We’re expats, NOT tourists!

Well, only a part-time tourist anyway. The title of this post has become something of a catchphrase over the last few weeks. Whether it’s a seller trying to rip you off, xe om drivers offering a lift when you’re only a few streets away from your house, or just the downright snobby backpackers* looking down their nose at you, you’ll probably hear me bemoaning ‘I live here!’ I dished up the dirt on the peaks and troughs of teaching in my last post, so I thought my life outside of the classroom needed some commentary. If you stop reading this because it screams ‘oh yah, gap yah. Bants in ‘Nam,’ I apologise. I’m attempting to shed the Whinging Pom persona and record all the fun stuff, if only for myself. (However, I’m still a Brit, and alas, I can’t make it sound like I’m having too much fun now.)


The Crazy but charming Old Quarter
 

Doesn’t it look pretty?

It’s taken me a while to get round to doing another update, mostly because I’ve been away almost every weekend for the past six weeks or so. I’ll talk about those trips another in a future post, otherwise I’ll never get to the end of this one. I’ve also been ill recently; I think this is partially due to said trips and therefore the lack of sleep (and, if I’m honest, a terrible drinking session in Sa Pa). However, it’s also smoky season here in Hanoi. Yes, this is a thing. When we first saw ‘Hanoi – Smoke’ on weather apps we thought it was a mistranslation of fog. Not so. Apparently, after the rice harvest, the paddy fields are set alight to burn any remains of the rice production. Not so nice. As it stands, the city’s air quality index is pretty shocking, so put bluntly, the air is here is pretty crap at the moment. This explains the headaches, stuffy nose and sore throat I suppose.

Nevertheless we’ve been been making the most of what’s on offer in the capital. Despite the hustle and bustle I was quite taken with Hanoi from the off, but the city has been growing on me with further exploration. West Lake, or Tay Ho as they call it, is a particularly nice area. Myself and Nat were taken out on the back of our friends’ motorbikes just the other night to see it lit up in all its glory. You realise just how limiting taxis are; the view of Hanoi is entirely different whilst you’re out in the open. Going over the bridge and passing all the traffic lights, even if there is a beeping lorry behind you, really is an experience. Initially I was terrified, and I had to subdue the control-freak in me, but a great evening nonetheless. I guess I’m just going to have to get myself a bike…


West Lake

Back to West Lake. It’s the expensive part of town where most expats live. Can’t blame them, it’s lovely to look at both day and night. To get a better view a few of us took a trip one Saturday to have a go on one of the swan pedalos. Most of them looked like they’d seen better days, but we escaped unscathed, (although passing around a selfie stick lead to a few close shaves!) As the lake is enormous, Nat and I decided to just float and chat for the hour as the pedalling is a fair effort, especially on a hot day. It was a quiet retreat away from city chaos. After we’d returned to shore we sat soaking up the sunset and looking over the glistening water. Of course, the tranquility didn’t last: watching Rosie and Tiffany pedalling like mad things with Ben’s boat in tow cracked us up. Turns out the chain on his had broken! Could only have happened to him of course.


We all squeezed in

 

Towed back to shore – hilarious!

Whilst it’s nice to be outside in the sun, sometimes a retreat indoors is a welcome guest, so a group of us took a trip to Vinpearl Land. Apparently it’s South East Asia’s largest indoor water park. It’s inside this rather swanky shopping centre called Royal City. Not really authentic Vietnam – although what constitutes authentic? – but now and then you need a touch of ‘normality’. A particular highlight was the terrifying drop slide. It’s one of those ones where you stand in a cubicle and wait for the floor to drop from under you. We walked up to join the ‘queue’, by which I mean a family of four dithering about because they were too scared to do it. My group also then started mithering too, so I decided to be the alpha female and be done with it (actually I just wanted to be done with it before I talked myself out of it). The best bit was then watching everyone else come out the other end, Ben in particular, mostly because I could hear him screaming all the way down.

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They’ve also got one of those diving boards so, of course, we started bombing off it like complete eejits. I did attempt to dive off it on my third go, but sadly this turned into some sort of forward flip and I almost lost my tankini bottoms in the process. Mr Bean moment indeed. The staff looked less than impressed, but then they looked bored senseless anyway. In true Vietnamese style there were men ‘monitoring’ each ride. By which I mean they slumped on a plastic chair and gestured for us to go without even looking to see if the previous riders had made it to the splash pool. You can forget any of that red-and-green-light business here. At the time, the remains of my health-and-safety consciousness were alarmed, but now I’m rather regretting that we didn’t all try and cram inside to make a train whilst we had the chance. Why not be a rebel eh?

Well, actually, sensible little me did reb it up a bit and managed to get into a World Cup qualifying football match for free. Now, as most people are aware, I’m not a football fan, but it seemed like fun and I was feeling all ‘YOLO’. Nat, Ben and I took a little trip to the stadium in the hope of seeing Vietnam vs Thailand. After getting through three rammed gates without being checked for tickets we found ourselves at the stadium doors, but still with no ticket. After struggling to communicate with the guards at the doors and running around like headless chickens, one policeman finally told us it was ‘sold out’. But all hope was not lost: a man on a banh my stall had a word with this policeman and handed him two bottles of water. Hey presto, we were in! We were decked in Vietnam shirts so perhaps they decided that we were safe allies. Our outfit was later completed by some headbands given to us from some older blokes. The locals seemed pretty happy to have foreigners supporting them.

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Police everywhere! 

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The game was pretty terrible as the Thais won 3-0, with one being an own goal. Nevertheless I enjoyed the experience, and was happy to see that there was none of that hooliganism you get at home. The Vietnamese even clapped when the Thais scored. I’ve never been to a match at home but I don’t imagine that happens often. There was still plenty of drinking of course. One man next to us reeked of beer but was nevertheless friendly and shouted some pleasant (even if indecipherable) things to us throughout the game. He asked for a photo of myself and Ben and made poor Nat take the picture. It was pretty funny, but his drunken gait almost took our heads off in the process. We then enjoyed a banh my feast at half time on the grimy floor, just as a thank you to the guy who got us in. Excellent – something to check off the bucket list, even if it wasn’t on there in the first place.

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Now of course, you’ve got to do the odd cultural thing when you’re out and about. Actually, I won’t lie, I love a good museum. Myself and my house mates took a little trip to the infamous Maison Centrale; Hỏa Lò Prison or ‘Hanoi Hilton’ as it was called in the Vietnam/American War. It did wonders for addressing my virtually non-existent knowledge of Vietnamese history. It was a rather harrowing experience; the walls are still embedded with shattered glass and there is a guillotine placed besides photos of beheaded victims who fought for the independence of Indochina. Rather nasty stuff. We’ve also paid a visit to the Women’s Museum, although our time there was limited no thanks to our taxi. We made the mistake of hopping into an unmarked taxi with some terrible driver who did nothing to dispel any stereotypes of female drivers. After driving round in circles when we were only three streets away, we had to cough up an extortionate 80 000 VND, although the cheeky mare asked us for 100 000 VND! This is one of the downsides of being a foreigner, whether your here for the long term or not. Let’s just say there are two pricing systems, although a few Vietnamese words and letting them know that you’re an English teacher usually helps.

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That said, my annoyance with woman somewhat subsided as we watched a video exhibition at the Woman’s Museum that voiced the stories of a lot of workers in Hanoi who are actually from rural areas but desperately try to make money to send home. If you saw the photo of me decked up in the garb with the bananas in the previous post, you know the sort I’m talking about. They work all hours to send a pittance back home to try to fund their children’s education. Judging by the appalling driving and navigation skills, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find our taxi woman was be one of them. One of many moments when you truly realise how privileged you are.

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One of many traditional costumes worn by ethnic minorities. Love it.

This did make me feel a tad guilty knowing that whilst our fellow city dwellers are struggling to make ends meet, we were blowing money at the Belgian Beer Festival. Living in Hanoi has given me a taste for beer as it’s essentially a soft drink here. (Like father like daughter eh?) Needless to say, some of the stuff we tried at the festival was a tad stronger. This was no cheap evening as it was 100 000 VND per beer, although a woman handed us a load of free vouchers. This was brilliant, until she came back later and asked to have half back as her friends had turned up. Never mind, we still got some Stella and Leffe out of it. This random evening also featured a raffle that took all night. There were five prizes but no one was claiming the Belgian chocolates. It also featured some downright shocking live music. Some local band started off the party, a muffled rendition of ’21 Guns’ with far too much treble. However, the band weren’t alone and others soon started joining in. Some old man (unknowingly) performed a death metal version of ‘Imagine’ which was frankly appalling but hilarious.

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If this post’s title isn’t my most frequently used phrase, then it’s never a dull moment. I don’t think a day goes by when something I can only describe as bonkers happens. I suppose that’s the beauty of travel.
Ta ra for now!

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*We’ve all met one. You only have to laugh too loudly, or heaven forbid, eat something of Western origin to receive a sneer from some of those backpackers. You know the type – just think dreadlock dude in Inbetweeners 2.)

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