The theme yesterday was house hunting. Andrew has been in Saigon on business for a couple days and he returns today or Monday. I really feel like I need to move on soon before I overstay my time. So yesterday I had two appointments to look at some possibilities. It's been a great way to get to know Ha Noi better because I'm seeing new districts and getting a feel for Vietnamese neighbourhoods - clearly not something one experiences as a tourist.
First I met with Lam. Thach referred me to him. We went to lunch and iced coffee, and then weaved our way through the traffic on his moto, through the embassy district and beyond. Through friends he had heard of a house for rent and had arranged with the landlady for a viewing. It was not easy to find. Most people seem to live in little alleyways off of larger streets, and even smaller lanes spindle off of these. The house was in one of these networks. We had tea and longan fruit with the landlady and her daughter and afterwards a tour of the 5 story house (only one room a floor, but still more than I'd need!). The price dropped from US$500 to $400. It's a possibility but I'd still like to be a bit closer to the centre and on a more direct bus line to the university.
After meeting Lam, Dat picked me up at the Daewoo Hotel (holy posh!) and we skirted around to the east side of West Lake to meet a woman he works for who is well connected and may have some housing ideas. This side of the lake (the largest in a city of lakes) has a series ancient villages that have been swallowed up by the city but somehow still retain their charm and identity. The village we were in was full of narrow streets, gardens and pagodas - very quiet and peaceful, a sanctuary and refuge from the busy streets of the city. Dat's friend was not home yet so he took me to an ancient pagoda and monastery complex nearby. In the past, I've just assumed the pagodas here were essentially Buddhist if somewhat eclectic. Not so! One temple was Taoist (dedicated to the Jade Emperor) but with Buddhist shrines, and another was dedicated to a local historical/mythical figure whom people revere (a cross-dressing woman who fought the Chinese occupiers!). Dat explained how all these beliefs, gods, goddesses, practices, myths and traditions all bleed together. Vietnamese religion is highly syncretic. It is so complicated to follow the various strands. Buddhism is only part of the picture. He then explained the significance of the trees and plants of the village, their uses and meanings in Vietnamese culture. Everything is imbued with spirits and Dat explained half a dozen legends, tales and creation myths.
After I explained what areas of the city interested me, Dat's friend said she would be in touch about the possibility of a small house near the Temple of Literature. Finally I have a few leads.