Welcome to Vietnam

Good morning!

It is 8AM, we have had breakfast and are ready to start our first full day. The hotel ($15.00 per night includes private bathroom) includes breakfast and we had this lovely fruit that we cannot identify. It was very white, like a merangue and filled with something that looks like black sesame seeds. It had a little more texture than watermelon but it was watery like watermelon, but had a density like a cantaloupe. Anyone have a clue what this mystery fruit is? I hope they serve it every day.

Flying into Hanoi was a gripping experience for me. We had been unable to see the ground until just before landing so when the vistas opened, it was an ‘all at once’ experience. The usual quilted rice paddies were everywhere but there are houses built throughout the agricultural areas, one of the older slogans (we saw it on an antique poster for sale in a shop) is: Every foot of ground is precious like gold–leave none uncultivated. Architecturally, the buildings around the paddies are very different than other rice growing areas we have seen. The French influence is obvious. Buildings are freestanding and tall and skinny. Many are about 10′ wide, perhaps 30′ deep but have 4 stories. There is a balcony on each floor in the front, sometimes the sides have windows but often not, I assume because another building will be built 2′ away. Land is certainly precious and I presume they build tall and skinny so every bit of ground can be utilised. Buildings are concrete with exotic wood doors and windows and painted lovely colors.

Transport for the locals is 1) motorbike, 2) bicycle, 3) busses & taxis and 4) private vehicle. Crossing the streets is quite an experience. But it is fine, we had read how to do it, you start off at a reasonably steady pace and the motorbikes, etc that are coming at you in droves will go around you. We try to cross when others are, so as to make a more impenetrable group, but it is almost easier when you are only 1 or 2. There are few, if any times, when dozens or hundreds of vehicles are not in sight, so crossing in the conventional way is not possible. There are a few traffic lights and even a few walk lights but anarchy reigns, so they don’t mean much.

Oddly enough, when we arrived in Hanoi, on the runway was a huge US Air Force plane unloading soldiers, many dressed in whites with their little hats (is that Navy, Steve?) and others dressed in khaki. I wonder what that was all about. It was a cargo plane with 4 propellers. Perhaps they land here prior to distributing aid to the tsumani areas? Beats me.

We walked and walked and walked last night. There was a bit of a lull Saturday afternoon but as dusk fell, traffic increased and people filled the streets. There are sidewalks but they cannot be walked on. This is because people use all of their space. Motorscooters are stored on the sidewalks, wares for sale are set up on tables on the sidewalks and at night, most people bring out little stools and eat and cook on the sidewalks. Big woks with little braziers underneath with boiling oil, sidewalks can be hazardous, but really highly entertaining. The street floor of their house is their living room and where their bikes and scooters are stored, so eating outside makes great sense. It is fun to peek into their house, voyeur that I am. Plus neighbors talk and visit all evening long and kids are running all over the place, seemingly heedless of the traffic inches away from the sidewalk.

Today we go to the Women’s Museum, and maybe up towards West Lake, where Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum and stilt house and other artifacts celebrating his life are.

Love to all, Barb and Toby

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