After a whole week in Hanoi, I can give a decent opinion of the capital of Vietnam: not my type of city, but certainly worth seeing.
The streets are always busy, the bars are crowded, the beer is cheap and the weather is unbearably hot. I have a view of the sunset that does not ever let me down; the nice shades of red, purple and blue are splendid every evening, as I watch it all happen from my hotel window. I prefer the smaller, quieter towns, but I'm not unhappy at all in Hanoi.
I have made some interesting acquaintances, went to a few nice bars and events and look forward to the rest of this week. The Ho Chi Minh museum was a great surprise; it is a modern, enticing building paying a well-deserved tribute to one of the greatest men who ever lived. I knew little about him until I visited the museum, but was already a shallow fan. Now I am more than that; I am inspired by his ideals and way of life.
Before I move on to more serious and important remarks, I want to pay a tribute to the beauty of Vietnamese ladies. I have travelled to many places, and I have lived in a few countries. The beauty of Italian women is famous throughout the world and the French ladies are almost a cult, though I personally always preferred the Dutch with their generous proportions, fair skin, independence, long legs and strong character. I had the privilege of being close to all these beauties, and know how true they are. Thus, I expected the Vietnamese ladies to be nothing in comparison to the fantastic beauties of the north. How wrong I was!
These ladies are like delicate flowers blooming out of the strongest of stems: they are usually very fit, perfumed, with gentle, happy faces that show a certain pride that I find lacking in most women around the world. They are also witty (at least the ones I had the chance to meet) and very determined. How they age is an entirely different matter, and I must confess that in my humble opinion, the French are still the best at this art. Nevertheless, looking at old propaganda posters and their messages, I could see that the empowering of women here began a long time ago; the men needed the women to win the wars against the French and the United Stateans. They could not treat them as child-bearing beasts, as most men around the world tend to do. They needed partners, fellow warriors. And that these women were. And that shows in today's culture; Vietnamese men respect the Vietnamese women like I have seldom seen, perhaps only in the Netherlands and Scandinavia. I also noticed that quite many of them do not shave their legs. That is only visible on the whitest of them, but still I noticed it quite often. I prefer it like that; I don't see the point of a lady going through the painful ordeal of shaving or waxing her legs every week, making the hair uglier and tougher. These ladies have very few hairs, fair and soft, and let them grow freely, as nature intended. Some of them are still among the prettiest I have seen, though the 'hairy leg' thing is not 'in' where I was brought up.
It's interesting to see, though, that despite all this respect for, and strength of, women, the roles are still quite clear: I have never seen a woman driving a taxi or giving paid rides on their motorbikes, just as I have never seen men roaming the streets selling pineapples and sweets.
I read a lot, nowadays, about the ongoing protests in Brasil; comments from both 'sides'. The protesters want a lower bus fare, the right-wingers want them dead because they are 'a bunch of miscreants who only want to make a mess'. In all honesty, I know that Vietnam has many problems, their currency is worth shit, their politicians are corrupt and the bribe system rules the land. But I wish Brasil was half as well off as Vietnam; I could easily live for many years here. I dread going back to Brasil even for a quick visit to see old friends and family. I hope the students and protesters in Brasil get their way and move towards a society a bit more like this one, and less like the USA Wannabe that they currently are - exploring neighbour countries and creating the mega-rich and the despairingly poor.
A Vietnamese friend invited me to drink last evening. She told me we would meet some Australians at the bar. There I was, drinking with my friend and 4 people I had never met. The couple in front of me was Irish, and I couldn't really recognize the accent of the other 2 people, so I just assumed they were Australian like she said. At a certain point, one of them, the organizer of the whole tour (they were all travelling together), points to the 'Old Propaganda Posters' shop across the street and says "I want to buy a poster, but I need a Vietnamese to assure me that what I'm buying does not say 'Death to America'". The whole table laughed for a while and I said "Well, I think it's highly unlikely that there is such a poster". They all quickly disagreed, and my Vietnamese friend backed them up: "I'm sure there is some poster that says that", to which I replied "Well, if there is, I want to buy it". A shy burst of laughter came from the other people. The tour organizer seemed to increase his aversion towards me (which was apparent from the beginning), and the other fellow whose accent I could not recognize said: "I'm from the US, and I think it would be funny to have such a poster!". I looked very serious and asked "Why?" to which he replied, embarrassed; "Well, it reminds us of how cruel we were in this country!". I proceeded to ask "How on Earth can that ever be considered 'funny'?". To which he had no reply. From then on I just ignored the rest of the table, finished my drink and went back to my hotel. If remembering how cruel you have been to another country, dropping napalm and killing children, is "funny", there is something really wrong with you, my friend.
Despite all those wars, the propaganda they had to create to encourage an increased rice production and the role of women in the war (and I did not find a single poster which said "Death to America", though many said great stuff like "let's get rid of the US invaders" and "Let's celebrate the destruction of the 4000th US airplane"), just 50 years ago, this country is quite developed, peaceful, safe, modern and clean. I cannot help but imagine what they would have achieved if they didn't have to get rid of imperialist invaders so often, and I cannot help but wonder what their future will be. I admire this country more and more - its people, its ideals and its beauty, even though I must recognize it has many flaws and problems, as any other place in the world. I look forward for these last 10 days in Vietnam, and I am sure that I will miss it sorely once I'm gone.
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PS - I wish all the luck in the world to my Turkish friends and their friends and families. Hopefully, it will all have a happy ending soon.