Saturday, June 12, 2010

D.O.A. (Delighted on Arrival)

Dear friends,

I have arrived safely in Hà Nội. The absurdly-long flight was worth it. Those who wrote me messages of wishing well are very gracious. I cannot respond directly to them, as Facebook does not work on my laptop. I expect that it will not work for the next ten months. It'll be nice to take a break from the ol' blue-and-white and live a life in the 3-D, technicolour world. Email and Skype are the best ways to reach me.

In the area where I am staying, there are very few Westerners. I am a curiosity, and have received stares ranging from blank ones to frightened stares to good-humoured stares. Today I was taken to see a bit of Hà Nội (actually, just Hoàn Kiếm Lake) by a girl only a few years younger than me, and I was getting death stares. I presume this is because people thought that we were dating. Some people say "Hello!" to me as I walk. For the whole day, I did not see the innocuousness of this. All of those who said "Hello!" to me, except for one woman, were on motorcycles, so I thought that they were just trying to sell me a motorcycle ride. I told most people "Không, cám ơn" ("No, thanks") when they said "Hello!". That was Josh's Western fail #1.

On my first night, I stayed in, and organised my stuff REALLY SLOWLY. I tend to be a slow mover, but the slowness of my movement yesterday was ridiculous. The heat, humidity and resultant sweatiness make physical and mental vigour difficult for new arrivals to maintain. Perhaps early-morning exercise is the answer to my problems of lethargy. Whatever the case may be, my room's air conditioning is set to sixteen degrees Celsius, and it will stay that way for a long time. Even at 16 Celsius, the sweat comes and comes. To get rid of the sweat, I indulge in the greatest way in which one could possibly clean himself: the bucket shower. It uses SO MUCH LESS water than the average shower in Canada does. All one needs is soap, a pot with an extended handle, a reliable water source and (optional) a shower head connected to a water supply. People here don't brag about taking bucket showers, but they really should because it's the 'green' way of doing things. Canada needs a massive social-media campaign in favour of bucket showers.

Following my bucket shower was a fourty-five minute session of getting lost in Hà Nội. I had set out to look for some breakfast and realised soon after leaving that I did not know the way back. Key to my getting lost was my ignorance of the ngách. The ngách resembles a street fairly well. All of the houses and establishments have numbers. But all places in a ngách have one address on the same street. I was going from ngách to ngách frantically, seeing the name of my hotel's street and looking for its number, only to find families having breakfast or deserted alleys. I might not have done it so frantically if I did not have to go on a tour at 10:00. Anyway, by sheer luck, I found my way back by about 9:00. Relieved, I went to find some breakfast. I was a hungry boy because I had not eaten a meal since around 2:30 PM the previous day. The first phơ establishment I saw was good enough for me. My order was executed mainly through pointing, but I got some Vietnamese in there. Once the vendor understood what I wanted, I was invited to sit on a stool, about eight inches high, across a table from a local police officer. He seemed to me like any regular local. He was really nice, asking me questions and tolerating my stuttered, extremely curt responses (in Vietnamese). The fact that he is a police officer did not make him any less welcoming - I was just a bit freaked-out because I did not want to have any run-ins with the police on my first full day in Việt Nam.

Traffic is most assuredly not like traffic in Toronto. Cars are rarities on Hà Nội strees. The way of transportation taken by the vast majority of people is the xe mô tô (motorcycle). Taken together, they drive on both sides of the road in both directions at all times. This means that pedestrians have to be careful about stepping on the road, which they have to do because sidewalks are often blocked from storefront to curb by parked motorcycles. This might seem like it is nerve-wracking, but it is for the most part not so. One just has to use his judgement and recognise that most drivers will take pains to avoid colliding with other people. Crossing the street is a precise art, even where pedestrian crosswalks are painted on the road. Those who have seen me cross the street know that I want to be on the road for as little time as possible, and that I run across as fast as I can. All of that short-distance dashing has given me good practice for crossing Hà Nội streets, where such a thing is not paranoid, but necessary.

1 comment:

  1. i don't know if you got the video shibby sent, but... bushra mentioned your bucket showers to me. WE TAKE THEM ALL THE TIME in my family. my dad brags about how back in his day in his village in pakistan, he just needed one or two (big) mugs of water to bathe with.