We arrived in Hanoi Saturday afternoon. The Vietnam border crossing was less of a big deal than I thought it would be. We had to get off our bus and go through a passport stamping session to leave China. We were worried for about five minutes about Janice, our Chinese companion, because when she handed her passport to the Chinese guy, he took it and began acting all official and mysterious. Janice and Derek had to wait for a few minutes until they let her through, and then we could breathe again. After that, we had to go through all the checks to enter Vietnam (customs and whatnot). We actually entered this building where there were a few windows. Everyone was congregated at the first one, which should have been our first clue, but we just kept walking and would have been able to walk all the way through the building and outside to catch our bus again had we not thought this was too easy. So instead Janice found out from our Vietnamese friends that we had to declare our stuff, get a health check (aka, spend 2 kuai for them to give us a piece of paper saying we're healthy), and send our bags through an X-ray machine. Then we were home free...
On the bus here, we sat next to another American who is studying Chinese in Beijing. Tommy is from LA, but he went to school at UCO and OU which provided for some common ground. He's been traveling with us since, but I imagine we'll part ways before too long. He's nice, though, and fun to travel with.
Hanoi has been rather uneventful. We've walked around the Old Quarter for the past two days trying to avoid being hit by motorcyclists (of which there is an abundance) and worse yet, trying to avoid the mass numbers of tourists. When you've been living in Shiyan City, Podunk Town, China for the last four months, you get used to being the only white face. So it's really weird seeing so many of them here. It's hard to explain how annoying it is seeing them too! Anyway, we did go to this place called the Temple of Literature which was built in 1070 and became the first university in Vietnam in 1076. It taught Confucian thoughts and was a really peaceful spot in this loud, overcrowded city. We also retreated to a large park in the afternoon to get away from the street noises.
There's a really unique performance in Hanoi involving water puppets. We went to one of the performances yesterday. Basically, a few people behind a curtain manuever these beautiful puppets using long sticks. The puppets dance and interact in a pool of water. It's a tradition about 1000 years old that supposedly originated with the farmers in Vietnam who would entertain themselves and others by puppeteering in the murky waters of a flooded rice paddy. It was interesting.
The Lewises arrived in Hanoi yesterday so we met up at our hotel last night and caught up on travel stories. We aren't traveling together, but our travel plans match up more or less so I'm sure we'll continue to bump into them. We plan to meet up for sure on the beaches of Mui Ne in a few days where we will just relax and swim for three days or so.
Today we're going to try to go to Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum. We went yesterday, but the line was way to long for us. We're going a little earlier today, and really, that's the only thing we have planned before we leave tonight at 7. Our next stop is Hue. We'll get there tomorrow morning and may try to visit these tunnels that were used as bomb shelters during the war. Whole families lived underground in them. I don't know too much about their history though.
Well, I'm using a public computer and people are waiting on it so I'll try to write more as I have opportunity!