To be honest, we thought twice about returning to Hanoi this year because we have been here so many times over the last seven years and there are new adventures awaiting elsewhere. What has brought us back is the camaraderie of the whole experience with Project Vietnam (PVI) and a real pull at the heartstrings coming from the good friends we have made down South in the small town of Phu Ly. We just felt we had to return and see everyone again. Within an hour of landing, we knew we’d made the right choice.
Hanoi is its usual chaotic, bustling and frenetic self. We booked into the Hanoi Style Hotel (previously called Nam Hai 1) and delighted in being remembered from previous visits. The room was a wonder, an amazing long bowling alley style room utilising the unique narrow architecture so prevalent in Vietnam. A walk down Ma May St was an exercise in greeting old friends, with local street vendors and hawkers greeting us as old friends. Talk about how to feel welcome. It was a wonderful return. How could we ever have thought of missing this.
We did all the usual things;
- visited a mobile phone stall to buy a local Mobiphone SIM card for the iPhone;
- went for coffee and a snack at 69 Ma May St;
- dropped into the Dong Xuan markets to buy a watch for Christine because she’d left hers home;
- bought a cask of red wine from a local wine merchant;
- ate some amazing deep fried thing made of sweet potato and batter from an old lady on a corner.
- consumed copious amounts of weak, cheap fresh beer from a street-side Bia Hoi.
- swapped yarns with a group of three young Brits who have spent the last couple of years teaching adult English classes in Bali and Hanoi whilst consuming even more beer at a roadside beer stall.
Increasingly, we came across fellow PVI members, most sporting their emerald-green shirts or Aussie colour caps. We all got together for a briefing in the Ghia Tinh Hotel and with both the building team and the medical team all together in one spot, the group was huge, around 50 in number. The group consisted of old hands, “middies” like us, and quite a number of “newbies”, courtesy of the free promotion the organisation received via the “Sunrise” segment last year. The meeting over, we split up into smaller groups to hit the streets at the various beer corners, then reassembled into different groups for meals in the various eateries and street food stall dotted around Ma May St. One particular delight was catching up with our dear friend Moon, who had worked with us last year on the Project helping out as an interpreter. She is now living and working in Hanoi.
The next morning, everyone reassembled and most of us boarded a bus to head South to Phu Ly, leaving the medical team behind to ready themselves for a trip North into the mountains and some work near the Chinese border. A few of the committee members also stayed behind to commence the work of liaising with the government to source some future projects.
The bus trip South to Phu Ly and the process of settling into the hotel was routine stuff for us, but a fresh experience for the “newbies”. After a quick unpack, we gathered a group of new friends and crossed the main road and rail line into Phu Ly itself, showing people the ropes, introducing them to the basics of shopping in the small stores and crammed markets, or taking the chance to change a few Aussie Dollars into Dong. Christine had undertaken to organise the food and supplies for “smoko” out on the work site so we had quite a bit of shopping to do and patronised some old favourite merchants as well as the flashy “Russian Supermarket” down the road. The variety of goods available in all shops is increasing every year we visit but shopping in Phu Ly is still very much a matter of compromise.
Then it was off to the Bia Hoi for a serious introduction to the centre of our social life. Tony Boxmeer produced some rather high quality rice wine to use for drinking numerous toasts with a visiting Government official and some of the team learnt the hard way about getting too involved with the ceremony. There were some slow movers the next morning as we headed out to the first day of the building project. We led a contingent of 15 or so down to Anna’s Restaurant for a wonderful meal. They were expecting us and went to a lot of trouble to ensure a terrific evening. Our good friend Van is now working in Phu Ly teaching accounting and proudly presented three of her students to us. It was a touching reunion with a lovely family.