Friday, March 1, 2013

Hanoi, Vietnam

Wow.  Did I ever in my life think I would go to Vietnam?  No.  When the tour was offered, I decided I needed to go.  We flew from China on Vietnam Airlines--I was surprised they had their own.  It was very modern, clean, efficient and the plane was more comfortable than other flights we've taken this trip.  So I was already impressed.  We first went to HaNoi which means "City inside the Red River".  It used to be called Tong Long, a Chinese name meaning "flying up dragon".  (Later we will go to HaLong Bay which means "flying down dragon".)  The French came to Vietnam in the 1850s and many things in the Vietnamese culture and language were affected.  They left in 1954.  Eighty percent of the Vietnamese are farmers, mostly growing rice and coffee.  (Our guide was surprised that we didn't want to try any of the coffee!)  Eight million people live in Hanoi and the country's population is 43 million.  There are 3-1/2 million motorbikes in the city!!  I think all of them drove by us!  At least they have a helmet law here for all riders over age 7, unlike China.  As we drove to our hotel, we could see the people buying and bringing home kumquat and peach blossom trees on their scooters for their New Year's Celebrations.

Revolutionary Museum at night

I'm always amazed by what can fit on a bicycle!

We walked down this narrow street to our hotel.
Our hotel reminded me of my pension in Paris because it was very French-style.  They had baguettes at breakfast, but no "chocolat chaud" (hot chocolate)We drove to Halong Bay (which I will blog about separately), but the sights along the road were very intriguing.  The motorbikes in town are crazy--there are SO MANY!

Hanoi Traffic

All the bikes lined up at the intersection take up more space than the cars!  The pink flowers and yellow stars on overhead banners are lit up at night and are part of the decorations for the New Year. 

This restaurant "Seventeen Cowboys" has a sign that looks like the Las Vegas hotel man.  Notice the doorway--you must walk through a snake's mouth to get in.  This is the year of the Snake.
Rows of kumquat trees for sale.

The peach blossom trees, with their pretty pink flowers, are put in the home to drive away the evil and bad luck of the past year.  Then the kumquat brings in the good luck.  Apparently, you need one of each!
I love the teensy little stools they sit on!

 No one eats breakfast at home, according to our guide.  They all go out to a restaurant to have pho.  It has broth, noodles, rice, herbs and meat (chicken or beef).  No Lucky Charms here. 
Look at the French style of these buildings.

We often saw "single" buildings like this--tall and skinny!

Water buffalo

A Vietnamese who dies is buried the day after he dies.  After two years, the body is exhumed and the bones are cleaned and put into their "permanent address", a crypt in the center of the family rice paddies.  This keeps the deceased near their home and their souls can "help" with the work.  The family will make shoes, clothes, a hat, a scooter, a house, (and even for an unmarried man, a wooden wife) which are made of paper and then burned so they will ascend to their loved one on the other side.  They even burn counterfeit money.  This graveyard has several crypts in the same area.
This mulching tractor has open, metal "wheels" so it can go in the mud.

The top floor of the home has an open patio/balcony.  I'm sure that's for the hot summers.

Pineapple salesman--you can buy the fruit or the whole plant!

The rice paddies are what I think of when I think of Vietnam.  My brother, John, sent black and white pictures like these home from the war.  There are two harvests of rice each year--they could do more, but it depletes the soil. 

The rice seedlings are grown in a plastic-covered greenhouse until they are 20 cm tall.  Then they have to have all the soil cleaned off the roots.  Next they are transplanted, by hand, in clumps of 3-5 seedlings into the rice paddies.  The workers wear the pointed "coolie" hats like they have forever.

 This crypt is underneath a billboard.  Doesn't seem like a very auspicious location.
 At the rest stop, we were escorted into the "tourist trap sweat shop" where the women are busily sewing the embroidery that they will sell you.  I bought a beautiful embroidery on our boat in Halong Bay of Vietnamese fishermen and women in native dress.

Boys and bikes

 Our lunch back in Hanoi the next day was delicious and served with great presentation.  First we got a kick out of the Coke cans with the special New Year label.  (This is for Evelyn who used to save Fanta cans from different countries--they are STILL stored in our basement!)  Then the "boat with our slaw salad and the bamboo which held the meat and vegetables that had been cooked inside.  Although related to Chinese food, the Vietnamese learned a lot from the French!
No, this is NOT doll furniture!
 Part of the New Year involves ancestor worship/remembrance.  This altar is in the lobby of our hotel.  Notice the packages of food, a melon, and other offerings.  This one is small compared to most we saw.
This man was a little unsettling--he's wearing a US Army uniform, and I'm sure men like him were in my brother's sights.  That peach blossom tree is on the back of his cycle.

 It looks like the Vietnamese keep pet birds like the Chinese do.   See all the cages hanging?  But these birds are smaller and not so cramped inside.

Outdoor beauty shop near our hotel!

We went out exploring and found Ho Hoan Kiem (the lake of the returned sword) with Thap Rua (the turtle tower) in the center.  The legend is that a magic sword was given to Emperor Le Loi (late 1300s) by Kim Qui, the Golden Turtle God.  One day the emperor was out on this lake, and the turtle came up out of the pond and took back the sword.  (Sounds like Monty Python to me.  "Strange (turtles) lying in ponds, distributing swords, is no basis for a system of government.")  There actually is a rare species of turtle in this lake, and they think there is at least one live one left.  In 1967, a fisherman hit this one with a crowbar and decreased the population.  It was stuffed and put on display in the temple.

French architecture

Ladies dressed up for the holiday
On Jade Island, in the lake, is Ngoc Son Temple (temple of Jade Mountain) which has been located there since "time immemorial".  It is a Daoist temple, so you see the white tiger and black dragon (yin/yang) represented.

Here is the magic turtle with his sword  ("You can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart (or turtle) threw a sword at you!")

Temple pavilion with a peach blossom tree

Not sure why there is a hobby horse in the temple!

More unique, beautiful architecture in town

Lots of offerings to the Buddha

Family of four--the little boy is just standing
In the traffic--help me!!

Pretty streets decorated for the holiday--the yellow blooms are May flowers

There is a beautiful old temple-like building behind all the electrical wires.  It's the same way in China, too.  There are huge coils of wires spoiling otherwise pretty facades.
I had to take a picture of the reindeer scarf.  Kirk got me one for Christmas, and we've seen them EVERYWHERE since then in all different color combinations--some worn by women, some by men.  Too funny!
These are blurry, but they're goldfish (koi) in baggies on the man's bicycle!

They tie a ribbon around these fruits as they are growing to make them shaped like this--clever!  Then they carve something into them--I think they're for the new year.
Watch the pedestrian get swallowed in this video!

More Traffic

City park with a statue commemorating Vietnam's freedom in 1946.  They are decorating with silk flowers to make a new year sign in front.

 I was interested in the little boys in their school uniforms playing soccer in the park.  Just like boys all over the world.


Chicken in a biscuit--no, I mean, basket!

Vietnam is not a good place to be a chicken.  I'm sure the PETA people in America would have a fit to see these poor birds! 

Future KFC.
Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) at night!

We went to a French bakery and I had a mille feuille (Napoleon).  Not as good as France, but better than China!  The town was so interesting and reminded me of the New Orleans French Quarter.  It was so packed with people and traffic, though, that it seemed more crowded than Hong Kong.  Actually, I had expected Hong Kong to be more like this!  Crazy busy in the old town area of Hanoi.

Bamboo pipe smoker
The Hanoi Flag Tower of the old Citadel.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum--a wax figure lies in state.  The Russians sponsored this memorial, and fly the communist flag very obviously to one side.  Interestingly, inside is a quote by Ho Chi Minh--"Nothing is more precious than freedom."

Presidential Palace--Ho Chi Minh slept here one night, then moved to less auspicious buildings.

After WWII, he was in exile in Thailand for a while, and the Thai people later gave him this stilt house which he lived in for many years to the end of his life.  He preferred simplicity.  The grounds are beautiful.
On the grounds is the One Pillar Pagoda, a small temple on a single column built in 1049, the oldest in Vietnam.

The fruit offering on either side is a "Buddha's hand fruit".  I haven't ever tried it yet.
As we went through town we happened upon a funeral procession.  The body is in the van and the family follows behind with the white headbands.


 Our net step was the "Hanoi Hilton", or Hoa Lo prison, where they kept American pilots during the Vietnam War.
First built by the French to house Vietnamese political prisoners. 

Outside wall with glass shards on top.
 There were several rooms and displays with mannequins showing how the Vietnamese people were mistreated by their French captors.  Even a guillotine, used as late as 1920.  A pitiful sight, yes, but then you read this sign in the next room.

John McCain's flight uniform and parachute.
The room was filled with pictures of happy American soldiers playing basketball, cards, cooking, playing billiards, enjoying a Christmas dinner and generally having a great time here.  Yeah.  It was blatantly insulting, especially after the previous rooms where we were made to grieve for the poor Vietnamese prisoners.  There were newspaper clippings from around the world decrying America's involvement in the war.  We can only hope the obvious propaganda is evident to intelligent visitors.  Our guide told us, however, that with the advent of the computer age in the 1990s, the Vietnamese began to learn the truth about the American involvement in the civil war, and that they no longer hold any animosity towards us, and are happy that embargoes have been lifted so they can welcome us to their country.  The country has profited ever since.

More sights around town.

What did I tell you about the wires--crazy!!

For the new year, people will hire a calligrapher to write wishes in the ancient Han Tu script to give as a gift or for them to display.  They will hang two red banners down the posts and one across the lintel of their front doors.  It's the same in China.  This is a roadside area near the temple where you can hire your calligrapher.

The Temple of Literature is a Confucian Temple built in 1070AD.  It was the main altar for worship, and later became the Royal Academy, where children of the royal family were educated.  In 1440, it was opened to anyone studying for a doctoral education, and lately has been returned to its original use as an altar to Confucius.  

Because a tortoise lives longer than a human, your name was inscribed onto a stele the year you graduated, and this was displayed on the back of a tortoise so your fame would outlive you.   

Doctoral stelae

I love the little glazed figures among the roots.

We drove around Ho Tay (West Lake), the largest lake in Hanoi. 

On the other side of the road is Truc Bach, the lake where John McCain's plane went down.  Today you can ride a swan boat there.

I guess this soccer game is shirts against skins!

I laughed at the women in short skirts on their scooters.  Fortunately, I didn't have to watch them get off or on (nor did I have to ride that way)!

Some sort of demonstration here--seems they have some freedom of speech not permitted in China.

A dining room table and chairs---on a bike!

Here's how you add a trailer to a scooter.  Hang on tight!!

A peach tree AND a plum tree.  I wish you could see it in motion!
And one of my favorite things we saw at the airport in Hanoi.
Wish I could have gotten some donations when I was raising my kids!

Next stop:  Halong Bay, Vietnam

1 comment:

  1. Funny Monty Python quotes mom, I loved the tree on the back of the scooter. I love those little stools. Remember that ottoman stool I got from the dumpster when you were here? I love that stool for sitting on the ground for joy school. Really 6 inches off the ground is Way more comfortable than on the ground. Also I've heard of scratching designs or your kids names in melons you are growing, for a magic picture to appear on your melons.