Monday, June 05, 2006

Singapore vs. Hanoi

Singapore - bustling, clean, brightly lit. Mostly cars, bikes weave in and out through traffic, but generally, cars outnumber bikes. Honking occurs when drivers are being idiots or Sunday drivers, but then I repeat myself. Drivers and riders know that red means stop, green means go.

Hanoi - bustling, dusty, roads are uneven, gravel sprays everywhere when cars drive through. Packs of bikes and scooters with cars weaving in and out. Honking is used as a precautionary device- it's more a "LOOK OUT! I'M RIGHT BEHIND YOU, MOVE OUT OF THE WAY!" device. Pedestrians cross at their own risk. Sometimes the bikes swerve out of the way, sometimes they head right at you.

Singapore- blistering hot. But we've managed to effectively bubble ourselves in airconditioning. The only time we're ever exposed to the elements are when we walk between air-conditioned spaces, when we wait to get into air-conditioned transport, when we're on an austerity drive at home and using the fan rather than the air-conditioning.

Hanoi- blistering hot. No reprieve. Everywhere is hot, most shops aren't air-conditioned, there are no malls and when you find air-conditioning, you don't move from it. Ice is also a precious commodity, when you have it, relish it.

Singapore- food courts in abundance. Local food is average and costs about SGD$ 4-5. Vietnamese food costs anywhere from SGD$8 - $15. All in air-conditioned comfort.

Hanoi- one Marche like place with those fans that spew fine vapour mist and that's it. Local food (Vietnamese food there is just called food) is about SGD$2- $3 and that's considered expensive. It's exquisite- I could live my entire life eating pho. Although ideally, I'd like it with egg noodles rather than rice noodles.

Singapore- shopping, Malls. Need I say more.

Hanoi- Little stores, in the expat district, some wonderful stores like Ipa-nima that's dressed up like a drag queen's boudoir, some Australian designers who set up there. All very individual, every store holding secrets that it'll only reveal when you step through the door.

Singapore- concrete jungle.

Hanoi- a lot of colonial architecture, very quaint, very pretty, a whole mish mash. Very tight, uneven side streets, very vast open spaces, especially where Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum is and Lenin Park, although we laughed at the fact that Lenin probably never visited Vietnam. We also giggled at the fact that the pictures of Ho Chi Minh, in his communist glory, if you cut it out and used it in Europe, Stalin's face could fit pretty easily and same with Mao and China. All interchangeable.

So there, Singapore and Hanoi. I'm back from my short sojourn to Hanoi. I stayed at the Somerset Grand Hanoi which in its not so ancient previous life was the Hanoi Hilton. Part of the facade is still there and walking by it sends tingles down my spine.

Hanoi Hilton

I think it's probably the same feeling people have gotten when they walked into Auschwitz.

Another thing we did was to go to a spa, Zen Spa, by the lake, which was very pretty. It really drives home the definition of idyllic and we were quite happy to while away the afternoon there getting totally pampered with massages and rubs and herbs that they planted in their own garden. The only strange bit was when they brought round this box that we were supposed to stick our feet into. It was what I thought was akin to a leg sauna using heated mung beans. And let me just say, roasted mung beans retain heat for an extremely long time and it pretty much what people describe when they talk about walking bare feet over hot, fired coals.

What I thought was extremely interesting and reminded me that I was actually in a communist country was that the spa was situated near a hotel that we we told had great potential. After all, it did sit on a lake. The problem was it was state-run and regardless of how much investors were willing to pay to buy over the hotel, it couldn't be sold. Reason being, it was a gift from Cuba. And to sell a gift from a fellow communist country would be like selling the wedding dowry your mother-in-law gave you because you didn't like the design. The most cardinal of sins.

It was strange to be in a communist country, the ideology seemed to have taken a back seat to the market economy but the vestiges of it were still so obvious, from the immigration guards in their khaki green and red uniforms with stars on the shoulder lapels to the early morning public service announcements which when I asked L to translate, it went along the lines of "REMEMBER to cook your chicken thoroughly". A very 1984-Big Brother idea with a very bird brained message.

So, generally, that was Hanoi, in a nutshell, or what I saw of it in like 2 1/2 days.

I also managed to fall in love with the lotus flower that I had by my bed. So pretty.

Lotus flowers

So nice that it's the first thing I see after being awoken by honking cars.

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Ondine tossed this thought in at 09:27

1 thoughts...

1 thoughts...

At 12:21 am Blogger cour marly said...

One thing I found very 'communist' about Hanoi was the number of residents exercising around Hoan Kiem Lake in the evenings. It just screamed Leni Riefenstahl to me. Plus the number of old folks by the lake with a weighing scale. I couldn't figure out what they were doing until someone stepped up on one, weighed himself, and then paid the old man manning the scale.


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