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Hanoi Old Quarter

Vietnam has a long weekend to celebrate the Hung Kings. All I really know about the holiday is that celebrates in ancient dynasty in Vietnam. The dynasty supposedly created the first nation-state in Vietnam 3,000 years ago. So I guess this holiday celebrates Vietnam’s creation myth.

I took advantage of a calm before the storm next week at work, to get away and see a part of Vietnam that has become the newest hot tourist destination: Ninh Binh. It became famous a few years ago because it was one of the filming locations for a King Kong movie.

Ninh Binh really is this pretty, and it isn’t overly touristy (yet).

I flew to Hanoi then connected with a tour service to drive two hours to Ninh Binh. While in Hanoi, I stayed in an Airbnb in Hanoi’s famous “Old Quarter.”

That’s where I stayed

Old wooden staircase dating from the French colonial period. Please don’t say the phrase “fire trap.”

The apartment is tiny. It felt like a trip back in time.

Unfortunately I did not go back in time. I was in a small old apartment made out of wood, in the middle of 21st-century Vietnam. The ground floor is a nightclub that booms music until 1:00 am. The building is on the pedestrian street. At 6:00 am, the middle-aged ladies start their line dancing, playing their music on a big speaker on the street.

I like the Old Quarter. It’s lively and interesting. But now I know that although it’s a nice place to visit, until I can turn off my sense of hearing, I wouldn’t want to live there.

This Guy is Braver than Me

I often saw the “Beijing Bikini” when I was working in China. I don’t know if it has spread to Vietnam, or it originated here. Either way, this guy is rocking the look with confidence.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it!

Speedy Delivery

You never know what you’ll see when out and about in Vietnam.  This looks like a pretty efficient way to deliver a bicycle, even though it doesn’t look completely safe…

 

Isn’t it romantic?

Spotted in a grocery store in Jakarta.

Positive Peer Pressure

This sign is posted in a bathroom stall at work, encouraging people to sit on the toilet, and not treat it like a “squaty potty.”

I’ve seen it before in Asia; it appears often in China, for example, where many bathrooms have stalls with squat toilets as well as stalls with “foreign” toilets. I guess some “country people” (their words, not mine) have never seen a western style toilet, and so treat it like a squat toilet.

That behavior apparently rubs some people the wrong way here in Vietnam. The sign in the bathroom stall was annotated with some additional information:

“Human don’t do this”

Supreme goods

Shut up and take my money.

What kind of day has it been?

That’s the name every Season One finale episode of every Aaron Sorkin television show.

Just now, at the evening “snack” event at my hotel, which was relocated from the lounge level to the first-floor restaurant that seems to have gone out of business, at least temporarily, a hotel employee asked me: “how was your day?”

I really had to think about that question for a minute.

At that point, I was on my third glass of wine. Wine is very expensive in Vietnam, import duties raise the price. So when I get to enjoy a glass of wine that I don’t have to pay for, I take advantage of the chance. In addition, my day had been stressful enough that I really enjoyed taking advantage of the open bottle of wine.

How was my day?

When I was eating breakfast this morning, I was about to leave and go to work. A hotel employee told me that if I didn’t leave right now, I would have to wait another 30 minutes, because of a “security event.” They were going to lock down the restaurant, and prevent anybody from walking into the hotel lobby. The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, happens to be staying in the same hotel as I am. I have been reminded of that fact every time I enter the hotel, when I have to pass through security.

I get a second reminder of that when I return to the hotel every evening, and passed by the armed guards.

I was hoping to surreptitiously film Mr. Kim as he walked through the lobby, so I decided to wait in the restaurant. I even got a nice point of view from the hotel’s restaurant’s entrance. I very stealthily put my cell phone in my suit jacket front pocket, facing out, sort of stealth cam like. I thought I was being pretty clever, but apparently not clever enough for the North Korean security services. I was apparently not stealthy enough. The security guys were on to me, and so they posted a person to stand right in my line of sight, effectively blocking my view. So I got a view of exactly nothing. Oh well.

So after of the drama of waiting around and looking at nothing, I was finally able to leave the hotel, go to the embassy, and start working. During this “VVIP visit,” my job has been to monitor the media coverage of the summit, and compile a daily press summary.

As you can imagine, the press coverage has been pretty chaotic.

How was my day?

I finished my report early this evening, and I emailed it out to people who had already taken off in Air Force One three hours before, meaning that they would not be able to even receive my email until they land in Washington DC in about 12 hours’ time. Nevertheless, it was necessary that I get this report out as soon as possible. To people who will not be able to read that email for 12 hours. If you’re confused by that requirement, welcome to my world.

I was not able to go directly to the hotel after work, because the hotel is still fenced off due to the very special guest who is still checked into the hotel, apparently. All I could say to the taxi driver was: “get as close as you can get.” I walked the rest of the way.

How was my day?

I had to show the guards my hotel room key before they would let me through the gate and into the hotel. Walked past Lea very heavily armed guards, who looked at me with an expression that told me they would be very happy to shoot me, given half a chance.

So after I had managed to get into the hotel, and was past my second glass of wine, well into my third, when the hotel employee asked me: “how was your day?,” it was hard to encapsulate my feelings into a very simple answer. How was my day, indeed? Good question.

So I answered in what I thought was the most direct and honest way. “Strange,” I replied.

To my surprise, the employee seemed to be on the same page. Our respective days, indeed, the last several days, were probably equally indescribable by him, and by all of the people who work in the hotel as well. I have heard that they have been subjected to a lot of very unreasonable and outrageous demands by my temporary roommate. So he seem to understand exactly what I meant. He half-smiled, nodded knowingly, and simply said:

“Embassy?”

That guy totally gets me. Here he is:

My wife commented to me the other day that I was getting exactly what I wanted. I’ve always had a fascination with North Korea. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted my prior post: proximity to North Korea. To my surprise, I’m getting a lot more interaction with North Koreans here in Vietnam than I ever did in China. But now, I think I’m over it. I think I’ve had enough. Beam me up Scotty. This place is weird.

Love is love

Even this kind, I guess…

Post-It Love

I’m not falling for that one

I think I may have said that to someone once, as I invited them to pull my finger.

We all needs a little wisdom

“Needs of Wisdom”