Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Love/ Hate Relationship

Not with Anthony, I just love him (awww!!). No, my love/ hate thing, and it swings dramatically, is with HANOI - City of my dreams, city of my nightmares.

First, my top HATES about Hanoi:

1. The 'unofficial curfew'. Ok, unlike in Communist Laos there is not an actual curfew of 11pm, but everything shuts then and if I wander around the dark, calm evening streets of Hanoi for ten minutes too long and get back to the Guest House at 11:10, say, I am greeted with a hmph and a look which says: Leilana, you are a bad, bad person and I can't believe you keep doing this to our poor, suffering family.

2. If you are walking on the footpath, and a motorbike jumps off the road, onto the footpath and you happen to be in the way - the driver gives YOU a dirty look, instead of the more traditional other way around.

3. Racist fellow teachers and travellers.

4. The Xe Om (motorbike drivers) constantly trying to rip me off with ridiculous fares, sometimes three times the proper fare and then looking pissed off when I pull them up on it.

5. The dead animals everywhere. On my street in the morning, there are baskets and baskets of bloody meat - including whole baby chickens.

Next, and more important, my top LOVES about this city:

1. The food, the food, the food. My favourite two things being: Banh Cuon, which is rice paper pancakes with dried, fried onion and dipping sauce. I eat it almost every day. My other favourite is a glass full of tropical fruit salad, with condensed milk, coconut milk and crushed ice. It's honestly the best dessert I have ever had. Also, I eat Mango like every day.

2. The aesthetic of Hanoi. Everything is so gorgeous and lovingly put together. The clothing boutiques are all like Stir and Belle Bird, but cuter and cheaper (ok, some are actually quite expensive). Houses are weird, narrow and tall. I live on the 5th floor and the guest house only has 8 rooms. Ordinary people, like Xe Om drivers and people working at stalls, dress impeccably in crisp, stylish clothes that make me think of Paris at the turn of the century. Old men especially, walk around in tailored pants, shirts, cute cardigans and leather loafers. I WISH I had a camera so bad.

3. The Xe Oms. Ok, most Xe Om drivers are jerks looking to make a grab and get a grope, but I have a few regulars who I LOVE and who (I think) undercharge me. I love whizzing around Hanoi on the back of a motorbike, I feel like the paragon of awesomeness. Especially because I am usually sitting sidesaddle (this takes some skill), with a cute 50s helmet, my little heels and a black minidress. I look AWESOME.

4. The Bia Hoi, and the Bia Hoi corner. Bia Hoi is a local microbrew beer made fresh every-day, it's only like 2-3% but it also costs: NZ 30 cents and is awesome. There are a few places around, but Bia Hoi corner (also known as International Corner) is where they congregate and you can sit and watch the madness.

5. The fact that just by walking up and down this street a hundred times I have somehow changed from "suspicion-inducing foreigner" to something like acquaintance. Now when people see me they laugh and smile, and introduce me to their babies. This is lovely. Also, the Xe Om drivers seem to be getting a clue and offering me more reasonable fares.

NB: Also, my adorable, hilarious, insane little students, especially my weekday ones. They are the cutest, weirdest little people to walk this earth. Today after class, this little boy who is 6 and hearing impaired, came into the staff room (which I don't think he's supposed to) and sat down beside me and silently held my hand for a few minutes, got up, and left.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

You know Vietnam is Communist when...

  1. There are huge statues encouraging work ethic, and also - a ginormous statue of Lenin in a really prominent park. There is also another park called Lenin Park - the biggest park in Hanoi.
  2. A Vietnamese friend says to me, "I really wanted to study politics, I find it really interesting, but I'm not a communist... so..." (he also says this with a mixture of secrecy and pride).
  3. Children are not allowed to draw free-hand incase they are not good at it, and therefore will feel bad. They should only do colouring in.
  4. When they do colouring in the co-teacher tells them what colour everything has to be - the birds should be yellow and red. When a boy colours his birds grey, she yells at him: "Yellow. Yellow and RED. Not Grey!" and taps the paper. Otherwise, she's really lovely and the children love her.
  5. Vietnam Airlines flies direct to: Paris (colonial connections) and Moscow... but not London.
  6. People say: "democracy isn't right for every situation" (I'm not necessarily saying this isn't true, but it's certainly something you hear in authoritarian places).
  7. I'm unsure about handing out the BBC Country Profile about Vietnam in class, because it contains some pretty harsh words about the government and media control.
  8. The 'art world' generally consists of highly impressive copies of Western art. NB: There is a really interesting subversion movement, but it's not widely known or seen.
  9. Ho Chi Minh (the dead body thereof) just got back from being further embalmed in Russia, and it's big local gossip.
  10. I'm unsure about posting this...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hanoi So Far

So, I still don't have a camera. I'm not much closer to having one either, although I do have 'access' to a webcam so I suppose I could attempt to get stills and post myspace webwhore photos of myself, but I don't think that would show my dear readers much about Hanoi, or about anything at all.

I've almost been in Hanoi one month, and I finally got *properly* rid of my kindergarten job. In the first week, I got two part-time jobs: one at a small private kindergarten and one at a large language school. I thought I would prefer the small, private kindergarten. I was wrong. Teaching kindergarten children who don't speak my language is maybe the single most terrifying thing I have done + I love teaching the (mostly) teenagers at the language school corporation with no personality. So, I quit the kindergarten before things got messy and am going full-time at Language Link. Yay!

My living quarters: on the 5th floor of a narrow little Guest House in an alleyway in the Old Quarter. When I say Old Quarter, you are probably imagining some romantic Asia of old - and for once, this is actually what it's like. It's ridiculous, and crazy and fantastic. There are noodle stands everywhere, fruit stalls, ladies in those 'rice field hats' carrying baskets of things for sale, people fixing motorbikes and - this is my most favourite thing about Hanoi - all the old streets have a certain thing they sell on that street. I really love Tin Street, which has a delightful range of cake tins and cookie cutters. Also of note is Rum and Paintings Street, which - while lacking in the Rum department (times HAVE changed) - has the most amazing range of art shops, boutique fashion stores and shops full of the most beautiful home ware I have ever seen (vases, bedding, cushions, sheets, etc). I have become an interior decorating enthusiast overnight.

My room has unpolished wooden board floors, a doorway leading to a little 'balcony' (it's not nice) and most importantly for me - digital television. The Guest House is run by the nicest family in history, and my bestie there (she's my age) is called Lee, has a Californian boyfriend and is hilarious, loud, honest and nothing like any other Vietnamese person I have met. The mother is called Ha, is so beautiful it freaks me out and she dresses like she's going out for a 5 star dinner every day. The father seems to have a somewhat low opinion of me since I always come home after 11pm - just after! and he's still awake - but then does really warm things out of the blue, so I think that's just his way. They have a mother and daughter Chihuahua and a white, fluffy deaf cat they have to keep on a leash. The chihuahua's are both insane, but I'm growing an unexpected fondness for them - probably on account of the absolute ridiculousness they bring out in Ha and her husband.

The other long-termer staying at the Guest House (apart from David, Lee's boyfriend) is Gee, a Vietnamese, American, Dutch portrait photographer. Gee seems to have taken me under his wing and started out as a fairly cynical, gruff character but has (over a few beers) started to tell me of his relationship complications with this Vietnamese woman and how much he loves, and misses, his nieces and nephews in Seattle. Here is an excerpt of conversation with Gee, taking place on my cellphone:
Me: Hello?
Gee: Where are you?
Me: Uh, just around the corner... (I don't want to tell him I'm in an internet cafe; he always hassles me about how much time I spend on the internet)
Gee: Around the corner?! What are you doing?!
Me: Umm... playing on the internet...
Gee: Well, come here, I've made some mango salad. - and he hangs up.

The mango salad was the best thing I've ever had and I made him spend three hours the next day teaching me to make it.

p.s. Yay Obama, and New Zealand - you're on my "dead to me" list (well, fifty percent of you are).