After Leslie has Pho and I opt for an omelet for breakfast, we are picked up by Lan and Thang and driven an hour out of town. Because it is Sunday and a three day weekend, the traffic is much lighter than the beehive experience we’ve had thus far. However, it also means people are moving faster and one of the things we observe is that stopping only happens when you are forced to stop, meaning you’ll hit something if you don’t. Right of way belongs to the individual. Yes there are crosswalks on the streets, but they don’t mean much for the intrepid pedestrian moving from one side to the other. It seems in this country the punch line to “why did the chicken cross the road?” is “for the thrill of it.”
Still after awhile we find ourselves leaving the skyscrapers that are even on the outskirts of Hanoi and heading south on a Freeway and out into the country. We see crops, rice paddy fields, and other flora. We also see police waving down speeding vehicle (100 kilometers per hour–about 65 mph–is max) We are headed to the farm owned by Lan’s sister Ha and her husband Pham. To be taken out to meet the full family is an honor in Vietnam. After leaving the highway, we drive a few kilometers east and turn down a road where an open gate and archway lead us into a courtyard where people are sweeping, dogs are barking, and a late model BMW is parked.
Pham is an international banker and travels much. He and Ha bought this farm eleven years ago as an investment. There are fruit orchards, chickens, ducks, and a wine cellar that seems to be abandoned at the moment. We meet in short order Ha, Pham, Lan’s father, Pham’s father, Ha’s daughter, son-in law, and three-month old child. We sit down, drink some tea, eat some snacks, walk around the buildings a bit, then sit down for a “country” lunch of Asian chicken salad, sausages, herbs, soup, and finally a hot-pot. There is also red wine, lots of red wine. Once again, it is a huge amount of food and we are offered a place to nap afterwards for an hour. After that we tour the farm where we see some huge examples of exotic fruits (see the photograph of Ha holding her prizes.)
After the walk around we head back to town (although a golf course near by would have been fun to look at) swing by Lan and Thang’s apartment to pick up Long, and then stop at a multi-story mall for coffee and a conversation about orchestras. We then head upstairs for a Korean Barbecue dinner that involves thin meat cooked on an air-heated grill right in our own private dining room. The meat is then wrapped in lettuce with other herbs, condiments and vegetables before being dipped in a sauce and eaten by hand. It is another food discovery of which there have been many on this trip. As someone at the high-rise dinner has pointed out, in Hanoi sight-seeing is not the primary reason to visit, but the food is!
We do a bit of shopping in the very elegant stores. There are some good deals to be had, but for the most part, many of the items are very expensive. One must learn to calculate the costs quickly. 1 US Dollar = 22.000 VND. Thus a 500.000 VND bill is nothing to get excited about . . .$45. We saw a leather bag for 11.000.000 or $484 US. Many of the clothes were in the same range. Wow!
We finally head back to our hotel–it is New Year’s Eve–knowing that we have some French champagne in the fridge to toast at midnight. Long before anyone in the west would be doing so. Midnight Jan. 1 in Hanoi is 10 AM Dec. 31 MST in Fort Collins.
To be continued…