Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Safe on the Ground in Hanoi. . .again

When the time comes that leaving home behind and flying a third of the way around the world is purely routine, then perhaps I'll worry.  But the magic of the modern air travel system on this Seattle-Seoul-Hanoi route is truly amazing.  What does it take to have four hundred odd people walk down a gangway, sit down together in easy chairs, eat a very good dinner together, watch videos in, er. . .several languages (okay, Korean, Chinese with Korean subtitles, Japanese with Korean subtitles, French with Korean subtitles, Hindi, with Korean Subtitles, and Hollywood in all of the above as well as Tagalog (soundtracks dubbed).  Then  after the movies, the lights go out and it's time for a nap. . .which lasts until it's time for breakfast (or is that dinner #2??).  Whereupon, with the dishes cleared away and never a bump or a grumble we landed in Seoul.  Very very close to routine, but still exciting as can be.  From Seoul to Hanoi this year was different than hitherto however.  Instead of a much smaller airplane, the flight was another wide body jet, clear full (they're almost always full, but up to now were never so big).  Nowadays the flight goes directly over mainland China, which did not use to be the case. . .and is something like 25 minutes shorter, not a small gain.  And Hanoi airport is busy, much busier at least.  Instead of 3 or 4 planes on the ground, there were at least 14 I could count when we got there at almost midnight.  The world it is a changing!

The ride into the city, nearly 35 kilometers to my hotel, was much as before though.  Hanoi pretty well rolls up the streets before ten at night, and there's very little going on.  Here and there a pool of light holds people on some sort of night shift eating noodles or looking for customers or offloading flowers or vegetables from the long haul trucks, but mostly the streets are dim and there are only a few taxis out and about among a tiny fraction of the motorbikes that will take over in the morning.  I think if this were your only impression of Viet Nam you would probably never come back.  Drab, dark, certainly not very pretty.  Oddly enough, it feels very welcoming to me after all these years.  It's just Hanoi. . .and she doesn't stay up late.

The Physics Professor (whose 90 year old Mom owns the hotel) came to the locked grille across the front of the house after a short wait (you have to know exactly where to reach through the sheet metal behind the grille's bars to push the bell that wakes the household).  My cab tried really hard to deliver me to the next-door "real hotel", whose bellhop smartly picked up my duffel and was amazed I wasn't following him.  We sorted it all out in a minute or two, and I was soon unpacked and into bed.  "My" room (the only guestroom on the ground floor) had been cleared out for me.  I'll never know how many people they have to shift around to put me in Room 103, but since I broke my leg on the stairs to start off 2010, I haven't been allowed to set foot on a stairwell.  That's a tough way to get special treatment I admit, but I really like Room 103.  Much better than 4 flights of steep stairs!

I always have a few chores to do when I get to town before I can hit the road, but this year my prior preparations truly are paying off.  The big deal is the motorbike, the same one I've ridden since 2010.  Having sat (mostly anyway, she was obviously out on chores of some sort for almost 1000 km while I was gone) in storage, she has new tires, new tubes, new chain and sparkplug, she's been washed and brushed and tuned up and runs like a dream.  My saddle bags are hung on her, the tool kit, rain gear and boots are all there. . .and I've had a fine afternoon visiting with the mechanics and friends who make that all happen.  It used to take a week pounding the pavements of Hanoi, or more, just to get to this point.  H'mm.  This is much better!

Still, there were a few chores to do and some fun shopping to get out of the way, so I walked a good millimeter off the soles of my shoes I think (sweated through my clothes and wore my jet-lag confused body down to the point of sleeping last night).  So there's a new full-face helmet on top of the wardrobe today, a large improvement over what I've worn the past two trips, and I managed to add to my collection of early wedding photos and traffic congestion. . .There must have been seven wedding parties scattered around Hoan Kiem Lake taking their photos a month before the actual wedding. . .the brides mostly in huge white dresses and the men in black tuxedos and friends packing snacks, drinks and props to make the photo shoot civilized.  Interestingly, Red is the traditional color for weddings and celebrations in general, while white is the color for funerals.  The western standard is pretty well winning that debate though, with the white wedding dress clearly the favorite for photos at least.  A PROPER wedding will no doubt also involve changing into the traditional style dress, including the odd wedding hat. . .but the white dress gets pride of place I think.  On the far side of the lake as I was walking South to find a particularly good lunch spot (I have a favorite in every town. . .is this the beginning of routine??) I spotted a unique compromise. . .a thoroughly Western style white dress that was BRIGHT RED.  You are not really ready for that I suspect.  He was wearing a white tuxedo, if that counts. . .

Okay, so my favorite couple for the day broke the rules, she's wearing a more or less traditional Ao Dai (say it  "Ow -Yigh", not a Western wedding dress at all. . .but it's white, not RED and. . .oh never mind, Hanoi is modern I guess.  

Just a couple of quick glimpses of Hanoi rush hour a block or two from home.  Nothing is moving.  Rush?  What Rush??
When I finally get moving  I'll head Northeast to start if nothing bends or breaks, work my way around to the Northwest of the country, sort of following the Chinese and then the Lao borders through the mountains after a short leg along the Northern coast.  That should bring me back through Hanoi in a week or nine days and then it'll be time for the long haul southward.  Unless of course they let me into Laos this trip.  I'll have to ask eh??

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