Sunday, January 25, 2009

Misc Blog Wrap-up Nonsense

My first day in Saigon (one of the nicest days of my life):
  • Arrive at the train station at 5am after two nights on the sleeper train with my two favourite Americans Sarah and Mitchell. Slightly hungover.
  • Checking into this hotel. Which is tacky and hilarious, including a GIANT poster of Mount Fuji on my wall. As in, it takes up a whole wall.
  • Breakfasting with and bidding farewell to my Americans, who were on route to Cambodia (this part wasn't nice, it sucked).
  • Getting a Xe Om to the War Remnants Museum - previously known as the American War Crimes Museum, and still definitely on that path. It was horrifying, of course, but for a politics nerd like me - highly enjoyable (I hope you don't think this is sick).
  • A walk through an amazing food market and the best Pho (noodle soup) of my life.
  • An intense shampoo and facial massage at a hairdressers. It took for years (yay!) and I was sure they were going to charge me more than the standard. They didn't, so I tipped.
  • A nap at home to the soothing sounds of CNN.
  • Evening: watching 'In Bruges' (a dumb but fun action/ comedy) in a luxury movie lounge attached to a coffee house, while drinking 'hot vanilla'.
Other awesome things lately:
  • Watching Obama be inaugurated in a fancy bar atop a hideous building in Hanoi. Having various drunken epiphanies while this was going on and writing some of them (in fluro-yellow) in my moleskin. One example: "I see Republicans have just caught on to Pashmina."
  • Walking through Hanoi thinking "fuck!fuck!fuck!" and "what is wrong with the Hanoians?! Why are they so mean all the time?!" and trying to cross the -impossible- road, when a dear old Hanoian lady softly holds my arm and guides me through the traffic, laughing and smiling at me. What a jerk (me, obviously).
  • Getting a letter from my darling Opa (grandfather) telling me that of all the letters he received for Christmas, mine made him the happiest (asking to live with him). Also in the envelope was 15 Euro for the train to his house, so I don't need to change my money right away. For that, he deserves a large home-baked cheesecake.

NB: In case this blog is giving the wrong impression, I actually love Hanoi and the people who call it home. It's just a very difficult place and on some days it drove me insane (ask any expat in Hanoi, they all have - "I don't like Vietnam" - days). Truly, Hanoi is stupendously beautiful and the Hanoians who are not involved in the tourism industry are honest (almost to a fault), loyal and generous. And wildly, wildly forgiving - considering what the West was up to in Vietnam only 30 years ago.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Things that are Sad.

Tonight is my last night in Hanoi and of course, I'm feeling attached and weird, and like maybe I could get along better with Hanoi if I tried. Maybe if I had a bit more patience, and if I walked around more at night when there's no one else and I could just look at the falling-apart French balconies, and the dimly-lit shuttered streets, without distraction.

I like how people put everything on their motorbikes, including: a TALL potted palm tree (this looked incredibly dangerous), 7 huge boxes of vitamin C and lately: lots of mandarin trees, in their pots. You know how we have Christmas trees in the West? Well, it turns out that totally sucks because here in Vietnam for New Years people get MANDARIN trees, with real mandarins on them, in a pot.
I feel really like crying when I think about these last seven months in Asia. I don't know. I feel like I understand a lot less than I (thought) I did before I left Dunedin.

Here's something I've been thinking anyway: Westerners (myself included) get really pissed off about constantly being ripped off by the Vietnamese - especially motorbike drivers, guest house owners and tour guides. In the case of the Xe Om (motorbike), often the amount isn't much - like maybe an extra $2 or so and the Westerner, myself included, will say: "But it's about the principle."

But then I've been thinking, that actually it's a huge luxury to think of money in terms of principle and not in terms of necessity - not in terms of providing something you physically need, like food. So, then if you had a case where one person was annoyed at getting ripped off on principle and the other gained something they needed, then you could maybe argue that the action was justified.

The difficulty in Hanoi is that poverty isn't at the base need level - we're not talking about food, clean water or education, at least not in most cases. Hanoi is quite rich. But: in the case of Xe Om drivers, and other 'working class' people, we are talking about: topping up cellphones, paying bills, getting a beer with your friends, providing guests with special treats, presents for your family for Tet, mandarin trees ...

All of these things can seem quite frivolous, and luxurious, when compared to the basic physical needs, but in a sense they are social needs, which is much more murky ground. In Vietnam, the ability to lavish gifts and treats on guests is highly important if you want to have friends and a social life of any kind. You need to buy presents for your family at Tet - just like it would be humiliating and awful for a family in New Zealand to not buy anything for their children at Christmas. So basically what we're dealing with is good old-fashioned 'lower-class', 'working class' poverty, which doesn't have the pornographic poverty appeal of a World Vision ad, but it's still important.

But then the question is: does this Xe Om driver's need to buy his little girl a Barbie for Tet justify him ripping me off?

Most days I would still say no, but tonight is my last night in Hanoi and I'm feeling especially generous...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Warm Fuzzies

image: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Hanoi's Old Quarter.

Two things which make me all warm and fuzzy lately:

Independent Fashion Designers: If you don't know, I am (theoretically) really opposed to sweat shops, although this opposition is somewhat difficult to put into practice in South-East Asia, where the sweat shop should really be on the national flags of: Thailand, Vietnam and China (especially China, of course). Lucky for me, there is a growing sense of "buy local" happening right here in Hanoi, where the products are beautiful and high quality and the woman who sewed it is right in front of you, chatting away on her cell-phone, twirling her curled hair through her fingers. If she has the expendable income to get her hair permed, that's good enough for me. And she is usually a fashion/ business student who will say something like "are you a member of the women's business club?" and then give me a discount, because I live in Hanoi and work, as a woman. Haha. Great! Needless to say, I have been supporting this 'cause' heavily, in preparation for my move to Germany.

Kittens: I don't really need to explain this one, since everyone (nice) loves kittens, even people who are allergic can't help it. But anyway: yesterday morning was shit. I am staying in a cheap, dodgy hotel currently where there was no hot water (it is really cold here at the moment), there was a screaming match between some Australians and the reception, breakfast was awful and over-priced and they had misplaced my laundry (they found it, sans my favourite leggings and covered in white paint... ?!). So I trudged downstairs in a foul mood when who should run into my path but a TINY black and white kitten! (It was so small it could have fit into my hand). Now, most kittens here are scared of humans (with good reason) but this one ran right up to me, crawled onto me and started purring. Suddenly, I was in a wonderful mood and could easily forget the trials of the morning - and even thanked the reception for all of their help.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why My Blog Sucks: in bullet points

  • I am a naturally negative person: negativity doesn't sell as well as cuteness, talent, positivity or beauty.
  • My camera was stolen. I lack images.
  • I keep using my stolen camera as an excuse for sucking.
  • I still will after this, just so you know.
  • Hanoi has become 1. familiar. 2. annoying. 3. comfy. I forget what stuff is weird and interesting.
  • The stuff I do notice would lend itself better to being photographed.
  • Back to square 2.
  • I don't have any news, except: I am moving to Germany on the 27th of January. This year. In like three weeks. Weeee!!! (Had you there, thought this blog was just a big whine with no news).