Ha Noi

My first thought upon arriving in the ’nam was “holy christ are these people insane?” The calm orderliness of Singapore was as opposite from the insanity of Hanoi as possible. In Singapore it’s illegal to jaywalk, but in Hanoi jaywalking is pretty much the only option since there are no discernible traffic laws. Everybody either rides a bicycle or, more commonly, a little motorbike, and the streets are absolutely packed with them going every which way. There is no reason to it. Every bike just fends for itself and does its best to avoid running into anything else. There’s even no reason to the disreason, since at some intersections people stop at traffic lights and wait patiently, while at others they ignore traffic signals entirely. How they decide where and how to obey whatever mysterious laws might happen to exist is beyond me. And somehow they manage to collide pretty infrequently, given such a mass of motorbikitude packed into such a small area. We have seen a couple minor accidents so far, though, so it’s not like in the absence of law, the people self govern optimally. I’ve tried to take pictures of some intersections but they always end up not capturing the anarchy sufficiently. You just have to come here to understand it.

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And if those pictures had a soundtrack, it would be “beep beep beep beep beep beeeeeep!” Every single one of those motorbikes is constantly honking like crazy. In the US honking is something you do out of anger, or in an emergency circumstance. But in Vietnam its just a driving tool, like signaling, used to alert other bikes or people who you’re passing to your presence. So it’s constant beepity-beeping, everywhere, all the time.

Crossing the street was an adventure the first few times we did it. We were told you just have to walk slowly and not change speed whatever you do. Just dont do anything surprising and trust all the bikes to not run you over. And that technique does seem to work. Crossing the street is actually kinda fun once you get over the mortal fear.

Everything in Hanoi is an adventure. It’s actually a very fun city, but takes a little getting used to. It’s one of the first places I’ve been that feels distinctly non-western, in the sense that the culture and traditions of everyday life are completely different from what you’d get in the US or pretty much every European country (or Singapore too, for that matter). The type of traffic is different. The types of restaurants are different. Most food seems to be eaten out in front of someone’s house on the street, usually on six-inch high benches with tiny tables. They types of clothes people wear are different. People really wear those cone-shaped hats, like not in an ironic way. The types of stores they have are different, as most things are bought on the street or in markets.

Plus you’re supposed to haggle for everything, which is not exactly a skill I possess. I sometimes think the vietnamese look at me and just see one big walking gullible Sucker with too much money, in desperate need of a fleecing. And, for the most part, they’re right. Being a white guy in tourist areas of vietnam means a constant barrage of touts offering various services to you at crazily inflated prices. Guys want to take you places on their motorbikes (“motobai! hey you! motobai! one dollar!”), or show you the town in their pedicabs (“one hour! i show you. one hour!”), or sell you fruit (“you buy! fresh. bargain!”) or hats, or water, or whatever crap they happen to have. They think I’m made of money here. And, relatively speaking, I suppose I probably am, kinda. Mr. Moneybags, that’s me.

the monopoly man

Vietnam is a catalyst for my white liberal middleclass guilt. But I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring people and saying “no”. And then relenting and buying lots of random crap for too much money.

We did manage to brave the Hanoi streets and see some actual sights. Like we saw Ho Chih Minh’s mausoleum:

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and Ho Chih Minh’s house:

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and Ho Chih Minh’s cars:

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and Ho Chih Minh’s pomello tree:

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and some various other non-Ho-Chih-Minh thingies like the Temple of Literature, and the One Pillar Pagoda. But my internet time is up here. You can check em out in my Hanoi flickr set below:

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