Saturday, February 20, 2010

Familiar Haunts in Hanoi

Margaret and I arrived at Noi Bai airport without incident about noon on Friday. We were met by Victor from the travel agency we are using. He was glad to see me again and to meet Margaret. It was a cloudy, cool day. Victor kept up a cheerful commentary as we drove the 25 kilometers to Hanoi. His older son is nine now and in third grade. He has begun study of English and is also learning to play the piano.
"What is the average class size in his school?" I wanted to know.
"Over 30." Victor replied.
We are staying at Hong Ngoc Hotel on Ma May street in the old quarter of Hanoi near Hoan Kiem Lake. We are still in the final days of Tet. Tet greetings are everywhere and hotels and shops have small mandarin orange trees in their foyers - laden with lovely small orange fruit. There are some changes from last year. The nice pharmacy on one corner of Ma May street near our hotel is gone - replaced by yet another tour agency office. The streets and sidewalks are the cleanest I have seen in all my visits here - probably because everyone has really cleaned up for Tet.
I took Margaret for a 'walk-about' the first afternoon so we could get some exposure to daylight, if not sun, and make our transition to a time zone which is exactly twelve hours from Eastern Standard Time. After a short nap, we went to my favorite little restaurant a couple of blocks away. Here we ordered a great meal of Vietnamese food: spring rolls, fish cakes, and a corn french fried onions with catsup! Well, we need a little reminder of home. Then we nursed our tea and watched life go on in the street outside. There is a small open air restaurant just next to ours. They do their cooking in the open and patrons sit at plastic tables set out on the sidewalk and across a busy street on another sidewalk. A waiter will balance 3-4 dishes on his arms and make his way carefully across the street between motorcycles whizzing past to deliver to patrons over there.
It was a remarkably quiet night. Victor had informed us that firecrackers have been banned this year. Many Vietnamese apparently feel that this has diminished the celebration of Tet, but I really enjoyed the quiet. Another new thing was to see large colorful balloons floating on lines across Hoan Kiem Lake. Very colorful.
Saturday we met with Victor's wife, Linh Chi and discussed our travel plans. She has arranged our tickets to fly to Danang on Tuesday. From there we will go by taxi to Quang Ngai. After she left we met with Tinh, who will be travelling with us as our interpreter. She has worked with me for the past two years and we were glad to see each other again. Margaret, Tinh and I gathered in my hotel room. I fixed peppermint tea and served a couple of little snacks to go with it. We sat around and caught up on each other's lives since last year; then discussed our tentative plans for our teacher-aide program in Tinh Khe. Margaret has brought some wonderful new ideas to use in classroom in addition to some of the activities we did last year.
This morning Margaret and I got up early and took a taxi to the Tin Lanh (protestant) church a short distance from our hotel for their 7 AM service. They hold three services on Sunday AM: 7, 9, and 11 AM. A good mixture of elderly, middle-age and youth in attendance. We had a visiting pastor from Saigon this Sunday. He was introduced by the regular pastor of this church. They use power-point presentation in this church. The words to hymns are projected. I know most of the tunes so can sing along as merrily as those around me. Having my own English bible with me I can follow the text from which the sermon is drawn and catch at least part of what the pastor is saying since he uses power point as well. We walked home from church, giving us time to explore some more parts of the city.
We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow - the first business day after a week of Tet celebrating the Year of the Tiger. I'll try to get another post in before we leave Hanoi. Hope you are all keeping warm in those parts of the U.S. that are "snowed under".

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