street scenes of Hanoi

Xin Chao,

I will try to paint photos with words. Because, as some of you may have guessed, so far the camera has not come out. It will, I promise.

Last night, we went out to dinner. Everyone was served the same thing, and we figured out what to do by watching others. When we sat down, we received 6 small bowls. One had an assortment of herbs, another had sliced scallions, one had roasted, shelled peanuts, another had cold, cooked noodles and one had cut up greens that looked a lot like dill tops and stalks. There was a bowl with clear liquid and tiny hot pepper rings. Shortly afterwards, we were brought a brazier with a small fry pan on it. In the fry pan, cooking in oil, were cut up cubes of fish. We put the dill like green in the oil (it did not taste like dill, it only looked like it) and cooked it for awhile and then mixed all of the various items in our bowls and ate. It was absolutely delicious. The meal, along with a beer for Toby and mineral water for me, cost $10.00.

Today we walked the city extensively. We visited the Ho Chi Minh museum, skipped the mausoleum (where we could have seen his body standing up and mummified), and also visited the Temple of Literature. The museum was very interesting and commemorated his life and his philosophies. It was quite crowded, today being Sunday.

The Temple of Literature is a must see, according to the books, but didn’t excite me all that much. But it has been there since 1078 and that alone made it interesting. It is about scholars, and has a stone tablet for each of the 82 academic studies. Carved on each tablet are the names and birthplaces of the approximately 1300 scholars who studied there from ±1300 to 1480. Each stone tablet is sitting on the back of a stone turtle-like creature, each with a unique head, facial expression and pattern on its back. It is apparently good luck to touch every one of the turtle heads and the tablets themselves, as everyone except us did; in spite of the sign that said DO NOT TOUCH THE TABLETS. There was also a small temple dedicated to Confucious and another renowned scholar whose name escapes me.

Since the Women’s Museum is one of the only museums open on Mondays, we decided to save it for tomorrow.

On the streets, we see many, many things. Weighing people is one way people earn a living. They set up a scale and offer to weigh you. I can only guess that scales are not a common household item. We are not continually badgered by people selling us things, mostly they do not. Once in a while, someone solicits us, but mostly not. We appreciate that, there is little more uncomfortable than having to fight off venders all the time.

Other street sights: a traditional pharmacy. Enormous lizards (2’long) preserved in some kind of liquid in huge jars. Small lizards, perhaps 6 to a jar. Birds in big jars, complete with their feathers (dead of course). Preserved snakes in jars. Smaller jars of dead worms. All this in addition to the usual roots and herbs. I hope to get a photo, as it was very interesting.

Mushrooms sellers: Huge sacks (5′ long and as big around as a truck tire) full of dried mushrooms. Each bag has a single type–wood ears, oysters, and varieties we have never seen before. I assume they are cultivated as I cannot imagine one could gather that many wild ones from a single location. It is not like we have seen any forests. Sometimes we see bicyclists with 3 of these sacks on the back, two lying horozontally and one vertically placed behind the driver. A bicycle approaching you stacked with bags full of mushrooms is nearly as big as a car.

Oranges are very popular and cultivated widely, but instead of pruning them like we do, all orange trees are shaped like Christmas trees, cone shaped. The oranges look like ornaments.

Well, that is about it for today. We leave Tuesday for our journey with our guide. First we will go to the Red River area, where I will learn some Vietnamese cooking and there is a huge festival in the hometown of our guide. Then we will head into the mountains. After that, we will head to the limestone bays and islands.

Tham Biet, Barb and Toby