The Old Quarter

Trip Start Mar 03, 2008
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Trip End Apr 01, 2008


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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, March 6, 2008

The city has grown into the surrounding rice paddies with many industrial areas with large corporations like Sony, Panasonic, Canon, etc. The banks of the Hong Son (Red River) are filling with large opulent residences indicating the money which is coming here. As I ride toward the city high rises appear out of the smog like ghosts. Even the Old Chinese Quarter where I am staying is beginning to see destruction of the old houses and their replacement with tourist hotels.
The Camellia is still there on Trung Yen but Mr. Quang has retired and the prices have doubled from $5 to $10 per night. The street market is just around the corner minus the fowl venders because of the continuing Avian Flu Virus.

Around the neighborhood "Homeland Security" is provided by the Feline Surveillance Committee: The Committee also provides late night entertainment at no additional charge.
There are more and larger cars and SUVs everywhere: BMWs, Lexus, Toyotas and I've been told there are even Hummers. Clearly there is prosperity for some but for most its much the same. There are even traffic signals but not all drivers respect them so if you are wanting to cross the street you still have to have your wits about you. The traffic is a brutal mix of buses, SUVs, trucks, cars, taxis, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians. The right of way is ultimately determined by the size of the vehicle. The noise and pollution is intense and a walk a few blocks during commute hours can result in eye and throat irritation. Many city dwellers wear face masks.
City workers keep the infrastructure working under the heavy burden of Vietnamese and foreign tourists. City electricians keep the electrical power flowing reliably by replacing old equipment with new. Small shops rebuild old hardware like transformers to be placed back in service saving both environmental resources and money.
Though Hanoi has become a busy polluted city there are still many quiet and beautiful areas to be found. Ho Hoan Kiem (Hoan Kiem Lake) is one such place. Some of the back alleys of the Old Quarter can be quiet too.

Each of the over one million inhabitants is a story. I discovered a part of one this morning while in the market in the Old Quarter. As I stalked a photo of a group of elderly women sitting just outside their front door which fronts on the market I felt a soft touch on my elbow and heard what I thought was French with a very heavy Vietnamese accent.

I turned to discover a lean old Vietnamese man with pith helmet. I strained to understand what he was saying. I asked him in French where he learned the language. I heard something about Angola. He had studied in Angola! He asked me if I was French. I said no I was American. His eyes got big and he smiled. Yes, I said I have returned to the Vietnam that I grown to love to repair some of the damage I was involved in creating. One of the shopkeepers agreed to take our photo after he requested some dollars. I said I only had Vietnamese Dong (VND)and caught the approving eyes of nearby shopkeepers as I offered him 2000VND. In a flash he was gone and no one seemed to know his name.
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Where I stayed

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