Hello Hanoi

I’ve got a ways to go before I’m done blogging about Malaysia, but I figured I’d avoid the lag for blog entries here, except I’ve sort of been putting this off. Whoops. I’ve been in Vietnam a few weeks now, and it’s been very interesting. Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and the second largest city in the country. We left Malaysia at an ungodly hour (6am international flights are no fun), and made it here by around noon. We were met at the airport by this month’s professor, Jim McCullough, and taken to the university guest house where we will be staying for the month. As lodgings go, our rooms here in Hanoi are pretty good. There’s only two to a room, and each room gets our own bathroom. And there’s internet if you wander outside. By pacrim standards, this place is fantastic. We’re also staying near the National Economics University, which means we’re surrounded by students. While studying at the university, our school has hired seven program assistants to help us find our way around the city and to help us with our projects. These are Vietnamese students who are currently learning English, and they’ve all been very helpful. The vegetarians on the trip are especially glad to have them, since they now each have a name tag that reads, “My name is ____, could you please cook me a meal without meat?”

Eating pho (pronounced fuh) at our favorite stall

This month we are studying international business and marketing. So far I like the course, though the professor expects a bit more of me than the other students since I’m the only business major on the trip. Once I explained to him that the only business courses I’ve taken are accounting and finance he seemed a bit disappointed, but oh well. This is the first time on pacrim we’ve had a real classroom, and it feels pretty good. Not that monasteries and park auditoriums aren’t great, but I feel more like I’m really in school now. Our main project for the class is to go out in groups and assess a type of business here in Hanoi. My group is looking at fashion retailers, which is pretty fun. We’ve interviewed the owners of a skateshop and a store that sells businesswear for women in their 20s, and it’s all been interesting.

Out for lunch with our professor, Jim

My favorite thing about the past few weeks has been that I’m getting to know Hanoi, since we’re in the same place for more than a week at a time. It’s a crazy city, and I’m really liking it. The traffic is unbelievable, and there are people everywhere, but the busy atmosphere is nice and the people have all been very friendly. Crossing the street was a bit of a challenge at first, but we’ve all learned to just set your eyes on the target and the motorbikes will weave around you. The city is still developing, and infrastructure hasn’t caught up to the population yet. There are thousands of motorbikes here, and a few cars, but all crammed into tiny streets. It’s kind of like Mongolia in the respect that the roads haven’t caught up to the drivers, but bikes have an easier time maneuvering. You also see some really interesting cargo being lugged on the backs of the bikes. I’ve seen everything from piping to bird cages (full of birds), to a full slaughtered pig slung on the back of a bike. It’s certainly different from home.

Hoan Kiem Lake at night

One of my favorite places in the city is the Old Quarter, around Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s the more touristy part of the city, but it’s also really lively and fun. There are tons of shops, tailors, restaurants and people around. I’ve been doing a fair amount of shopping, so it’s great! On the weekends there’s a night market at the lake, from 7pm to 5am. They block of several blocks of a main street and set up tons of stalls for shirts, shoes, jewelry, toys, and whatever else you can think of. It’s a lot of fun, and I’ve been improving my bargaining skills. It’s funny how each country has a different method for bargaining. In Mongolia you could ask for whatever you wanted, but they didn’t really care and would only argue to a point. In China you could ask whatever, and they would fight with you to the last, but ultimately you can probably get a little over half of what they ask for. A lot of the time here there’s an etiquette involved that I’m still trying to figure out. If you ask for too low a price the seller is offended, and often they refuse to even bargain back. I’ve wandered into several stalls where the salespeople don’t even look at me, and they honestly don’t seem to care if I buy anything.

Pagoda on West Lake

A while ago all of the pacrimmers were invited to a Halloween party put on by the university we’re studying with. We all got as dressed up as we possibly could and headed out. Turns out, Halloween isn’t as big a deal here as it is at home, and the party was more of a prom. So we show up and most of the people are in formal wear, with a facepainting booth downstairs to add a bit of the Halloween spirit. Once we got past the awkwardness, it was actually a ton of fun, and everyone wanted pictures with us. I dressed up as “Miss Universe,” but the joke was lost on most of the Vietnamese students, who all thought I was either a fairy or a princess. Two guys thought I was looking for prince charming, and they each dropped to one knee in proposal. I was quite flattered, though sadly they didn’t seem to want more than a picture and a laugh.

Luisa and I all dressed up for Halloween (Miss Universe and Captain America)

Soon after Halloween my aunt Cindy came to visit. We had a lot of fun just wandering around the city, and of course, eating some great food. We ended up going to a restaurant run by the North Korean embassy, which was recommended by a past pacrimmer. The food was excellent, and we were serenaded by North Korean women on a three year courtesy leave. They sang in Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and – quite memorably- they sang Edelweiss in English. Apparently the Korean songs were propaganda, which makes sense. They danced and played instruments while they sang, and in between sets they waited on us. All in all it was a very interesting experience.

North Korean Embassy Restaurant
Luisa and Cindy at the North Korean Embassy restaurant

This past week our business manager, Lisa, and our health coordinator, Aleisha, organized a “girls’ day”. We went to the Metropole hotel and ate a chocolate buffet. It was fantastic. Two hours of all you can eat chocolate in all forms, tiny sandwiches and tasty fruit. I pigged out, and it was definitely worth it. We followed up chocolate with nail painting and chick flick watching, and Lisa ended up cutting a few people’s hair. It made me really want to cut all of my hair off, but I figured I’d play it cool for a while, since I’ve probably had enough crazy hair antics in the past year to last me a while.

Chocolate Buffet!

All in all, Hanoi has been a blast, and I’m sad to be leaving it so soon. Tomorrow Brad is coming to visit, so we should have a fun time. Next week I have two presentations and a final exam to look forward to, but also the dress I’m having made will be ready. It’s all very exciting.

Me, eating ice cream at Hoan Kiem