2017-March-10 22:30 ICT | Mai Dich, Ha Noi, VN
If I had to analogize what it’s like being in this city, I would say “Like drinking from a fire hose”– for your senses. Every sound, every smell, every gaze, look, quip– it all adds up.
04:45 ICT: The rooster is awake.
We started the morning with a breakfast of Banh Cuon (Rice crepe, Viet ham, a vinegar sauce called nuoc cham, and some greens), coffee and world news with Ong Hung, and a ride over to the passport office for Q. Man, let me tell you– the people working here make MVA employees look like they’re on uppers! Never seen that many miserable-looking people in one place.
Quynh’s best good friend, Thao, came to reunite with her long-lost friend over some street-food and tea in the old quarter. Along the way, we stopped for the obligatory picture in front of St. Joseph’s Cathedral, took a detour through a park, and eventually made our way to the tea shop. This tea place is tucked up on the second floor balcony of a building and if you aren’t local or don’t know one, you’d probably never find it. The hostess showed us how to do the tea ceremony and we all proceeded to butcher it. If there was any grace among us, it wasn’t obvious.
Next on the list: Bun Cha Hanoi. Bun Cha literally translates to “Rice Noodle Ham”, but it’s rice noodles, spiced ground pork patties, cabbage, carrots, and a nuoc cham sauce that sets it apart and makes it a particularly Hanoi-an dish. To eat, one drops a wad of noodles into the nuoc cham, swirls around and grabs a combo of patty, noodle, and veggie. Bonus points if you don’t get any sauce on your clothing! This meal is a Ha Noi specialty and one that I will forever crave when I am stateside.
Dear readers, do you ever feel like you just have to get fitted for clothing on a full stomach? That’s apparently how mom felt because after eating she insisted I go get fitted for a suit! On our way, Thao ran a yellow light and got stopped by a traffic cop. He insisted she was in the wrong, but for 1M VND ($50 US), he could overlook this transgression. Thao’s dad is a senior official in the military, but she doesn’t like to name drop, so they haggled down to 200K VND ($10 US) and off they went. Though the government is trying to crack down on these traffic bribes, it’s still a common occurrence. I can’t help but liken this to ol’ Capt. Renault in Casablanca.
After a hair-raising scooter ride through the streets of Hanoi (mom almost made me a hood ornament!), we discovered that, in fact, mom’s go-to clothiers were either out of business or moved. We searched for a while but couldn’t come up with one that met mom’s standards. And so it was– we biked around and did a bit of street-level tourism. To be honest, I really love the plethora of stores in this city. It’s fantastic that in some instances, you don’t need to leave your block: everything is already in one area. Tools? There’s a store for just that. Nails, glues, and fasteners? There’s a store for that, too. Truly a neat city.
Tonight, mom, Q, and I met up at Q’s maternal grandpa’s house for dinner. I met Ong Trieu– a man of the world with an insatiable wanderlust. He’s in his 70’s, but still gets on buses and travels the country doing tours and taking lots of photos. He claims he’s not been sick in forever; his secret? Garlic vodka. A single shot of garlic vodka each day keeps the doctor away! We can’t speak each other’s language, but we sure have a lot in common.
Momma made her pho that I and my family LOVE but she thinks is so/so. If this is so/so, than mediocrity is a wonderful thing. We’re spending the night here @ Ong Trieu’s. It will be my first time sleeping on a futon since high school, but it beats sleeping on the floor!
That’s all for today, Journal. Tomorrow I’ll meet Grandma and Q’s other aunties. Here’s hoping I don’t become a hood ornament!