1.18.2010

Day 1 -- Hanoi -- responding to my friend, the other Alice

Picture taken on my 3rd day in Hanoi.
This touristy act required major level of courage to perform.


In the morning of Jan 16th, I updated my status on facebook while I waited in the security line at SFO -- "Going to Hanoi, Vietnam. Ready to take the extremely wealthy to visit the extremely poor."

Two days later, my world traveler friend Alice commented on my status:
To: Wonderland Alice
Alice commented on your status: "Be careful crossing the streets. =)"


Me responding to her comment:


Dear Alice,

I can't access facebook from here, but I needed to tell you that I was thinking about you during my one hour walk back to the hotel from work today. You weren't kidding!!

I thought I was well trained growing up in Taiwan, but I was wrong. Walking around in the city of Hanoi is just incredible. I came up with a strategy to just wait for other pedestrians to show up and then secretly pretend to be their friend and walk with them. So, thanks to some old ladies, little kids, and school girls, I got back safe and sound. A 20 minute walk took me 60 minutes in the end.... I felt very embarrassed.

One funny thing -- people seemed to be able to immediately tell I am not from here. Motorcyclists, bikers, or random people on the sidewalk said hi to me or asked me questions in various languages. I still can't figure out why. It was not because of my outfit, because I really looked like my colleagues or the other ladies in the same office building. Maybe none of them would actually walk on the streets, and they either ride motorcycles or cars. Maybe it was how I kept a distance from people and took forever to cross any streets.

It is now only 7:30PM. I was a bit terrified from the walk -- the bizarre attention from people, the non-stop honking on the streets and the heavy polluted air, etc. Forget about walking around the city to find dinner and special stores (in an area called the Old Quarter), I am going to hide inside my room, eat some fruits, watch TV, read, and tomorrow I will wake up early to have a big breakfast at the hotel's courtyard.

I know this is not really blending into the local culture, but since I have 7 days here, I am going to take baby steps this time.

Appreciate any more tips about how to survive here and have a good time.

Cheers,

Alice


Imagine having to walk from one corner of this picture to another...
Found this photo online. It was worse than this, but you get the idea.



After a super long nap from 8pm to 2am. I woke up and couldn't stop laughing when I read Alice's comment here:


Hi Alice!

The traffic is definitely a culture shock! I always thought Vietnam was up there on the list for crazy traffic, but after surviving the street-crossings in Cairo and some other cities, Vietnam isn't actually so bad!


My personal trick is the same as what you did...I always wait for some locals to cross and stand on the side of them opposite of the oncoming traffic!

For Vietnam, my understanding of street-crossing etiquette is 1) never run and go at a normal pace 2) don't stop suddenly to accommodate oncoming traffic in the middle of crossing 3) walk confidently and traffic will weave around you. I was told when I was in Vietnam that supposedly, you can put on a blindfold and cross the street unscathed because the motorists are judging the distance you are from them and will weave around you, hence, you shouldn't run, which will confuse them. But....easier said than done....because it is so scary!!

I still think sticking with locals is better. :) I also avoid traffic circles!

Also, one option you can do to get around is to negotiate a cycle rickshaw ride so that your driver is navigating the traffic instead of you. But there will be some heart-pounding moments in that ride as well! But the rides are quite cheap and an easy way to get around.

Don't worry- you'll be a pro in street-crossing by the way you leave...and then you will jaywalk and cross the streets like a mad person when you get back here and wonder why people are waiting at traffic lights!

Posted by Alice to In Wonderland at January 18, 2010 10:36 AM

4 comments:

Alice said...

Hi Alice!

The traffic is definitely a culture shock! I always thought Vietnam was up there on the list for crazy traffic, but after surviving the street-crossings in Cairo and some other cities, Vietnam isn't actually so bad!

My personal trick is the same as what you did...I always wait for some locals to cross and stand on the side of them opposite of the oncoming traffic!

For Vietnam, my understanding of street-crossing etiquette is 1) never run and go at a normal pace 2) don't stop suddenly to accommodate oncoming traffic in the middle of crossing 3) walk confidently and traffic will weave around you. I was told when I was in Vietnam that supposedly, you can put on a blindfold and cross the street unscathed because the motorists are judging the distance you are from them and will weave around you, hence, you shouldn't run, which will confuse them. But....easier said than done....because it is so scary!!

I still think sticking with locals is better. :) I also avoid traffic circles!

Also, one option you can do to get around is to negotiate a cycle rickshaw ride so that your driver is navigating the traffic instead of you. But there will be some heart-pounding moments in that ride as well! But the rides are quite cheap and an easy way to get around.

Don't worry- you'll be a pro in street-crossing by the way you leave...and then you will jaywalk and cross the streets like a mad person when you get back here and wonder why people are waiting at traffic lights!

Alice said...

BTW, your hotel will probably serve Pho for breakfast! You can look forward to that! :)

Most locals in various countries can easily spot foreigners- our mannerisms and 'deer in the headlight' look usually gives us away.

Can you go out with your Vietnamese colleagues for dinner, or are there other U.S. colleagues with you? It is harder to pick restaurants when alone. There should be a lot of take-out sandwich shops though, or go into places with English menus- they are usually pretty authentic even if tourists frequent them. The other option is to go to a place that is buffet so you can sample a lot of food! The Old Quarter should have a lot of options. If you have the Lonely Planet guide (or go to their website on line), they usually give good recommendations!

I am sure you'll be so sad to leave after 7 days! Enjoy your time there! Also, not sure if you have any free days, but a trip (even a day trip) to Ha Long Bay is a must if possible!

Anonymous said...

Did you bring Prozac with you? The traffic can stress you out and give you serious diarrhea!

Wonderland Alice said...

GI track related problem I am doing my best to prevent, and have medicine prepared just in case, but I serious need some Prozac... read my day 2 blog and you will understand why.