VIETNAM – HANOI

We arrived in the Old Quarter of Hanoi at about 2 am.  I had a two bedroom AirBNB rented and was so excited about the space, including the washer and dryer we would have for the next four days.  Our taxi driver dropped us off in a dark alley and we followed the instructions carefully to get to the unit.  Once we found it, we opened the gate to a dark hallway, covered in electrical wires and dirt.  We walked for about 10 meters and found four very large flights of stairs, covered in grime.  I was not about to crawl up them.  Tony and Amelia went up, fiddled with the lock, and when they walked in, a giant cockroach went crawling across the floor and disappeared under the bed.  They didn’t know that I could hear them, so before they even got back down the stairs, I was Googling nearby hotels.

So here we are at 2 am, walking the dark streets of Hanoi, looking for a hotel that had vacancy for three.  We weren’t picky at this point, we just want three beds for the night, without large rodents.  We would find a better place in the morning.  Across from the AirBNB there was a hotel that Tony went into.  He asked for a room for three and the gentleman smiled and gave a good solid head nod.  Tony didn’t think much of it until he asked how long he needed the room.  When Tony said one night, the employee shook his head no and handed him an hourly menu.  That’s right – Tony almost booked an hourly love motel for his girlfriend and mother-in-law.  If you don’t know what a love motel is, they are hotels that are rented by the hour for couples to frequent when they…’want to have some fun.’

We ended up walking a few blocks, and around our third stop, we found an excellent hotel that had two rooms open.  We grabbed them up and each slept for a solid 10 hours before we woke to explore Hanoi.  We ended up staying at the same hotel – New Vision Palace, quite fitting given that it was a new vision compared to the AirBNB – for the rest of our stay in Hanoi.  They did run out of rooms though so we crammed into one, all three of us.  It might seem odd, and we discussed how strange others might think it is, but I pointed out that Law (our guide from the previous day) lived in a room the same size with four people, none of which were family or romantic partners.  As the saying goes, when in Rome (or Hanoi?)…

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The traffic in Hanoi, and most of Vietnam, is something like I’ve never experienced.  There’s a motto that “there are no rules” and I think that explains it perfectly.  The sidewalks are covered with vendors and parked motorbikes, so the only option is to walk on the street.  In a city with a population of 9 million people and 6 million motorbikes, it’s complete chaos.  When you want to cross the street, you simply start walking, putting your hand out to signal that you are making your way.  Oddly enough, the scooters and cars manage to navigate around pedestrians seamlessly.  It all seemed so easy after doing it a few times.  Near the end of our trip, I did a quick Google search – roughly 14,000 people die each year because of the traffic in Vietnam.  Turns out it might not be so seamless.

Since it was noon by the time we got started with our day, we rushed around to find a custom tailor.  Bespoke clothing is a big deal in Vietnam, and very cheap.  Think about or look at the tag on your shirt to see where it was made.  We only had four days in Hanoi, so finding someone that could finish our clothes in just a few days also created an extra challenge.  We did find a woman who was able to complete a suit and two jackets for Tony, and two dresses and a shirt for Amelia and me.  All in less than 36 hours and fit perfectly to our bodies.  Quite impressive.

There is a spa in Hanoi that is centered around providing opportunities for the visually impaired.  As I mentioned in my previous blog, there are very limited resources available for those with special needs in Vietnam, so this was quite an impressive organization.  In fact, the woman running Omamari Spas has won a few national awards.  I chose a 60 minute back and neck massage; the total cost was $12.93 and tips are not permitted (to prevent any sort of prostitution).  I had been struggling with the trip up to this point, having $40 taken from me and a crew of airline employees treating me with disrespect.  On almost all of my trips, I have a breakdown where I become so frustrated with the lack of accessibility and inability to do things on my own.  Other countries just don’t have the regulations or resources in place for the disabled.  I don’t think I expected this on the third day of our trip.

I laid on the massage table, waiting on the masseuse to come in.  My eyes were watery…so much frustration and so much cultural stimulation.  I watched the young Vietnamese man come in and feel his way around the table.  He touched my leg carefully, not wanting to hurt me but also not able to see my reactions.  I knew at that moment that his life was so much harder than mine.  All of my troubles seemed to go away and a few tears came out of my eyes, thinking about how unfair this world is.  Was his blindness a result of Agent Orange being dumped on the ground years ago?  Was I living in a country that had an ADA policy and provided rights to me, while he fought every day just to have a little bit of freedom and quality of life?  Was my country the same one that gave me the wonderful life I have and gave him the limited and painful life he had?  I suddenly became so angry.  Not at my situation or his situation.  Not at my country or his country.  I was furious with life.  With the inequality.  With the absolute, incredible amount of pain that so many people go through every day.  While my neck was relaxed when I left, I had a huge amount of turmoil inside of me.  I wanted so badly for the Omarari Spa to not exist, because maybe if it didn’t exist, then the blind wouldn’t exist in Vietnam.

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