Hanoi International. Bright white lights twinkling below like a galaxy of chaotic patterns common to old neighborhoods. Compact fluorescents. In lighting, yes, they have any American city beat. Add in 4million 2-stroke motorbikes, and you have easily undone all the good work.
Transportation: It’s nearly impossible to navigate the city streets of Hanoi without your heart in your throat and a flannel mask protecting your petrol-chafed airways. If the Vietnamese have a 6th sense, it’s driving. They know where you are, and where you’re planning to go before you do. The traffic is unreal, worse than any capacity issue we saw in India. The traffic lessens considerably outside of the big cities, but that sense of controlled chaos remains.
History: We never encountered any animosity for being Americans, especially considering our ill-conceived militaristic efforts. It was interesting for us to visit places like Hoa Lo Prison and see the same kind of propagandist retelling on offer in most American museums and public schools. With well over 3million armed and civilian deaths on record, it is the American War in Vietnam. Yet the capacity for forgiveness is amazing. The past is the past as long as we learn from our mistakes. Hopefully, the US reign at policing the world is coming to an end. We’ve been pretty shabby guardians of peace and freedom these past 60 years.
Food: Vietnam is the land of Pho and rice vermicelli. It’s pretty easy to find safe, generally vegetarian and delicious food. If some people do eat dog, which was confirmed by a local, you’ll never have it. The places that serve “oops” meals have menus only in Vietnamese. We ate at a couple of them and knowingly/unknowingly ate things like duck tongue and bird eggs. In Phu Quoc, we ate some of the best fresh-caught seafood in the world. The island also produces the finest fish sauce, and you can’t take it with you. Fish sauce is a no-fly hazard apparently.
Language: It’s actually fairly easy to learn very very basic Vietnamese because the spelling is kiiiiinda phonetic. There are some obvious exceptions. Erin learned how to say, “hello, how are you?, good, bad, yes, no, thank you, goodbye, and keep off the grass.” Sam learned how to say “An iced coffee with fresh milk.” Beyond basic, it’s a no-go zone caked in multiple levels of formality, where it’s best to steer clear. That said, we were bowled over when Thy’s father referred to himself as our uncle. That’s a great honor.
Our trip wouldn’t have been 1/10th the amazing eye opening journey it was without Thy. Not only is she unspeakably kind, informative and patient - she’s quite possibly the most talented kareoke singer we’ve ever seen! The day she belts out Landslide in a LES bar on some return visit to NYC, she will get spontaneous marriage proposals. Of this we are certain.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Thy! You are amazing.