Monday, December 15, 2008

Leilana in Wonderland

Today I decided to do the unthinkable - Walk to Work. No, it wasn't world environmental day - I was broke (it costs $2 to get a motorbike taxi) and besides, I wanted to get to know my area better.

Walking is something I did a great deal of back in New Zealand - almost every day I would walk to work and back, and think nothing much of it. This is because of several luxuries we have in New Zealand which make pedestrian life enjoyable, and - possible. Sidewalks, clean air, traffic rules - all of these things serve to make things easier for those who like to go by foot.

In Hanoi, none of the above apply. If there is a 'sidewalk' it is usually used as: a parking space for motorbikes, and a place to set up your stall. In the amazingly rare event of a free sidewalk, everyone will take advantage - including motorbikers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the road. Add to this: the extremely dusty, smelly air (I don't know how, but it's worse than Bangkok) and the cacophony of novelty horns, street stand sellers yelling and tinny remixed Christmas carols and you know why most people don't go for relaxing strolls around the streets of Hanoi.

Finally: you take your life into your hands everytime you cross the road. When I saw Jenna's post about crossing the road in Korea, a petty part of me smirked, because her road looked so much more accessible than mine - given that mine are an almost constant stream of speeding motorbike. How to cross the street in Hanoi: walk out slowly, looking confident and pray the drivers see you and swerve accordingly. Never stop walking, or you will 1. almost get hit, and 2. induce the stares and angry mutterings of the Vietnamese. Even if there is a bus coming at you, keep walking calmly as if you're surrounded by an invisible shield.

The best part (truly) about walking in Hanoi is the insane street system of TINY alleyways. Many of these alleyways are seriously about 1 - 2 m wide, with motorbikes driving up and down, people selling things and the few insane people trying to walk somewhere. The alleyways curve and go in multiple directions, never straight ahead, so absolutely everyone new to Hanoi gets lost at least once. A map is of only limited use, as no map could realistically try to list all of these alleys without becoming uselessly large, so the map only lists the major streets - the ones that actually take you in, and out of these mazes. However, a 'major street' may not be instantly obvious.

For example: refer to my painting here. Watch it fast, because it's really boring as I have no artistic talent to speak of.

As you can see, there is one obvious, brightly lit small road, and one creepy dark alley which goes down the side of a house, and is only about 2 metres wide. In fact (this is based on a real thing which happened to me today) - The brightly lit road leads to someones house and is a dead-end with a scary dog at the end, and the dark alleyway is
the main road.

I'm serious.

This is how, for the first time in my adult life, I got lost in a city - and ended up wandering around weird alleys for about 30 minutes, before popping out very close to where I began. It was actually hilarious (at least for the Vietnamese watching me) and I did end up finding my way through.

I'll see if I can get my time down tomorrow.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What I like: Walruses

I just watched the Arctic Tale, by the same makers as March of the Penguins, a film about animals living in the Arctic. For me this was awesome, since most of my top cutest animals live there - baby polar bears, arctic foxes, arctic owls, beluga whales. While polar bears were the top stars of the film, unsurprisingly since they are awesome, the other stars were the huge, brave and loving Walruses. Much like the Asian elephant, when a baby Walrus is born it is cared for not only by it's Mom, but also by it's 'Aunt' (often not related by blood in the elephants case).

The Aunt's are often more protective than the Mom, and will even go head to head with a polar bear to protect the baby. It's awesome.

Very little was known about Walruses prior to the filming of this movie (which took FIFTEEN YEARS to film) because they live in extremely inaccessible places, and they are quite scary looking. However, the cinematographers were young, enthusiastic dare devils with the patience of Mother Teresa, and waited FOUR YEARS to finally locate and film and Mother and Baby Walrus snuggling in the water.

As an extra treat, here is a beautiful Arctic fox:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'm moving in with ... Jimmy Kimmel!

Iroronically, on the very same day I posted the previous post, finally admitting that I, in fact, lived at the guest house - the guest house informed me I would have to move, as they had family friends coming and need the space. I could move to their second guest house. I felt like bursting into childish tears - but I don't like the second guest house!

I was trying to think of ways around it, and other guest houses which could offer me cable television (this is key) and a largish space for $8/ night, when I ran into my friend Dave and went out to have dinner with him. As usual, I whined to him, this time about my housing dilemma. He said, well you can always come stay at my place?

It transpired that he has a spare room, which he can rent to me for MUCH less than I'm paying now, and his house rules. I really like it. We are the only whiteys in the neighbourhood, so I get to experience celebrity-dom without needing to have a talent, much like the Paris Hilton of Hanoi.

The best part is: Jimmy Kimmel, I mean - Dave. My new roomie, Dave from Denver, looks, acts and jokes exactly like the TV host Jimmy Kimmel.
I said to him, "Hey, have you ever seen Jimmy Kimmel?"
He replied: "He's a handsome guy isn't he?"

Turns out, he has been stopped many times in the states by people who think he's Jimmy Kimmel. In fact, it happened so often he took to letting them believe he was. HA!!

Also, he has cable TV, and a dvd player.

p.s. To any overly eager beavers, and especially nice friends, who rushed right to the post office after my previous blog to send me mail - do not despair! I am very good friends with Lee, who works at the guest house and will get any mail which arrives for me.