Friday, January 27, 2017

Hanoi, Vietnam - some observations

It's great to have a guide like Son, who both knows his stuff and makes it sound interesting. A good guide tries to tell you as much as possible about the places you see, but knows when to take a break and let things sink in.

After a few days, my head was spinning. Pagodas, temples, palaces, Buddha, dragons, snakes, history. France, England, China, the United States, Russia -- everyone who was involved in Vietnam's history, for better and for worse, in recent centuries. With plenty of emphasis on Communism and Ho Chi Minh. I was actually pretty impressed with the latter's world travels before seeking a safe haven in China from whence he spread his ideas of what would be best for his homeland. I had no idea that he had travelled far and wide -- France, the U.S., the U.K., the Soviet Union, China and Thailand -- to study, work, widen his horizons and develop his political views. If you want to know more about Vietnam's history and Ho Chi Minh's part in it, go right ahead. Meanwhile, I'll jot down for you some other bits of info which found their way into my travel notebook:
  • Beer and cigarettes are very cheap in Vietnam. Seems to me like a government ploy to sedate the people. People smoke a lot, everywhere. Except on buses, where it's not allowed.
  • The prevalence of cancer in Vietnam is among the highest in the world. Among the causes are air pollution, water pollution, unsafe food (possibly the result of said pollution) and heavy smoking. The Cancer Hospital in the center of Hanoi is always overcrowded. There was a plan, or at least an intent, to transfer it out of the city, but the local rich residents objected -- it would be too inconvenient for them. So a new hospital is being built out of town, for the poorer population. 
  • Classrooms, too, are hugely overcrowded. The official standard of 35 pupils per classroom is not upheld; not even close. Some have as many as 70 pupils, and 3 teachers. (I can just see my teacher-friends rolling their eyes in dismay.) 
  • If weather turns cold (in Vietnam terms), i.e. under 10 deg C (= 50 deg F), there's no school. Because there's no heating in the classrooms. And because most pupils get to school on their parent's scooter, standing in front, as you can see in my previous blog post, and it's just too darn cold!
  • There's a restriction of 2 children per family in Vietnam.
  • Supermarkets. I could see the entrance to our right, but Son, our guide, turned to a different door on the left. Apparently, you must first deposit your bag/s in the locker room, and carry only your wallet into the actual shop. There's a very prominent sign, in Vietnamese and in English, to that effect next to the real entrance. Phrased in very strict terms (at least the English is.) We had no trouble buying chocolate digestives (sorry, not McVitie's) and tonic water, while Son bought apples.
  • The Temple of Literature -- Vietnam's first university. Isn't that a lovely name for a uni? Imagine my disappointment upon learning that it no longer functions as a university; it's just another pretty location with lots of tourists... 
  • Which doesn't mean it didn't provide for some cute items:

  • And a-propos universities: The government apparently agreed to the existence of a private university so long as it doesn't teach history, law, journalism, media; and does not grant a teaching certificate. Ain't that grand?...
  • The Water-Puppet Show. Definitely one of the weirdest shows I've ever seen.  As you can see, the pics I took aren't much good, but there are plenty of better ones online.

    If you want to listen to some live Vietnamese music and singing, and watch puppets "dance" on the water and act out folk tales, by all means go and see it. 
  • And just for fun:
Michael and Nina with Ho Chi Minh :-)

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting and intelligent stuff.