Day 202: Left spinning in Hanoi
“WHY don't we roll between the rooms and let the die decided,” I offer.
Though we both slept fine and Eva was hell-bent on staying away from hostels last night, this morning, she wants to move. I don't fully understand as we'd both agreed that it's more of a pain than it's worth to bounce around from place to place when you're only in town for a couple days.
She mentioned something about the water leaking all night. I'm not going to argue with her about it. What's the point? So we start to hunt for another place, popping into a couple of possible locations. All of them are much nicer with thick comforters – two even have bathtubs. They're in the 20 dollar range, which doesn't seem unreasonable to me.
“I want to find something for five dollars,” Eva says in response to my offer to let the die decided.
“Okay, well, I need to get some work done today. I don't want to spend my whole morning looking for a new place. So, if you want to keep looking, just book us both a bed or room and that will be fine. Anything is okay with me,” I say, standing in one of the tight alleys of The Old Quarter, where hotels and hostels are rubbing shoulders.
There is a pause.
“I'm going to get a room that is my style and fits my budget,” Eva says, angrily pounding out the word “my” each time. “I'd rather save the ten dollars and use it for Christmas presents. You can do whatever you like.”
“That's fine. Just book me a bed too please,” I say. Having not shot down any suggested places or even mentioned a budget or style, I can't fathom from where her sudden out burst is coming.
Frustrated with Eva's attitude, I settle into Joma, a nearby coffee chain, to work.
“Hahaha.... Well... that didn't take long for you to tell me to fuck off.. Glad I bailed on my free room last night so you weren't stuck paying for a place by yourself,” I write her on Facebook. In my mind there's no justifying fucking a friend off like that. I wasn't hitting on her. I wasn't complaining. I wasn't really doing anything besides letting her know that I needed to get back to work and was happy with anything. Why throw a friend under the bus so quickly? I don't understand.
“Found a hostel though, the one I checked out when I “fuccked off”. I was more in a one track mind, I really wanted to find a different room. Sorry about holding you up with work. Its called: Hostel Massive. 5$ a room.
“Did you book me a bed too?”
“It's really chic and nice.. not like the one we stayed in last night. I am here having a smoothie to check out the vibe...”
“If you had a free room last night, you should have told me! IT would have been fine :)”
“I didn't want to leave you hanging. I take care of my friends. Anyway, did you book me a room? Or Bed?”
“Well, I appreciate it... but also remember, I'm a strong independent woman.”
“Sigh. Whatever. Anyway please book me room.”
Eventually, I'm able to get Eva to book me a bed.
“If it eases your Eva-centric mind, you're not my priority here (I made you a priority in Cat Ba). I didn't come here solely to spend time with you. So don't worry about it... I want to hang with the crew and pick up my new drone. And now I'm focusing on my work. O, and that's not saying I can't re-prioritize you... but it seems to be the thing you dread most haahaha.”
“You do you Isaac.”
When we meet back up in the hotel room to move our stuff to the hostel, it's like nothing happened.
I decided to let her be the strong independent woman she is, so I take my pile of heavy stuff over to Massive Hostel and up six floors of stairs to a standard dorm room. There are six bunk beds piled in the room.
The young man working at reception, who has already memorized my name, puts me in a top bunk. I wouldn't call the place chic, but I'm not going to complain, even if I'd be more than glad to spend the two extra dollars simply to have floor space for my stuff. The small lockers in the room don't provide space, so my bags end up taking up half of the top bunk I'll be sleeping on.
“I'll see you later Isaac,” the receptionist says. Though the place isn't special, staff that takes the time to care goes a long way.
On the way back to Joma, where I left my computer, I spot Eva lugging her bags down the alley to Massive Hostel. Given how much slack I keep getting for trying to be helpful, I decided to mind my own business.
At about noon, Eva pops by Joma to say hi and grab a coffee. She's thinking about getting lunch before going Christmas shopping. I have no interest in spending any time with her at this point, but also don't feel like being impolite. Luckily, Leh has invited me over for lunch.
Leh's invitation made me smile. We were both free and she wanted to spend time with me. It felt nice.
With a little help from Google Maps, I get going to Leh's apartment for lunch, then start recognizing the roads. It's fun being on familiar territory.
Leh's wearing a long t-shirt and short jean shorts when she lets me in through the backdoor of the apartment.
I exchanged money – 1,200 dollars – into a fat wad of Dong at a unpresuming place located at Quoc Trinh 27 Ha Trung Street. There isn't a board with all the buy and sell rates for the currencies. In fact, if you didn't know the shop did money exchanges, you'd never walk in. However, they do a bustling business with locals and offer one of the best exchange rates in town, which starts to matter when you're dealing with this much cash.
“It's like fuck your opinions, when you've not even offered an opinion yet,” I'm tell Leh as I complain about this morning. She's laughing as I fall into my stand-up comedy storytelling mode.
Leh's put on a fine meal of several homemade dishes. There's a beef and garlic stir fry with cubed bell peppers, fried chicken, steamed green beans and cold fish in a thick plum sauce.
“This is really salty,” Leh says as she tries one of the wings.
“I didn't say anything,” I say with a wink. Though the fish dish was insanely good, the chicken wings are way too salty.
We start joking about her friend who absolutely despises me and it's funny, because we're not putting up faces or worried about anything. We're just laughing.
I'm watching TV when I realize that Leh's put on a pair of rubber gloves to wash up the dishes. Coming up behind her, I hug her, my arms lifting until they are resting beneath her lovely breasts.
“Come on, enough of that. Let me finish up,” I say.
“Sure, now that it's almost done.”
It takes a bit of horse play, but eventually I get her away from the dishes so I can finish them. She's not in her room when I come downstairs. Instead, she's finishing her shower. She walks in a towel.
She's bent over selecting what to wear out.
“What you going to wear?” I ask, playfully coming up behind her. She holds up a thin blue dress.
It doesn't take long for us to end up in the bed. I'd like to say we lost hours of the afternoon. So much time in fact that we weren't able to make it to the drone shop. However, after a little foreplay and the time it took to track down a strawberry flavored condom that I miraculously had with me, we were nearly done. I believe even the term brief performance would be an exaggeration in my favor.
“Am I a bad person?” I wonder as the sun warms us and we navigate the Hanoi traffic. Doing something bad doesn't make you a bad person, so the question is wrong from the start. However, I know what I mean, which helps.
We go together on Donkey to the DJI store on the third floor of a Inoxious Building in Hanoi. From the outside, there is no way to know that the drone repair shop is there. Even when you are on the third floor, you have to pass through some other office, where there are three people who appear to have jobs playing on Facebook.
The same funny tech guy with the nicely parted hair who helped fix Dorsey before she found her way into limestone of The Face in Cat Ba is in the office. The office itself feels like it could be used for Backroom Casting Couch, though the pile of boxes in the back and a couple drones lying on top of them would need to be cleared out.
“Do you have an email?” Leh asks me, translating what's happening.
I do have the email, which guarantees me a price, as well as the last Phantom 4 drone in Hanoi. There was a run on the stock during Black Friday, which I didn't realize. Sadly, I missed the Black Friday deals. However, the price for the drone has now shot up to nearly 1,800 dollars, but I'm getting the quadcopter with an extra battery for 1,200 dollars. The hope is that I'll be teaming up with a new motorcycle company based in Kenya called Kibo, trading them drone footage of their bike for the use of it while I'm there. Here's to dreaming.
Leh and I part ways, so I can return to Joma to work.
The whole Asia Outdoors crew arrives for pie. They invite me outside to join them, but I'm staying focused.
“If you want to try some of my turkey, come on out,” Eva says, breaking her vegetarian diet with a bit of holiday flourish.
I vaguely hope she'll bring me in a bite.
I'm still working when they leave: off in search of a GoPro battery and ice cream.
An hour or so later, feeling restless, I close up shop in Joma and head out to the streets of Hanoi, walking in the direction of Hoan Kiem Lake.
Hands shoved deep into my pocket, there is a dreamer's pace to my stroll.
Hanoi is a city filled with charming chaos. Everything is happening at once, drivers are driving in all directions, people are crowding onto the sidewalks, vendors are selling cards and paintings and there is even a man offering to polish someone's sandals on one corner. All of this takes place under a canopy of trees that run between the road and the tall, narrow buildings.
I am pensive, aware of it and enjoying it I as approach the lake. The road looping the lake is closed to traffic. I forgot that it's the weekend, so walking street is in full swing. There is a young Vietnamese man dressed up as a clown tying balloon flowers and Spider-Mans. There are young couples and groups strolling down the road. A couple dozen middle-aged men and women are dancing the cha-cha, while a crowd of onlookers gather around them. Children run this way and that, some with balloons. Several kids are smoothly rolling around on self-propelled, hand-less scooters, lights flashing below their feet as they lean forward to speed up and back to slow down.
A tall, young Vietnamese man in a Christmas sweater saddles up next to me with a pretty girl about his age.
“Hello. How are you?” he asks.
“I'm good. How are you?”
I immediately know what's happening.
“I'm good. Where are you from?”
“I'm from America.”
The three of us are walking and talking. It's not too crowded, where we are, so it's easy to walk and carry the conversation. It's not a complicated conversation.
“Do you mind if I ask you some questions about your life and your work?”
“Of course not. Are you university students?” I ask the couple.
They are. This is standard in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City: students, eager to practice their English, approach tourist to chat, share and learn a bit about the tourist. There is nothing dubious here.
Not too far away, a group of maybe six other students are slyly smiling at the couple talking to me. They're all friends.
“Thank you for helping me with my school project,” the boy says. His assignment was to talk to a native English speaker. By this point, we're standing in the street, his friends have joined us to say hello.
He removes a phone from his pocket, I presume to stop recording.
“Can we take a picture?”
We all crowd in together for a couple pictures, then go our way.
Vietnamese are the friendliest people.
Young adults and kids are sitting in a dozen or so small circles in the road. Each group is playing some variation of Pick Up Sticks and Jacks. Not far off, a crowd surrounds a game of Steal the Bacon, which I played at birthday parties as a kid. Beyond them, a big game Tug of War has commenced.
Everyone is bundled up in jackets, smiling, talking or taking selfies.
A pair of girls, probably in their early 20s, approach me. They are undeniably cute. One of them, Le, has a classically beautiful Vietnamese face: the sort of plush lips and lovely eyes that made me declare Vietnamese woman some of the most beautiful women in the world when I first came to Vietnam. I nearly moved to Vietnam immediately after the trip because of the women, coffee culture and dedication to pocket billiards – it's one of the easiest countries in the world to find a pool table.
“Can you help me with a project?” Le asks, after the three of us got past the basics of our names and how everyone was feeling on this particularly lovely evening.
The pair lead me back to a place they want to film the interview. Le is gently bumping into me the whole walk there, like a piece of metal unaware of its natural attraction to a magnet.
Na My, Le's friend, is holding up a mobile phone, coaching her friend during the interview. They are both part of the Alibaba English School; Na My is the more fluent of the two.
Before we started, it was explained that we'd be covering two questions: 1) Do you think we should fall in love when we are learning in university. 2) Do you think we should go to university when we finish high school?
Le starts the interview with the most endearing pauses and inflections.
I gave my answers, which basically came down to the fact that we're all individuals so there's no single answer that makes sense for everyone. And love is love, and love does whatever the fuck it wants when it wants – so “should” isn't really applicable. Though I perhaps put it a bit more politely.
Le felt strongly that people should not fall in love in university, as it would lead to them wasting time message each other and wasting money on gifts and Valentine's Day rather than saving money and focusing on school. She was also not a fan of going straight into university, believing that it's more important to have life experiences and save up money to take care of one's family.
“Thank you for helping,” Na My says.
“Of course. Actually, if you guys want to practice your English, I'm glad to chat with you on Facebook. Do you have Facebook?” I ask in a tone that makes it sound like I'm talking to children.
It takes a minute, but we connect on Facebook and I return to my wandering, buying a sweet from a pair of super cute girls who don't speak a word of English.
One of them mimes “picture”.
Holding up the homemade lollipop and making faces we take some photos together.
On the far side of the lake, a five piece band basking in blue light is being lead by an electric violinist. They're playing instrumental versions of various pop songs to an appreciative crowd.
Maybe I should marry a violinist I muse, watching her energetically cast a spell over the crowd.
When I get back to the dorm, Eva messages me, checking if I'm still out and about. The rest of the crew is getting a Uber taxi to VietClimb in the morning, but she wants to see if she can catch a ride on Donkey.
“Can you set an alarm and wake me if I'm not already awake? I have no phone to use as an alarm,” Eva writes.
“For a strong independent woman, you're suddenly asking for a lot of assistance,” I say, throwing in a low blow at her reasonable request. “You should download the rules [for the climbing competition] really quickly. Taking forever on my phone.”
“I saw them. Was reading them earlier.”
“Yes, the world isn't only about you. Imagine that. Hard. I know.”
“What do you want?”
“Do you want me to download them so you can look at them?”
“So I can read them. Correct.”
“All you had to do was ask in a way I can understand... I don't read minds... and please stop insulting me like that.”
“Just merely communicate in a way I can understand.”
“Seriously, I have my weaknesses, but you aren't perfect either. so give me a break!!!!”
“I care about you because you have weaknesses... So don't worry. I never claim to be remotely perfect, and I'm just as good at getting my panties in a twist as anyone else,” I write. Though I can tell from Facebook that she hasn't read it. Minutes later, she's handing her computer up to me in the top bunk so I can review the rules.
The rules pretty straight forward. I bring the computer back to her.
“Here, you didn't see my last message,” I say, thinking that it will at least stop us from going to bed on a terrible note.
“Just leave me alone. I've had a long day.”
I make my way back to my bed mumbling something about this being the exact sort of thing that makes me not like her sometimes.