Saturday, 27 December 2014

Happy Christmas from Hanoi

I’ve been told that it’s my turn to write a blog entry, but there’s very little to write about as, the nearly 2 weeks we’ve been here, we have done precious little. We’ve cooked, we’ve read, we’ve walked a little and we’ve watched and listened to a lot of BBC programmes through the internet proxy server and we’ve been endlessly entertained by White Cat who, we think, likes us being around and has many ‘mad moments’, running around at top speed chasing her ping pong balls, sliding on her mat and generally being very silly!

The 22nd December 1944 was the day North Vietnamese troops gathered to reclaim their country after the Japanese hurriedly left and before the French reappeared. It was the 70th anniversary and we think there were lots of celebrations, but we kept away
The Presidential Palace in Hanoi
It’s the day after Boxing Day and there are a few things of note, but the one that stands out is the surreal experience of meeting the neighbours three floors down (in room 101!) on Christmas Day. They are Nick and Nick and, Jen and Jody told us before they left, are the people to see if we need anything. We bumped into one of the Nicks (the sensible, older one who goes running with Jody) on the stairs outside his flat one day, had a sensible conversation as he walked into his apartment, then hearing in a loud voice from inside from the other Nick ‘Come inside big boy and make love to me!’. Older Nick apologised, we said goodbye and in he went, so we naturally drew our own conclusions.

A nice bit of art. It's the remains of crashed US aircraft assembled into a piece of sculpture. It's at the Hanoi history museum and made a good half day visit.
Part of the ancient Citadel in Hanoi, dating from the 10th century
It turned out they were the wrong conclusions as, on Christmas Day we had a knock on our door whilst preparing a dinner and met a young South Korean girl with an empty cup in her hand asking if we had any sugar (it really does happen!). She was with the Nicks and a group of friends downstairs, they were preparing lunch and she invited us down later if we wanted. 

I saw this and thought of my daughter Fiona!
A flower garden in Hanoi. In the middle is a snowman!
Later, after we had eaten and washed up there was another knock at the door and in came the Nicks, alcohol in hand, a little inebriated, and they were like a whirlwind. Could they bring their beef joint up and cook in our oven as theirs wasn’t getting up to temperature, so on the oven went again, drinks and more drinks were poured and the conversation just flowed. Older Nick disappeared supposedly to get his beef joint, but never returned and we had a very entertaining conversation with younger Nick who is a ‘no holds barred’ person. It turns out the Nicks are not ‘together’ and in fact the Korean girl is young Nicks girlfriend of a couple of months and he’s still at the ‘can’t keep his hands off her’ stage.

The 22nd December is the 1st November in the Vietnamese calender and, as such is the start of the new lunar month. Here people are at a Buddhist temple, burning fake money as an offering. It was a Monday morning, but very crowded with people worshiping
The entrance to the temple
We were invited down to meet all their guests, there were about 10 of them, so we went down, drank more wine and had a fabulous, but really ‘off the wall’ surreal experience. The whole experience was like a whirlwind and it was really nice to get back up to our apartment to a bit of peace, and for a Skype call to Jackie’s family, Charles, Caroline, Jonathan, Lucy and Pauline.

Later, another knock at the door and it was Nick asking if he could borrow some cutlery, he took about 3 knives and forks which we haven’t got back yet, but I suppose it’s alright, Jen and Jody seem to know them!

Now here's a funny thing. This is a shelf in a supermarket catering for Westerners. In the UK we put security tags on expensive bottles of spirits, so it sets off an alarm if people try to steal them.Here they put them on expensive butter and 'Laughing Cow' cheese spread packs as they are really rare in Vietnam. Can you see the price of 8oz butter? 86,900vnd, that's just under £3. Quite expensive, but they don't seem to use it here and you can't normally buy it. This stuff is imported from Australia. I've bought quite a bit of it for baking cakes!
Jackie finds a cat in a cafe. This one was on heat and was howling for a mate!
The other thing to mention is that in Jackie’s last blog entry she mentioned about the worry we had one night with a fire in a relatively nearby building. It happened on the first Sunday night we were here and the next day we walked past to see blackened, twisted metal being removed by lots of people. It was built on a hill and the building underneath was badly damaged and the buildings either side had sustained slight damage. I didn’t take any photos, which was a bit of a shame as I could have taken one or two a day to show the progress of rebuild. In an unbelievable 7 days the site was cleared and it was completely rebuilt and functioning! New brick pillars were built to support the building on top at road level, a metal frame erected, it was covered in cladding, a new floor and sliding security door, all finished by the following Sunday, 1 week after it was totally destroyed. Now that’s impressive!

Bought Jackie some red roses for Christmas. White Cat wondered what they were!
Preparing Christmas dinner
Boxing Day was a quieter affair, but we did still eat lots, drink lots and had a great Skype conversation with my family in the evening (lunch time for them at home). The connection wasn’t very good and, with 10 of them sitting round the dinner table it was very difficult to hear what was said with everyone talking at once. Had another Skype conversation today with our friend Paul Tooze, Cat and Aaron in Brisbane, Australia and that was a more laid back affair and a great ‘fireside chat’, so thank heavens for Skype and the internet, it has transformed our lives and made travelling so much more enjoyable, allowing us to keep in touch so easily.

Yeah, Christmas dinner!
My trifle, made with Birds custard and very expensive cream!
We’ve been eating and living like Brits, almost no local food has passed our lips, we’ve stuck with our traditional fair, Chicken, roast potatoes, ‘pigs in blankets’, sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce, four different veg, followed by trifle and lots of gin and tonics and red wine. We’ve put radio 2 on from the previous day and watched all sorts of BBC Christmas programmes, including Strictly Come Dancing and the Queens Christmas Day message. A cop-out? No, we don’t think so, we’re getting our feet back on the ground ready for our on-going adventure.

White Cat has a play in her box
White Cat acts like a tart!
It’s also been a useful time to plan where we go next. We’re going to go overland west from here on 5th January, stopping off at a few places in Vietnam before going over the land border into Laos. We get a 30 day visa-on-arrival there and plan on going gradually south and then overland into Cambodia, where we can get another 30 day visa-on-arrival. After that we don’t yet know, but I’ve been reading the Lonely Planet guide on Indonesia and I’m really keen, but you can only get a 30 day visa-on-arrival, non-extendable and it looks like that will be nowhere near enough, so maybe we could get a flight to Darwin in Australia for a bit and then fly back to Indonesia for another 30 days! Don’t know yet, I’ve got to convince Jackie it’s a good idea and within budget! Anyway, it looks like we’ll still be travelling for a while yet.

You probably can't see this too well, but it's a street in the old quarter of Hanoi. One stall is selling Santa suits and further along the road another shop is selling Chinese lanterns. It just takes a bit of 'getting used to'!
White Cat wishes everyone a Merry Christmas!
Happy New Year, it’s Jackie’s turn for the New Year blog entry, just before we head off.

By the way, if anyone’s interested in the history of Vietnam, I’ve read a book of Jen and Jody’s which was very interesting and I’ve written a very brief summary of the historical part which I thought was very interesting. 

Who's this a statue of then? I'm sure you recognise those prominent features anywhere - it's Lenin

1 comment:

  1. White cat seems fun. How romantic to send red Roses Brian! What did Jackie give you? Xx can you beat my 4 slice toaster? Xx