Ah… so that’s what they mean by culture shock.
A day in and I’m just starting to make sense of the blur of people, signs, and motorbikes that make up the streets near the hotel. As in Singapore, footpaths are not for walking on, they are for eating on, cutting meat on, fixing motorbikes on etc. The buildings are all quite high, 3 or so stories at least, and some over 10. They’re mostly painted in pastel colours, and make a scenic view from my room on the 8th floor.
The streets are dirty. No getting around that one.
|View from the window of my hotel room.|
Interestingly, at each of the three airports I’ve been into so far, the list of things to declare when you enter the country has become shorter and shorter. In Australia it was the same as NZ, with a form to fill out concerned about the last time I visited a farm, whether there was soil on my shoes, and whether I was carry nuts, seeds, or other plant material etc. In Singapore they asked me what I had, I told them, and they waved me through without checking. In Vietnam however, there were no forms and just a sign asking me to declare whether I had a certain amount of money or goods.
The ride from the airport was… interesting. They drive on the right hand side of the road here – nominally. Lanes seem to be optional, indicators seldom used, and the horn used to warn people you’re passing, or want to pass.
Once at the hotel I had a rest then headed across the road to withdraw some cash form the ATM. An ANZ one as it turns out. It told me the maximum I could withdraw was VND 4 million. Wish that was my balance in NZD. The notes come in 500,000, 100,000, 10,000, 5,000 etc. Apparently the 100,000 notes dispensed from the vending machine are too big for most purposes, so I will have to go see if the hotel will give me some smaller change for a few. VND 100,000 is approximately NZ $6.00.
I had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant that evening, and avoided the western menu in favour of trying something new. I ordered fresh spring rolls and chicken and ginger. The spring rolls were lovely, but the chicken was odd. A massive serving of deep fried battered pieces of chicken in a thick, slowly separating, ginger sauce. It tasted of ground ginger like we use in baking. Not sure I liked that, so I didn’t eat much.
This morning I went to a cooking class run at the nearby Hanoi Cooking School. There were only two of us, me and an Australian who was here with his family because his daughter was competing in the international volleyball champs an hour’s drive away. Apparently we beat them the other day. He gave me some friendly ribbing about that.
The class started with a short trip to the market next door where the instructor took us around and explained what the meats and fruit and veges were and what to do with them. On one stall a couple of lone broccolis looked very out of place.
Afterwards we went back to the kitchen and she showed us how to make a number of dishes. There were deep fried seafood spring rolls, pork belly in sauce, banana flower salad, and a desert made from coconut cream, roasted sesame seeds, peanuts and sugar. As a special, I think because there was plenty of time as there were only two of us, she fried up some silk worms with chilli lime and basil (really yummy flavour is you don’t think about the texture too much).
Squeamish people don't read this next part...
She also boiled up an embryonic duck egg with mint, lime, and some other stuff I don’t recall because my mind was fixated on the duck. She took out a big spoonful which included the duck baby’s head (including a beak), some yolk sack, and some mint and after seeing my expression handed it to the Australian. He didn’t spit it out, but wasn’t exactly loving it. I tried a very small spoonful of less recognisable parts which was not bad flavour-wise, but somewhat dubious in terms of texture.
For politeness sake I took a second spoonful.
Okay, you can start reading again...
After we had cooked everything we went upstairs to eat it, and were given a beer as well. I think my favourite dish was the dessert, closely followed by the banana leaf salad.
Tonight I will meet up with the tour group and see what lies ahead. We have one more day in Hanoi, then we are heading out to Halong Bay.