Here’s to Hanoi!

About the time Holly and Dan left (see previous post – Bangkok with Buddies), another visitor arrived just in time to celebrate her birthday! Our daughter is spending the summer in Thailand conducting some research for her Anthropology/Public Health PhD. We have been fortunate to have some time together before we head back to the States! Because she speaks Thai, we introduced her to all of our acquaintances in the neighborhood so that she could thank them for their kindness and explain to them that we are leaving soon. And she introduced us to not only some street food that we had not tried but also an iced egg coffee (breakfast in a cup)! She left Bangkok a few days ago, heading west to an area in which she spent two years working for an NGO. We will catch up with her again in August.

Last week, we had one more out-of-country experience. When we left North Carolina back in December, one of Bill’s wishes was to take me to Ha Long Bay, a picturesque spot a few hours from Hanoi. He had been a couple of times before, and he really wanted me to see this special place. So, having never been anywhere in Vietnam, I tagged along with Bill to a workshop in Hanoi. Turns out, I did get to see the Bay, but not with Bill, who couldn’t scoot away for a whole day. Instead, I took advantage of a tour and traveled to the Bay with other first-time goers, including some women whose husbands were also stuck in meetings! It was an interesting 12-hour adventure, considering that one couple was left behind at a rest stop (and then rescued); my bus mate was very friendly, very British, and very chatty; and the guide had to be convinced that I could manage getting in and out of a kayak, thank you very much. Anyway, true to Bill’s words, Ha Long Bay was beautiful even on an overcast day and well worth a visit and the recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Bay is dotted with almost 2000 limestone islands that look like giant tree-covered boulders rising up from the water. Nature never fails me with its extraordinary surprises.

Some of us kayaked around a small lake formed by a ring of islands and watched families of monkeys watching us! (No pictures, I’m afraid, because I was nervous about dropping my phone in the water even though I VERY EXPERTLY GOT IN AND OUT OF THE KAYAK!) We also hiked through a humongous cave inside one of the monolithic limestone rocks. The geological formations were so cool, but the air was hot and humid during our hourlong trek. I was happy to see daylight and feel the bay breeze when we reached the other side of the cave. Needless to say, I slept well that night!

The next morning, Bill and I set out to explore the Old Quarter of the city, jam packed with traffic, hawkers, and shops of all sorts. Speaking of traffic, it is just as crazy as the traffic in Bangkok but with even fewer rules. There are stoplights and crosswalks, but it is quite normal for motorcycles, especially, to jump the gun on green lights. To cross a street, we basically took a big breath, stepped onto the street, and prayed that all the vehicles would go around us! It reminded me of the scene from Disney’s Mulan in which the grandmother covers her eyes and walks across a busy street with her lucky cricket! It was exhilarating each and every time that we reached the other side (thank heavens). Even the sidewalks were exciting because both motorcycles and cars would park on them, sending pedestrians back out into the hazardous streets! Although I consider myself to be pretty savvy at quick street shopping, I found myself distracted by the street vendors, amazed as to how they maneuvered alongside the crazy traffic.

After mastering some artful dodging, we opted to relax a bit by walking around a nice lake and across a small wooden bridge to a Chinese temple. It was a very serene place even though quite crowded. As we continued our walk toward the Old Quarter, it began to drizzle a little. I donned my raincoat and put my phone in its deep pocket so I could grab it for picture taking. Unfortunately, someone else managed to grab it as well, and in a split second, my Thai phone was gone. I will not bore you with details of my immediate sick feeling, the two different police stations I had to visit, the wonderful assistance from Bill’s colleague, and the realization that I had lost all my photos from our 6-month stay.

{So that your concern does not last as long as mine, I will tell you right now that when I returned to Bangkok, Annie and I went to a TrueMove shop (my phone service) and found out that I had miraculously backed up all my photos onto a cloud! I think I did it on a whim when I was trying to create more storage on my phone. I actually bought brownies for the young man who helped us; I was also grateful that Annie could converse with him. Anyway, although I miss my cool OPPO phone with its Thai calendar and Thai Google Maps apps, I am ecstatic that I have my pics!!}

To distract me that afternoon, Bill bought tickets to a water puppet show. He had seen the show on his previous trips to Hanoi and thought it would be a good diversion. And he was right! Although we had been to several excellent puppet shows in Myanmar, this one was quite different. Instead of strings and puppeteers working madly from above a stage, these marionettes ‘came alive’ on the surface of the water with the help of underwater puppet wizardry (long bamboo rods, string contraptions, and skilled artists)! Each scene, from boat races to a parade to phoenixes and fairies, was accompanied by live music played on traditional Vietnamese instruments. And although the movement of the puppets was more restricted than that of dangling puppets, it was all pretty entertaining and fascinating to watch. Apparently, the whole underwater puppetry idea began in the flooded rice fields of Vietnam back in the 11th century! How cool is that?

After the show, we hurried back to our hotel to get picked up for dinner at a hotpot restaurant, where burners were built into the table so that customers could cook some of the food to their own liking. We tried an assortment of dishes, all of which were delicious, especially the two types of fish. Our hosts were surprised as to how well we managed our chopsticks. Bill, however, is much more adept than me when it comes to eating slippery noodles.

The next morning, I parked myself in a coffee shop across the street from the Institute where Bill was lecturing a group of dedicated students (it was Saturday!). After his talk, there was a certificate ceremony and another tasty meal – two of Bill’s favorite things. He loves interacting with students and he loves to eat Asian food!

Then, Bill’s colleague took us to a ceramic village on the outskirts of Hanoi. I thought we were going to do some window shopping, but I was encouraged to make my own bowl on a pottery wheel. Another young woman and her five-year-old son had accompanied us, and I think he just wanted someone else to join in on the “fun.” So, I left Bill to wander through the shops (a Bill in a China shop, oh, no!) while I unleashed my pottery potential! In no time at all, I became the entertainment portion of the afternoon, giving several onlookers good reason to giggle! Bill’s friend, appropriately named Dr. Ha, could not stop laughing as she took videos of me on a crash course with a clump of clay. Every time I formed a decent vessel, my thumb would slip and the top edge would cave in. My admiration for potters increased tenfold in a mere 30 to 40 minutes. By the time my dare-I-call-it-a-bowl was finished, dried, and painted, a heavy downpour forced us back into the car. So much for my ceramic souvenirs!

After a short rest, we headed out for some dim sum with Dr. Ha’s family. The food was as flavorful as it was pretty! And the company was delightful.

Yum, yum, dim sum!

On our final morning, we snuck in a little bit more sightseeing, taking in the beautiful St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. The city’s oldest church was built by the French government in 1886, in a style similar to Notre Dame with its twin bell towers. We were lucky enough to enter while the choir was singing in French. The combination of sights and sounds within the church’s old walls was absolutely wonderful, and a great ‘note’ on which to end our trip…well, almost.

We did share one more healthy vegetarian meal with some of Dr. Ha’s family. Afterwards, Bill grabbed a quick ride (down a sidewalk, of course) from the restaurant to the car! He was tickled, as you can see.

Happy headed!!

Our next flight will be the one back to the States! Just a mere 25 hours from start to finish! Time to catch up on movies…

4 thoughts on “Here’s to Hanoi!

  1. Perry! I love that Annie got to be there for a little bit of your adventure!! What a wonderful treat and resource! I can’t wait to see you again but I also cannot believe the 6months, 2 rooms experience is coming to a close. Just so we can all continue to enjoy your blogging, you’ll have to vacation in your own back yard – aka NC👍🏼 See you soon and safe travels!

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  2. I am going to miss living your wonderful meals and adventures vicariously. What a marvelous and tasty (l have a good food imagination) journey it has been. So glad you backed up your photos, they are a treasure. Safe journey home!

    Emilie Sent from my iPad

    >

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