Getting lost

Monday and Tuesday are my days off so I took the opportunity to get lost (several times) in the Old Quarter, where I’m staying until I get to move into the room I’m renting at the end of the month.  I’m not sure if I’m more excited to have found a place to live or about the French roommates.

First, there was coffee.  (We’ll be discussing Vietnamese coffee and cafes in greater detail.  Suffice to say, I’m going to develop a coffee addiction because they’ve got French cafes beat by a long shot).  I was the only foreigner in the place, which I’ve discovered is not unusual and which I rather like.  Rain poured, the streets emptied of motorbikes, vendors and tourists as people sought shelter indoors.  I was seated near an open window, sharing a table with a man my father’s age.  Seated on the sidewalk below me was a group of men eating sunflower seeds and dropping the shells on the sidewalk.  They kept turning around and looking at me, smiling, obviously talking about me.  I can’t wait until I know enough Vietnamese to actually talk to them beyond the obligatory, “Where you from?” “America.” “Ah, Amreeka! How long you in Vietnam?” “One year.” “Ah!”  After that exchange, silence because neither they nor I can communicate any further.  So we smile and go back to our coffee, our pho, whatever we’re eating.  Unfortunately, my vocabulary is currently limited to 1, 2, 3, mango, papaya, pho, banh my, hello, sorry/excuse me, I’d like to go to…, how much is it (very important) and thank you.  Anyway, that’s tangential.

The rain cleared up.  I paid the foreign price (25,000 VND, just over a dollar) and got lost.  There are the streets where vendors sell only a few specific things:

Altar shops line Hang Quat.

Every child's dream: an entire street, Luong Van Can, selling toys. Vier from inside a cafe.

Street of Shiny Objects, where none of the welders where protective gear (except the occasional pair of mirror sunglasses).

Then there are the funny appropriations of English words or photographs famous in the West:

Vietnamese expressing support for the Equal Rights Amendment!

The signs that are just cool anyway:

The chickens hang out in on the kerbs.

The Le Thai To monument, across the dauntingly busy P Le Thai To from Hoan Kiem Lake, which has become one of the main landmarks I use as my navigational tools.

Legend has it that Le Thai To pulled a sword out of Hoan Kiem Lake and used it to defeat the Chinese.

Thap Rua, Tortoise Tower, which sits in Hoan Kiem opposite the Ngoc Son Temple.

And St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a quiet oasis in the middle of Hanoi:

Leave it to me to stumble in mid-mass, when I probably shouldn’t have been taking pictures anyway.  Troi oi.

I’m not sure what this window’s point was but it’s kitty corner to the cathedral.

And last, most fondly, these darling, colorful houses, narrow enough to avoid government takes on the width of buildings.

In answer to some questions:  The exchange rate is currently about 20,000 VND to 1 USD, according to the venerable xe.com, although the woman at my hostel said that its closer to 25,000 VND to 1 USD.  To put it in perspective, a 1.5 L bottle of water costs about 10,000 VND or .50 USD.  Dinner in a streetside restaurant last night cost 1.50 USD and tonight’s dinner at Kinh Do, Catherine Deneuve’s favorite place in Hanoi, cost about half a penny over 2.00 USD.

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