Hanoi Rocks!

15 May

I’ve been waiting to use that title for days… and then my son went and used it for me. (Obscure music reference for those still guessing)

So, what can we say about Hanoi. Apart from the fact that it rocks.

Well, my moto driver has no idea about cheap hotels, so I turn down the first couple I get to and set off on my own. Someone hails me froma passing scooter – he has a room, it’s a reasonable price, it has air conditioning (which might actually be responsible for my sudden cold – the thermal shock caused by exposure to temperatures below 30 degrees centigrade may have been too much for my sweltering system). So I am in the middle of the Old Quarter, a bustling combination of cheap hotels, restaurants, little ‘hole in the wall shops’ selling pirated DVDs, and more travel agencies than can possibly be economically viable. Just round the corner you can buy Bia Hoi (draft beer) for around 30c a glass. There’s a doner kebab stall (chicken kebab, actually, served in a wedge of bread). The cyclo drivers want my business, and so do the doughnut and pineapple sellers (the ploy here is to get you to take their panniers for a photograph and then sell you pineapple. Or bananas. Or coconut). When it rains, these sellers morph into umbrella and poncho sellers. There’s a street selling luggage. And a street selling shoes. So many shoes it brings dread to the heart of the average male. (There’s a picture below, but it was impossible to capture the extent of the number of shops – and the number of shoes). A procession of cyclos go past, obviously doing the tour of the city..

Hanoi (6)Hanoi (7)Hanoi (4)

The action is all around the main lake Hoan Kiem, where the dancing, the tai chi, the exercise, the romantic walks in the evening all happen – where everyone who is anyone in Hanoi can be found. There’s a good few tourists – but not as many as I might expect, which means that I am plagued with people selling maps, shining shoes, offering water, books, and pineapple (those pineapple vendors get everywhere). One overenthusiastic shoe shine man has already applied the glue to fix my shoes before I can tell him that I have no money on me.

Hanoi (2)Hanoi (11)

So, perhaps a chance to explore the city. It’s motor cycle crazy here, and crossing the street is a whole new exercise in survival skills.

When I was studying neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), one of the techniques they taught was peripheral vision. The secret to peripheral vision is to relax the focus of your eyes, and allow your attention to spread out wider, so that you become more and more aware of the things going on in the periphery of your vision. And maybe, just maybe, you might become aware of things that you can’t possibly see, but can almost sense are there. In martial arts we use a similar approach to avoid getting clocked from behind by a black belt. (And, of course, as a black belt, I have also done my own fair share of ‘clocking’ on unexpecting lower grades who weren’t quite as aware as they should have been!)

Anyway, they say that while you’re in peripheral vision it’s impossible to feel fear, and that it’s an ideal state to be in to maximise learning, and for making presentations and public speaking. And we’ll be teaching more about that on the workshops I am currently planning (this is called a ‘teaser campaign’). And I swear it’s helped me stay alive on the streets of Hanoi. Waiting for a gap in traffic is pointless, so the only choice is to start walking and dodge the oncoming vehicles. Although on one occasion, a little old lady walked me across the road. Now that stings!

In the evening I take in the cultural extravaganza that is the Water Puppet show – puppets perform on the surface of the water to traditional accompaniment (although that’s definitely a bass guitar amongst the musicians)

It’s kind of cute, and kind of engaging, and refreshingly unpretentious and simple.

Water Puppets (7)Water Puppets (9)Water Puppets (17)

And the next day.. well, time to pay my respects to Ho Chi Minh, the liberator of Vietnam and communist leader who lies embalmed in his mausoleum, much against his wishes. He must be fuming! Anyway, Minh spends winters in Russia being refurbished, although there are rumours that he’s been replaced by a waxwork.

The mausoleum is only open until 10:30 am, so I get there just in time to file past. No photos, but the honour guard are very well drilled, and keep the faithful moving past to make sure we get through in time. I’ve been warned that I will not be able to get my bag back after 10:30 so I am really conscious of the time!)

Ho Chi Minh's Tomb (2)

On the way back, there’s chance to stop in at one of the Vietnamese seats of learning, the Confucian Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu – the original Vietnamese university, and home to dozens of long suffering and overburdened stone tortoises each carrying the lists of students on their back. It seems like it’s school outing time, too – school kids in white shirts and blouses with the obligatory red communist scarf scurry around the temple buying tacky souvenirs.

Temple of Literature (12)Temple of Literature (8)Temple of Literature (5)Temple of Literature (16)

One of the reasons I am here is to get my Chinese visa. Now, it should be simple enough to get a Chinese visa organised.. but I am annoyed on two counts. Firstly, it looks like my guest house has seriously overcharged me for getting the visa by around $50, and secondly, the embassy have screwed up and given me a single entry visa! Now that means I can get to Hong Kong, but I can’t get back. I hope I can fix that, or it might be an early end to my trip!! And as far as the overcharging – well, perhaps time to let some simple forgiveness loose.. It’s not worth getting upset over.

On the up side, that means I am clear to start out on the last leg of my trip… and perhaps the one I am most excited about. China.. Hong Kong.. Tibet.. Nepal.. India..

More excitement….. coming to a screen near you soon . .


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