Saturday, October 14, 2006

More on Hanoi and environs; onto Saigon

Perhaps Hanoi is to Vietnam as New York City is to the United States (?) ...that's probably why I feel easy and comfortable here. (That and to some extent I blend in so I get less hassled by touts and cyclo drivers -- that and I have the 'shaking head and waving hand with minimal eye contact' down pat which makes a verbal reply unnecessary (and thus not inviting more hassle.))

No wonder I like Vietnam! Any country whose main post office via vending machine sells beer gets my vote!

Did I mention that the food is perfection?

Water Puppets

The night before, I went to see the famous Vietnamese water puppets theatre. This unique and lively folk art has been performed on rivers, lakes and ponds since the 1100's (wow!). "Children's" entertainment is not my first choice for a night out, and as those of you who know me well know, I LOATHE corny movies, television shows, pulp fiction -- I DESPISE CORNY ANYTHING, all that cliche and contrived sentimentality -- except for a few 'guilty pleasure' songs from my childhood on my ipod (hee hee). Though a bit skeptical, I went on the advice of a friend with my own open mind and heart (how Vietnam makes me feel).

The water puppets did not disappoint. Moreover, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and found the stories and songs more than just amusing, it was moving. The music was all live (with a 5-piece band and 2 vocalists) and beautifully performed. I dislike Chinese opera music and other types of traditional, highly falsetto and vibrato Asian music -- except pansori -- so I wasn't expecting to like the music much -- but, this very stylistic music together with the stories was touching, like the celebration song of boys coming back home from graduation and all their glee, pride and longing for home. Other stories showed awe and respect for nature and other animals with plenty of laughter and poking fun at our own human foibles. Though I did not understand the words, I could feel the stories unfold in the textures of the music.

Perfume Pagoda

Yesterday, I went to the Perfume Pagoda, a collection of Buddhist temples which dates back to the late 17th century, about 70 km outside of Hanoi. As my only outing during my Hanoi stay (I did not have time nor a particular inkling to go to Halong Bay, which is the #1 tourist destination for northern Vietnam), and I'm very, very happy I chose the Perfume Pagoda. One temple is in a cave and requires a 2-hour drive from Hanoi, followed by a river boat ride and a 1-hour hike to the top. The heat and humidity of this end-of-autumn monsoon season added to the fatigue and to the "fun" of it, but the hike was not too hard. I hiked up and took the cable car down which was nice for the views.

The place is lovely and fairly well preserved (a lot of Vietnamese cultural and religious relics were destroyed by the French during the period of colonization). The cave was relatively cool in temperature with beams of sunlight breaking through the haze and calm darkness of the cave. The feeling was quiet and meditative. The other tourists were relatively few, so that added to the serene feeling.

A couple of gals and I went for cocktails (at the City View Restaurant, high on the 5th floor of a building overlooking Hoan Kiem Lake) and (a really delicious) dinner afterward! I was the one who had to call it an early night because my friend insomnia has been visiting of late and the 2-4 hours of sleep each night has begun wearing on me.

Onto Siem Reap

I would not hesitate to stay in Hanoi longer, but tomorrow I have a flight to Ho Chi Minh City. (And if my analogy works, I'm guessing HCM is to Vietnam as Los Angelos is to the U.S.) Yes, this is a little rushed, but I'm doing this so that I can see Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, on this trip. I decided I simply must.


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