Hats Off to Hanoi and Other Millinery Musings

We’ve been in Hanoi for nearly a week and are finally settling in—at least for now.  During our first  night in the city, we stayed in a lovely hotel overlooking the West Lake—a restful and relaxing way to recover from the from the train ride north, the movement of which rocked Sara and Kathryn to sleep two nights in a row but, for the most part, kept me wide awake.  The bottom line remains that I can rest few places besides my own bed—no plane, train, or automobile slumber for this insomniac, even with Ambien to supposedly assist in that process.

Tuesday we moved to this apartment, also overlooking West Lake—two bed rooms, two baths, stainless steel appliances, large, flat panel television, beautiful hardwood floors, and stunning views of Hanoi and West Lake from the roof deck.  Most days I’ve spent in the apartment, as the weather has been suffocatingly hot, humid, and rainy, and the neighborhood over-run with unleashed dogs and diseased-looking chickens.

We have eaten breakfast twice at the Sofitel Plaza Hotel, as well as dinner there Friday night, while waiting for Kathryn’s friend to come in from Cambodia for the weekend.  Yesterday we shopped in the Old Quarter and ate breakfast this morning at the famous Metropole Hotel, finally giving due diligence to our role as tourists—one we’ve long neglected since arriving in Vietnam.

Lucy's conical hat and Hanoi tourism 094

However, Lucy continues to turn heads and charm expats and locals alike.  This morning at the Metropole, she sat at the table with the rest of us, and the Vietnamese wait staff wanted to serve her a bowl of milk.  We kindly declined the offer, as Lucy has never consumed dairy, though we did purchase her what must be the smallest conical hat in all of Southeast Asia, one she’s been wearing for much of the evening, posing for photos.  It would seem milliners of peasant head gear here have gone to the dogs!  Hats off to Hanoi!

Here's to Fruits, Funerals, and One Witty Nephew

I have been enjoying the most amazing of tropical fruits—not just the mango, which I adore and is available in the US—but also others to which I had never been exposed before visiting Southeast Asia.

During my first month in Vietnam, I tasted the rambutan—which I’d describe as a fuzzy, strawberry-looking fruit—red leathery skin with soft spines, small oval shape, the size of a large seeded grape.  The fruit inside is white, nearly translucent, sweet and slightly acidic—quite tasty.

Also in the last week, I’ve purchased mangosteen from a woman who operates a fruit stand at the end of our block.  These, I must admit, are the most amazingly succulent fruit I have ever tasted.  With a deep purple peel and large leathery leaves on top, the white pulp separates like segments of an orange and nearly dissolves into a nectar-like liquid in the mouth, undoubtedly divine.

So, Sara, who should be pleased by my consumption of something other than bread, has been in Hanoi for more than a week, leaving  Lucy and I l alone in Saigon to deal with my neighbor’s funeral music. 

It all began in the early evening on Friday with what I thought was a band, one I assumed must have been playing at the micro-brewery beside my apartment.  Mind you, I had never before heard music from this establishment or been bothered by any noise from the place that remains open long after I go to bed.  But when the music began again the following morning around 7, I realized it could not be coming from my suspected source. 

Later that morning when I was finally able to communicate my question through a primitive form of sign language I use with my non-English speaking cleaning lady, the explanation came in two words, “Dead man.” 

But———–when the music continued incessantly on Sunday and resumed Monday morning  just after four—well before sunrise, I thought, “Dead man, indeed.”  I felt badly for my grieving neighbors—but good-god—I was becoming increasingly irritated by the clamor and close to homicidal in my mission to make it stop.  Fortunately, as my nephew Johnny rightly pointed out, Monday indeed became “the day the music died.”

Dog Left Alone in Saigon Apartment

I had to leave Lucy alone in the apartment for the first time this week.  For the first seven days back in Vietnam, I have taken her with me everywhere, unless I was able to leave her with Sara, which I did, once to eat lunch with Mai Anh and Elizabeth and three times to work out at the gym.  Besides those four brief situations, we had not been apart—until two days ago!

More specifically, I took Lucy to the gym with me for the first time Tuesday, since Sara is in Hanoi.  However, within minutes I was asked to leave, to take Lucy back to my apartment, as dogs are not allowed there.  This posed a problem, since Sara and I had been disinclined to leave her alone—fearful she would cry and/or bark and, in turn, bother the neighbors—our landlady being foremost among them.

During my initial attempt to leave her, she whimpered and wailed, wailed and whined, whined and whimpered some more.  A few minutes later I left her again, this time shutting her in our bedroom, so her moaning would not echo in the building’s back stairway.  This time I was not able to hear her, when I went downstairs and stepped outside, so I proceeded to the gym, where I agonized with each minute of the following 45 I spent on the stair-stepper.

Clearly, the problem here is not Lucy’s, but mine.  I’m the one afraid to leave her, and certainly my fear supersedes her own separation anxiety.

Again—what’s a dog-loving, gym-going American to do?  Mind you, I was told by more than one of Sara’s staff that dog-napping is a money-making crime common in Vietnam.  Someone steals a dog, then forces the owner to pay a ransom to get the dog returned.  It happened to Minh and her friend, whose dog was actually snatched from inside her apartment.  And one wonders why I might be a wee bit cautious, a tad overly anxious, a smidgen, perhaps, even more than a smidgen, fearful and disturbed.

At any rate, Lucy was unharmed and no worse for the wear when I got home.  Thanks to the gods that watch over small canines and keep Vietnamese dog-nappers away.

"Not girl on bed!"–"Not bag on floor!"–"Not bike . . . ."

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but for some reason all I want to do is sleep.  Sometimes this might suggest depression, but I don’t feel the least bit sad or lonely.  The question then remains whether or not this could be the residual effect of jet lag an entire week following my flight or an indication that I have not yet adjusted to the time change, again, with my having been in this part of the world for nearly seven days.  I don’t know.

Also significant could be the fact that Sara has left for a week and a half in Hanoi.  However, my sleep patterns were well under way before Sara’s departure. 

The bottom line—I have no idea why I’m so exhausted.

(Sorry to bore you with so much “naval gazing.”)

At any rate, yesterday Lucy and I went to the market near the office in an effort to explore and locate hooks we can attach to the backs of doors without damaging the doors themselves—something that hangs over the top of the door—a system that seems fairly common in the US but is nowhere to be found here.  Sara seems to think I have too many “bags”—purses, book bags, laptop cases, messenger bags, and shoulder-strapped water bottle holders.  Okay, okay, now that I make this list, I realize she may have a point.  However, what bothers Sara most is not my having the bags but more our not having a place to store them.  She seems to think a system of hooks might remedy the problem by giving me a place to hang and hide my stuff.  This clearly lends whole new meaning to the notion of bringing “baggage” into a relationship—poor Sara!

More interestingly, the sidewalks in that part of district one were so swarming with motor bikes yesterday, it proved nearly impossible to get to the market without taking extreme precaution.  As it was, I slipped and fell from trying to walk on the edge of the sidewalk and stepping into the street from time to time, as there was no other way forward.  Clearly, the pedestrian does not have the right of way in Vietnam, even on the sidewalks themselves!

Sugar and Spice and Everything's Gone Grass

I have finally found grass—no, not that kind of grass—the kind that Lucy will use for excremental purposes.  The 3 x 4 foot patch around a tree, around the corner from our apartment, does not require the effort it takes to walk to the park every time Lucy needs to pee—a park where I was reprimanded for allowing Lucy on the lawn.

We’re not walking to the park, but we are walking—a lot!  Exploring the city on foot has proven the best approach to seeing people and places from street level—the grit and grime of it—the hurry-scurry, fast-paced, motor biking energy that is Asia on steroids.

We’ve walked in search of grass, and also cinnamon, which we have yet to find.  Where do they keep the sugar and spice and everything nice in this city called Saigon?  Who would have thought that cinnamon could be hard to come by?  We won’t be snicker-doodled, pumpkin-pied or oatmeal-cookied into obesity and diabetes in this town.

Oh, well, enough of this for now.  Gotta go take Lucy to her patch of grass.  Sorry for the shitty post.  I’ll do better next time.

"Not Dog on Grass!"

Lucy behaved beautifully during our grueling 24 hour trans-global trip to Vietnam.  Honestly, I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome.  Safely in Saigon, not a moment’s struggle getting her through immigration, I’m relieved—

But, it was indeed an amazing journey, including the two medical emergencies on-board the 13 hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo.  One passenger had an apparent heart attack and died five hours outside our Japanese destination.  Medical personnel on-board were summoned and assisted in at least ten attempts to shock the man’s heart back into beating again.  The victim of cardiac arrest was seated 3 rows in front of me.  Neither airline officials nor flight attendants actually announced to passengers that the man had died.  I only surmised as much given the number of times the doctor attempted to restart the heart—so many that the battery in the device died and cabin crew requested passenger donate batteries from their hand-held electronic devices.  In addition to this, paramedics in Tokyo seemed in no hurry to remove the passenger from the plane.  Surely, if his situation had indeed been dire and he had survived, the airline would have wanted to transport him to a hospital as soon as possible.  Not only this, but no attempt was made to divert the flight and land sooner in an effort to intervene medically on the man’s behalf.

Less heart-wrenching (excuse the pun), but important none-the-less, is day to day living with Lucy in Vietnam—our primary struggle involves the fact that there is not a blade of grass within a 10 block radius of our apartment, except for a park that involves a 15 minute walk, but where dogs are not allowed on the lawn.  I kid you not—this morning a security a guard reprimanded me, “Not dog on grass!  Not dog on grass!”  When I showed him the pink poop bag with which I intended to pick up any excrement, pink poop bag I had brought purposefully all the way from the US—biodegradable and environmentally friendly—he seemed not the least impressed and repeated his demand with all the more irritation, “Not dog on grass!  Not dog on grass!”  Lucy refuses to pee or poop on pavement.  What’s an environmentally conscious, dog-lugging-to-the-far-east American to do?

Writer's Block

I’ve written little since arriving in Vietnam.  And at this point I have no reasonable explanation for the lapse.   During my first couple of weeks “in country,” I blamed overwhelming volumes of new stimuli, believed my senses overly saturated.  Now I’m beginning to blame plain old laziness. 

I will note here, however, that late the other afternoon S. and I ate an early dinner at a Saigon establishment called Highlands Coffee.  Soon after our arrival, the rain began.   We have downpours most days during the rainy season, usually between 3 and 5 pm.  This afternoon specifically, we were sitting on a covered patio, on a tree-lined street, during rush hour; and I was amazed by the roar of rain and traffic—pounding downpour, incessant honking of horns, jazz playing in the background—the volume of it all nearly deafening.  We ate Pad Thai; I drank Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk, my newest beverage passion. 

I’ve also begun to recognize a sound I associate with early mornings, one paired again with coffee consumption.  Soon after sun rise, my neighbors gather outside on the street, drinking their first iced coffee of the day.  This ritual requires someone chop huge cubes of ice into chunks, chunks into bits.  So, before getting out of bed, I listen–











                                                         I have


                                                     (have not)