Hanoi on the Weekend

What do we fun loving volunteers do on a weekend in Hanoi? Well, on Saturday we took a cooking class, beginning with a visit to the local market to buy ingredients for our Caramel Pork dish.

"Get off the showcase!"
“Get off the showcase!” Bonus points to whoever can identify who said that.
We decided on a different vendor.
For some reason, we decided on a different vendor.
This guy reminded me of the lobsters in the bathtub!
This guy reminded me of the lobsters in the bathtub!
Didn't we pick these off rocks?
Didn’t we pick these off rocks?
What would the Massachusetts term for these guys be?
Slap a little paint on these shells, and you’ve got yourself an ashtray!
Our teacher had excellent English. In addition to cooking, he taught  us important Vietnamese  phrases.
Our teacher had excellent English. In addition to cooking, he taught us the Vietnamese equivalents for “cheers” and “bottoms up”.
If cooking gets too strenuous, I'm coming back here!
If cooking (or drinking) gets too strenuous, I’m coming back here!
Miss Shelley and Miss Sally,  who both answer to Ms Shally
Miss Shelley and Miss Sally, super chefs
Our waiter was happy to keep us supplied with free flowing wine
Our waiter was happy to keep us supplied with the “free flowing wine” mentioned in the brochure.

On Sunday, Jeannie, Sally and I made a day trip to the Perfume Pagoda, which we subsequently learned is Vietnam’s Mecca. We had thought that a boat ride on the river, into the mountains, would be a respite from the energy and dynamism of Hanoi. And had we visited during the summer, that is exactly what we would have experienced. Instead, we figured that it would have been more peaceful had we stayed in Hanoi, because it sure seemed like everyone in the city decided to visit the Pagoda with us.

Beautiful scenery; quite a bit of traffic on the river.
Beautiful scenery; quite a bit of traffic on the river.
A Vietnamese Starbucks
A Vietnamese Starbucks
I thought there were a lot of boats on the river; I had NO IDEA how many boats were already there!
I thought there were a lot of boats on the river; I had NO IDEA how many boats were already there!
Vietnam has no shortage of shopping opportunities, and religious sites are no exception.
Vietnam has no shortage of shopping opportunities, and religious sites are no exception.

It is difficult to capture the sea of humanity at the Pagoda.  As it got more crowded, it was impossible to photograph.
It is difficult to capture the sea of humanity at the Pagoda. I took this photo before it got crowded. Later, I couldn’t get my arms up to take a picture without bopping people around me.

One of the lunch options
One of the lunch options
There's a lot to be said for vegetarianism.
There’s a lot to be said for vegetarianism.

After lunch, we headed for the gondola. It didn’t take long for us to realize we were the only non-Asians in the very long line. During the one hour wait, the children used the opportunity to practice their English. Everyone wanted to say “hello” to us. Once again, I was impressed with the warmth and friendliness of the Vietnamese.
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You jump into and out of these.  They don't stop for passenger entry and exit.
You jump into and out of these. They don’t stop for passenger entry and exit. And if you take too long, the attendant gives you a little push to send you on your way.

A sweet young French girl who was on our tour decided to walk up, and arrived at the top before we did. (I wasn’t kidding about the long lines!) She reported that the way up was very hot and crowded, with gift and food stands lining the road the entire way. We know exactly what she meant. We SAW the rooftops during our gondola ride. So much for fresh mountain air.
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Sally and Jeannie, smiling on the boat ride back.
Sally and Jeannie, smiling on the boat ride back. You can’t keep those intrepid travelers down!

Hanoi

Finally, the blog and my location are in synch! Mike and I returned to Hanoi on March 1. On March 2, I started the solo phase of my Asian Adventure. As I was having dinner with team leader Jim and the other Global Volunteers at the Hanoi Legacy Hotel, Mike was heading to the airport. I was glad that he’d been able to spend time in my “neighborhood”, and meet a couple of the other volunteers.

My boyfriend
My boyfriend

Judy and Bob, the only married couple in the group, are from Cleveland Ohio. Jeannie is originally from Lancaster, Pa, but now lives in DC. Sally is from Michigan; both Tom and Jim are from Minnesota. All of the volunteers except Tom have been in Southeast Asia for at least three weeks, so we have adjusted to the time change. Jeannie has been here the longest, having left the US in mid January. Like Mike and me, she traveled with Road Scholar, but she took two back-to-back trips with them.

Sunday was orientation for us volunteers. We started by getting to know each other, discussed why we were volunteering, learned about Global Volunteers’ activities in Vietnam and had a brief meeting with the administrator and teachers at Nuguyen Binh Khiem School.
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And now a little about our “home” for the next two weeks. Many of the buildings in Vietnam are extremely narrow and deep, and our hotel is no exception. As with the USA, the tax code has an impact beyond collection and disbursement of revenue. Taxes on buildings in Vietnam are determined by the width of the first floor.

The hotel at 6:30 AM
The hotel at 6:30 AM
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So, to bring light into the rooms in the middle of the building, there is a small opening, the width of a window. The advantage to being in an interior room is you are sheltered from all of the street noise. A very big plus indeed.
The view from my room.
The view from my room.

Although the building is old, the bathroom is decidedly modern. I don’t usually get excited about a toilet, but this one is AMAZING! It has a bidet built right into it. My new friend Sally and I have declared that one of these will definitely be a part of our lives in the near future. (Are you reading this, Mike?). It even comes with instructions!
A gadget that cleans your gadidgit
A gadget that cleans your gadidgit

The shower is quite spectacular as well. We had something similar in Italy last summer, but this one has enough water pressure so that you could actually USE all the nozzles at the same time. Ahhhh, a great way to start or end your day.
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Another great thing about this hotel is its location near Hoan Kiem lake. I love walking around the lake early in the morning; the locals are out dancing, exercising, massaging each other. Because there aren’t a lot of foreigners around in the morning I’ve been invited to participate in the activities.
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One morning Sally joined me, making us prime candidates to participate in the “chicken dance”. Although I don’t have a photo of that stellar performance, judging from the number of cameras that were whipped out, countless Hanoi locals DO.

I’m thoroughly enjoying being with these friendly, gracious people. The kids are wonderful…curious, bright, fun. The older boys like using my camera, so when some of the children ran over to say hello, I handed the camera to one of the boys, and this was the result.
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Only three more days till I head home.

What a way to go!

We had to be at Hue’s airport by noon, so we started our morning early, with a boat ride up the Perfume River to visit the Beautiful Lady Pagoda and two of the Mausoleums.

Which dragon boat will be ours?
Which dragon boat will be ours?
Since we are the only passengers, we can sit anywhere we want.
Since we are the only passengers, we can sit anywhere we want.

The lady of the boat was also in charge of the “gift shop”. She’s very happy because I overpaid for a couple of items. Even Buddha is laughing at me! But she is pregnant, so I don’t feel bad about contributing to her unborn child’s well being.
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At one time, each of the seven layers in the tower contained a gold Buddha statue, but overtime, they all disappeared.

Thien Mu Pagoda
Tower at Thien Mu Pagoda

Also on site is the car that was used to drive Thich Tri Quang, the monk that set himself on fire in Saigon. He was protesting the persecution of the Buddhists by the South Vietnamese Catholics, led by Diem.
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Once again, I learned that I can’t leave Mike alone.

Everywhere he goes, Mike attracts attention!
Everywhere he goes, Mike attracts attention!

This guy attracted MY attention.

Yes, those eyebrows and that beard ARE made of real hair
Yes, those eyebrows and that beard ARE made of real hair

The ruling class did not suffer from low self esteem, as evidenced by their mausoleums. No humble hole in the ground for them. Their mausoleums also functioned as parks; they were so lovely the emperors used to spend time there while still alive.
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There are seven levels, and 127 steep steps to the top.
There are seven levels, and 127 steep steps to the top.

Bao Dai, the “playboy” emperor, abdicated in 1945, but before he left, he constructed this tomb to honor his father, Khai Dinh. It was quite dazzling, with all the gold.

Life sized statue of Khai Dinh
Life sized statue of Khai Dinh

But one statue is never enough.
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The queen’s photo hangs on the top level. She doesn’t look very happy, but then, neither would I if Mike had scores of concubines.
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I know that if “my girls” had been with me, THEY would have put on a costume and sat on the throne for me to photograph. Mike was not as cooperative, so I had to make do.
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Time to leave for Hue’s airport. There are no jetways, so we walked down a flight of stairs, to the outside, where we boarded a bus that drove about 100 feet to the plane for our flight to Hanoi.

Yep, we DID ride that bus all the way to the plane.
Yep, we DID ride that bus all the way to the plane.