Good evening Vietnam!

4 May

Chameleon-like, Mike immediately blended into his surroundings.

Welcome, dear reader, to the inane nocturnal musings of a bewildered Australian development volunteer living in Hanoi for seven months.

Wait! Don’t go! I’m going to try and keep this interesting. I hereby promise not to turn this place into a journal of my thoughts, an ill-informed political diatribe,  or a poor excuse for a travel review. Instead, you can expect the kind of mazy, go-nowhere anecdotes for which I am especially renowned on such potential topics as CHICKEN FEET, BATHROOM DESIGN, and the curiosities of the HUMAN BOWEL.

Anyone still here?

Anyway, I’m having fun with this so I’m going to stumble forward heedlessly with this fable from my first week in Hanoi. It’s a tale of two colours: yellow and pink. Grab yourself a cup of tea, settle down in your favourite bean bag and try not to fall asleep …

Yellow flowers. My workplace welcomed me with a big, beautiful bouquet of yellow flowers. And that’s perfectly nice of them; I like flowers; they smell lovely. But it did raise some eyebrows when said bouquet needed to be transported half-way across Hanoi in an over-crowded bus on the return journey to my hotel. As soon as I jumped aboard (the bus slows but never stops) I was met by a wall of slightly embarrassed smiles, nervous giggles and a detectable shuffling-away motion, as a safe radius of space was created around the bizarre foreigner who had just arrived with a generously-sized sample of yellow botany.

Each new influx of passengers brought a fresh round of double-takes and barely disguised whisperings, to which I could only respond by grinning like an idiot and murmuring “Xin chào” to anyone who made eye contact. Eventually the bus reached something approaching my stop and I leapt off, possibly to a chorus of relieved sighs from my former fellow passengers.

Buoyed from having successfully navigated the (relatively foolproof) public transport system of a foreign land, I proceeded to strut through the chaotic warren of streets that is Hoan Kien and entered the home stretch of chip alley (the smell gives the name away) with my yellow flowers safely in tow. Hopeful appeals for my floral affection from the chip ladies by their woks of hot oil were pleasantly rebuffed with a smile and a “xin loi” to take the sting away. These flowers were destined for one person, and one person only. I entered my hotel and there she was … Grandma (Bà). The wise matriarch of the Tung Trang Hotel who had blessed me with a smile and a delicious breakfast just that morning. “Xin chào Bà”, I said, ” for you”. Grandma smiled. Yellow flowers.

Which brings us to …

Pink shorts. Why in God’s name did I bring pink shorts to Vietnam? And not just any pink shorts: short pink shorts, pink short shorts. In Australia they’re kind of festive and breezy and – whilst frowned upon by a vocal minority within my family – largely tolerated by broader society. Yet, despite the prior cautions I had received on dressing modestly and not exposing my pasty-white upper thighs to the world, I went ahead and packed pink shorts.

I have since been reliably informed by certain local sources (who blushed furiously) that shorts as short as mine will be considered “too sexy” by anyone aged thirty or above. Furthermore, I’m told that traditionally the only members of Vietnamese society who wear pink on the lower half are girls within the 10-13 age bracket. Wonderful. I struggled with this revelation for several hours before deciding to suck it up and don the offensive article in question. I’d just have to be a rebel, that’s all. A pioneer. A trendsetter. A free spirit.

I left my hotel room and sheepishly descended the stairs, pink shorts first. Grandma was there. Her smile fell. Pink shorts. It begins…


7 Responses to “Good evening Vietnam!”

  1. David May 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    Really Mike? Really? Two weeks in and you tempt the fates with your “shrimp salad” eating antics, only to trump this with short, pink shorts. On the bright side, someone else’s eyes are now being insulted by your thighs in short pink shorts, rather than my own.

    Great blog though!!

  2. Justin Courageo May 7, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    Michael! I can tell this is going to be a fangin’ good and interesting blog! hope you’re having too much fun over there!


  3. senorpope May 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    Thanks for the kind words guys.

    I particularly appreciated Justin’s use of the word “fangin'”, which doesn’t get bandied around nearly enough these days. And Dave, if you’re worried about me indulging in a couple of harmless shrimp you’re going to be severely distressed by my next blog post.

  4. Ngo Mai Huong May 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Lol, can’t belive that u really wore the “pink short” after my warning???????????? You’re so crazy hahahahaha

  5. Jo May 20, 2011 at 4:55 am #

    Great blog! Can’t wait for more installments. Maybe u can work for lonely planet as a travel blogger. My dream job after food critic

  6. Hoa Minh Truong November 27, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    Dear the tourist.
    Whoever knew Viet Cong regime than Vietnamese people, I born from Vietnam and lived into many eras: attended the war,P.O.W after Vietnam war ended and became the stateless since 1975. I also author of two books:” the dark journey: inside the reeducation camps of vietcong & Good Evening Vietnam” published in US ( New York).
    The Viet Cong regime always has the bad treat to Its people, but they have nice to whom have money, to be careful while being holiday, the food is not quarantine, poison, even water isn’t hygiene.

    • Mike Pope December 21, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

      Hi Truong,

      Thanks for your advice. Thankfully, my experience of Vietnam has been of its friendly people and beautiful landscape rather than its regime so I’ve had no issues. Good luck with your books!

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