Last day in Hà Nội

Technically the last 24 hours.

I’ve checked out and am sitting in the lobby catching up on my blog, drinking more Vietnamese coffee, waiting to catch a cab to the airport in an hour. How do I wrap up the week I’ve had? So many mixed emotions.

After a few hours of work yesterday, Tung, Dung and I went for coffee (I sound like a coffaholic!). I jumped on the back of one of their bikes, and we headed off further than I’ve been on a bike this trip. No helmet or gloves, just fisherman’s pants and t-shirt; I was breaking all my rules this trip. I’ve been asked many times what I think of the traffic - it must be something most visitors comment on. The cars here don’t have scratches or dents; no more than any other city anyway. Most scooters are missing their wing mirrors, but they don’t look damaged either. You can’t get up any kind of speed in the city anyway, and everyone seems to look out for everyone else. More awareness than nurturing, but awareness is the key to safe driving, if you ask me.

Tung and Dung wonder if there’s anything I haven’t tried yet, and ask me if I want to eat snail. Now, all the other things I’ve been offered have been really easy to say yes to. Comparatively easy. I generally live by the motto that I’ll try anything once, and a few years ago I applied that philosophy to food too. I’d never liked seafood because I thought I wouldn’t like it. Then I tried a whole load and now I know I don’t like it. I love red meat, I love the texture, the flavour. Snails? They’re a bit too much like seafood, don’t you think? I’m very aware of texture, and the slippery chewiness doesn’t do wonders for me. As we sit down, a large bowl of snails arrive, and I tentatively pick one up. Why am I having such a problem with this? It’s not going to kill me, right?

I prod at the contents of the shell with a pointy metal device (looks like a large plectrum, quite possibly standard cutlery for eating snails), and sheepishly place it back in the bowl, commenting that I just can’t do it. The other two love them, and start plowing through them. Still struggling with the reason for not trying one, I remember the phrase everyone here has noticed I say a lot: why not? There’s no good answer to that, and even if I don’t like it, it’s only one. So I venture forth and pluck the snail from its shell. A little dip in the herbed garlic oil and in she goes. Quite chewy, mostly flavourless, and not exactly offensive. It’s probably on par with what I’d imagined, and while I could have eaten more without my stomach (or mind) complaining, I’m not enjoying them enough for that. It’s another food item I can add to the “tried that, don’t like it” list. Better than the “I had the opportunity once but let it go” list!

The Vietnamese talk of hot foods and cold foods - energetically, not necessarily temperature wise, and that they balance their meals. As snail is a cold food, so it must be matched with a hot food. Apparently something like ginger would have done, but they opted for vodka. I like the way they think.

I’ve heard from Trung a few times today about meeting up tonight for dinner and then going on to a party, and with the evening drawing in, Dung gives me a lift back to the hotel. A 10 minute cab ride later, and I’m outside the restaurant with Trung and his partner (who’s name sadly escapes me). They’ve both been eating most of the day too, so we pick at bits of chicken, frog and rib, and drank lotus wine, before heading ff to the party. Turns out there’s a pretty well known local reggae band playing at a club tonight, and Trung’s partner’s cousin works there, so free entry!

Entering the club from street level, we walked down a large stairway to an open air bar area. A narrow walkway crossing overhead, linking the street to the main room, was repurposed as parking space for a couple of scooters. We ordered some drinks and headed up to the room to be the first ones there. The reggae band were fantastic, brilliant energy and lots of fun. The lead singer was making the most of his large smile and Jamaican accent, making more than one woman in the front of the room swoon just a little. Their set was followed by a woman from London who was performing for the first time in Việt Nam; I never thought I’d bop to dub step and house, but she was having so much fun it was impossible to be drawn in.

Midnight was drawing near, and my hosts getting hungry (I don’t know where they put it all!) so we headed to another small restaurant by taxi. There being so many things still to try, we settled for chicken feet and pigs brain. The crispy salted skin and fattiness of the chicken feet made it taste almost like bacon. As for brain, I always assumed it would be textured, perhaps a little lumpy, but it’s smooth as pâté, and quite tasteless.

Given my severe lack of sleep in the past week, I’m surprised I managed this evening. I was almost tempted to pull out and rest up, but I have next month to sleep, and I’m so glad I went out.

The hospitality I’ve received during my stay here has been fantastic, a beautiful people and a kind culture. Respect and formality is balanced with fun and entertainment. The people I met work hard, and play harder. I’ve made some awesome friends in my short time here.

This trip has also offered me insight in to my own life, my thoughts, my way of seeing the world. Not only have I tried new foods, I’ve also had my perceptions stretched. The traffic for one. But also the politics. I have spoken to some people here about my views on what’s happening in US politics, and have had my thoughts challenged simply by hearing another point of view that I wouldn’t have been blessed with in Australia. That topic deserves a blog post all of its own.

I’ve also been challenged by being in a country whose language I can’t decipher. Understanding three and a half European languages, I find it quite easy to decipher the next; little bits are similar, you can get the gist. Here, though, I had no idea what was going on. I was very dependent on my hosts, and I’m extremely grateful for that. Next time, I’ll make sure I travel more, and force myself further out of comfort zone.

For now though, it’s time to go home. It’s been long enough, I’m missing my woman.

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