having faithfully memorized the route before leaving his hotel room, pointed these women in the right direction. Together we strode soggily around the corner to the Maison Centrale.
|The original door—the one John McCain probably walked through, the putz.|
This place was yet another letdown. Ninety-five percent of it was devoted to the cruel oppression of the French during the colonial era, and the bitter tortures and deprivations the noble Vietnamese resistance fighters endured at their captors' hands. One small room was devoted to the American fighter pilots who were incarcerated here during the Vietnam War, and even that was decorated with propaganda: staged photographs showing American P.O.W.s raising chickens, decorating Christmas trees, attending church services, and holding chess tournaments. The entire upper level of one building was devoted to giant, tacky brass plaques memorializing the glorious names of the Vietnamese heroes held by the French (second-to-last picture above). I was put off by the whole thing, frankly. I couldn't wait to get back outside into the sunny, drying streets and make my way to the Temple of Literature.
Now, here's the funny part: remember way back in 2013 when I went to Japan, and I saw the famous Zōjō-ji temple in Tokyo? And I got the prayer etiquette all wrong? And all during my train trip through Japan I kept getting it wrong such that, if any Shinto deities actually heard my prayers, they'd have either laughed them off or put an eternal curse on me?
I kept up my streak at the Temple of Literature, a Confucian school to which the Lý dynasty sent their best and brightest youths. I forgot to take off my hat while donating a few dong and saying a brief prayer. May I be damned to ignorance forevermore.
|Does your washroom look this cool?|
|These four pillars carried an inscription in Chinese admonishing horsemen to dismount already, gosh dang it to heck.|
|from Wikimedia Commons|
I bolted the lot down, walked another block and stopped in at a foreigner's bar for some nem (Vietnamese sausage wrapped in rice paper) and two more 450-ml bottles of Bia Ha Noi.
|from Wikimedia Commons|
Okay, I'm stopping there. I'll tell you about the rest of this evening, and boarding the express train to Saigon, in the next entry.