Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hanoi Birthday Reunions

After an exhausting 12hr layover in the Changi Singapore airport I finally found myself on my flight to Hanoi, Vietnam where I was planning to meet with Ange, Tiana, and Ania in celebration of Ange’s birthday on November 14th.  Upon arrival in Hanoi I decided to save myself some money by taking the bus into the city from the airport.  I was assured that the bus would be leaving in ten minutes when I took my seat but it was not long before 10 minutes was translated into an hour, and thus I had my first taste of travel in Vietnam where nothing ever leaves when it’s scheduled to and always involves long bouts of waiting in between.  Once the non-English speaking driver made it clear that I was at the ‘foreigner’ stop I found myself just outside of the old quarter.  I quickly oriented myself based on the map in my guide book and lead myself to the wrong location due to an error I made in lining up the location for my intended hostel. It took me just enough time to get frustrated and very sweaty carrying my big bag around before I realized that the place I was looking for was on the other side of the lake.
I was scheduled to meet with Ange and her friends the next day although I was not sure what time they would be arriving at since they were currently touring the northern countryside on motorbikes.  Luckily Ange found me easily and we spent the day exploring some of Hanoi and Tiana and I spent a few unsuccessful hours trying to find shoes that weren’t tiny. That night I went on the snake tour where I gained the nickname Killer and was appointed captain of my table. During this tour we got to handle, kill, and eat the still beating heart of Vietnamese brown snakes which are breed for their meat. I volunteered for the opportunity to kill one of the snakes but I only ate a defrosted snake heart. We also did shots of Hanoi Vodka mixed with the snake blood and the snake bile as well as many other shots of this vodka which had been aged with snakes while we feasted on snake tapas. I must admit the actual snake we were served was fairly tasty but the alcohol certainly wasn’t and the entire group was more than a little inebriated by the end of the night.
The night before Ange’s birthday was celebrated with some of her friends who had international development projects in Hanoi where we feasted on Canadian poutine in true Vietnamese style at the French Canadian “Le Pub”.  We then tried to find a karaoke bar but due to the strict curfew imposed in Hanoi we were unsuccessful in finding one that was still open.  Instead we settled for eating chocolates down a dark street in some random part of Hanoi. For Ange’s actual birthday Tiana, Ania, and I arranged a picnic lunch in a very pretty park with their other friends. Unfortunately however Ange decided to start her special day by spraining her foot resulting in a quick trip to the hospital. I would like to believe that the merry-go-round ride in the park made up for her misfortunes because it was definitely a highlight of the trip for me. Concluded the day by enjoying the free keg that our hostel provides on Sundays and some extremely delicious birthday cake that we managed to get made such that it catered to all of Ange’s food allergies.
Hanoi has proven to be the most difficult city I’ve been in so far and is quite a shock after all the time I’ve spent in small towns or relaxing on beaches. The last city I had been in that could possibly compare to Hanoi would be Bangkok which I had not visited since the first two days of my trip. People here aren’t as friendly or helpful, street vendors are aggressive and dishonest (yes I’m pretty sure a sweet potato shouldn’t cost me $7.50 and no you may not just grab the money out of my wallet), and your possessions are never safe when you’re walking around the city. This is something I made the mistake of forgetting while visiting the night market near the end of my trip in Hanoi and I got my purse slashed and my money stolen from it. It is lucky however that I was aware of these dangers and had been very careful to leave my hostel with the minimum amount of money that I would need and I never carried my passport around with me.
Despite the difficulties I’ve endured in this city I actually adore Hanoi. It’s busy, face paced, colourful, and exciting. The parks are beautiful, the lakes peaceful, and the people are very active. Also I have to acknowledge that I can’t apply judgement on the actions of a few people to everyone and that it was unfortunate that there were people there to leave such a bad impression.

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