A Travellerspoint blog

'Hanoi Hilton Hotel'

The power of journalism and the media in general....

semi-overcast

hanoi hilton

hanoi hilton

Today we went to the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi (which is now used strictly as a memorial and museum).  It was once a large prison constructed by the French in the 19th century as a means to control the Vietnamese resistance.  What this prison is also famous for however, is that it was used to detain American pilots shot down in the Vietnam war.
The first part of the prison shows Vietnamese resistance fighters shackled down to stone slabs confined within small stone cells. The display of starved, emaciated bodies, stone beds and a guillotine located in the center of the room while dark, foreboding music played on in the background made for a bone-chilling affect.
Moving on to the back of the prison, we found the rooms dedicated to the Vietnam war.  On the walls hung pictures of happy, healthy American pilots who had been taken as prisoners of war.  Sound a little off? ...just maybe.  
A wartime video showed daily life of an American prisoner: They played chess, got to exercise, were given calming herbs to smoke, and were even allowed the freedom to practice their own religion by decorating for Christmas and singing hymns of joyous praise. Yes, Hoa Lo prison was a happy place and the Americans "were lucky to be prisoners of North Vietnam."

Tune in next week to read:

'Misunderstood: The kinder, Gentler Hitler'
And
'Donut Diet: Losing Weight Never Tasted so Good

Posted by Abroadabroad89 05:46 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Celeb in the city

...or at least I feel that way :)

sunny

new friends

new friends

This afternoon I encountered my first opportunity to practice my TESOL training, and I failed miserably. At the Ethnology Museum, we ran into a young school group on a field trip. It seemed as though their assignment was not to study the various Ethnic groups of Vietnam (as we were), but actually to seek out tourists in order to practice their English. Each young boy and girl carried around his or her own Oxford English Practice Book and stared at Mom, Dad and I as we walked past.  Finally, one young girl gathered up the courage to shuffle up to me and introduce herself, also asking me my name.  I spoke with the shy, giggly group for a short while, answering basic questions such as "How are you?" and "Where are you from?"
"Washington D.C."
"Oh, Obama! " (national hero... Debatable. International celebrity... Definitely.).
I asked the kids if I could take a photo with them, to which they eagerly agreed, and we said our goodbyes.
Following the encounter, my Dad debriefed me, saying the thing he learned as a witness was that these young Vietnamese children speak English better than I.
"What do you mean?" I demanded.
He pointed out that when I was asked, "How do you do?", I ignorantly responded, "Good, and you?" to which one young girl gracefully answered, "I am fine, thank you for asking." 
...I apologize to native English speakers everywhere.

After the museum, I made the executive decision that I am never leaving Asia (sorry, if you miss me, you are just going to have to visit - free room and board)! In the United States, I feel insignificant. In Vietnam, I feel like a super hot rock star. Seriously. In addition to everything else, these past few days have been a serious ego boost.  In the museum, I could not walk out of a room without a group of kids (around my age) asking if they could take their pictures with me.  And I have said "Cam on" ("thank you") to "You are beautiful" more times than I can count. Seriously - guys back home, take notes!

Tonight we will have fresh summer rolls and pho for dinner (shocker, I know) then we shall take a bicycle cart ride to a traditional water puppet show. Can't wait! 

So long for now!

  • ****************

Advice of the day: (more of a request today, actually) please keep Thailand in your prayers, the Prime Minister ordered the flood gates to be opened and the city is under water. Pray for the people and for a safe trip for my parents, as they will be there in 5 days.
Food of the day: hot kettle-popped rice. Delicious and fun!
Top people-watching moment: man on motor scooter carrying long banana leaves while a friend holds the top of the leaves while walking backwards to steer off traffic.
Vietnamese word of the day: "dep" meaning, "beautiful"... Of course!

Posted by Abroadabroad89 04:17 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Pho, please.

Just pho you, from un-pho-gettable, Vietnam

sunny 34 °C

pho-tastic!

pho-tastic!


For those who have had it before, you know what I mean when I say, there is very little that beats the magical smell, taste and warmth of a giant, steaming bowl of Pho.  For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, go eat some, now!  Pho cannot be explained, it can only be experienced. 

The ever- growing craze for this Vietnamese noodle soup is not just some fad played up by conformists in an attempt to feel culturally superior. No, pho is truly food for the soul, and Pho huts to Vietnam are like Starbucks to D.C. They are on every corner, so naturally, I have had my fill since we arrived. The flavor is so dramatic in each different bowl I have tasted thus far.

We stopped at a rest stop between Saigon and the Mekong Delta where we shared 2 bowls of pho  chay (vegan pho) between the 3 of us. Dad loaded his up with hot chilis and I left mine fresh. From the moment in time where the first spoonful of warm deliciousness took over my taste buds and trickled down my throat to the time we had to pay our bill and be back on the road, I was sure I was experiencing a taste of heaven.

Leaving the busyness of the city behind, we boarded a small junk boat on the Mekong river delta. I fell victim to the peaceful setting and found myself drifting slowly from reality.  Soft splashes from the river kissed my face, cooling my cheeks amid the hot, humid air. Cruising through the delta, we attracted many curious onlookers, who stopped in the middle of whatever they were doing - bathing, fishing, cooking, plucking the feathers off of an unlucky chicken, etc. - to gaze upon us, the foreign visitors. I guess I am going to have to get used to sticking out like a sore thumb. I became a minority the minute I stepped onto the plane to Tokyo in the Dulles airport. I am blonde, white, Christian, and I do not own a motor-scooter. On the flip side however, i was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are, in fact, many people shorter than myself.
mekong delta

mekong delta


on the river

on the river

I sat on a pillow at the bow of the boat, taking in the sights. The water's edge was an array of tropical vegetation, and shacks, each constructed in their own slipshod manner out of bamboo, banana leaves, scrap metal and wood. Stockings, shirts and pants hung on clothes lines strewn across front decks that rested, lopsided, upon stilts in the river.   Fish traps and chicken coops littered what small yards and alleyways there were between each living space. In front of these floated boats of all shapes and sizes, decorated with hammocks, more hanging clothes, fishing poles and assortments of local fruits and veggies (most of which I had never tried nor even heard of until this week).

We docked along the delta to enjoy cups of hot tea, fresh made coconut candies and rice crackers.  We were served by enthusiastic locals, happy to meet us, feed us, and encourages to buy as much as we could carry. My mother purchased a 4 million dong ($200) oil painting from a 10 year old selling his father's art. They can be very persuasive.

 Following the snack, I made acquaintances with the friendly, neighborhood python. oh, Toto. Back to the boat.

  • **************

Advice of the day: Never take for granted, all that you have. And if you ever need a little perspective, just visit the rural communities of Vietnam.
Food of the day: ...do I really need to say it? ...Pho, pho course!
Top people-watching moment: Dad tipped waitress 20,000 dong ($1) and without hesitation, she began to jump up and down, shrieking with excitement and gratitude.

Posted by Abroadabroad89 06:06 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

First day as an Expat

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things" -HM

sunny 32 °C

Cycling hipsters of Washington D.C., allow me to introduce to you, the Vietnamese scooter culture. Although I am not aware of the exact statistic, I feel that it is safe to say that the scooter to people ratio, at least within the city confines of Saigon, is easily 2:1. To cycle is to be poor and the roads are too cramped for everyone to have cars.  There is an evident fearlessness in the people of  Saigon. Across any 3 lane road we encountered 10 lanes of motor-scooterists. Traffic signals are a suggestion, traffic circles are a mess of buses, scooters, cyclists and pedestrians weaving in between each other, horns are by no means under-appreciated, and as long as there is 1-2 millimeters between any two moving vehicles, there is space to squeeze through.
children on scooters

children on scooters

Yesterday, our driver played chicken with a slew of oncoming motorists, raced a tour bus on the interstate, cut off cyclists with only centimeters to spare and bore through a sea of children on the backs of their parents'  scooters after being picked up from school.  And, The true wonder of it all, is that not once did I see an accident. 

Saigon is a beautiful city of old and new, juxtaposed together to create a beautiful culture of history and innovation.  The people have pushed on admirably from the time of the war, living by the philosophy of pushing forward into the future and letting go of the past. This being said, they still have many memorials built in recognition of the war and other past struggles and triumphs. Today I was allowed the opportunity to experience what life was like for the Viet Cong warriors (glorified resistance fighters if you were to ask any local) at the Cu Chi tunnels. On our hands and knees we crawled through the dark, scorpion and bat infested, hand-dug tunnels where the Viet Cong would actually live during the time of fighting against the American "devil" soldiers. At times the tunnels were so tight that my shoulders rubbed on either side and I had to keep my head hung low as to not scrape it against the ceiling.  There was a constant feeling of being in the middle of a battle scene as there was an on sight shooting range (where I got the chance to shoot rounds from a wartime AK-47... Nbd). 

into the tunnels

into the tunnels


peek a boo

peek a boo


AK-47 target practice

AK-47 target practice

After a long morning on the battlefield, we (Mom, Dad and I) settled down at the spa, enjoying a 90 minute full-body, hot stone massage.. And for only $15! 

I guess Asia won't be so bad after all.

  • *********

Advice of the day: "Cross the street as though you were sticky rice; slow and clumped together" -Tom, the tour guide
Food of the day: Dragon fruit
Top people-watching moment: Baby sleeping on handle bars of moving motor-scooter

Posted by Abroadabroad89 05:51 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

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