The Hassan's

Uncle Ho and
Chairman Mao

World Tour '98


(Read Other First Person Travel Stories)

Continuing from Hanoi

We had a guide for our visit. He was a young man who speaks very good English though his Australian teacher gave him an accent that was most engaging. In discussing his family he said that he lives with his parents and grandparents which is most common here. When he marries his wife will move in with his family. He explained that his grandparents do not know what to make of the "New" Vietnam. These were people who sacrificed so much over the last fifty years to first rid their country of the French and then the Americans, now they find that whole world is coming back to them in a form that they never expected to see. Khoi explained that his grandparents cannot accept his jeans and t-shirts and so much of what the young people here are doing.

The pagodas and temples of the city are very nice but the transformation of a society is most fascinating. There are very few of the classic "propaganda" wall paintings that used to characterize one's picture of Hanoi. The Hanoi Hilton which was a prison first built by the French and later used to house American POWs is now been replaced by the Hanoi Towers - a twenty story luxury apartment, commercial and convention complex. A small piece of the old prison has been left as a reminder but elsewhere in town the Hanoi Hilton Hotel is about to open. Outside of the Army Museum that we visited on our own (the tours don't go there so that no one is offended), there is nothing in the town that relates at all to the "American War" as it is called.

We have had some interesting meals in town. The Lonely Planet Cafe served up great spring rolls, soups and banana and pineapple pancakes - there you get a complete meal for two for a total of $1.85, which included a generous tip. We ate another evening with our guide at "the place" in Hanoi. The Seasons of Hanoi Restaurant took wonderful Vietnamese food and converted it to "Nouvelle Vietnamese" food. Hopefully this is not a trend. Needless to say we'll be going back to the Lonely Planet Cafe tonight and not just because of the cost.

The other "cultural" must in Hanoi was the Water Puppet Theatre. Behind a screen, in a swimming pool, ten people manipulate thirty foot bamboo poles with Puppets on the ends, in a story of fairies, dragons, fishermen and water buffalo. It was amazing, but the fact that only the tourists came to see it made it far less interesting than our trip to the circus.

Tonight we leave on a train to the Northernmost point in Vietnam. This is the border area that until a few years ago was the site of battles between Chinese and Vietnamese troops. It appears that the Chinese still "believe" that Vietnam is an historical part of China and so they periodically try and take it back. Vietnam spends 35% of its GNP on its army and unfortunately that might be necessary given the Chinese's "manifest destiny". Hopefully some day we will not need to belong to any Free Vietnam group.

The train is apt to be pretty rugged as this area is off the beaten paths for the tour groups. The backpackers get in there but not the Abercrombie & Fitch people. No soft berth / air-conditioned compartments, no AC and hard berths - well we'll probably make it through the 13 hour trip - actually might enjoy it.

There is a very good chance that we might be going around the dark side of the moon as far as e-mail is concerned for the next week or so. We have no information on any internet access in that part of Vietnam or into China. Actually we are very unsure we will find any access until we get to Beijing on Oct. 23rd. Kind of suspect that the Chinese government may not have made it very easy to get internet access outside of the large cities. We will definitely get reports out of Beijing.

- LOIS & JOHN

Copyright 1999 Lois and John Hassan

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