Friday, January 02, 2009


Well, I hate to say it, but Hanoi isn't my favorite place. Not to say it doesn't have its charms; I'm sure they are buried in some political prison somewhere...

No, but seriously, Hanoi was a tough town for both of us, probably me a bit more.

The people of Hanoi aren't especially friendly, but less in a "look down at the ground and ignore you" way, and more in "I'll run you over, take your pocketbook and yell at you while doing it" sort of way. Now that may sound racist--and I sure hope it isn't. It's a prejudice against a certain city culture, a city whose history apparently has done some damage to its civic life. I'm certain that people here are wonderful. I just am also sure (along with many of the Vietnamese, who happily moved away from Hanoi) that this is no paradise.

I've never read such clear warnings in a guide book about the likeliness of getting robbed or scammed. I've never found such confirmation in so many interactions--people following you, getting in your face, trying to run you over, or pushing, cutting, grabbing at you. If you are sitting at an internet terminal in an uncrowded room, a worker will happily lite a cigarette up right over your head while screaming in a nasally accent to someone in the other room, but accidentally facing your ear while screaming. Then he will happily find a place to make the biggest hocking sound you've heard in your life and then spit. If it doesn't hit your shoes, you should consider yourself lucky.

I think in part, this is because Vietnam is very young. 65% of the population is under thirty or thirty five (can't remember at the moment). It sort of feels like a world full of 21 year old boys who might have a high school education, and a culture built entirely around their wants and needs. Almost like a boot camp without the discipline. This is far more pronounced in Hanoi, and I don't know why. It's a rough town, people are always competing for physical or social dominance, and intimidation is part of the name of the game.

I'm sure the history of Hanoi plays a part. Although much of the country was razed to the ground by the "American War" as it is called here, Hanoi remained in tact but highly terrorized. It was tortured under a very oppressive French Colonial rule, and then it was the capital of the communist interlocutor during the American war. Communist political central--imperial torment--overcrowding, young guys, and terrorization during war...these seemed to play a role.

And, the smog. Whoa. Take a look at our photos and you'll wonder if we dropped our camera in a vat of cloud before taking the pictures.

Whatever the case, there were some great experiences here. But on the whole, not our favorite place.

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