Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day 29 - Hanoi, South China Sea Protests, Fine Arts, and a Water Puppet Theatre

We arrived in Hanoi at around 8am and were left at a bus station away from the main part of town. My GPS wasn't working on my phone so I couldn't gauge how far away we actually were to the epicenter. Another moment of vulnerability for the foreigners on the bus, and we were, of course, attacked by the mob of motorbike drivers hoping to get business. There was a guy there that sold us some information on an available hotel, and I ended up just booking it because it was cheap and I wanted to get out of there. Turns out, after I checked into the hotel, I noticed that 2 of the other groups of foreigners also ended up booking here. A switch in power between buyer and seller when we are lost in the city...

Hanoi is a big enough city to explore for days, but small enough to make the exploration on foot, if you'd like. It is bursting with life, art, music, and culture. The former capital of Vietnam as well (Before HCMC and Hue), there is so much French influence penetrating throughout the city. All the old governmental buildings and landmarks have elements of French architecture. It's also much cleaner than HCMC.

A random fact that I read in my Lonely Planet guidebook was that many of the homes and shops in the area are not wide, but very very deep, which explains why they call these structures "tube houses." In the past, the government would tax the property based on the size of the front of the building, which is why the facade of each house was very narrow, but very deep - a way to cheat the system. Nowadays, when you wander the streets, there are plenty of narrow, dark alleys you can explore. Some lead to homes while others lead to restaurants and other businesses. Each address could have many different businesses, each with a letter to separate each structure deep in the alleyways (e.g. 42A, 42B, 42C, 42D Hang Buom Street).

I spent the morning reading through my guidebook to plan my trip for the next 4 days. Many of the landmarks had strict visiting hours, and most of them were closed on Monday. I came on a Sunday so I had to plan it all right so that I could see what I wanted to see. I ended up booking a ticket for tonight to see the famous Water Puppet Theatre show. It was a "must-see" in both the guidebooks I was using.

On the way to the theatre, I happened to be right at the frontline of a protest and march against the Chinese regarding the territorial dispute in the South China Sea. A couple hundred people were marching the streets with signs saying "Chinese Government - Peace in Speech, Violence in Action," "Justice for Vietnamese Fisherman," "Vietnam and Philippines Together Fighting for Justice!" and "Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands Belong to Vietnam."

Afterwards, I headed to a couple museums, and there are a ton of museums here, to check out some Fine Arts. I was used to seeing a lot of relics and artifacts uncovered, but it was nice to take a break from that to see some other contemporary arts - mostly propaganda, silk paintings, oil on canvas, and lacquer paintings. The museum was only allowed to showcase government approved art, so everything inside was only things the government wanted you to see. There were plenty of pro-government and pro-military paintings that showed only positive interaction between the soldiers and the villagers.

From one museum to the next, I went to the Museum of Vietnam Resistance, which showcased all the resistance movements that occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries, from resistance from the French to the Vietnam War. There were plenty of original documents, weapons, and pictures, but I didn't really get much of it. It was probably a good time to hire a tour guide..

Walking around the city some more, I saw that at every park I wandered to, people were playing badminton or using their feet to kick those "birdies" over the net. Headed over to see the Water Puppet Show, which was a 50 minute performance with an orchestra on the side. The stage is basically a pool of water, and little puppets are controlled by people from behind the stage. The entire show was narrated and performed in Vietnamese, but it was fun nonetheless to witness this unfamiliar art.

At the end of the night, I walked the night markets trying to find new sandals because the other sandals I bought in Hue were making my feet blister. The street vendors in Hanoi are harder to bargain with! I've purchased sandals twice in Vietnam, once for 40,000 and once for 60,000. The starting price that they offered was 100,000 dong, and I bargained 40,000 but they just said no...not even counteroffering. I did this about three times before I started getting antsy. Some of the shop owners didn't even care to make a sale, just sitting there watching me peruse through the goods. This was something I was not expecting. I ended up settling on 85,000 for my pair of sandals after an hour or so of sweating and walking in pain...

South China Sea Protests

The view from the City View Cafe towards the Old Quarter

Lenin Park, Hanoi

Fine Arts Museum

Fine Arts Museum - "Children At Joyful Play" (1972) - Nguyen Tu Nghiem

Fine Arts Museum - "Young Girls and the Sea" (1940) - Nguyen Van Ty

Hanoi Opera House

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

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