It’s been a busy couple days in Hanoi. Yesterday I was too tired to write a blog. So this one will be a bit longer, for both days.
Yesterday morning we started the day by going on a walking tour of the city. This was good for helping us figure out where things were in relation to one another. We’ve had an easier time navigating our way through the streets here, perhaps partly because of our tour, but also because the streets here are aligned a bit more on a grid. Traffic is still very heavy and busy here but there are more cars (and less scooters) so it’s not quite as crazy. We found this t-shirt while we were shopping and it pretty sums up traffic here – hopefully the picture come through ok.
Vietnam Traffic Light Laws – Green: I can go. Yellow: I can go. Red: I still can go.
After our walking tour, we had a visit to the Museum of Ethnology, which is considered the most modern museum in Vietnam. The museum highlights the 54 officially recognized ethnic groups throughout the country. It was helpful to learn about the Vietnamese and the other ethnicities throughout the country, to better understand the culture here.
We made a visit to the Presidential Palace grounds where Ho Chi Minh lived and presided while he was alive. On the same park grounds is the memorial/mausoleum where he is embalmed. So we took a trip and visited the individual considered by most Vietnamese to be the most prolific and inspiring leader in their country’s history. His body lies in a glass case with dim lights. Lines of visitors, including visiting foreign dignitaries, pay their respects at the mausoleum every day.
Rules regarding dress and behavior are strictly enforced by guards. Legs must be covered, visitors must be silent, and walk in two lines. Hands must not be in pockets, nor arms crossed. Smoking, drinking, eating, photography, and video taping are also not permitted anywhere inside the mausoleum.
Next up was a visit to the water puppet theatre, which is a very popular theatre form here (each theatre tells a different story/tale). Traditional legends and historical tales are very commonly told. Today’s Vietnamese water puppetry is a unique variation on the ancient Asian puppet tradition. The puppets are made out of wood and then lacquered. The shows are performed in a waist-deep pool. A large rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the puppeteers, who are normally hidden behind a screen, to control them. Thus the puppets appear to be moving over the water. When the rice fields would flood, the villagers would entertain each other using this form of puppet play.
The rest of the evening was ours to do some shopping…. and it’s very distinctly different here, than in the South. We found a great silk store and bought a couple dresses along with some other souvenirs!
Today was a business day so we made 3 different visits. First, we went to a foster home and learned about how this organization supports families and girls in Vietnam. We didn’t meet any of the girls, but instead listened to the director who told us how she and her Dad set up this organization together, 10 years ago. Next we went to an organization called KOTO (which stands for “Know One, Teach One). It’s is a 2 year cooking/hospitality program that aims to give disadvantaged youth the possibility to learn and strive for excellence in their lives. After talking with organizers/teachers there, and meeting with some students, we then ate lunch at their restaurant… SO good! Finally, we went to a local high school who were having a business fair/fun day, which was such a cool thing to watch and take in.
We visited the Temple of Literature. This is considered to be Vietnam’s first national university, and was built in 1070, making it older than Oxford University. The various pavilions, halls, statues and stelae of doctors are places where offering ceremonies, study sessions and the strict exams of the Dai Viet took place.
The rest of our afternoon was personalized for our interests so a group of us wandered around and did a bit more shopping. I bought 3 custom painted pictures for my kitchen for a bargain $18 (total). We went stopped for a foot spa package and were treated to a 2 hour treatment including a 45min. foot/leg massage, paraffin wax treatment and pedicure for the bargain price of $20. I love this place!
We had a final group dinner before a couple people head home early. The rest of us are off to Ha Long Bay tomorrow, which could very well be the highlight of our trip. We are spending the night sleeping on a junk boat, like the one in the picture below, so we’ll be out internet range until we are at an airport on the way home… so I’m not sure when my final blogs will appear. It’s crazy to think this trip is almost over…. will see you soon! =)