I arrived at Hanoi Backpackers Hostel on Ma May Street on Sunday evening after coming back from three days at sea. I walked through the old quarter past the Elizabeth Hotel. I carried everything I had with me through busy streets. I dodged motorbikes and others who tried to sell me fruit and t-shirts at tourist prices. The Elizabeth Hotel left me with memories I’d rather forget, but will chalk it up to experience. Did I mention this is my first time outside of the United States? Being born abroad so doesn’t count. The most foreign place I have been has been San Francisco’s Chinatown…although it is a type of preparation for being around other Asians. Lack of space, bargaining, and strange foods. The difference is the traffic lights and they obedience of traffic laws. I miss it.
I was glad to hear they had space in the dorms, because the older Backpackers Hostel only had private rooms at 40 bucks available. After my time at sea I was willing to spend money for a night away from the Elizabeth. I got a top bunk in one of the coolest rooms (cooler temp wise) I stashed my stuff in the locker and had a beer. It’s a lively place. It is brightly painted housing young travelers from all over the world, but mainly the UK. A shower and a check in to my Facebook I fell into a deep sleep. I was slightly disappointed in the free breakfast of French bread and unrecognizable jams and instant coffee. I at least felt safe and didn’t hear voices in the night. K was quite sad at my lack of energy to check in, but I have been exhausted and a bit despondent. I have not enjoyed my time in Hanoi. I am totally out of my element, with no way to connect. The hostel has made a difference in my stay here.
It is reminiscent of my college days at UC Santa Barbara. There is a Matt in a Pakistani disguise along with a Matt in guise of an Aussie woman, a tanner version of Tomas, and a Ford on my walking tour. I would totally enjoy a version of Jamie, but there is definitely a Cheryl and Karina in the room across the hall. Everyone is friendly and actually interested in what your story might be. I just wish mine was more interesting than being held hostage in Hanoi awaiting a new passport. Breakfast was familiar with Beastie Boys playing in the background. I have been able to sit back a little and be out of my room instead of hibernating. Hosteling has been a good experience for me.
Food in Hanoi has been disappointing. Tony Bourdain went to two places in the Old Quarter. I don’t trust the chicken here, nor can I handle another rice bun or any other rice product. I’ve lost the muscle mass I gained before coming out here. I was expecting more meat. Every time my tour bus passed a cow I totally saw it in its different cuts…flank steak, tenderloin, ribs, ground chuck, even some shank in a nice osso bucco. They are grass fed by the way. The seafood has been terribly sad too. I did find a place that does great fried squid, but that’s about it. Well, there was a place to do BBQ beef, but that comes later in my stories 🙂
The second night in the hostel was kind of wild for me. Totally relieved in being in a new space around a lot of other people I walked into happy hour beers and met a guy from San Francisco, a couple from Minneapolis selling a motorbike for cheap (very tempting), a couple of red headed women from Ireland, and then Adil. Adil is a Pakistani born in Nigeria, educated in London and now lives in Pakistan with his young wife.He’s a buyer of gifts from around the world. He walked into the hotel and sat at my table. We hit it off immediately. We drank a few and then tried to see what was happening at the reggae bar down the road. It was empty and they weren’t even playing reggae. Making our way back toward the hostel I convinced Adil he needed some dinner, as I already had mine.
Brought in from the street we sat at a tiny plastic table on tiny plastic chairs. Kindergarteners would fall off these chairs. Adil fell twice. First, we blamed the small chairs, but then it was obvious that the beer pong was beginning to take effect. We didn’t have that when I was in college. Stacking a few chairs we ordered the meal and began shooting the shit for real. He told me about losing his passport in Madrid and his problems in the world being Muslim. Before you know it he hit the ground and so does our BBQ plate. It landed under the table and flames flew into the air. A lot of the Vietnamese people began laughing their ass off as they were trying to put the fire out. It was quite entertaining indeed, but I was a bit concerned with Adil as he was very drunk. We got another order of food and got busy cooking our meal. It’s fun to cook over a fire, it’s primal, but you got to be lucid to accomplish it.
During the meal Adil received a text from his wife that there had been more bombing in his hometown. The night changed at that moment. The conversation didn’t get too deep. He told me more than the average American could imagine, well, if you watch MSNBC or Fox, of course. I advise you watch RT… It was a surreal few moments as I paid for the food and we made our way back to the hostel. I didn’t even know what to say to the man. I asked him at one point about how he was feeling about being away from home while all that violence was happening. He kind of shrugged his shoulders and said it was something he had to live with. If there is anyway to suck out the little last bit of American pride from you is talking to a Pakistani who is following the bombing of his town on his iPhone.
Adil insisted on following the party down the road and I willingly followed. I met a fellow Texan living in Japan teaching English. Two fellas in the Air Force from Kansas were kicking it on the sidewalk. The night wasn’t getting out of control, except for Adil. He was constantly checking his iPhone and then ordering shots of tequila. After my last visit with Matt I learned to just stand my ground with shots. I could see the man was just torn up. I knew it was time to skype with my wife before I witnessed something I didn’t want to. It was perfect timing of my leave because it began to pour like a monsoon. The fifth floor was empty of people and I talked with K for a while during her morning routine. I couldn’t imagine how I could function this far from her and our home being bombed. I am already kind of a freak without her here, but knowing she was in danger would tear me apart.
In an attempt to make my forced stay better here I thought I would get involved with a walking tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Most people would know it from Tony Bourdain’s tour of northern Vietnam. The food looked appetizing enough. The hostel is nice enough to chill and relax. I can get everything I need right here, without having to cross the street. The first few moments of the tour made me bristle as the young Brits in the group began complaining about not understanding the Vietnamese tour guide. If they had shut their mouths for a few seconds they could have picked out what she was saying with her soft voice. Instead they continued complaining and then just socializing amongst themselves. I decided to stick close to her side and learn something. The first place she showed us was an original Vietnamese home, before the architecture began showing French influence. She then pointed out a clothing store “Made in Vietnam” that had nothing in my size.
The streets of course were crowded. Motorbikes whizzed past us, almost across our toes. Trash was piled in the gutter forcing our steps more into the motorbikes paths. We learned that each street had their specialties. You would find whole blocks of shoes and shoe repair. They all had the same products. There were whole blocks of hardware for the house, fabrics and other materials used for tailored clothing, and a block full of what seemed like toys for children that in the evening became outside restaurants for BBQ. As I don’t not like to go out too far from the hostel in the evenings I have not had these BBQ delights. I did make note to come back during the day so I could get some cute things for Tien’s three kids.
I was amazed to learn that 10 to 12 families would live in one home sharing 1 toilet. I asked the guide if everyone got along. She said that they must under these living conditions. She also spoke about how the government has asked people to leave their homes and move outside the city, but people do not want to leave. In order to afford staying they open a business on the street and live on top of one another. Small alleys were lined with women selling fruits and vegetables from farms just outside the city. Motorbikes narrowly missed their toes. It was crammed and a bit exciting, but claustrophobic. We made our way through many streets with no names posted and even if I wanted to leave the tour group it would have taken me a long while making it back to the hostel.
We stopped by Hoan Kiem Lake for a moment and learned about an ancient turtle who lived in the lake. As the guide was speaking to us a man sat down next to our group and grabbed the flip flops off a young mans foot. He began to laugh as the man began to repair it. The group watched on as the kid just stood there a little dumb of the situation. The man pulled out a piece of rubber tread and a large knife. When the kid finally realized what was happening he was still laughing at his flip flop being taken from his foot. Our tour guide Mai asked the man to step away and he looked up to her face from the ground made a face and returned to his attempt to repair the flip flop. I told the young man he should grab his shoe or he was going to end up paying the guy for something he didn’t want. His flip flops weren’t in that bad of shape. He looked at me like I was crazy. “Take your shoe back or he won’t give it back until he’s done and he will expect payment.” He finally did this, when another man pulled up a chair next to me and started tugging at my shorts to repair my brand new flip flops.
I brushed his hand away and he pulled again he then began hitting me on my arm and motioning like he was going to fight me. I showed him my left fist and walked off as he yelled after me. The group and I crossed the street again to the water puppet theater so the guide could explain how to buy tickets and the history of the show that plays about five times a day. You can watch clips on my youtube channel. Every day in Hanoi there has been something that could easily set me off, and the man at the lake unfortunately set the mood for the rest of the day. As we walked around the young backpackers were duped into paying for the pictures they took of the women carrying their wares in hanging baskets on the shoulders. I learned my lesson in Hoi An and I just kept my camera in my pocket. The tour ended about lunch time and I decided to sleep off my frustration. My living situation might have changed, but walking the streets have become more and more difficult. I refuse to get on the back of a motorbike here. If I can’t cross the street, then I won’t risk being on something I feel aims for me every time I step off the sidewalk.
The Thursday before I thought was the day I got to leave Hanoi I took a day trip to Hoa Lu-Tam Coc. It’s advertised as the Halong Bay on land. It was beautiful…. The unfortunate thigs about taking these types of trips is the getting there and from part.
Waiting for the passport hasn’t been good, but I have tried to fill my time taking tours around the area. I went to Ha Long Bay, but I was more impressed with my day trip to Hoa Lu and Tam Coc. I wish I was able to take more pictures, but I ran out of memory on my camera taking video of this guy paddling with his feet. The toughest thing I feel is the punishing roads that lead to these wonderful places. We are crammed in minivans and driven on horrible roads that jangle the kidneys, jam the lower back and wreck the bottom.
My mornings begin rough most times here. The down fall of living in a dorm. The kids tend to return to the room between 5 and seven in the morning and are quite loud. I have early mornings with nothing but noise sometimes. There isn’t anything open until around 830 or nine. There is instant coffee until 10 am in the lobby along with French rolls and fruit. I long for a French Press. When Ice Cube, It was a good day stops abruptly because of a ten minute power outage that’s a sign.
I am sure if I was up here by choice with different energy I would feel differently. That doesn’t mean that they would treat me any better, but I would be able to handle it differently other than crawling up into a tight ball and staying on the couches in the hostel lounge. It’s safer for everyone involved that I do what I can to stay cool mentally. What I need is a huge steak, which I found at Chica’s, and a gym.I look forward to writing about my apartment hunting my days with cute kids teaching, learning to surf and earning the language.
Thanks for reading and leaving comments. I so appreciate to feed back and the love. Technology has been wonderful. I took it for granted in the United States.