Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Celebrating the arrival of Ms. Pamela Hill in Hanoi

We were both a bit nervous about the arrival of Ms. Hill. We were also really excited and couldn't wait for such a close friend to come and share our adventures. Pamela and Kathy go way back. They trained and swam competitively for the same Weegie swimming club. Apparently, Pamela use to wear what is known as a 'toxic waste lady' because of her swimsuit - one of those uber bright luminous Speedo creations. Don't worry, she has more sense now. I'm not one to talk, I once proudly wore a pair of lemon jeans with an aqua-marine blue top for more than a year. Not a proud moment.

Pamela was greeted at the arrivals lounge by the two of us in matching Vietnamese conical hats with a newly scribbled Scottish flag on the front. We had one for Pamela too. Everyone was giggling and pointing at us. That wasn't making us nervous either, we were quite used to that by now. And then Pamela told the funniest joke I have heard in ages. Dad, you will love this!

Why did the baker have brown hands?

He forgot he was needing a jobby!!! (Hee hee hee hee.)

Team Kathole was temporarily abandoned and Team McHillong formed with due haste.

So, why were nervous, you ask? Well, many people we had talked to told us how much they disliked Hanoi. The people were gruff, too serious and you got ripped off left, right and centre.

After 4 full days in Hanoi, we absolutely LOVED the place. Yes, it is a little bit hard skinned at first, but underneath the people are warm, friendly and possess a very dry, very Glaswegian sense of humour. It is really easy to get ripped off and the taxi drivers are amongst the most scheming, untrustworthy bunch I have met for a while. The meters are generally rigged and they cry like big babies when you scoff at their inflated quotes. But you know what the secret weapon is - BANTER. Good old fashioned Weegie banter, parleyamo Glasgow if you will. At first, Pamela was a wee bit unsure (Kathy and I are extremely battle hardened to the way of the barter by now) but by the end of the 10 days she was strutting her stuff and leaving taxi drivers shivering wrecks by the side of their cars, pleading, no begging, for us to take their taxi!

The Old Quarter of Hanoi is amazing. Life starts at about 5am. People are up eating bowls of delicious Pho Bo for breakfast, playing badmintion, jogging or doing group work outs with swords or table tenns bats next to the lake. The food in Hanoi was unbelievable. Simple, cheap, plentiful and with so much choice. We ate Cha Ca (grilled gish with turmeric), Bun Cha (rice noodles with pork) and the tastiest ribs I've ever tried (oven roasted with chili and garlic salt). Colin, big brother, you would kill for these ribs. The drink was good too. Everytime we stopped for a drink we pulled! We shared a freshly squeezed sugar cane drink (refreshing and clean like fresh pineapple juince, but better!) with a small group of banana sellers taking a break from the market. Pamela's Vietnamese phrasebook came in very handy. When I asked the lady next to me for a dance, it prompted the older grey haired woman across the other side of the room into a flurry of excited language, that I can only guess was some sort of matchmaking marriage proposal. Later that evening at a Bia Hoi bar (incredibly cheap but strong freshly brewed lager) Pamela had great success using the book to impress a gentleman well past his 60th year. After accumulating a total of 16 bia hoi's and a dried squid for me(to replace the lack of a Kebab shop), we left in high spirits, not having a clue what anyone had really said, but friends for life. Mr Diem's "1,2,3 - HANG ON BABY," (in Vietnamese) broke the ice perfectly both times.

We spent some time at Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and at his museum. Sadly, we walked away none the wiser about the man, his past or his achievements. The museum is a truly bizarre place, with large scale exhibits that embody the evils of Colonialism, Capitalism, Fascism etc. Unfortunately, there is very little information and what information there is is poorly displayed and too dense to flick through. Disappointing. Uncle Ho is still hugely revered by many Vietnamese. We learnt nothing.
At the Hanoi Hilton (The old prison) we enjoyed an exhibit of the belongings of a former inmate you may have heard of - one Senator John McCain, who was imprisoned here when his plane was shot dwon during the 'American War.'

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