Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Into Hanoi, I booked into a nice hotel for Christmas. It had wood furniture! Good to stay in somewhere a bit classier for a few days. Hanoi is one of these places where I find it incredibly easy to get lost. I now walk about with a LP map in my back pocket, it makes no difference. I had a small map with the hotel card, shoved in my back pocket. After walking around I tried to head back to the hotel, I was standing on the street corner looking at the map and the street names. Confused as to where my hotel was, of course when I looked over my shoulder I realised I was standing outside it, doh!

The hotel staff gave me a sheet of paper announcing their Christmas party starting at 20:00. So I went down to see what was happening. The entrance had been transformed with tables covered in food & drink. I was suprised they had gone to so much effort. Well, until I looked closer. The drink was mostly coke, wiith a few bottles of beer that wouldn't last long. The food seemed a little strange, plates of fruit, strange little sausages in wrappers cut in half, slices of bread and Laughing Cow cheese triangles. They fired off some glitter rockets outside. Five minutes later some old woman was screaming at the manger's kid for some reason. He was sulking at the argument continued. Then he grabbed another gliter rocket from beside the Christmas tree and ran towards the woman, but was restrained in time. He looked like a little spolit brat. Six year old with a red mohican, what's that all about? That was the most interesting thing at the party, anyway I had tickets for the water puppets, only a ten minute walk away.

I went outside on Christmas Eve to make my way to the puppet theatre. However I hadn't counted on the million or so people out on the streets milling around. Still I managed to get there just on time, as I moved through the crowds like a hot knife through butter. Darting left and right, up and down the pavement kerb along the road, dodging the gutters, motorbike, accumulated debris and of course the old people that stop for no explicable reason. At least you don't have people with prams in Asia (yet), just sling the kid over the shoulder and be done with it.

Taking my seat, the show started, James Bond himself couldn't of timed it better. The band on the left playing traditional instruments. One looked like the Vietnamese version of the spoons. Another plucked a single string unfretted instrument, with a vertical whammy bar. The stage was set out with the water at the front and the puppeteers hidden behind the backdrop. Apparently the art form orginated in the rice paddies. I must admitted I was struggling to work out how the done some of the stuff. At first I imagined it was just a puppet on a long horizontal pole as it walked across the stage, but then the characted turned round and walked back. I was sitting there puzzling for a while, but I guess they must be on a rotating disc. Quite clever. Then they puzzled me with the next one. A puppet fishing with a fish swimming around. The puppet is throwing his fishing line in an catches the fish bringin it out the water. I was going for the magic of magnets for this one, but just a guess.

After the performance, time for a quick drink. Popped into the groovily named Funky Munky, after eventually retrieving my change from the barstaff who seemed reluctant to give me my money back, I headed upstairs. Strangely enough bumping into Chris whom had thrashed me at pool in Hue. He was chatting with another London geezer. The drink flowed freely, helped by a few shots of vodka. Then off to the Titanic, for some late night drinks. Upon arriving we realised it was an actual ship. As long as it didn't undock a safe place to drink. They covered the pool table with a few planks of wood, hey presto, the worlds smallest dance floor. A good night, but not so good on Christmas day...

I'd arranged to met up again with Chris for some lunch. Somebody had recommended The Vine, saying it was an English pub. Turned out to be a very posh restaurant. Chris & I sat at the bar rather queasy, shaky and pale. We decided to go somewhere rather less stuffy. Try to drink the hangover away, really didn't work. So a quiet Christmas really, watched a movie on TV and an early night.

Changed over to a cheaper hotel, and went for a few more walks around town. Passed by Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. It was closed. Situated it a massive square with a large patch of grass intersected with a grid of small path, and lined with grandstands. I caught the changing of the guards where the white uniformed, medalled and armed guards frogmarch from way down the road. Either that or they were doing John Cleese Ministry of Funny Walk impressions. Typical though I didn't have my camera. Maybe not such a bad thing, as other tourists got shooed off from taking photos. Eventually I made it back to the Old Quarter, by this time my shoes were soaked and trashed. The next day some new shoes, and what the hell some new socks for me, it's Christmas! I think my new shoes have rubbed off my pinky toes, ouch!

New Year was fairly quiet. I had located an Irish pub, most of been the only Irish pub in the world that was empty on New Years Eve. Strange, considering it even had a talking leprechaun, what more could you ask for? Oh well, headed back into the tourist centre. Not much happening here either. Chatted with a few Aussies, they were off early the next day, so were having a quiet one. Somebody else had been working here as English Teacher for the past seven months. Midnight came and went with a small cheer, seemed to be more excitement when Chelsea scored.

I decided to head back to Thailand for a few months, China is very cold and it would be nice to unpack somewhere for a bit. I bought a ticket from the asian equivalent of EasyJet. Cost about $50 once taxes are added, not so bad. Maybe it was cheap because its flying on Friday 13th! I'll just cross my fingers and wiggle my thumbs, that should see me sorted. As I plan to stay a while I tried to get the same Thai visa I had got in Malaysia via the hotel, big mistake, if you want something done right do it yourself.

I decide another purchase was in order, some dairy delights, some cheese! Now you wouldn't think it would be a difficult taks to buy some cheese & biscuits, would you? However in a place where you don't speak the lingo the simplest thing can turn into an ordeal. It actually went smoothly enough, just point to the cheese (some New Zealand Cheddar) and some Ritz biscuits. All was well until I returned home. I cut a slice of the cheese off and popped it in my mouth, hmm softer than I would of imagined, yeeurgh, this aint no cheese!! Turned out to be New Zealand butter, but refrigerated at a low temperature so it cuts like cheese. But all was not lost, my plain biscuits turned out to be oxymoronic "Kraft Cheese" biscuits, saved!

Another recent Christmas purchase was a small MP3 player. Takes 1 AAA batteries, I had bought some for 4000dong, I wanted some more but everywhere else seemed to inflate the price to 15000dong, strange. Well until I found out the batteries last about 5 minutes, hmmm. Makes those bus trips go just that little bit quicker though, if the batteries last. Now I have some groovy music to listen to! Your opinion may not necessarily agree...

Another night I had looked at my LP guide, some seafood restuarants were marked next to West Lake, tonights destination. I'm sure I forgot to take a turn and ended up walking in a massive circle. Still suprisingly after an hour or so I arrived. I guess they don't have many tourists. Not any English spoken. Not to worry I had come prepared with my one word of Vietnamese "Ca" which means fish. If pronounced right. I ended up with most of the staff around me trying to work out what the crazy foreigner wants. Eventually I pointed at a receipt which was lying about with "Ca". Aaaah, then the pointed my to come and pick the fish from a water cage. They brought out a whopper (not a BurgerKing product!), no way I could eat that. After some more gestures and writing it turned out they didn't have any fish less than 1.5kg. Not exactly a one person meal, or two for that! Oh well, back to restaraunts with English menus.

As my time in Vietnam draws to a close I only feel that it is proper that I should distill my hard earned knowledge, so here are the rules of the road in descending order:

5) Use of horn is mandatory at all times, even on empty streets.
4) The biggest vehicle has right of way at all times.
3) Traffic lights, one way roads and traffic signs only apply to other people.
2) Never look behind you before pulling out into traffic.
1) Conserve petrol, drive without lights.

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