Pho and other delicacies

In the evening one of our Vietnamese participants in the recent Tanzania meeting invited us over to a restaurant near our lodgings. We had an assortment of fresh and fried nems and two delicious variations on the green papaya salad that is popular all over the region.

We bombarded her with questions that we hadn’t been able to ask anyone before,  about the war(s), about the co-existence of communism with religion and the kind of capitalism that is making Vietnam the fastest growing economy in the region. We asked the same question to our cruise guide later and the answers were the same: we are like that – religion, ancestor worship, temple offerings are part of who we are. Entrepreneurship, from small trade to bigger trade,  is what we do to stay alive. You can’t just give any of it up. The USSR and China tried to banish these things too but it never quite worked, the practices simply go underground. People keep praying and keep looking for ways to better their lives and that of their children. I think it is in our genes.

The next morning our host knocked on the door to say goodbye. He was on his way to dancing class in the park. Later we drove by the park and saw hundreds of people practicing classic couple dancing and massive line dancing with complete sound installations to provide the music. There were also people doing exercises with bright red paraols, praticing Tai Chi and Qi Gong, playing tennis, badminton and more; all this very early in the morning, just like we witnessed in China years ago.

The travel agent that we finally selected out of hundreds from Trip Advisor picked us up at 7:15AM on Sunday morning, just when we returned from another wonderful pho breakfast across the street. We are the only foreigners in our neighborhood (right next to the old French quarters). This is kind of nice. It is a little quieter and less focused on tourists we discovered when we walked through the old town. At the pho shops the locals were helpful in giving what they thought we wanted and what we thought they recommended.

We joined 13 other people, twosomes from Belgium, Germany, England, Canada and France and a young girl from Germany on a solo trip of 3 months through Southeast Asia. We picked up everyone at their hotels. The driver of our small bus managed expertly the tiny streets and sharp corners of old town Hanoi.

The drive to Ha Long Bay took about 3 hours with a pit stop in the middle, predictably, at an enormous souvenir complex. We had strong Vietnamese coffee which we are starting to like despite the super sugar-charged condensed milk at the bottom.

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