The Colonel, the Jock and myself were apprehensive about Hanoi. We'd heard some bad stories. A few girls told us the maids at their hotel were stealing from them. The guidebooks warn of aggressive touts and physical violence. Indeed, a rather large Scouser called Charlie (his first name was Kenneth...can't blame him for using his middle one) told us about his experience:
Apparently, a taxi driver had taken him and his Indian wife to a different hotel from the one he'd asked for. The staff had laid on food, and tried to get them to stay. Chas wanted to pay no more than $18, and the manager wanted $40. So he tried to leave, saying it was too expensive. The manager tried to grab his rucksack, and a struggle ensued. A chef joined the fray, and Charlie said he just wanted the fuck out of there. He pushed the manager over, and the next thing he knows...he's pulling out a meat cleaver from under the counter as the chef produces a knife. So Charlie's having a less than good time by now, and his wife ran into the street to grab a policeman as Charlie brandished a chair to fend off the screaming fellows. He looked her up and down and turned away. Fellow travellers adopted the "it's not happening to me" attitude and moved on. Eventually a Vietnamese calmed things down and smoothed it over. As Charlie went to leave, apparently the manager sai "Ok, Ok, OK...18 dollars." Not likely.
So, you can understand we were a little on edge. But we arrived by taxi with no hassle. The Northerners are curt and businesslike. A little on the brusque side, but it beats the false friendliness of the South. Although I did have one simpleton of a scooter driver who would not stop following me around one afternoon offering me a tour. Waited two hours outside the Army Museum for me and almost cried when I told him I was still not getting on his fucking sccoter. Don't give me those puppy dog eyes, mate. If you're not a puppy...you're on a hiding to nothing.
Besides the usual touting, Hanoi's my favourite place so far. The diversity of the old quarter is amazing. I think it'd take a year to get sick of photographing it...it's incredible. Each street has a speciality, whether it's hardware, flowers or tombstones. Unreal. I got some great shots, but saw another 50 a day I missed in a split-second. Especially the variety of things these people carry on the back of scooters. The best two being a naked mannequin of a child (the guy had it stood on one pedal, his hand holding it steady on top of it's head), and a guy in Nha Trang with a huge 5' tuna on the back of his. You could sit on one corner all day and have a portfolio by the end of it. I could live here for a year or two...it feels very European. The French did some good here.
The Colonel's getting tired of the constant sales pitches. We were sat at the junction of Ha Tien and Hang Bac, where the beer hoi stalls do beers for 10p (you don't get that in Hackney), and one guy wouldn't give up...the usual plethora of (badly) photocopied books. Now, The Colonel is still struggling to make himself understood to the locals...he doesn't try to reduce the Lancashire twang in order to make himself clearer. So a puzzling exchange began.
"Ere, mate...I don't want any books" (looks at me) "Fucking hell fire..."
"Ignore him, Mossy...he'll go away..."
"Mister, you wan' buy book? I have good book"
The Colonel points at the books, sweat dripping off his nose onto one of them. "What rhymes with 'book', and then 'off' on the end of that?" He recived a puzzled look in return and "I have Mister Nice, Vietnam phrasebook...yeah?" "No, no, no...what word rhymes with 'book' and then 'off'?"
Don't confuse the guy, mate...just tell him to Fuck Off?