Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hanoi Alive

Well, we decided to check out the north part of Vietnam, so here I am in Hanoi, teaching in a pretty swanky part of town.  Do you want to know some differences between Hanoi and Saigon?  Thought so.  Here they are, as I've seen over the past couple of weeks:

This is a typical scene here if you turn down any side street in town.
 
1. Trees.  There are a lot more trees here.  Perhaps because the city just hasn't expanded as rapidly as Saigon.  Less rapid development = more trees, perhaps.  In any case, it feels a little bit like Atlanta, Georgia, USA -- it's a city, but there are so many trees (and lakes and parks) that you rarely feel like you're in a big city.

2. Police.  At least traffic police. I don't know where they're hiding.  Occassionally I'll see one or two here or there, but there are very few out at any given time.  I haven't had any run-ins with any so far, but I do see that this lack of policing makes for a different kind of traffic.

Hanoi: just go... and don't get hit (or hit anyone).

3. Traffic.  With fewer police more people take more liberties.  While traffic seems a bit slower, it is zany.  Motorbikes and cars jostle across lanes with scant regard for lane designation.  It's nice in that I feel free to pretty much zip around in any direction I want but it requires more focus. 

4. Helmets.  Related to traffic and a dirth of traffic police, I've seen many, many more people riding without helmets here.  Maybe 1 helmetless rider out of 10 compared to about 3 out of 100 down south.

5. People.  I thought I'd be greeted more coldly here, given the history of the US and the fact that this city had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of a bunch of B-52s many times over (even on Christmas!).  I guess the fact is that they won, after all, and don't have time to hold grudges.  I've been quite comfortable anywhere I go so far and I'm glad to be a part of this city's fortunes today.

On the streets, there are many little groups of men drinking tea on the sidewalks here.  Sidewalks are typically more for tea drinking than for driving on here. There are fewer street hawkers around, which is nice, and quite a bit of food.

6. Food.  This is where I'm missing Saigon now.  There is plenty of food here, and some of it is pretty good, but comparatively, it is bland and more expensive.  The pho is different here: fewer vegetables on the table; instead you blast your pho with a dose of pickled garlic.  It's pretty good stuff.  I'll try and keep you posted about my food experiences, but for now I can say unequivocally that the food is more expensive here.

7.  Prices.  The food is more expensive, yes, and so is everything else.  Without going into detail, I can say confidently that, at least in Ba Dinh, where we're living now (which is equivalent to District 3 culture-wise in Saigon), everything -- and I mean everything -- is about 20 to 25% higher.  Water, gas, food, clothes -- everything.  Luckily, we scored a cheap little house (5.5 M VND) in walking distance of work, but even so, I don't anticipate seeing any additional savings here.

Sa Pa.  Can't wait.

Overall, I'm glad to be here now.  We plan on vacationing in Sa Pa, Ha Long Bay, as well as the cool caves in Phong Nha Ke, just south of here.  It's still raining in Saigon, where here it has stopped.  It's actually turning out to be a proper Autumn, with leaves beginning to turn orange, cool mornings, and fresh breezes during the day.  People say it is going to get really cold.  I say bring it on.  Coming to you alive in Hanoi.