Round and Round in Cyclos

Breakfast, included at the hotel, was a satisfying omelet, bacon, and a baguette. Baguettes in Vietnam have centers like spider webs. You can see there is something in there, but when you try to pull it out, the consistency is like cotton candy. If you wad it up, you have a teardrops worth of substance in your hand. The coffee is atrocious making me need to seek out better flavored caffeine elsewhere. Ron read in the guide (not Frommer’s mind you) about a place called Baguette and Chocolate, but after twenty minutes of walking up and down the street where it was listed as being, a young man came up to us to see if we needed assistance. The café had moved over a year ago. We found another reasonable looking coffee shop where real coffee was served. We sat in the window seat. Outside the window and across the street was a young cyclo driver, the bicycle kind of transport. The young man waved to us and motioned he would take us around the city. We smiled and tried to ignore him. It was not on the agenda. Finally, he found a willing fare and left us. Before we left the café there was a replacement who offered an hour tour of the city for $8.00 for both of us. We decided to take him up on it, but cyclos are built for two Vietnamese, not two of any non-Asian body types. By contorting like we were playing a game of Twister, with one leg on the red dot and the other leg on the blue dot, we intertwined into the seat and off we went. Our driver started out with the first question they learn in all English lessons throughout the country. “Where are you from?” They could care less about the answer since they never respond to the answer. Case in point, we told him we just arrived from Pluto and he did not stop short and kick us out of our seats. The next question also follows the formula, but still throws me. “How old are you?” Again there was no reaction when I said twenty-five and Ron admitted to one hundred and one. Skipping over formalities, the next inquiry is “How many children you have?” Our cumulative total of forty-six did not stir a reaction. Riding in one of these cyclos is very similar to the ride in the House of Horrors. You are riding along, and then suddenly you think you are going to smash into something and the car turns suddenly at the very last moment, causing your heart to beat as fast as tribal drums warning of impending danger. If I had started dying my hair again, I would have been white once again by the end of the ride. Someone should discuss implementing more traffic lights here, but the three that they do have go unnoticed by all anyway, so the lack of them must be to conserve electricity. If someone could create a mechanism making car and motorcycle horns bleat every ten seconds while the motor is running, it would allow all drivers to concentrate on steering, freeing them from having to count to ten to hit the horn manually. Noise never stops and neither does the traffic. Adding to the suspense of our survival, the driver kept bending over to tell us things along the way. First he pointed out the Military Museum explaining in poor English what it was, and then said “You know, boom, boom!” About five minutes later, he was massaging my neck and told me he knew where we could get a good massage and some ‘boom, boom’. We are not sure if the Military Museum is displaying sexual exhibits or if the massage therapists have guns, but we thought it wise to refuse both. The tour was especially delightful when we went around the lake; miraculously the traffic was reduced in the lake area, so we could actually speak to each other without shouting. The placid moment did not last long as we entered the real word soon enough. The clock had run over one hour and we were on the opposite side of the city; we thought of getting out and walking back, but with crossing streets it would have taken at least an hour and years off of our lives. When we were finally able to untangle ourselves in an area that held some familiarity, it was a two hour ride. Suddenly the cost of our indulgence went from $8.00 to $22.00. Okay, it was worth the money. He needed it more than we did, but still I hate being made the fool. Seriously, could have stopped him at one hour; we discussed the added costs and let him continue uninterrupted. As we rode around, we noticed that the shops run in waves. Two blocks will all sell motorcycle seat covers, and then the next two blocks will all be pots and pans. Shoe stores cover the next few blocks. They all segregate according to their offering like they fear keeping the competition out of sight. Astonishingly, they do wear more shoes here than they did in the other cities, where flip-flops or other styles of sandals are worn. When it first caught my attention, I could barely count ten people wearing shoes, but here the statistics are just the opposite. The other key difference here in Hanoi is that restaurants, shops, even the cyclo drivers crave U.S. dollars over their own Dong. In the other cities, we could not convince people to take dollars; we had to have Dong on hand. When we run out of dollars, we will have to plead vendors to accept their own currency. Later when we were walking around, one of the women who looks like they are carrying the scales of justice, but are really carrying fruits or vegetables for sale, stopped me to buy fresh cut pineapple. With the opportunity to pamper ourselves with fresh fruits, it seemed reasonable to spend $1.00 on a pineapple already peeled and cut. She said to me, “Take my picture.” I indulged her by snapping her with her bracing and balancing her heavy load. Ron snapped a couple too. When I said thanks, she said “Okay, 50,000 Dong for the photos.” After a good laugh, I thanked her again saying not in this lifetime because other than a ‘NO’ she would not understand anything I replied with. We wound up buying a nice carry-on type bag that has concealed wheels and a handle for $20.00. Tomorrow it will take it maiden voyage to the Halong Bay excursion. Another Hmong elephant made its way into our life also. There would have been a second Hmong dragon too, but could not find a blue one in the right size. Now that we each have a carry-on bag, might as well make good use of it. Walking around the lake one more time, we walked a bridge to reach a small island. On it is a pagoda called “Where the Turtle Returned the Sword” based on a legend. There is a temple there where the deity looks like Confucius, but the explanation discusses a General in the Armed Forces from the 15t century. People were obviously in prayer at the base of his statue. Restaurants here are definitely more upscale than in Chau Doc and Ho Chi Minh City, implying the costs are higher, but they are more affluent in their décor also. Due to these, the people selling gum, books, water, cigarette lighters, and horses with bobbing heads are not likely to enter and give their spiel while diners are in the process of mastication. One funny sign we have commonly seen restaurant bathrooms states “Do not stand on the toilet”. It is common in less touristy areas to have squat holes in the floor that you stand over. The country folk must not recognize the use of a toilet trying to stand and squat on them. We went to a French/Vietnamese restaurant tonight called Le Cyclo. Each of the chairs were cyclos around a table. Different and interesting, it was one of the most expensive meals we have encountered on our entire trip. Ron had the duck and I had chicken over fried Vietnamese noodles. With two beers, the bill came to a shocking $16.20.