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Archive for March, 2008

Ode To A Bird On A Balcony Outside The Lucky 2 Hotel

Posted by Nancy on March 31, 2008

I heard a bird with robust song,

Of unknown species, feather, hue,

Outside my window all night long;

Where will he go, what does he do?

I ponder on an eagle or a raven or a hawk,

Birds of a different land that have a different “talk.”

I only ask when you take flight,

Go somewhere else to “Squawk!” tonight.

And take that cat in heat wandering around down there somewhere with you when you go. 


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Protected: One More Thing

Posted by Nancy on March 30, 2008

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These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things

Posted by Nancy on March 30, 2008

Things we’re glad we brought with us:

  • A computer.  There are computers with internet access in the lobby but it is much nicer having one in our room.  We are on it a lot.  If you have a little extra money lying around and want a computer that is really easy to transport, you might consider one of these.  You can find them online for $350 and up for the 4G model.  They have a 7″ screen, are shock proof, and only weigh 2 pounds.  They also now come loaded with XP.
  • A book.  I like to read, and there is down time where reading is a good diversion.  I brought Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and am enjoying it thoroughly.  Thanks, Lolly.
  • Trial size bottles of laundry detergent.  We send most things out, but still need this.
  • A 1st Class Sleeper from Magellans.  Great back support on the flight (folded in half most of the time) and cushioning on the train.

Things we wish we had brought:

  • More short sleeve shirts.  The ten day weather forecast for Hanoi said highs in the 60’s before we left, but it has been in the 70’s and 80’s.
  • For the same reason, Matt wishes he had brought shorts.
  • More chocolate for the kids in the orphanage.  That was such a rare treat for them.
  • Our spouses.  Would have been nice.

Things we could have left behind:

  • Baby blankets.  We don’t need these.
  • Make up.  Almost no one wears it, including the tourists.
  • The camera with rechargeable batteries.  When the charger doesn’t work the camera is useless.  Glad we brought two cameras and a camcorder.
  • Not much else.  We traveled pretty light since the biggest sitcase was full of blankie buddies, toys, and school supplies.  We have lots of room for souvenirs on the return flight.

Things we miss most:

  • Being able to turn on the faucet and get a drink of water.
  • Ice.  If you can’t drink the water you can’t use the ice.  Warm drinks suck.
  • Fresh air.  The gasoline fumes are noxious.
  • Home.

Posted in Travel, Vietnam | 1 Comment »

Day of Rest

Posted by Nancy on March 30, 2008

Sunday seems to be no different from any other day here, except the government offices close for the weekends.  The traffic seemed even heavier than normal.

The shops are all open, but I guess they are back home, too.  It’s the Sabbath, so we did no shopping.  The Internet was down most of the day, which made for a boring day.

We decided to get out and see some sights and learn some things, so took a cab to the Ethnology Museum to learn about Vietnamese culture.  We were surprised at just how primitive some of the ethnic minorities’ cultures still are.  When they talk of people living in caves and under rock shelters as recently as 1999, that is pretty primitive.

Another cab took us to Al Fresco’s, a very western type restaurant.  When we were done we asked them to call us a cab and an emloyee went to the curb and started waving to flag one down.  The one he finally got was heading the other direction, so he just whipped a U-turn on this thoroughfare with a gazillion scooters and cars everywhere.  We got in.  Turns out we needed to go the way he was originally heading, so another U-turn caused the open-eyed fear I felt the first day here.  

Matt and I commented that we have seen no accidents during the week we have been here, and consider that amazing.  Another amazing thing is that all the cab drivers have cars with standard transmissions.  I drive a car with a standard transmission, and I can tell you that stop and go driving gets to be tedious.  That is all there is here.  It’s a city of 3.5 million people where it’s every man for himself, no one ever stops, and you are braking and accelerating all the time. 

What a job they have!  I gave him a tip*, just for getting us back unscathed.

Tips are not customary here, and the Vietnamese prefer the westerners not inroduce the practice since the cab drivers, waitstaff, etc. develop a preference for serving those who give tips.  Go figure.

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The Lucky Hotel

Posted by Nancy on March 29, 2008

We are staying at the Lucky 2 Hotel on Hang Hom Street.


Yes, that is the width of the hotel. 

Inside on the ground floor is the front desk, reception area, elevator, and restaurant.  There are five floors; we are staying on the third floor, and there are four rooms on this floor.  I am assuming each floor is the same.  Our room faces the street and we have french doors opening onto a tiny balcony, like the one you can see at the top of the photo. 

It is a very nice hotel and the service is great.  Every evening they bring us two bananas and some other small treat.  Tonight it was fresh pineapple, and it was delicious.  There are many street vendors selling fresh pineapple and bananas, and, while this particular woman is not selling fruit, they look like the following photo taken in front of the hotel.


You see many, many women carrying goods for sale or just transorting things.  Always women, never men.  The stick to which the baskets are attached is flat, and one woman put hers on my shoulder today so I could see what it felt like.  Not good.  Even briefly it felt heavy and uncomfortable.

Notice the width of the sidewalk, the tree growing in it, and that the women are walking in the street.

We saw a funeral procession today.  I thought it was a parade and suggested we watch, then Matt realized what it was.  It began with half a dozen or so people carrying banners, then a bus with the deceased’s picture in the window and a large ornate wreath on the front, then half a dozen or so people on scooters followed by people walking, then two more buses decorated with  wreaths, then we couldn’t see if that was the end or not.  We didn’t stay to watch as it somehow seemed impolite.

Everyone in the procession was wearing white headbands, except for those on the scooters who were wearing  helmets.  They must be required, as you never see anyone without one.  They even make fashion statements with them, with some women wearing helmets with pleated fabric attached at the bottom making a colorful brim.

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An Olio

Posted by Nancy on March 28, 2008

Odds and ends of observations today. 

First, if anyone wants the password to see photos Elaine posted on my blog, just leave your contact information in the comments section and I will send it to you.  If you are not a close friend explain how I know you – just preventing cyber perverts from seeing photos.  If you are one of Elaine’s blog friends, it is the same post that is on hers.

1.  Humidity.  It is so humid here that we are having to send our laundry out.  Rinsing things out and hanging them to dry doesn’t work unless you have three or four days to wait.  I rinsed out a onesie for Quinn two days ago and it still isn’t dry (we have even had the air conditioning on a bit during that time).  Even silky things take two days, but I am doing those anyway rather than sending them out. 

2.  Retirement.  When I went shopping with Ms. Lam two days ago we talked about America during lunch.  She is very interested in how we live in America.  When I mentioned that I am an elected official, a “politician,” she said “You mean you were.”  “No, I am now,” I replied.  She had a hard time getting her brain around that one.  “When do people retire in America,” she asked.  I gave her Social Security Eligibility 101 and told her some people retire earlier and some people continue working beyond that age.  She said in Vietnam men must retire at age 60 and women at 55.  She couldn’t get over that I still work.

3.  The shops on the other side of silk street seem to have better prices than the ones on this side.  Now I find out.  It is one of the widest and busiest streets in this area so we haven’t gone over there shopping before.  I will now.

4.  Yesterday I heard a cacophony of noise and voices outside of the hotel and opened the patio doors and looked out.  It was a stream of children about 10 years old, wearing school uniforms and walking double file, with teachers herding them along.  The line wound around the block and there must have been at least a hundred kids.  I’m guessing it was some type of field trip, but who knows.  Of course they were walking in the street since the sidewalk is covered with parked motor scooters.  And the other sound I heard?  What else – scooters beeping their horns at the kids as they crowded around them.  Unbelievable.

5.  Breakfast is free at the hotel and is good.  Yesterday we had French toast (they don’t have syrup so we had it with jam) and bacon, and Matt also had scrambled eggs and hash browns.  While we ate our waitress took Quinn and walked around with him to keep him happy.  This is the second time that has happened at breakfast, and it also happened with our waiter at Mama Rosa’s.  It’s good we were advised to expect this; it is their kindness to you so you can eat undisturbed, and is common.  In America we would fear that someone was trying to kidnap our child.

6.  The people here are so friendly.  Those who speak a little English want to talk to you so they can practice it, and we had two young women stop for a few minutes to talk while we were sitting on a bench by the lake yesterday.  Everyone comments on how fortunate the baby is to be going home with us.

7.  My computer is having motherboard issues.  Matt says he thinks it probably has a cracked transistor; we were having trouble getting it to boot up before we left home.  We are leaving it on all the time now so we don’t one day find we are offline for the duration.  If I stop blogging you will know what happened.

That’s probably enough mindless observations for one day.  It’s about time for breakfast, then I’ll force myself to go shopping again.

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Protected: A Few More of Mr. Handsome

Posted by Nancy on March 28, 2008

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Eeny Meeny Miney Mo

Posted by Nancy on March 28, 2008

Matt finally agreed to use the mei tai carrier Katie made for me, but insisted on strapping it onto himself instead of me, and turning it around so Quinn was in front instead of on the back.  That way Matt can meet his every need and doesn’t have to worry about someone taking him out of it.  It works well that way for very protective Daddy.

We tried it out by walking to the Intemex to buy more diapers and other supplies.  It’s a straight shot from the hotel so no chance of getting lost.  Right.  Not so lucky on the way back.

The weather was beautiful, so instead of returning the way we went we walked partway around Lake Hoan Kiem.  A lovely little lake in the heart of the city, it has the scummiest green water I have ever seen.  Not algae green scummy, more like oily green scummy.  Still, it is a peaceful setting in the middle of all the traffic, with a beautiful old building on an island in the middle..


It looks all hazy because it is.  Scooter exhaust is my guess.

Oh, and the horns.  I have mentioned how everyone beeps their horns almost constantly.  Yesterday I took a cab with a horn that every time you beep it, it beeps about five or six times and sort of fades out at the end.  I have heard those horns many times since then.  So, someone makes cars with horns assuming you are always going to want to blow it incessantly.  They must have made them specifically for Hanoi.

We found a restaurant near the lake called Mama Rosa’s, advertising Italian and European food.   Matt’s eyes lit up.  We stopped for lunch and had prosciutto pizza, which actually tasted like real pizza and was very good – and way more than we needed.  We thought they were individual pizzas so ordered two.  Big mistake.  Oh well, we won’t have to go out for supper.  With breakfast free at the hotel that makes today’s food allowance go far.

From there we crossed this huge intersection with no pedestrian light; probably the most daring crossing we have done yet.  I was pretty sure I knew where we were, but I also know I have a terrible sense of direction.  Matt thought we should go a different way and we ended up on an excellent adventure, wandering for a long time, and finally took a pedicab back to the hotel.  It was serendipity, as we saw many things we would have missed otherwise.

I have mentioned before that the streets all seem to have themes.  Today we found the sunglasses street, stainless steel street, thread street (I want to go back to that one and spend a little time with all the huge spools of silk thread), brass street, doorknob street, cheap import streets (more than one of those, with typical junk from China), bamboo street, auto parts street, paint street, and I don’t remember what all else.  It was a real hoot. 

No matter where we went, there were the ubiquitous scooters, driving in the streets and parked all over the sidewalks.  We had to walk in the streets most of the time and by the time we came back to the hotel we were totally comfortable navigating among all the chaos.  The ride in the pedicab was the only scary part of it, since we weren’t in control of our own destiny and the pedicab drivers just go out into the intersections with the cars and scooters zipping in every direction.

Tomorrow it is supposed to be in the high 80s, so we may stay in and enjoy the air conditioning.  With the humidity here that may be a bit much for shopping in what I have decided is the world’s largest flea market.

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Protected: Mission Not Accomplished

Posted by Nancy on March 27, 2008

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Protected: A Few More Pictures

Posted by Nancy on March 26, 2008

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