Sunday, November 16, 2008


One of the reasons why I didn't blog about my recent trip to Hanoi was that I came home to a rather surreal time because of a death in the family. The other reason was that I had to write about it, and also supply pictures that I had taken. Now that the article has been published, I can finally put here the pictures that weren't used and the text that had been cut. This blog has no advertisers and therefore, I don't have to be as judicious as the lifestyle editor.

Thirty years after the Viet Cong saw off the Americans, the Vietnamese are still reducing them -- albeit tourists -- to a quivering mass. Charlie has returned as the cyclo driver. The cyclo is pretty much like a trishaw, only the driver is behind the passenger -- which is good from Charlie's standpoint since the passenger gets hit first in the event of collision. Charlie's modus operandi pretty much consists of heading straight towards what seems to be oncoming traffic and challenging bus drivers to cut into his lane. The bus driver wins. They always do. It's the same everywhere.

That the Vietnamese love their motorbikes is obvious, not just by the sheer numbers on the road but also by the case of one (parked) bike spotted -- its seat was upholstered in that unmistakable LV logo and motif more commonly stamped on handbags. Bike by Louis Vitton.

Most retailers will accept US dollars, and conveniently so, especially in the company of fellow travellers who can read double entrendres in "How many dongs have you got on you?"

Vietnamese organisation is written on the walls. While most places have graffiti spray painted in free hand, Vietnamese graffiti is stenciled. These, I was told, are phone numbers for contractors. They come along, identify a unit that is likely to be refurbished, and leave their phone numbers so as to save the owner from looking up the number in the Yellow Pages.

This is a view of the city from a local coffeeshop that is four floors up on a rooftop. There is no visible frontage of the coffeeshop at street level. You walk in through an art gallery (apparently almost every Vietnamese owns a motorbike and paints in oils) down an alley way, into an open courtyard that looks like someone's house and up a winding staircase. The rooms that you pass on your way up really are part of someone's house. If the guide didn't lead us, we would have never found it. As it was, we were the only foreigners on the rooftop. No Starbucks would have a view like this, since passing pedestrian traffic is everything in their business plan. And in anycase, there was no Starbucks in Hanoi, despite its coffee culture. There are small mercies in developing countries.

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