Hanoi

October 14, 2011

We arrived in Hanoi pre warned about unscrupulous airport taxi drivers and their many scams. So when we found ours, I was expecting the worst. It’s always a little unnerving when someone speaks in a different language in front of you, as you’re paranoid they’re calling you horsedick to your face. So when our driver made a phonecall as soon as we got in the car, I was pretty sure he was calling his mafia boss to inform him that fresh, Western meat was in the car and that we’d be delivered to his whorehouse in 20 minutes. During the drive from the airport to the hotel, I flitted between worrying about us being kidney-less sex slaves and looking out of the window, completely mesmerised by the utter chaos on the streets. The Vietnamese practically live most of their life on the street as this is where they cook, eat, socialise, sell and do their crazy-ass driving. Their traffic system is pretty much non existent. As we drove down the main freeway, people were randomly walking on the road as the traffic whizzed by them. No one believes in lanes, stopping or indicating. In fact, our driver indicated at the most random, unnecessary times, leading me to believe he was just doing it because he thought Western people liked the ticking noise. Cars drive on the line that separates the two sides of oncoming traffic and motorbikes weave like drunkards between cars, trucks, people and buses, carrying everything from the village’s supply of toilet paper, multiple family members and trees. People were burning rubbish by the side of the road, eating and walking around with their bamboo shoulder baskets trying to make the last sell of the day. All these sights while listening to Savage Garden’s Truly, Madly, Deeply. Surreal, right?

Our first day was spent at a cooking school which was one of the best things we’ve done on our trip. We started with a local student taking us around the neighborhood markets. These markets are called frog markets, as the ‘vendors’ are illegally selling things they’ve bought at a wholesale market and are just selling it on trying to make a buck. So when the police come, they have to jump up and bring all of their wares indoors, hence the name, frog market. Everyone at these markets sell something different. There’s fruit, meat, vegetables, shoes, noodles, rice and herbs. Oh yeah, and there’s also dog, which is probably the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen. Wholly roasted and weirdly crispy, this is one sight I will never forget. Although having said that, I don’t think it’s right for Westerners to judge what other cultures eat and have been eating for hundreds of years. At the cooking class, which ended up being a private lesson for Luke and I, we learnt about how Vietnamese food is all about balancing the flavours, like ying and yang and how Vietnamese people love eating close to the ground and actually, just eating in general. They eat and spend much of their time outdoors to maintain relations with their neighbors and to spend time with their families and one meal a day should always be eaten at home. After we’d finished preparing our bun cha soup (BBQ pork noodles) we had the best meal of our whole trip.

But it wasn’t just food and culture we learnt about. We also learnt that Luke has the most vomit inducing man smell when put in humid, sweating, non deodorant wearing conditions. He was fascinated with this new smell, kind of like when babies discover poo in their nappies and smear it all over themselves. He found ‘intriguing’. Upon smelling it, I, on the other hand, wondered if this was going to be the moment in our relationship when I was going to projectile vomit over his feet. After letting him reveal in this new smell for half a day, I made him shower and soap twice. Yes, it was that powerful.

Hanoi is one of those places you enjoy for a couple of days and then get the hell out. While fearing for your life when crossing the road is fun for a while, it’s just not sustainable. Nor are the tiny baby stools that street food vendors put out when you’re Luke and extremely unflexible when faced with having to basically squat while eating. And it’s not sustainable for someone like me who pretty much gets the shits just looking at bug infected chicken that’s been sitting on the street all day. So we stayed, we enjoyed and then we got the hell out.

If you’ve secretly always wanted to know how to go about public sexual humiliation or how to dress like a S&M horse and whinny while pulling some ugly dude around by your mouth, by golly, can I shed some light for you.

Throughout our trip around the US, we’ve unfortunately been a couple of days too early or a week too late for some awesome festivals. I don’t know what fate is trying to tell us, but luckily, we were bang on time for the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. Now, we’ve seen a lot of weird shit in our time. I actively seek weird shit out, hell, that’s what I call a good workday, but it’s one thing watching Fat Feeders and another seeing a megatron fattie doing sexy laughing while being spanked til her dimpled ass is red raw. I can’t even begin to describe the crazy shit we saw and you know what, the pictures don’t even do it justice. Everywhere you looked, there’d be some guy trying to not pass out during a public rope fetish demo, a man with GIGANTIC BALLS (Dr Joe, please send an email to explain) or women dressed as S&M warlocks leading War of Warcraft junkies by chains attached to their dicks. It was seriously awesome and this, pretty much sums it up.

We are loving our new place. For all the oddness and the laughs we got out of our last two places, it’s a nice change to be with someone who is relaxed, says thanks and is grateful for the help she’s receiving. While there are three cats to content with (I’m ignoring my germ alert freaking out over having the cats crawl all over where the food is kept) there are also two beautiful dogs; Sammy and Chloe (ok, ok, so Chloe is pretty ugly but she’s so lovely) on the property. Our days are starting early (830 is early, right?) but we’re having lunch by 12:30. Yesterday we saved the life of some growing carrots, picked our first lettuce and the world’s largest courgette. Later on, we ate the latter with a Irish couple who said ‘grand’ and ‘good craic’ a lot. Actually, that’s all we could really understand.

The other neighboring village, Villacroze is stunning. It’s like time has stood still with its medieval archways and narrow cobbled streets. It makes you wonder how many million other beautiful places there are that we’ve missed simply because we would never have thought of going there. This experience is proving you should just put your finger on a map and go, because you can find the most unexpected beauty anywhere.