Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The long way home (Hong Kong to Vancouver)

I'm awake at 5 am.  My plane doesn't leave until 7 pm and then I'll be stuck in a tin can hurtling over the Northern Pacific for 13 hours, after which I get to use public transit from the airport to North Vancouver.

Truly not something to look forward to.


But hey, there are ways to make the best of it ;-)




Yesterday I was  trying to find the GAP  store  again where I bought my flowery shorts 10 days ago.  NO luck ;-(  But wandering along different routes, I discovered a store that sells headphones.  Since I had toyed with the idea of trying some noise-cancelling headphones I went in and left 5 minutes later with a set of headphones featuring active noise cancellation.




These should take out most of the annoying plane buzz noise during today's flight and in combination with my lack of sleep should let me miss most of that flight.  That's the plan at least ;-)



In the morning, I discover that the renovations in my hotel now have moved from the escalator area to the breakfast area and that there is no breakfast to be had in my hotel.


I've wanted to check out the Best Western Harborview hotel not far from here for a while, so I head there for breakfast. I am not disappointed. No thrills and no great expense summarizes it best.


In the elevator I noticed a plaque  in the elevator adverting a viewing platform on the 3-something floor.  I take the elevator up and what do I find? 

OMG!   My mind is made up. Next time I'm staying here, put on my orange swimming aids to paddle around this pool and then enjoy the view from one of the deck chairs.  WOW!


After breakfast I spend the remaining hours until check-out time in my room packing and translating.  My plane doesn't leave until  7 pm tonight, so I have tons of time to kill, but fortunately that is very easy in Hong Kong since there is always something new to discover:


The amount of weight moved  by middle aged workers on rickety cars is astonishing


The first homeless abode I've ever seen in Hong Kong


Wine in a sealed plastic glass.  One of those almost killed me at Hyde Park. Death by double-decker bus was only avoided by a friend's hand on my shoulder


misty 


He falsely assumed I was taking a picture of him (on the Star Ferry)

view from the Star Ferry


a junk heading towards me


Someone fishing at Pier 9 caught something


That junk seems to be coming straight towards me !

It is and the reason is that I put myself in its path ;-)




a different feel from the old Duk Ling




and a different clientele




it's an attention-grabbing ride I'm on


the weather is nothing to write home about


the windward plastic is lowered to keep the rain out













on dry land again
From Pier 9 it is not far to MTR's Central station, where I board the Airport Express.


And then it's time to head for cooler climes ;-(



Saturday, 24 October 2015

Hardly a happy Hans hops from Hanoi to Hong Kong

Ooops. I did it again.









I've found a place I like.



The egg-man cometh !


A place I really like and would love to get to know even better.

A place where a serene smile never leaves my face all day.


A place where thoughts of leaving have been banned from being entertained.

I am leaving Hanoi today.


Don't get me wrong. Under any other circumstances, from any other destination, I would be hopping in my chair with excitement to fly to Hong Kong. 

It's a city I have enjoyed tremendously on any of my so far 4 visits.   
But there is something about Hanoi ...; maybe it's just  that even after almost a week here, it is still a complete unknown to me and my curiosity has only been awakened but definitely not been satisfied. 


Another wedding


Also, I am getting very much used to the life here and it won't be easy changing back.

I'm getting accustomed to my morning walk and the selection of fresh fruit and flowers



I'm getting accustomed to the very sparse traffic in the early morning (and the opposite for the rest of the day)

I'm getting accustomed to being able to see the sun rise above the Lake of the Restored Sword




I'm getting accustomed to the colour of the Hanoi sunrise!




And what is worst: I'm getting accustomed to the smiling nonchalance with which Viet people shrug away problems that would send a Vancouverite to an urgent psychiatrist session.





I've only discovered the musical street inundation today, but I'm sure I would get very accustomed to it very soon.


video

Liked that?  Here's another  one ;-)

video



But thoughts of leaving are not the only shadow looming over my mind today at the 7 am breakfast table.  I've been up since 4:30, had instant coffee and yoghurt on the balcony, walked to the Lake of the Restored Sword to visit the bank machine, and came back to the hotel with a few more good images stored on the camera chip.  
During all  this  time I have been calling Grandma in roughly 45 minute intervals but there was no answer.

At least the 2nd shadow lifts when Grandma picks up the phone after another attempt after breakfast.  Is an age of 97 considered too young for getting a hearing aid?


Gladiolas: Money well spent ;-)



A common joke says that the Vietnamese haven't decided yet which side of the road they should drive on 


After breakfast, traffic has increased significantly !
Check-out is at noon. It's 8:30 now.  There is time to visit another Unesco world heritage site ;-)

I've walked by it only yesterday and it wasn't far, so off I go



When I'm almost there, one of the ever-present motorbike guys offers me a ride. I decline but he keeps following me.
.
Even though I try to get rid of him, he is always behind me and points out the ticket-counter of a site I enter.  
having one's picture taken on a fighter jet. Worth it?

When I realize it's the wrong one (Vietnam military history museum) I buy a ticket  anyway because I'm afraid he'll be waiting outside  on the sidewalk.  


After museum staff tell me I have to leave my backpack in a locker, I leave only 5 minutes later without having seen most of the people-killing machinery on display.



And there he is waiting and waving again and  pointing at the seat behind him. He shows me a card with a list of tourist destination. Mine isn't on it.   I say "Old castle".  He starts hopping up and down and says "yes, yes"  pointing with even more enthusiasm at the seat behind him.  Oh why not?, I think and haggle him down from his price of US$3 (70,000) to 50,000.  Only after he almost ejects me from the back seat going over a high curb, in an absolute SCARY way wiggles his way through oncoming traffic to get to the other-direction lane, drives me past the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (I'd never seen it) and wants to turn left towards some 'old castle' (I shout "Not left, Right!"), we both finally realize that "imperial citadel' would have been better than "old castle" and that the entrance actually was 30 meters from where he picked me up.   Fun though.  I pay him and we shake hands and part smiling.


I pay my entrance fee (actually less than that of the military museum), and start walking towards the citadel.



 a vast collection of Bonsai trees in fancy stands








The Emperor's concubines?


No, it seems to be a mass wedding!






Now that's a large old bell




I prefer the  gong to the bell




This is the kind of thing they are still digging out in the archaeological site here


quite impressive for a decoration having no practical purpose








the digs








More wives than husbands?






I come out of the Imperial Citadel and whom do I see? Mr Motorbike waving at me.






I cross the street, to look at the flower installers to get away from him.






After taking these pictures, I completely forgot about you know who, because I make the mistake of crossing the street and there he is coming towards me and waving at me. OOOOH NOOOO!




The main railway line again


LED-string heaven !




mixing traditional and new




Yes, they do re-wire their burnt-out electric motors here ;;-)


I  say  good bye to my hotel receptionist and leave a tip of a Million Dong for the hotel staff.  The receptionist alone saved me more than that by way of the free upgrade to the penthouse..  I say good-bye to Mong at the other reception desk and she brings me 5 lucky candy and tells me to send an e-mail. 

I show her a Google Map and ask for confirmation of the location of the City Bus Terminal.  After she asks me why I'm not taking a taxi, I just say "How do Vietnamese people get to the airport? Do  they take taxis?"  Her face saddens a bit and she says "No, take bus".  


Along the walk to the bus depot, I get a chance of buying a carton of the GOOD Vietnamese cigarettes for less than US$10.   I already know how much the bus fare for the 1.5 hour ride to the airport is: CAN$ 0.50 ;-)  Yes, I could 'spoil' myself by paying US$ 20-30 for a taxi, but what for?   I wouldn't get to listen to the Viet music on the bus, do Viet-people watching, and I'd be thinking for way to long whether taking a taxi means that I think I'm better than the locals.    NO. I have a choice. And I chose to save the money from the activity that I wouldn't enjoy anyway and give it instead to the who have a use for it.  Doesn't cost me a penny and I have  fun on both ends.



Arriving at the airport 3 hours before take-off, I have a chance to admire but not use the sleeping pods. 

You know those moments when you're so tired it hurts, and you know that just half an hour of napping would fix it?  That's where these should come in really handy!




The brand-new Hanoi international terminal building


I eat some edible spicy chicken dish in the restaurant on the 4th level and while I'm doing some translating work  after the meal I notice that my nicotine level has dropped too far for my brain still registering well-being.  Hmm. Stop working, pack the laptop, go outside and smoke, and then convince them to let me use the comfy table again?  Complicated and annoying.   

That's when I notice it.  At first I don't believe my eyes.  I  check whether the other tables have one too.  They ALL do!
Yes, this is a restaurant INSIDE Hanoi international airport. And THAT is indeed an ashtray ;-)
Problem solved. Smoke and work.

An hour  before scheduled take-off, I have one last cigarette in the comfy sweltering heat outside the terminal building and breeze through the entire security check brimborium within 5 minutes (Hear that, YVR?).  I still have half an hour to kill so I walk along the security-cleared terminal area.  And there it is: proof that Noi Bai airport belongs to the large group of civilized airports, which also include Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris, etc. etc.: A smoking lounge ;-).  Not that I felt like panicking ahead of my 2 hour flight, but it is a nice touch:  A sign that the airport cares about the comfort of all its passengers (Hear that YVR?).








On the flight, I have a great chat with a British couple, about among other topics their experiences in Singapore.  The details won't  be retold here, but their stories confirm the suspicion that I had formed before.  People in places where everything works and looks pretty smile a lot less than those in less 'livable' places.  If you like Germany or Switzerland, you might enjoy Singapore, but I won't.
Singapore.  Not my pic

Switching from the Airport Express to the connecting MTR train involves walking quite some distance through  IFC mall, home to the Rolex etc stores of this world.  Seeing 15 year olds parading around with both hands holding several shopping bags from very expensive stores makes me want to turn around and fly back to Hanoi.

Hint: there is more to life !
I almost know the way to my hotel  by heart and arrive less than 1 hour after touching down.
I put my laptop on my desk and notice this little bug on one of those stupid desk cards.  It looks like a ROACH!.
I flick it  off by reflex.  When I look under the desk to see where it went, I see some garbage of the previous occupant.  
OMFG. This used to be the PEARL of hotels. What has happened?  

After having had a fabulous room for $27 in a poor communist country, I'm not in the mood to pay $150 for a dirty room with 6-legged co-inhabitants.

I gather my belongings and storm down to the hotel lobby.  At least now they;re showing some class by expressing an apology, not asking any questions, and upgrading me to another room with full harbour view.  Shaving kits now must be requested by the guest (OOOOOH, imagine the SAVINGS!) and mine arrives by knock on the door 10 minutes later.


The new room just happens to be the exact same room that I stayed in with George in April 2014, just a couple of days before he died.



Just for fun (sure), I check out Expedia and Flighthub for return flights from Vancouver to HANOI at the end of November.  


OMG!  And lead us not into temptation ....

Return flight with 1 stop in Kanton for CAN$ 912 including all taxes.  December also happens to be the DRIEST season in Hanoi !!!!


It would be nice to see Vietnam



not my pic
before globalization and the ever-present need to attract tourist dollars turn it into a giant Disneyland


Da Nang