There are 4 million people who live in the city of Hanoi… there are 2 million motorbikes in the city of Hanoi. We leave Hanoi at 11pm tonight on an overnight train, and I am more than ready! I’ve experienced some interesting things here, but I have had enough of dodging motorbikes, cars, bikes and cyclos. A guy in my group was about an inch from getting hit by a motorbike today. They even drive on the sidewalks and the wrong way down one way streets when they feel like it. This is the most culture shock that I have ever experienced in any country, but I really think that it is just because of the ridiculous amounts of traffic and horn honking.
Yesterday we took cyclos around the old quarter. Cyclos are like pedicabs, but you sit in the front and they only fit 1 person. It cost about $2 for 1 hour of a ride and there are tons of cyclo drivers, but not too many people using them. It makes you wonder how they make a living. I went across town to go to lunch at KOTO (Know One, Teach One). It is a restaurant that disadvantaged youth work at. It was started by an Austrailian who is hoping to open more in other countries. Every student gets a bike, health insurance, a place to live and a stipend as soon as they are admitted into the program. Then they get 1.5 years in training at the restaurant and then they are given an internship in a local restaurant. All the money that you spend there goes straight back into the program. Very neat. The food was quite amazing. I had a pork, vegetables and noodle bowl, but it had a very unique flavor. I also had amazing passion fruit juice and chocolate tart with chili creme sauce.
In the afternoon, we all went to see a water puppet show. It really is a puppet show on water. Apparently it was started because they used to do puppet shows in the village. The fields were flooded once but they still wanted to do the the puppet show. They must have liked in more in water, because it is now a Vietnamese tradition. It was a fun experience (and it only cost $1.25). It was accompanied by live music and singing and sometimes they let of firecrackers in the water.
I had my first fearful experience of Vietnam today…
Today we went to the “Hanoi Hilton” or Ho Loa Prison ($0.30 to get in). It was built by the French in the 1890s (the French and Chinese have colonized Vietnam for most of its history). In 1945, when Vietnam gained independence, they took it over. It then became a POW camp during the American-Vietnam war, which is where the American’s nicknamed it the Hanoi Hilton. It was very creepy and the air was stifiling. It was interestingly portrayed though. It had detailed accounts, photos, and objects of torture of the Vietnamese revolutionaries by the French. However, the photos and information about the American POWs showed pictures of Christmas trees and feasts, pool playing, routine medical check ups and basketball. They are pictures of famous prisoners (including McCain). They had what they claim is McCain’s uniform and gun, although he says that it is not his. He also claimed to be abused there, but the Vietnamese said that they showed the utmost respect for all POWS. No matter how they were treated, it was awfully depressing to spend 2 hours there.
After that, we tried to get a little enlightenment and walked to the Temple of Literature ($0.15 to get in). It is Vietnam’s oldest university and it has been around since the 1000s (I think). It has huge statues of Confucious and other important Eastern scholars. It was a nice relaxing break from the mayhem of the city a chance to attempt to cool down. It was 95 degrees today with 91% humidity. I have never been so sweaty in my life. Thankfully, after all of that, we went to a local’s bar where the beers were about $0.40 for a pint. Just to beat the heat for a moment made it the most delicious beer I have ever had.
We’re on to Hue (pronounced Hway) tonight (a 12 hour train ride). It should be even hotter (95 with 60% humidity), but it is supposed to be beautiful and more relaxed than this crazy city.