Reflections and stories on six months of life, culture, food and friendship in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Monday, August 22, 2005

My First Commute

Today was my first real day at the university. I went in for a visit last week on the back of a moto taxi (xe om), but this time Viet said he'd pick me up early in the morning, take me for breakfast at a street stand, and then taxi me on his bike for 8:30. I woke up worried to the sound of heavy rain because i don't have the kind of full length poncho style raincoat that is appropriate for moto transportation. Thankfully the rain let up by the time he rang the bell. Breakfast was at a little open-air corner cafe where we ate banh my sandwiches with pate and pork fat (yeah, I know), cold soy milk, coffee (nau nong), and some kind of beef stew. Then we headed out...

Well, I thought commuting to York was bad! This was possibly the most memorable commute of my life (with the exception of the blackout in TO). We headed down the most direct route from downtown but hit a traffic jam - thousands upon thousands of motos buzzing and snarling and buses in between spewing out exhaust. We weren't going anywhere so we doubled back and headed west to try another route. Same story. It seems the rain caused the roads to flood and this snarled up the whole city. Viet tried to negotiate smaller routes and alleys, but this didn't work so we went back to the main boulevard. Many of the frustrated moto drivers decided to ignore the divider and use the opposite side of the street going into ongoing traffic. Of course this was dangerous, so instead a whole stream of motos (us included) hopped onto the unusually wide sidewalk. God forbid there actually be pedestrians using the sidewalks! This approach got us to the next roundabout which was snarled with a very pissed looking cop in the middle shouting at people.

In the middle of this sea of motorbikes, I hear my name. This is extremely unlikely in this city of how many million where I know maybe a dozen people. It was Stephen, my Australian colleague from the library at the university. After idling alongside for a few minutes, it occured to me that I should just switch bikes and and let Viet turn back and avoid this mess. Eventually Stephen and I made it to the campus which had been completely flooded by the rain. The students were wading barefoot into the campus in a foot of water. The library was an island, the water lapping right up to the building. Luckily Stephen's bike could cut through it and I somehow I arrived relatively dry. The water had drained away half way through the day. I'm told this is not a usual commuting experience, just an unfortunate first impression.

The rest of the day was very pleasant. I spent the time preparing one of my presentations to the English For Librarians course I'll be participating in. There was our communal lunch on the rooftop, and then naptime! All the staff find a little corner to curl up and doze off. There are no cots so I just pulled up six chairs and made myself a little makeshift bed. Then I went to the first class just to meet the students. Later the whole class was invited to a nearby house for a little goodbye celebration of a library staff member who will be leaving to study computer science in Korea on scholarship. We all sat around on the tiled floor eating tropical fruit and spicey beef jerky.

Meanwhile during my doze I had received a text message from my friend Tuan Anh. Jon and I met Tuan Anh three years ago while watching the Ha Noi circus perform outside at Hoan Kiem Lake in the celebrations leading up to New Year's Eve.) Tuan Anh was texting me to ask if I'd join him at a bia hoi patio on Thursday for draught and dog meat. I thought about it a minute and responded in the affirmative. There are so many signs for thit cho throughout the city that it seems quite normal. I don't intend to eat a lot, just a taste maybe. I actually met Tuan Anh at a bia hoi patio yesterday after I called him from Lenin Park. It's like a Vietnamese beer garden with lots of snacks. But I draw the line at con meo (cat).

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Anonymous Jon said...

Well we had our own little rain storm on Friday afternoon - the sky turned black at around 3:30 pm, there was a tornado warning, and the rain pelted down for a couple of hours. The Don River ended up over-flowing its banks to flood the DVP (as well as my regular bike route home through Balfour Park! - it looked like the Colorado River!) But then it stopped, dried up and the weather has been much milder ever since then.

Everyone is back to the same old grind on this Monday morning. It is actually kind of cool today, so the sense that summer is waning is in the air.

A nap after lunch at work?!?!? Wonder how that would go over here? Yeah right....

11:30 AM

Blogger Khoi Gallub-Ho said...

I finally click on your link today Mark, after my chat with you on Yahoo. It was a real pleasure to chat with you again. I had this familiar thought thinking that you are still in the same city as I am because I am so used to that. It took me a while to realize that you are now half a globe away.
You are having a time of your life as far as absorbing the Vietnamese culture. I had no doubt that you will do well, not just at work but in culture as well. You are doing something that most people can only day dream about and I am so bless to be a catalyst (however small) to that. To be able to read your stories is very important to me.
This morning after I had read two-three of your entries. I felt sad, sad because you know more of Vietnamese culture in Hanoi than I ever dream of. This make me want to try harder to make the best effort of what it is that I am doing now. So that maybe one day, I can stay for an extended period of time in Hanoi and the rest of Vietnam so that I can postively learn more about my people.
Jon, you are a wonderful husband whom is always caring and support Mark through all of his endeavors. You both are an inspiration for Kristopher and I. Just want to let you know that!

7:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like you are having a very adventurous time in Ha Noi. Also, we are SOOOO glad to hear you draw the line at eating con meo.

Your con meo loving neighbours.

12:24 AM

Anonymous Lisa B. said...

Con meo! Oh dear, I think that's where I draw my line in the sand...

6:24 PM


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