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|Essays · Travelogs · Poetry · Comedy · Art · Digifilm||spring 2007|
Hanoi, 31 March, 1996,
I've given up on my vow never to ride in a cyclo; it'd be just too impractical. A cyclo driver who reminded me of a Vietnamese guy I knew in DC (who taught me Roller-Blading) took me to the train station and back; wanted US $20! That's about ten times the going rate for that trip. Then he tried $10.00. I offered $5 and he wouldn't accept it. He wanted to take my $20 bill to a liquor store to "get change." Then his friend offered to do it. I told them I'd get change at my hotel, which was just half a block away. He would have nothing of that! I went anyway. I must've looked much stupider than I actually am. At the hotel desk I made change and found out that the going rate for the cyclo trip I'd just taken. When I told the receptionist that a cyclo driver wanted $10.00, she was shocked: "That's 100,000 dong!" she said in disbelief. When I found my cyclo driver, I offered him 2,500 dong (roughly $2.50) and he refused to accept it. Greedy little fellow so that's all I could do I couldn't force him to take my money, so I went back to my hotel.
The influx of foreign tourists here is so new (only a year or so), that the scam artists haven't gotten their act down-pat yet; in fact, compared to those in Bangkok, these guys are rank amateurs. In a way, that's reassuring.
I slept until late afternoon. My walk outside wasn't nearly so harangue-filled as before. I was so pleased and relieved at not being attacked by hawkers that I actually felt comfortable enough to buy a couple of things. I bought two Vietnam T-shirts, for only US$2.00 each and a dress shirt for US $10.00.
It was chilly, rainy and very damp the two days after I arrived. Today it's warm but still pleasant. The streets are filled with motorcycles and many bikes: I'd say about a 60:40 ratio of motorcycles to bicycles, depending on area of the city. Most buildings are very dirty, and the evidence of heavy U.S. bombing is still visible, though I think it'll be all but gone by the end of the decade. People wake up very, very early in the morning. Before we left for Ha-long Bay, we circled around Hoan Kiem Lake about four times, waiting to pick up travelers, and I got a very good look at the scores of old people organized to do early morning exercises by the lake. Many of them had wooden rods that they used to help them stretch out as portable stereos boomed out an ethereal version of the 1970s American techno-pop hit, "Popcorn."
On the Road to Ha-Long Bay...
I saw many, many small piles of what looked like coal near old, burned-out houses. I'm still not sure whether it was coal or rubble. There were certainly enough mostly destroyed buildings to think it might be rubble piles, still there after 20 years. Also, I saw a number of newly built buildings, all with the year of construction posted in big letters at the top: 1991, 1993, 1995, even a couple of 1996's. We also passed lots of kids who yelled out, "Hello!" and waved. One curious little fellow was simultaneously waving to us with his right hand and with his left, patting his butt, aimed strategically toward the bus.
About Communism, or perhaps, moreso about the 19-year trade embargo, all I can say is, if the U.S. goal was to throw these people into pathetic, inhuman poverty, well, "we" succeeded. After seeing a huge, clunky, Soviet-made tractor/truck-thing popping and gasping along one road in Ha-Long Bay, all I could think was, "Man, these people really picked the wrong team."
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