(Note: ranting regarding tourists for the first part. Skip down to the “Read More” for a less ranty part.)
I came to Hà Nội expecting to fall in love with the city, to love its apparent French influence, to enjoy the sight of the Chinese-influenced pagodas everywhere. Now that I have been here for a few days I have to say I haven’t fallen in love with the city. I like Ho Chi Minh City better. In HCMC, the people are more friendly, the food is better, things tend to be cheaper, and they know how to make their coffee. Hà Nội has a lot of European influence. Which would be fine if it had left the Europeans in Europe. The majority of the tourists in Hà Nội are French. I never thought that I would find a group of tourists more obnoxious than Americans, but the French are it. Yesterday I saw a French tourist blow up at a Vietnamese woman who was just doing her job – he was swearing in French and he threw his ticket at her. They consistently cut in line, speak down to the Vietnamese, and speak pretentiously about the French-influenced food. Seriously, I’ve only been here two nights and I have lost count of the amount of times I felt the desire to apologize for a French tourist.
American tourists? If I see one more person wearing one of those damned camera vests and holding their 1,000 USD camera in such a careless way that I could steal it, I just might do so. Or, if one more know it all American says something stupid and historically inaccurate about the Vietnam War I might just scream. In general, American tourists are stupid. The French are obnoxious and insulting. I’m speaking less about the 20-something crowd and more about the middle aged This Is My 5,000 USD Vacation kind of tourist. have my own rants regarding the 20-something crowd, but that’s enough for today.
I guess a lot of it comes from the fact that I am staying in the tourist district. I hate the tourist district in Saigon as well, but I rarely find myself there so it’s alright. I had forgotten just how little of a culture you actually get to know if you just stay in the tourist district of a city. I love living about twenty minutes outside of the city.
I feel like I’ve done so much these past two days. I’ve somehow managed to relax despite of it and for the most part I’ve been more relaxed here than I have been since I came to Vietnam.
My hotel is a bit more of a luxury than I probably needed, but I am enjoying my air conditioning, good bed, anda bath tub. A bath tub! They are also really nice and helpful here for every little random thing I might throw their way. Aside from the fact that the maid consistently wakes me up during my afternoon nap, it’s perfect.
I am within a very short walking distance to just about everything. My first morning I woke up early an was greeted by a thick blanket of fog that fell along the lake and around the two pagodas that occupy the lake’s islands. I went to one of them, the Jade Pagoda, and then meandered about. I had breakfast at Cafe Mocha, which had divine banana western style pancakes. They had blueberry pancakes on the menu, but not surprisingly did not have blueberries. The banana pancakes more than made up for it, though. After much wandering and confusion, I ended up at the Fine Arts Museum and the Temple of Literature. That evening I saw a water puppet show at the theatre that is supposed to be the best in the nation. It’s put on mostly for tourists, but the show is good. I thought of my brother the entire time because it’s exactly something that he’d love. Dragon water puppets swimming through the elaborately decorated water with firecrackers in their mouths so it looks like it’s breathing fire.
Today I woke up early again (feeling dead, I don’t know why I’ve been so tired lately) and one of the employees (who I started to call my ten dollar friend in my head) took me on his motorbike to the silk village just outside of the center of Hanoi. (where I bought two silk scarves and a silk tie for the equivellent of $6. Think about how expensive that would be in the states, eh?) He also took me to the Museum of Ethnology, which is also outside of the center. We talked quite a bit, he is also a student and his English is rather good. I had him as my driver for most of the morning and into the afternoon, hence the ten dollars. He took me out to lunch and I had Hanoi style spring rolls, which was quite good but I still think I like Southern style better.
In the afternoon I walked to the Women’s museum (a dud – they’re under renovation and what I could see of the museum was so full of propaganda and celebrating traditional women’s roles that it made my head hurt) and the Hỏa Lò prison – also known as the Hanoi Hilton.
I am fully ready to believe that the Vietnamese held there in the early 20th century received worse treatment by the French than the Americans did during the American War, but what I am not read to believe is the bull shit captions in this museum that fly in the face of what every captured American pilot has said. Not tortured and lived comfortably my ass.
Going to all these war related museums here in Vietnam has me constantly analyzing the source of the information and the way that we learn the things that we do. The United States isn’t completely unbiased in their museums either. But it is less obvious, often not stating an opinion at all.
It also has me thinking, with all this time spent with the Vietnamese perspective, that every conflict has multiple perspectives and war happens when we forget that. I think the same could be applied to the war that we’re currently fighting. But I hate talking politics more here than I do in the states. Mostly because here, they are more interested in American politics than my peers in the states are and that’s depressing.
Tonight I had a very expensive (in the relative way of things, $8 breaks the bank here) meal that completely blew my budget for tomorrow but was worth it. I think I have found my new favorite meat.
Duck breast. Particularly when it is prepared with balsamic sauce. Seriously, it was the most tender, delicious, tasty piece of meat I’ve probably ever had in my nearly-twenty one years. I am going to be spoiled when I go back to the states – the meal I had for dinner would have easily cost $25/$30+ a plate in the states and here I am complaining about $8 (and that’s including my drink).
Tomorrow, the Ho Chi Minh Museum and Mausoleum. This city absolutely crawls with tourists, in mny ways worse that DC, and subsequently I have tried to distinguish myself by using as much Vietnamese as I can. It’s been good for my basic shopping and transportation skills, but it gets frustrating at times. Especially since not only do I barely speak Vietnamese, but when I do it’s as a Southerner – so I get laughed at more here than I do in Saigon.