Being the observant readers you are, I imagine you’ve figured out that my name is Hannah, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and this blog is about living in Hanoi. Okay, then, we’ll get the David Copperfield bullshit out of the way.
1) Where am I from?
Good question. It’s almost like asking, “Where’s Waldo?” in the land of Waldos. Chronologically, I have lived in Washington, DC; Gettysberg, Pennsylvania; Athens, Ohio; Wichita, Kansas; Chicago, Illinois; Horseheads, New York (never again); Wausau, Wisconsin; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Fortunately, in Vietnam, I can just say I’m from America (appropriately called My and pronounced me–in Vietnamese).
2) What do you do in Hanoi?
I teach English, eat and go to museums. I learn Vietnamese, occasionally get to speak French and fend off requests that I teach English to people’s children on my days off. I’m in pursuit of freelance writing gigs for The Word Hanoi and a Fulbright Scholarship to stay here and research French colonialism, art history and Indochina.
3) Why did you go to Vietnam?
I thought about teaching in South Korea but all Americans go there so it wasn’t particularly appealing. Also, you work six days per week and it just didn’t sound like a lot of fun. I had planned to teach in France but it’s too expensive when you’re as indebted to Sallie Mae as I am so I had to look to Asia, where it’s cheap to live and easy to earn. I started looking at going to Vietnam after a friend who had lived in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City suggested it. I applied for jobs here and in Indonesia, was interviewed for Vietnam, offered a position and flew here three weeks later. Also, aside from India, Vietnam has the best food in Asia. It also fits into my aspirations to be an art historian specializing in French colonialism and post-colonialism. While there has been a lot of research on art and colonialism in North Africa and the Middle East, Southeast Asia has been less explored, although every day I’m noticing new artistic connections to France.
4) Why did you change the name of the blog?
The original title was The Traveling Tastebud. Super cute, right? It was perfect before I started writing as I initially intended the site to be about food. It took over a month for me to even write one post about food and why read my blog when you can just read Sticky Rice? I’m interested in more than just food. Fish Sauce, Motorbikes and the Golden Tortoise encompasses food (fish sauce), contemporary culture (motorbikes) and history (the golden tortoise).
5) What’s the deal with the tortoise?
Tortoises are one of the holy animals in Vietnam. Legend has it that Emperor Lê Lợi, who founded the Lê Dynasty and drove the Chinese out of Vietnam, had a magic sword given to him by the Golden Turtle God, Kim Qui. After Vietnam’s independence from China, Kim Qui approached Lê Lợi while the Emperor was boating on Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Lê Lợi returned the sword and named the lake Hoan Kiem, which means the Lake of the Returned Sword. The turtle currently living in Hoan Kiem was captured earlier in 2011 by the Vietnamese military and taken to a zoo for medical treatment. Apparently, the turtle has been surfacing more frequently than before and had skin lesions, although the amount of pollution in the lake would probably hurt anyone. For the sake of the turtle, why not clean up the pollution?