Limbo, thy name is Hanoi

We didn’t trust the guy at our hotel’s reception desk when he said it would be better to let their travel service handle Colin’s China visa. We didn’t know that we wouldn’t be able to even get past the guard at the China embassy. If only we’d known that foreigners could only process visas in Saigon. It would take less than half a day to figure all that out, but it would be eight days before Colin has his passport returned.

What a place to be stranded, too. Hotels in Vietnam require you to surrender to them your passport when checking in, so we can’t really cut out of town and see the rest of norther Vietnam. We are leaving tomorrow for a three-day tour of Halong Bay, and we’re only able to do that because it’s been arranged through our hotel.

We’re holed up in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. The area is comprised of dozens of specialty streets–herbal remedies street, funeral stones street, paper lantern street, baby formula street. A handful of streets specialize in the tourist trade, with every building housing a hotel, a restaurant, a tour operator, or all three.

Our hotel room is pretty amusing. We’re on the fourth floor of what is surely meant to be a three-story building. Electricity is shoddy in Vietnam as it is, we’ve found, but for some reason it’s especially bad in our penthouse suite, meaning Colin and I have both become well-acquainted with the circuit breaker.

We can’t leave the hotel without being accosted by vendors and touts: “Motobai?” “Pineapple!” “Madame, you buy.” One worries of a crick in the neck with all the shaking. The cyclo (~rickshaw) drivers are the funniest–they keep smiling and waving after you say “No” as though it would change your mind. And we made the mistake on our first morning of showing interest in some donut holes two women were selling from baskets. We found out the exorbitant price and buggered off, and they’ve been tailing our step ever since.

On our first stroll outside of the Old Quarter, Colin stopped dead on the sidewalk in front of a shop selling gold and jade dragons. He’d nearly run into a friend he’d made while studying abroad in France some five years ago. We agreed to meet Sarah that night for a beer.

Besides a visit to Hoa Lo Prison aka Hanoi Hilton aka the place where John McCain was held as a POW, our few attempts at sight-seeing have gone awry. An hours’long line changed our mind about visiting the body of Ho Chi Minh, and we never really found the Citadel. It’s a problem of apathy.

As a result, partly, we spent all day inside yesterday watching eight movies, one right after the other. Most of them were not fantastic: Valentine’s Day, Surrogates, Public Enemy, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Tropic Thunder, Book of Eli, and Revolutionary Road. I can hardly keep them all straight, but it was a glorious day.

We’ve got one more day in Hanoi after we return from Halong Bay, then we head north for China.

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