Just another day in Hanoi… unlike any other

I mentioned yesterday about Ryan “Killer” MacDonald being a great name for a thriller writer. Well, he had his own thrills today. He’s doing voluntary work for a foundation that is helping Vietnamese who are suffering from the ongoing effects of Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War – effects that the US government as recently as a month ago declared were “coincidental” and couldn’t be proven as being their fault.

The foundation is a fair bit out of the Old Quarter, so he uses a motorcycle taxi to get there similarly to my trip to Blue Dragon most days. Today, he had a conversational driver who asked where he was from. “America.”


The driver pulled over and started screaming at him to get off. His family had all been killed in the war and, perhaps understandably, he had a little bit of a grievance against Americans as a result. Ryan tried to offer him the agreed fare regardless, but the driver pulled a knife on him. Sensible lad, Ryan walked off and got another motorbike.

It just seems ironic, and a little sad, that one of the few Americans who’s going to the trouble of helping people is one who gets painted with the same brush as the people running his country. Happily, though, he wasn’t hurt. But in future he’s going to tell people he’s Canadian!

Blue Dragon-wise, I took Kat and Brit up today to see how things worked. Brit had spent some time in India last year teaching small children and she was curious to see how the places compared. This was also to be the first time for both girls on the back of a motorbike. And they ended up sharing the back of one!

The drive was one of the most interesting I’ve had in a while, partly as I had to keep looking behind me to ensure the girls’ bike wasn’t getting lost behind us. The “highlight” of the ride was watching a man defrost a dog (or so it seemed) on the roadside. He had a pile of paper resting against what looked like a frozen (or rigor-mortified) dog and was fanning the flames gently. One of the girls suggested that maybe he was trying to burn the hair off it – quite possible.

When we got there, the two bikers tried to fleece us for more money as “Hong Ha very long road” but we’d agreed before we set off and they knew how far up they were taking us. As it was, they netted 30,000d for three people on two bikes which isn’t bad money by any stretch.

I left the girls with Skye and some of the other staff as I did a very short class with Tho’s help. When I got back to Building Five, they were surrounded by children and the cutest little girl you ever saw was wandering round with Brit’s camera, a look of intense concentration on her face as she walked around making a video.

The Danes had been invited to watch some of the afternoon’s drama class so I politely hung around to wait for them… and then got roped in. The kids (and the Danes!) had a whale of a time for the half hour or so of the 2-hour lesson we stayed. Both girls were really impressed with the way things were run – I hope they spread the word back home, or even return to do some work in the future.

Kat and Brit to BDCF. Saw dog being cooked on way up. Their first time on bike. Drama class.

We moped’d back to Hoan Kiem Lake (and again had to tell them we were only going to pay the agreed fare) where the girls went off bag-shopping. Or purse shopping. Something girly anyway. I had spotted a DVD shop selling Cars the other night so decided to go and hunt it out. As ever, I ended up with a pile of DVDs rather than just the one I set out for. Ah, well.

While I was digging through the discs, a Vietnames man with a carrier bag sat down next to me. “Excuse me,” he said, pulling a brush from his bag, “Clean shoes?”

I pointed out the fact that I was wearing sandals and they didn’t polish too well.

“Oooooh, they broken. See?”

He pointed at two spots on my (perfectly functional) sandals, digging his finger in.

“Me stitch. Stitch? Fix them?”

It took over 2 minutes of “No – they’re fine” before he gave up and walked off, shaking his head at the mad foreigner who’s sandals were going to spontaneously combust.

Tara set off this afternoon for Beijing. Two and a half days on a train. Fortunately, another woman from the hostel was also making the same trip so she had a travelling companion. Unfortunately, there had been floods and landslides across southern China due to heavy rain which was affecting the train services. Tara has my email so I hope to hear from both of them at some point when they reach their destination.

More bad news as the two Danish guys who fell of their motorbikes left their bag in a taxi. It contained their camera, money, one passport, tickets… you name it. But what can I say – they were still smiling. The staff at the hostel were their usual superb selves and one of them went to the police station with them to help report it. Without a local translator this would have been nigh-on impossible. In fairness, they don’t expect to get the things back but they need certain paperwork from the authorities to obtain replacements.

Tonight’s Pho Bo and Bia Hoi was with a smattering of Brits and Irish who all arrived today. As ever, the food was thoroughly enjoyed and the Bia Hoi experience an eye-opener. It’s a great introduction to Hanoi – the price and the quality. OK, maybe not the quality as far as the Bia Hoi goes.

In addition, a friend back home emailed me details of a chance in New Zealand to see a live Kakapo in its natural environment. As luck would have it, it’s just off Stewart Island and from August until late September. A place and a time that perfectly suit my return to New Zealand. I’ve been in touch with the organisers and have a priority booking. I just need to sort an exact date with them.

For those who don’t know, the Kakapo is a very rare bird. Only 86 are left alive and all live on two small islands off the coast of Stewart Island. They were moved their by conservationists after rats managed to get onto Stewart Island and began killing the birds and their eggs. You see, unusually for a parrot – uniquely, in fact – the Kakapo is flightless.

The opportunity to see one of the rarest of birds, up close, is one I just can’t resist. The trip is only $NZ80, though I have to make my own way to Stewart Island. The bird in question, Scirroco, is being moved to a third island where he will live for 6 weeks or so while nosey people like me get to see him. He has been hand-reared so will not be uncomfortable being near people.

If I can get to Indonesia, as planned, and see the Komodo Dragons then I’ll have seen two species from Last Chance To See in their natural habitats. Sadly, I think I’ll struggle very much with some of the others.

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