Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011 (Hanoi)

HANOI IN BLOOM: We got up pretty early on Sunday and headed to the wholesale flower market in Hanoi. It's a stunning place. The flowers are incredible. So are the hard-working and focused women who are there. They show up around midnight; by 8 a.m. about everything is sold. Bicycles and motorbikes are laden with the flowers that will be sold in shops and at street corners throughout the city. Today, yellow was big presence today because of the beginning of the lunar month.

SOME OLD HANOI AND NEW HANOI: After the flower-market visit, we saw some flowers in action--at the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh's, where we were part of a big crowd filing past the body of the much-revered leader (and former busboy at the Parker House in Boston). The location was (obviously) an island of calm in the midst of the hectic traffic of Hanoi. One of the items on the grounds of the mausoleum and residence was an "air raid warning" device. This, obviously, dealt with the bombings of the city during the Vietnam War (or, as our guide called it, "the American War"). It was a shell casing, which, when struck, made a gonging sound.
Later, we went to the Tran Quoc Pagoda and the Temple of Literature. That last place is considered Vietnam's seat of learning. It includes Van Mieu, a temple dating back to 1070 that honors Confucius, and Quoc Tu Giam, an institute set up six years later to teach the philosopher's doctrines. This place is a favorite spot for photographing young students who dress specifically for the occasion (right).
After that, we separated from our guide/driver and spent some of the evening roaming the streets of the Old Quarter (near our hotel). We had a fabulous dinner at the Green Tangerine.
On the walk home, we ran into some after-dark break dancers (right) who were twirling, tumbling, spinning and spilling themselves in the Indira Gandhi Park on a terrace under the watchful eye of the statue of Ly Thai To, the first king of the dynasty that ruled the area for about 200 years, until 1225. It's on the southwest side of Lake Hoan Kiem, the home of some endangered turtles and the figurative heart of the city. The dancers weren't quite as organized and as in-step as the mausoleum guards (above) but were mesmerizing.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April 2, 2011 (Hanoi)

HANOI: WHERE THE TRAFFIC LAWS GO TO DIE: My head is still spinning from a cyclo (aka rickshaw) ride through the 36 Streets of the Old Quarter in Hanoi. The delightful excursion rivals many amusement park rides for near-misses, sharp turns, loud noises etc. Prominent here, of course, are the 3.5 million or so motorcycles-scooters that swarm through the streets. The buzzing is incredible. The notion of a four-way stop would be simply absurd. One comforting thought is that riders generally keep to the right side of the road. Unless they don't. A couple things to remember:
1. Two solids CAN occupy the same space;
2. For every action there is a SEPARATE AND NOT EQUAL REACTION;
3. Force=Mass(x)Acceleration (-) the speed of light.
The honking is crazy (especially after Singapore). I think it's another language. Special honking says:
Get out of the way, I'm going through the red light.
Hey, don't you think my scooter looks good?
Hey, don't you think I look good?
Hey, I think you look good.
Hey, I think your scooter looks good.
I'm speeding up.
I'm slowing down.
I'm thinking about turning.
I'm NOT thinking about turning.
All the while, many drivers are moving great volumes of people and material (see photos). All very ambitious. When it comes to loading things on a motorbike or scooter, our guide, Minh, says, "Anything is possible."