This belated post shall be far to brief, however I am about to head to Sapa
for a few days with my sister who shall be joining us from Hong Kong this afternoon.
In the long period since my last meaningful post, we have experienced much of what Hanoi has to offer it's citizens. We love our flat, which we think of as in the Queens Park / Clovelly /Waverly section of Hanoi - not the Double Bay and Vaucluse ex-pat enclaves of Tay Ho
(West Lake) that lies adjacent, but an interesting, vibrant part of inner sububia.
The typical Vietnamese-style house I am looking after is more in the not-yet-trendified Inner West. Still pleasant, but nevertheless a very different feel.
To travel between the two residences, I have become adept at whizzing in the controlled madness of Hanoi traffic (almost) like a local. I have learned to love the bikes and moto's riding 12 abreast on the two lane road, thinking that it is an organic being which ebbs into any available gap, miraculously dividing around three metre holes that have opened in the road due to monsoonal rains.
Although we were spared these in our first week or two, the almost nightly occurrence is a fascinating experience, as within minutes of the skies darkening, a tornado-like wind starts blowing and then the heavens open up to deluge the streets, creating fast flowing rivers and lakes of unknown depths on major thoroughfares, and tiny back streets.
We have been caught in these fairly often, and have made our choice of rain poncho from the huge array on offer. At the first drops of rain, scooters stop, ideally on the side of the street, and whip out their poncho from the clip on the fuselage, or under the seat. the rear of the poncho covers pillion passengers or luggage, the front is often used to shield the front of the bike, creating a kaleidoscope of red, blue and yellow headlights.
Somewhat sceptical, I have found that our upper-mid range poncho is extremely effective and comfortable. My head (despite a very good integrated hood) is drenched, and the bottom quarter of my legs, but the material breathes and keeps one very dry and comfortable. I'm a big fan!
The Vietnamese National Ballet was a solo for me, as Bob had a 24 hour bug and pulled out of our pax de deux. The following morning, on going downstairs it dawned on me that my wallet and camera had been taken from the kitchen table. With eternal gratitude, I saw a neat pile of credit cards and my drivers licence had been fanned out on the window sill by the sink next to a open window I didn't even know existed. What made this somewhat more of a mystery was the fact that there is a heavy grill of chequerboard bars across this window, large enough for an arm to get through, but nothing more. As the wallet was (uncharacteristically) left on a table at least three or 4 metres away this seemed an unlikely entry point.
The one-room wide, four storey house is, like all Vietnamese properties sealed like Fort Knox with a series of gates, grilles, barbed wire, and padlocks the size of soccer balls. Having come home quite late the night before, and drenched to the core in the still torrential rain, I must admit that I was a tad unsure whether I had locked the front door and didn't pay enough attention to be sure when I opened it to check. The huge padlock on the front gate was certainly locked though.
I felt rather philosophical about it all, and rather inept with my lack of language skills. What a curse to be mon0-lingual! It took some time, after the housekeeper (Miss Hu'o'ng) arrived that afternoon, and phone calls were made to the landlord, yet by Sunday morning the mystery was solved and my guilt assuaged for maybe leaving the door unlocked was appeased. As the landlord came to fit a heavy chicken-wire size grille to the outside of the kitchen window, the mode of robbery was discovered; strong bamboo poles had been taped together with duct tape forming a strong arm for a small pallet on the end which had been covered with a strong double sided tape. At over 5 metres long, this would have been fed through the window from the rear alley, to reach the objects on the table (my wallet and compact digital camera) which were then removed. I laughed long and hard at the ingenuity of this, and remain very grateful that my cards were returned. Replacing those would have been much more difficult that the replacement of a few hundred thousand dong (around $30 I think) and a camera.
Bob and I did purchase another camera on Saturday, not as easy a task as going to the local electrical precinct back home, back are happy with our purchase. I have been 'dinking' Bob around town a bit more these days, and we are greeted my enormous smiles as we rock up to our local cafe or street restaurant on the bike, and dismount leaving the parking boys to park it as we grab our daily Ca Phe Den Da (Black Vietnamese Coffee on Ice)or bowl of noodles. The parking issue is still something of a mystery, but most local places provide this service where you just stop on the street and they fix up the bike, returning it to you when you have finished.
During the camera search, we also experienced our first puncture, and this too was a revelation! We immediately dismounted, I took it to the nearest curb, where an old man (perhaps looking after the parking of bikes for a nearby business) signalled across the road, and before we could interept his gestures, the bike repair guy that is on almost every corner trundled his push bike across with a small kit of tools, and went to work straight away in removing the wheel, then the tyre and inner tube, finding a large slit and patching it. With a battered bicycle style track pump and a tool kit that included shoe polish for an emergency shoe shine if required, he was extremely skilful and put in a great deal of labour. The price? 20,000 dong (about $1.30) which we topped up with a small tip and lots of gratitude.
An excellent street side lunch around the corner under a hastily erected tarpaulin to protect from the light rain consisted of transparent bean thread noodles in a tasty chicken broth, with chunks of chicken, slices of fresh bamboo shoots, bean sprouts and green onions. Additional lime wedges and chilli were available for more piquancy and freshness. A wonderful dish, and 30,000 dong ($2) for the two of us.
The ballet was terrific - and got better as the program progressed, but that shall have to wait. Bob will get some more practice at the scooter while my sister and I head to Sapa this evening on the overnight train. Tomorrow (Tuesday) night we shall stay in a village after trekking during the day, in a hotel in Sapa overnight on Wednesday, before the overnight train back to Hanoi on Friday morning.