Blog 3: The First Days

My first several days in Vietnam have been a whirlwind of subverted expectations, unintended encounters, and taking refuge in the countries impressively extensive Netflix catalogue.

Just to get an idea of how fast things moved for me this week, I landed at Noi Bai International Airport at 7:30AM Wednesday, and had secured a place to live in Northern Tay Ho 7:30 that evening.  I had my Vietnamese cellphone set up within two hours of my arrival.  I had also become a millionaire (the exchange rate is 20,000VND to $1 US, so the $200 I exchanged shot my net worth through the roof). 

Wednesday night I took my first trip into the Old Quarter, a bustling maze of interwoven rivers of pedestrians, cars, busses, and innumerable motorbikes.  I was overwhelmed by the casual chaos that defined my understanding of the original Hanoi.  After a couple fifty cent beers and a meal of the finest Pho, I retreated to my hotel room before I passed out on the tiny plastic stools which are the seat of choice for residents and tourists alike.

Thursday morning I rose at 4:30AM, an hour before the sun, due to the 12 hour jet lag and having fallen asleep at 9 the prior evening.  I escaped the hotel room and walked down towards the lake, Tay Ho, to watch the sunrise, too groggy to realize that “Tay Ho” stands for Westlake, and though a great place to watch the sunset, it is not much of a place to be at dawn. 

I left my hotel around 11 that morning and departed up to the place I had chosen to live, 483 Au Co Street, Tay Ho District, Vietnam (incase you want to send fan mail or frozen chicken nuggets, preferably the latter).  Still feeling and looking a zombie from the jet lag, the rest of Thursday was spent moving in to my new room, getting the necessities (a hook so I could hang up my Tom Brady jersey on the wall, Pringles) and the luxuries (shampoo, a toothbrush, etc.), and catching up on sleep.

Friday was a day of exploration by foot.  I walked the circumference of Westlake, a 12 kilometer journey which I probably turned into between 15 and 18 via my detours down every inviting side street.  I was also able to explore the “Công viên nước Hồ Tây”, a waterpark mere minutes from my apartment.  I moseyed in unsure, assuming that a security guard, a locked door, something, anything would prevent me from entering the closed-for-the-season waterpark, but alas, I was able strut right in through the turnstiles.  The maintenance workers in the park didn’t seem to care that I was there.  It was pretty cool to be in an empty waterpark, although disappointing that I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the roller coaster.  Guess that’ll just have to wait til spring.

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View From My Apartment Roof, The Ferris Wheel is the Water Park.  Beyond it lies Tay Ho.

Friday night I was finally un-jetlagged enough to get my first taste of Hanoi nightlife.  I went out with my housemates, two British couples who have been in-country for about a year and a half each.  We went bar hopping around the Tay Ho area, and I discovered that much like New Orleans, Hanoi also has many a “Free Beer Hour”, though when they say it, they mean it (no two chip limit).  It was a blast meeting a ton of new people and finding myself at a cafe at the end of the evening with a plate of french fries before me, a sight so beautiful I tear up a little at the thought of it now.

Saturday, at the encouragement of my roommates, I purchased a motorbike (don’t tell my mom).  The bulk of the day was spent learning the rules of the road, the flow of traffic, and familiarizing myself with the different routes around Tay Ho.  I only almost crashed once!  I needn’t say more about the motorbike, as I believe it’d be far more entertaining for you to check out the video at the bottom of this post.

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Dragon Statue along the West Bank of Tay Ho

Saturday night was spent being overwhelmed, shocked, and amused by many of the particular quirks of Vietnamese nightlife, and how different it is from back home.  The music, the price of drinks, and several other factors make the nightlife here vastly different than in the States.

I awoke early this morning to watch the Patriots stomp on the Titans.  In Tom Brady’s name, we pray.  The rest of the day has been spent conquering another couple hours on the road, looking for a warmer jacket, though I have yet to find one that fits, and searching for a teaching job, which I hope to have secured by this time next week.

To be perfectly honest, there are moments when I am utterly overwhelmed by the absolute difference of the place I am in, the lack of familiar faces around, and the distance I have traveled to be here.  However, after those fleeting moments of insecurity and uncertainty, I am reassured that this grand adventure will awaken in me a new understanding of the world and of myself.  I have already come to appreciate the chaotic poetry of Hanoi, from it’s constant state of simultaneously falling apart and being fixed, to the democratic anarchy distilled in the ho-hum life threatening traffic on the streets.  I also feel very fortunate to have stumbled into a house with great roommates who were willing to take me out my first weekend and show me some cool spots.  I have always felt blessed with serendipitous friendships throughout my life, and it seems as though that luck may have followed me to the orient.  Time will tell, but it feels like I’m off to a pretty good start.

Check back next week for an update from (hopefully) Professor Thatch, (hopefully) the first actual vlog post, and much more!

Best wishes to all back home,

Thatcher

P.S. – Sorry for the poor video quality, there was a problem importing the videos from my GoPro onto my computer, so I couldn’t render the video fully.  Hope to have it figured out by next week.

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