Current (coffee) events
It’s Thursday afternoon, which means that we’ve completed four days’ worth of Chinese lessons here in Yangshuo.
Chinese is not easy (especially the pronunciation and comprehension – those tones are subtle and tough to get right!), but it’s also not as cryptic as I had expected. I’d braced myself to deal with bouts of frustration and impatience (I usually can’t stand it when I’m first learning something and am not automatically great at it. 🙂 ) but it’s been really fun so far and I’m actually amazed that I’ve managed to learn as much as I have in these few, packed days. I’ll give most of the credit to Becky, our teacher here at Omeida, who teaches with a great combination of enthusiasm, energy and humor while remaining laid back. 🙂
At the moment I’m a very happy girl because after lots of trial (and lots of error), we’ve FINALLY found a café in town that serves decent coffee. So far our experiences would indicate that the Chinese just don’t do coffee. We’ve tried a new café every day we’ve been here (there are plenty to choose from in the touristy part of town) and the brew at each one has been a total disappointment. So I’m here now, contentedly caffeinated as Leonard Cohen plays in the background, trying to get my mind back to Hanoi. 🙂
By the time we made it to Vietnam’s capital, we were basically done. Travel is of course not meant to be all roses, and the negative experiences we had in Vietnam really weren’t even that bad (one phone stolen, getting ripped off a couple of times, getting sick, getting food poisoning – these are little things and par for the course when you’re travelling for as long as we are I’d say!).
But when we’d had unpleasant things happen to us in other countries, they were quickly counter-balanced by other experiences.
A positive interaction or visiting someplace really beautiful or fascinating or inspirational, a pleasant or relaxed vibe or an awesome meal. These are the things that mentally and emotionally nourish a person when they’re on the road.
In Vietnam, the interactions we had with folks were neutral on the balance, places we visited were pretty, but not moving, intellectually interesting but not emotionally stirring. Walking the streets was hectic, aside from the local eats in Hoi An, we never found any food to get excited about.
Taking it easy in Hanoi
I’m not writing this to complain, but to explain that when we got to Hanoi, we didn’t have tons of energy or enthusiasm for further exploration. (It’s also important to note that travel is SUCH an individual thing – for what ever reason these were our experiences in Vietnam and this doesn’t mean that country isn’t worth visiting if you are contemplating it!) There were a number of touristy things we were considering – visiting Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum or the Hanoi Hilton in the city, or doing a trip to the hills at and around Sapa to experience some minority culture.
But as we started to thaw from the exhaustion of the stink-bus experience, we realized, we simply didn’t want to do these things. The energy and motivation just weren’t there.
So we shortened our list, took things a bit easier, started making our plans for how to get into China. Our hotel was in a good spot, so we had plenty of easy access to the interesting, busy old quarter with its thematic streets. We spent a lot of time drinking coffee and researching at Highland, Vietnam’s answer to Starbucks.
I didn’t take many pictures (believe it or not! 😉 ). So while we visited Ngoc Son Temple and took many a leisurely turn around the lovely Hoan Kiem Lake with its excellent people watching, I have no photos of either.
We visited the Hanoi branch of Fanny’s and I can now report that even durian ice cream stinks. Not only that, but the funky flavor (part gasoline, part sweetened cheese fondue, part sweaty armpit) l i n g e r e d for far too long! I’ve recovered now but would still need to work up my nerve to try the actual fruit.
We did other touristy things – saw the kind of kitsch, kind of cool water puppet show, visited the lovely Temple of Literature, home to Vietnam’s first university. We also made the hotel staff very happy and agreed to book an overnight trip to Halong Bay with them. I’ll do a separate post about Halong Bay. In the mean time though, here are some photos from the Temple of Literature.