Friday, November 4, 2016

Various Ramblings About Hanoi

The weather in Hanoi has been phenomenal lately. It gets to high teens C (maybe low 60s F) at night, and low to high 20s (ranging between 70 and 80) during the day. In the last week, it has definitely cooled. It is starting to warm up again, but the trend is cooler. I don't think it gets below 50 F much in Hanoi during the winter, though. It is in the tropics here and there is not a huge temperature swing, though there are definite differences in temperature across the year.

I am taking the bus to school almost every time I go now. I find that if I walk the six kilometers to school, through chaotic traffic all the way, I am too tired and stressed to concentrate on the material as well. So I'll take the bus in, and often I will walk back. There are two buses I can take from Tay Ho to Hoan Kiem. One is the #55, and the other is the #31. It wasn't easy to find out the bus routes. I partially had to do it through trial and error, and some guesswork. But I finally figured out yesterday the way to get back home on the #31. I could have walked home, but I wanted to spend some time figuring out where the damn bus route was. I had had a difficult time with this bus, because apparently they have recently changed the bus route, but many vestigial leftovers of the old route were still left. For example, Google Maps still says that the bus stops are on another street, but they aren't on that street. I had reserved time after my classes on Friday to find a northbound bus stop somewhere, and I had narrowed it down to a few blocks of possibilities. I had tried on several different occasions to take this bus north, but could not find the right stops.

So I headed down to Hoan Kiem Lake and started walking south on the road that is one-way southbound that borders it. After walking a couple of blocks, I finally found a purported bus stop for the #31. So I waited about half an hour, watching other buses come up to the stop, some twice. But no #31. Finally, I see the #31 approaching from the south. I'm finally gonna figure out the northbound route, But, crap, it turns right on the block right before me. So the stop I am at is bogus, they just haven't changed the sign yet. So now I have to find the next (real) stop to the south. I walked a few more blocks down the street (hoping that the bus was continuous on this street, because it could have turned in from any other street) and found another stop for the #31. This one ended up being a real bus stop. The bus picked me up, and took me north. The route going north was completely different from the route going south; it would have been difficult to find this route just trying to walk the streets in the area. When I take the #55, it just goes straight down the Hell Highway (that's just what I call it, due to the prodigious street-crossing skills one needs to cross is actually called Au Co street for the length of my neighborhood; it has several other names as it winds through different parts of the city) both ways, so it was pretty easy to figure out. But the #31 winds through the city down little busy streets. It is a lot slower, but if I take it back, I don't have to make the treacherous street crossing.

In my French class the other day, the teacher was going around asking everybody how long they had been learning French, or from when they started.  The teachers are constantly going around asking people about little bits of info about their lives to engage them in speaking the language.  Everybody was going around saying a few months, maybe one of two said a year.  Geez, I was thinking, I started learning French over 50 years ago (I didn't end up saying that in class, because she stopped asking before she got to me).  For having studied that long, I sure don't have much to show for it.  I mean, I can understand a good amount of it, but I have to get people to speak slowly and/or repeat themselves before I get it.  But, of course, I wasn't studying continuously that time.  I started speaking French with my mother when I was a small child; she spoke French because she was half Quebecoise.  I had a French class in my elementary school in Mexico, and then I studied it for two years in high school.  I placed out of a year for college, and then took another year.  And that was the bulk of my studies, though I have spoken some when I have gone to France and Quebec. But when I went to school in Mexico, my Spanish, which was the third language I had learned, eclipsed my French, which was originally my second language.  I became fluent in Spanish, but not quite so in French.  I finally wanted to take some more classes because I wanted to if I could burst through to relative fluency by studying some more of this language that I hadn't studied in thirty years. At first I spent a few months studying online at Lawless French (which is a great resource for vocabulary and grammar, but I needed more conversational practice).  But then I found out when I was on my way to Vietnam that there were courses I could take in Hanoi at L'Institut Franรงais, so I jumped on that opportunity.  It also gave me the chance to sit for a while in a relatively cheap and interesting place.

Now let me tell you something about Vietnam, this place I am settling in for a short time.  There are a lot of places in the world where everybody will tell you the time has passed to visit such-and-such place.  The place has gotten overdeveloped, it has gotten too touristy and commercial, too expensive, and so on.  That is not the case for Vietnam.  The time to visit Vietnam is NOW. This place is happening, and it is seriously affordable. Of course, some promoters have come in in the last few years and fouled a few pristine spots with commercial trash.  But, for the most part, Vietnam is still a place that hasn't been completely taken over by mega-corporations, and a place where you will have amazingly authentic experiences.

English-speaking travelers can easily find jobs in Vietnam teaching English.  I see tons of listings where they are trying to fill openings for either regular teachers, or subs to take their places, and the credentials required for many teaching jobs are not as stringent as other places, though you will still find many that are strict about credentials, especially in elementary schools or middle/secondary schools.  Usually the jobs start at about $20 an hour and might pay more if you are more credentialed or experienced.  And $20 an hour goes a long way in Vietnam. That is the biggest and easiest-to-find source of jobs for English-speakers, though there are others.  They are constantly looking for foreign-looking models here, or people to be on television or in films. Also there are a few Western bartenders and waiters.  Another source of jobs are the many hostels here; you could probably get a job fairly quickly, but don't expect it to pay anything close to what you would make in the West, though you could live decently in Hanoi (especially with the free lodging that comes with it).  But a lot of under-30s (you have to be under 30 to do this) go to Australia and/or New Zealand to do their year-long working holiday, where they can make very high wages and save a lot of money, and then go traveling through Asia.

My friend Paul came to visit a couple of days ago.  He has been living in Sa Pa, and I met up with him when I went up there, but now it is getting cold in the mountains there so he is heading south.  We met up near the lake and I took him to a secret little speakeasy bar tucked behind another business; one where you have to know someone to even know where the place is.  It's a little place with a secret stone stairwell tucked into the wall leading up to it.  I don't even know that it has a name. There are always a bunch of bohemian/hippie folks that hang out there, both local and tourist, and sometimes there are folks in there painting murals on the walls, or playing acoustic guitar. We met up with some folks from the UK and ended up hanging out with them for a good portion of the night.  We had a good time hanging out there, and then Paul moved on to the next stage of his journey.


  1. Bali is another space not yet tarnished by tourism. $1=$10 there. The people are kind and friendly. Maybe you've already been there and I missed that posting period. But I highly recommend

  2. The guy two months in the country introduces it to the guy two years in the country. That works. I enjoyed that evening. I'm in Bangkok now on perhaps my sixth visit. I can't wait till you introduce me to it!

  3. Man, you are really making me think about Vietnam. What a fantastic entry.