Hello from Hanoi! This city has amazing character and I’m sad we only have about five days to explore it. It’s got that dyed-in-the-wool feel to it, like New York does, where every person and street and shop is imbued with the unique essence of the city. The first place we stayed was in the market section of the Old Quarter, where the twisty, confusing streets are packed with people selling all manner of groceries such as vegetables, live chickens and fish, fresh bread, etc. On our first morning we ate breakfast at a corner café and watched a guy slit a chicken’s throat, bleed it out, and defeather it by dunking it in hot water which he poured into a basin from big thermoses. The first place we stayed was where the tout from our incoming bus brought us (sometimes it’s easier just to submit to these things—less stress and a free taxi ride into town), and we decided to move since it was quite crusty and incredibly noisy early in the morning. So this morning we put our packs on and hiked to another section of the Old Quarter, to a recommended hotel.
In the alley where our hotel is, several cooks are frying up something that looks like crinkle-cut french fries and sausages. Oh you know we jumped for joy when we saw this. When we sat down to eat at one, we learned two things: A. the french fries are not made of potatoes, but yams (OMG OMG) and B. the sausage things are unidentifiable, but delicious. They made me think of a spongy fried tofu, until I started picking out bits of gristle. So, who knows what it is, but it did come with a delicious spicy sauce for dipping.
We have a couple of missions here in Hanoi, besides walking around and drinking Vietnamese iced coffee (ca phe sua da, with a bunch of accent marks I don’t know how to produce yet), stopping for bowls of soup, and playing rummy at Bia Hoi (a fresh, local beer that costs about 25 cents/glass) outlets. Our certification class in Ho Chi Minh City starts up a week from today. Teachers in Vietnam are expected to be very well-dressed (shirt and tie for men, nice skirts/dresses/suits for women), and we are expected to dress the part during our class. So, my point is, we have to go buy some nice clothes. Said clothes must cover my tattoos, and preferably not cause me to die of heat exhaustion. And they also must not be expensive, and they must not be the flowy, vaguely “ethnic-looking” clothes that I’d describe as Tourist Garb. I’m going to ask the hotel receptionist where the locals shop and go there tomorrow.
Mission #2 is visa extensions, which I’m hoping won’t be a nightmare. Our visas expire on Sunday, we fly to Saigon on Saturday, and the lady at the hotel desk has assured me she’ll have them ready by the time we leave. The visas are expensive; we already paid dearly to get them quickly before we left Bangkok, and now we are paying another $20 each to extend them for only a month. Once we have jobs we will get work visas, thankfully.
On our minds now is the proximity of the school starting date. We have some extensive pre-course work to finish before we get there, and we are trying to get ready for the intensity of a 4-week, 120-hour course of study that needs to prepare us for a brand new career. According to the school, the course is so rigorous that many people find it the most demanding part of their entire education. You’re at school from about 8:30-6:30, with about 3-4 nightly hours’ worth of at-home lesson preparation. So needless to say, we’re not planning on doing much other than eat, sleep and study for the month of March.
We’ve got some new pics in the photostream now, and I’m working on getting the Flickr stuff organized so you don’t have to go through all the old pictures to see the new ones, and also tagged so you’ll know what you’re looking at. It’s a lot of work! As of right now, the pics in the photostream are of our vacation in Thailand, including Ko Jum, Ko Lanta, and Bangkok, and Tet in Hoi An. I have lots more to put up, and I’ve already exceeded my Flickr account monthly allotment!