A Cab Ride in Hanoi

It takes us maybe 20 minutes to get tired of the  Ho Chih Minh museum. Sean was done the second an official back at the Mausoleum asked us where we’re from. I, on the other hand, was fine with the security checks, fine with the questions (“Obama!” said the official when I answered), and intrigued by the embalmed body. I started feeling tripped out by the art exhibits designed to symbolize some aspect of the late leader’s life. It was the 3-D sculpture of giant fruit on a table that finally did it for me – why? Because the man liked to eat? – and we leave, dodging an old man’s angry glare. It’s drizzling as we exit and my flip flops start to skid. We stroll through the manicured green lawns, pass the souvenir booths selling ice cream and conical hats. It’s been our plan to head to the Temple of Literature but by the time we reach the corner, the rain has started to come down in sheets. The dampness has crept up the hems of my jeans and my feet are encrusted in dirt. Sean left his umbrella at the hotel so we pass mine between us but we’re both cold and soaked within minutes. The motorbikes scream past us and the car horns shriek angrily. We realize we’re back where we started; we must have passed the Temple but were too distracted by the buckets of rain to notice it. Drenched and miserable, we decide that there’s just no point sightseeing in weather like this. We hail a cab.

Xin Chào,” I gobble at the cab driver in greeting. As I step in, he smirks at me; I’m not sure if it’s because I look like a drowned rat or because I’ve butchered the pronunciation. Sean shows him the address of the hotel.

“How much?” we ask. The cabbie flashes us a 100,000 dong bill. We’re still not sure how the exchange rates calculate in  yen but we paid 50,000 to get to the Mausoleum this morning so we’re annoyed. Sean holds up 5 fingers. The cabbie shakes his head and wiggles his fingers to mimick the falling rain. I take this to mean either “It’s a harder drive in this weather” or, “You’ll die of hypothermia without me.” Outside the warm, dry car, we can barely see through the deluge. We wearily agree to the price.

I’ve learned by now to at least try to ignore the traffic here in Hanoi. They’ve got their own laws, their own order; it doesn’t matter if 50 motorbikes are careening across the intersection from 3 different directons. They know the system, they’ll be fine. There’s no need for me to jump each time a horn blares. I alternate between screwing my eyes shut – I can’t look! – to squinting them open – I’ll only be here for 2 days; I have to look! When I dare peek, I see cyclists wearing plastic ponchos and groups of young people huddling in cafes, drinking black coffee. Gone are the fruit and fish vendors from my morning walk, gone are the motorbike peddlers and gone are the groups of shopkeepers huddled on the sidewalk, cutting raw chicken or fiddling with greens. Everything is gray and slick, and the pastel colors of the French colonial buildings seem to blur together, like the flowers in a Monet painting. This morning’s breakfast of beef pho sloshes in my leaping stomach as yet another car horn flares in my ear.

We arrive at the hotel in the Old Quarter and there are giant, filthy puddles waiting for us at the curb. We pay the cabbie and he grunts in thanks.

As we head back to our rooms, Sean is happier than I’ve seen him since last night, when he discovered 80 cent beers. Free now to dash up to his room and watch TV, he beams a winning grin at me through his new beard. We agree to meet for lunch in the neighborhood when the rain has dried up. We found some lovely places in our guide  book. Should it stop raining for good, I still envision a traffic-dodging stroll through the Old Quarter and, hopefully, a water puppet show tonight. Sighing, I head up to my room to wash my feet for the 600th time since arriving in South East Asia.

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