Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Good Morning Vietnam

            Upon exiting a snug, yet somehow comfortable sleeper train, I am met with a slight cool, not quite crisp   and still polluted air. The streets are silent and empty with few wandering stragglers, us included. We trek away from the train station, carting only our backpacks in search of cheaper transportation. It's 5 am. Only the few street lights whisper dirty, run down roads and buildings. My first glimpse into Hanoi, this ancient and debilitated city, is it's quite quintessentially beautiful. The city feels venerable and exhausted, years of history taking it's toll.

           We grab a cab and head to a more lively part of the city. Even at 5 am, few shops are beginning to open, Pho is being served and is that coffee I smell??!! We duck into a place my traveling mates only know as "Mama's house," but I can only imagine this Pho cafe has a lovely Vietnamese name. Finally, the moment I've been holding my breath for! Actual Vietnamese food and Pho! Back home I easily spend 10$ for a bowl of these magical rice noodles, bean sprouts, lime and cilantro and now I can have it for 2$. Both delicious and economical!Mama is an amazing cook and extremely hospitable. She figures out the wifi for me on my phone and when I spend to much time on the interwebs and not enough on my soup, she pantomimes to my phone down and scolds me in Vietnamese to eat my soup. After my internet and Pho indulgence, she brings me the most fabulous and strong cup of coffee, necessary to be awake at 5 am.
          As I check one thing off my Hanoi list, we head into the old quarter, just kind of wandering around as I snap pictures of everything. I love going to a new country. Nothing is like that first time. The new smells on every corner, different writing on each sign, the inability to communicate with anyone, and of course the new food! The thing about being American and eating in other countries is we eat almost everything from every inch of the world in America. We can access just about any dish! So when you actually try a favorite culinary genre in it's motherland, your mind is blown. While you can enjoy that particular something while your visiting, it most likely is ruined for you when you go home. So I was a little hesitant to eat all my faves.

         The more we stroll, the more people fill the streets. The park near the lake becomes a recreational circus with older people dancing, younger people stretching, and strange people doing a bunch of weird exercises. Motorbikes angrily rampage the streets as if waking up from months of cave hibernation. Dodging them is a true art. There really are no little green men lighting up the cross walk telling you to follow them, assuring you its okay and promising you the world on the other side. You really just have to time accordingly, hold your breath and make a run for it while bobbing and weaving.

         We follow our feet into a busy corner where the foreigners seem to be multiplying, I can only guess that we have stumbled into some sort of tourist breeding ground and a new litter may hatch at any moment, we must find that nest. The streets are littered with t-shirt stalls and other kitschy "Vietnamese" wares. Ladies selling fruit and other things while performing a very tricky scheme to get you to buy there crap. If they put it on you, it's yours, give me money. Genius.

        Managing to escape these fruit cons with only a bag of pineapple, we land in our next guilty pleasure eatery...