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|Essays · Travelogs · Poetry · Comedy · Art · Digifilm||spring 2007|
Hanoi: On Arrival, Cont'd
It is a cold, rainy night. On the way into town my driver (typically for this region of the world I am fast beginning to believe) completely ignores solid double yellow lines and seeks to pass every single vehicle he comes upon mostly old, dinosaurlike Soviet-built trucks. We are going much too fast for these wet roads, and the memory of my Petchabun accident is all too recent. I feel for a safety belt there's none. Odd, since it's a very new car. The driver uses the horn as if it were sonar and he, a blind bat. I learn that this use of horn is the Vietnamese way. I had heard that before, even about Chinese drivers, but this was my first experience of it.
When we get into town, the driving gets markedly scarier. We are still careening down wet roads, but now they're populated and narrower. Driver continuously toots horn to open up space to pass, as if to say, "Hey move out of the way if you can't go faster than me Move it! Move it!" What disturbs me most is the winning game of "Chicken" he plays with oncoming motorcyclists. He doesn't even bother slowing down it's completely in their hands whether or not they want to zip out of the way and survive.
What's worse is the pedestrians. I catch myself gasping several times as we just-miss passersby. I want very much to ask him to drive more carefully, to slow down, but I have to keep reminding myself that this is his job, his world; if this is how he drives, it's because that's how it's done here.
After a stupid wrong turn that I asked for, having seen a hotel with what I thought was the name of the one we were heading to, I resign myself to letting him do his job. We arrive at the hotel. The manager insists on keeping my passport and a photocopy of it. This makes me very uncomfortable. I've read about this custom in Lonely Planet, but there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it save for trying to find another hotel. The room is disgusting: warped astro-turf approximately covering the floor, and everything everything is clammy to the touch: the old, filthy, broken air-conditioning unit, the twin beds, all blankets, even the bathroom towels are actually damp.
After a while I realize that I can't sleep there. The last straw is when I think about showering there. I had been so looking forward to a shower to finally rid myself of the rusty metallic smell my body had absorbed on the sleepless, muggy sleeper train from Chiang-Mai to Bangkok.
So I repack my gear and make a go of leaving this place in lieu of a nicer one. Fortunately, the hotel manager is very understanding. It probably helped that I approached him in a very respectful, nice way and gave him $10 (of the total $15 it would have cost to stay the night). I had looked up the word for "wet" and probably mispronounced it in trying to explain why I changed my mind. He is mostly disappointed, but very kindly returns my passport and photocopy and shakes my hand vigorously. He walks me out the door and shows me the bigger hotel next door and also indicates the direction of another nice one.
The new hotel is certainly cleaner and better appointed, but the bedspreads all cloth in the room are just as damp as the first hotel. It's four stories up. I'm all out of breath as I ask the very cute Vietnamese host if all of the hotels are damp like this. He speaks some English but doesn't understand the word "damp." There's a modern Asian style a/c, so I figure that might help to take out some of the excess moisture. That night I use the room's blow-dryer to try to dry my sheets and blankets before turning in.
I notice that my jaw muscles are very sore from storing tension from the arrival ordeal and the harrowing ride in.