Saturday, August 15, 2009

Living Hanoi

Celine's best friend has a cousin who lives in Hanoi. He is French and has a Vietnamese wife. She owns a Travel company in the Old Quarter, Oriental Bridge, and we thought it would be good to drop in and say hello. Phuong and her business partner Ly were great. They were friendly, helpful and bubbly. Their French was great and this was the language of discussion – lucky for me my French is close to fluent these days :). After explaining our intentions they suggested a homestead we may be interested in. There was a room in a Vietnamese family's house available not to far from the old quarter. The couple of the house, Mr Tuan and Madame Dzung lives with Mr Tuan's 82 year old mother. The rent was to be paid by the month and we had the option to leave when that month was up or extend. The idea seemed great. We arranged to meet at 3pm that afternoon to look at the room. We had our other mate Cuong from the restaurant asking us to come and look at a room he had found. By day four of our Vietnam adventure even though nothing was concrete we thought things were coming along well.

We wanted to have a look at the other side of the Long Bien Bridge, French designed and bombed heavily during the Vietnam War. The moto taxis took us across the bridge and once over were asking us if we wanted to go back. I think we confused them as to why we wanted to be dropped off here. There didn’t seem like to much to do or see on the main street we walked. There were a few street kitchens and the rest was residential. It was nice and quiet and I could see the attraction to live over here. Celine was feeling unwell with heartburn so thought it best to head back. The only problem with that was our combined cash was sitting at a measly 2000 Dong or 15 cents. Walking it was to be which I hear is great for heartburn.

We went to check out our possible room. The house was on Quan Su Street which is in the Hoan Kiem district. Phuong and Ly met us there. The house is off the main street down an alleyway which reduces the noise of the busy street and is also cooler (definite plus for this time of year). The room available was on the ground floor right next to the lounge room and close to the kitchen. There was little privacy. As suggested a couple and the father’s mother live in the house. The house is owned by the grandmother. It is generally Vietnamese custom for the parents to live with the oldest child or specifically the oldest male child. Mr Tuan, the oldest child, is Assistant to the CEO of a large ISP firm in Hanoi. He has good English. Madame Dzung gives classes for knitting and crochet. She has pretty good French. They have two kids and both are studying abroad, one in Singapore and the other in America. Grand-mere, an amazing lady which I am sure we will find a lot more about, is a true Hanoian. Needless to say despite the lack of privacy we couldn’t say no to this amazing offer. We got a good price on the rent and also have access to a moto and our own bathroom. Hard to believe that morning we met Phuong and Ly for the first time and by 3pm we had a place to live. The family’s environment has changed as well. Two foreigners they don’t know living in their house. Their adaptability is impressive and how it will all pan out I guess only time will tell. This is exactly what we wanted out of our move here so are excited about the prospect of living, eating and talking with the Vietnamese.

That night we walked home via the Opera House which is below the Hoan Kiem Lake I have since found out that the Opera was erected by French colonists between 1901 and 1911 and is a replica of the Parisian Opera, Palais Garnier. This is the stylish area of town where you can’t miss the grand buildings, swish restaurants and hotels and the who’s who of western fashion. We stopped by a small theme park designed for kids and sat in an outside café. With the surroundings, music and ambiance you could be forgiven if you thought you were in Europe.

Thought of the day: Don’t go long distances away from cash services when you only have 15 cents. Vietnam may be cheap but that won’t get you anything, accept maybe a Bia Hao (beer). Damn that beer is good.

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