Within any country there are regional differences and rivalries, north vs. south, east coast vs. west coast, etc. Vietnam is no different. As we traveled north from Saigon/Ho Chi Min the people of the south good-naturedly warned us about the stoic nature of the northerners. One individual referred to it as “Charlie Homeland.” Very colorful description.
That said, upon arriving at Hanoi – I felt the incredibly energy of this city. It is very different from the south, but in a good way. It is very international and active. On a Monday night at 10 p.m. there is still so much life going on. Young people sit by the river kissing, others chat in restaurants and cafes, tourist continue to shop for souvenirs, and others are just trying to navigate their way home. Taking a detour from the usual Vietnamese faire, we decided to look for pizza. We found a great location – Al Fresco. We had pizza, spaghetti and to my amazement, quesadillas; very decent ones in fact. The wait staff was ultra friendly and offered us complimentary dessert for this being our first day in Hanoi. I got a kick out of seeing locals (I think) eating fajitas and drinking margaritas.
In Hanoi we met up with Whittier College alumna Norma Hernandez. Norma is currently stationed in Vietnam and works with ambassador. We were all very proud to find a Poet working at such a top job so far away from home.
One of the lasting impressions of Hanoi was the great contrast between communism and capitalism within the city. You can see vestiges of the old way — a statue of Lenin and Soviet flags waiving high; we also visited the tomb of Ho Chi Min – Uncle Ho, who is has been mummified and encased in a glass casket.We walked into the tomb of HCM
On the other hand free-enterprise seems to have taken a hold in Hanoi. Stores sell huge wide screen televisions and there are the factories that can be seen coming in to town from the airport.
These buildings dot the landscape of what was once government controlled family-worked rice fields.
And the disparities between the haves and have-nots seems a bit more stark here than in Saigon. There are more people driving SUVs and Mercedes alongside the hundreds of motorbikes. Moreover, these shinny vehicles stand in extreme contrast to the women who travel from the outskirts of the city by foot and who literally carry their goods on their back to sell in the city. While
the practice of selling food and fruit on the sidewalk is common, it is still against the law. The women therefore risk having their items confiscated and having heavy fines imposed on them.