Ice cream setback!

Since many years I am a lover of “Durian”, that strange Asian fruit that divides people into lovers and haters.

Recently in Chiang Mai I spent hours on end to find durian ice cream. I had remembered a place selling some three years ago – but it was gone. Only during the last few days I found some durian ice cream.

In Hanoi I was also not so successful so far. Recently someone local had told me that there is an ice cream producer with a big ice cream parlor on the main street to the Hanoi Opera. So, the next morning I saddled my motor-bike to pay a visit to that place. Alas, I could not find it anywhere :(

Some further research revealed that the place indeed exists since 1958 – and that it is extremely popular with the locals. I got the exact address and off I went again this afternoon after it had stopped raining.

And I did find the place. It is off the street. “Inside”, so to say. But you can take your motorbike with you which makes it like an “ice-cream drive in”.

They have about 6 vending areas like this one. Quite substantial…

What I was not prepared for was the fact that “durian” is not “durian” in Vietnamese. And nobody on the whole compound (2 floors!) spoke any language except Vietnamese!!! So I could not buy the bloody ice-cream. I called some Vietnamese people I know to ask them – but nobody picked up his mobile at that time. So, I had come in vain – and drove all the way back home cursing…! At home I checked my dictionary. It’s “sau rieng” – which I will have forgotten by the next time I’ll  find the strength to go there. Plus, I am really disappointed. I have heard about another ice cream place, very upmarket and expensive (but also with durian). Maybe I will go there instead!

Hanoi daily life observations…

One of the beauties here is that many good food things are nearby. Delivered to your doorstep so to say. From early morning on women are on the streets selling all kinds of food. They usually come with their traditional carrying baskets and sometimes carry amazing weights.:

When you watch them you will notice that they all have a special walk. Their goal is to lift the foot off the ground as little as possible. So they make the biggest part of the step by moving the side of the hip with the foot in the air forward.

Anyway, one can learn a lot just by watching people. For example the Asian women peel fruit and vegetables with the blade of the knife pointing away from them. Europeans do it the opposite way.

This morning a lady was selling little crabs (and small fish) on the street right underneath my apartment. The crabs would have made a nice breakfast soup – but I’d already had breakfast.

What I do buy about every day is pineapple. There are 4 women near my building that sell them. When there are no clients they clean them, cut them apart and in slices and put them in small plastic bags for selling. At the beginning they tried to charge me at least double the regular price (but I knew from my neighbours what the “real” price was). After a few days one of them gave in first – and so I have become her loyal client. Today I bought two wonderfully sweet and juicy pineapples, cut and cleaned for 0.70 Leva, 0.36€.

When I just took a picture I realised that I had munched already more thna half of them. But they are sooo delicious.

Somehow you always have to bargain here! They just think it normal to overcharge a foreigner! The other day I wanted to buy some lillies for my apartment in a flower shop around the corner (well, an outdoor “shop”). The boy wanted 130,000 Dong and did not accept my offer of 90,000. I guess it was because it was still in the morning. In the afternoon I came back and a woman had taken his place. We haggled about and in the end I bought the same flowers for 55,000 Dong – 3.85 Leva, 1.95€.

 

My best buy today, however, was a thick slice of “fromage de tête”, boiled pork. I bought this rolled delight from a friend of the lady from who I buy my duck embryos, just 20 meters from my house.

Pure pork, no other ingredients – and from a farmer’s pig! Every pork lover would pay me a fortune for this! I have not had such tasty boiled pork meat since decades – even better than anything we make in Bansko! I could not control myself and had to finish off half a baguette with layers of this incredible delight. What an experience! Now I am stuffed, of course.

I need to go to the city to the international post office but I had been waiting for the streets to dry after a rain shower. Now as it happens, a second shower has set in and I am stranded again. Well it is only 1.40 pm, so there is time. The couch and the TV will take care of the waiting time…

 

 

 

The local restaurant scene…

Here are a few pics from my immediate neighbourhood, when I was strolling around yesterday to get some inspiration for dinner – as the beef steak was postponed till today.

The smallest places have only 3 mini-tables (and one item on the menu). The “big ones” can accommodate up to a dozen people and maybe even have three different things they offer…everything is fresh and tasty…sometimes you better don’t look too closely at how clean the bowls and the “kitchen” are…;)

Good Day, Sunshine…

What a wonderful Friday! Perfect weather, only 29 degrees. It started with some pleasant human interaction at 7 am and has been building up ever since :)

I had some iced coffee on my little side street while my apartment was being cleaned, watching everyday urban life.

Since I complained about the cleanliness last week, they made a big effort this time and I am very happy to have a perfect apartment for the weekend. Alas, they were not finished cleaning when I came back, so I went to the fancy hairdresser in our building for a haircut. Quite expensive: 100.000 Dong for the whole shmere (incl. shampooing…) = 7 Leva, 3.55€. In Razlog,Bulgaria, I pay only 5 Leva but, OK, that’s not the capital. It turned out quite OK. At least the ladies in the shop claimed that I looked handsome :)

I also charged my Vietnamese phone as they had a promotion today that you would get double talking tie :)

Now I am having a first cuba libre after doing some preparations for lunch. As there are loads of shrimp left I need to do something with them. For a change nothing Asian. Recently I bought some linguine pasta, so it will be linguine with fried shrimps in a tomatoe, olive oil, white wine, garlic, chilie etc. sauce…I better hurry up as it is already 1pm.

Recently internet connections to Europe andAmericahave been very slow and it was next to impossible to post anything here. I am writing this in Word, hoping that I can just copy and paste it. We will see.

I must be cooking now. To be able to enjoy a nap afterwards. To be ready for dinner relaxed and in time. I will be treated to beef steak with potatoes – it will be interesting to see how the Vietnamese can cope with such a cooking challenge :)

Cooking finished, lunch to be served, internet working now. See you later…

 

Oh my god! That stuff made me horny:

I could feel my culinary clit swelling somewhere inside of me while I was tossing this around in my mouth. Did I tell you that the shrimps I can get here have an incredibly intense and elegant taste of their own?! Like something completely different from those that we get at home.

Now a nap! Quickly!

Ridin’ like a king…

Here is your man’s bike. The only one in Hanoi equipped with satnav :)

 

One of the most impressive things in Hanoi traffic is: I have never seen so many women in pyjamas – riding motorbikes :)

Another astounding thing is the onslaught of motorbikes during rush-hour – when an estimated 1.5 million of them clog the streets of Hanoi. If you haven’t been in the middle of such a massive throng of bikes you could not imagine the feeling!

And this clump moves only step by step while you could barely slip your hand in between two bikes. One thing you learn very quickly (an absolute matter of survival) is to balance your bike at near standstill and to manoeuvre your bike precisely at minimal speed. It requires a technique using the break and the gas at the same time. The bikes are so close to each other that it is very dangerous to put your foot down on the street for balance as someone most likely will hit it!

Another must is to use your peripheral vision, especially outside rush hour (during rush hour you are squeezed in anyway). Because then motorbikes come out of any imaginable hole or corner. There is no right of way. Red traffic lights are obeyed only by some women.

Cars, oh they are a different chapter, never drive on a lane. They move and switch and criss-cross…and generally rely on the advantage of their size against motorbikes. They are your natural enemy. But they can also be used by the smart biker. For example when they cut through the opposite lane with the oncoming traffic. That’s your chance to cross as well (keeping on the lee side of the car :) )

Riding a motorbike also teaches you more about the Vietnamese than anything else. You get very good at categorizing and judging people by their clothes, looks and pasture. This is very useful as it helps you predict their potential behaviour.

As it probably becomes clear: participating in Hanoi traffic is a very active task. And it will take you a long time (or simple-mindedness) to get relaxed enough to “multitask” on a bike – like these guys talking on their mobiles:

 

 

 

Diet

My diet plan for the coming week is ready:

I have found a new source for drinks in Hanoi. Tax free. Just like in the old days in Sofia :) The 3-year-old Havana Club is 8$/bottle, The weekend-one (Anejo Reserva) 9$/bottle. I am always surprised how little it takes to make a modest man like me happy :)

 

Running out of money in Hanoi!

Modern banking makes life so much easier for the traveler. No more cash and traveler checks. It’s all cards and ATMs nowadays. As a sophisticated adventurer, my companions on this trip are an American Express card (30 years ago the only serious one, now useless for getting cash), a Visa card and a Master Card. As a poor Bansko farmer these cards are not in my name but in some company names and from different countries. So far so good.

This morning when I ventured out into the neighbourhood to have a coffee in an alley that slightly resembles old Paris I noticed that I was running short on Dong, the Vietnamese currency.

No problem, I said, as I knew there was an ATM on the way back. Here in Vietnam withdrawal limits are rather funny. Around 150€ is the max you can get. So, I stick my Master Card into the slot, enter my PIN as requested – and -shock – immediately get a response that my card is invalid and has been retained by the machine. In order to get it back I should contact the bank. Thank you, sir! The same card that recently gave me 500€ several times in Chiang Mai.

What’s the real reason behind this? Can it be that it is because the card was from Bulgaria? Last week Bulgaria hit the Vietnamese news for the first time ever. A group of Bulgarians was draining Vietnamese ATMs. Could this be the cause?

Sadly, I won’t be able to find out. As the card is not in my name and I have no proof that I am an official in the company the bank will not return the card to me. In other words: I am screwed till December. Let’s just hope that the Visa card will not face the same problem, since there are no ATMs in Asia that give you cash on an Amex card…

Fortunately, I am a hard-died customer, prepared for anything, and have wads of USD and EUR in my double-bottomed suitcase :) Just in case :) Can’t trust those banks. Worked for one of them long enough myself :)

 

 

Thai and Vietnamese – same, same?

For most people in Europe it is very difficult to discern a Chinese from a Korean, or a Vietnamese from a Thai and so on. Somehow they all seem to look the same. And, of course, people know even less about the “inner” differences between these Asians. This is, of course, completely normal. As European people all look the same for Asians :)

The more time you spend in Asia and the closer you get to the people there the more you understand their cultural and attitude differences and their obviously different looks :)

I find there is a huge difference between Thai and (especially Northern) Vietnamese people.

Over time Vietnamese have been described as the Prussians of Asia. Disciplined, hard-working people. Undemanding and tough. The family above all. And respect for the ancestors. I like them for that. The Vietnamese expression “tren chan, duoi nem” (a blanket on top, a mattress below) describes the feeling of prosperity and luck. When you consider what they have suffered from the Americans alone. More bombs have been dropped on Vietnam than have been used during the whole world war! There is still more than a million people, born handicapped in consequence of the “agent orange” bombs the Americans have been dropping to defoliate the jungles and the forests. And how they survived and even won that war! I am tempted to look at them as the toughest people on the planet.

The Thai on the other hand “are soft, superficial, mentally lazy, timid and gay.” That was an observation from Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix in his “Description du Royaume Thai” from 1854 when he was the main Christian missionary in Thailand (and a friend of the then king). They are indeed witty and intelligent and I have yet to meet a Thai who overworked himself :)

It’s a little bit like the Thais are in a constant holiday mood and the Vietnamese are the serious ones, most of the time worrying about something. I am not saying one or the other is better, just observing.

Fortunately, I feel well in both countries. Varietas delectat :)

 

 

 

Weekend in Hanoi

I like the weekends in Hanoi. Saturday is like the day to go out, go to the Huan Kiem lake in the centre, have a coffee, watch tourists, fiddle around.

Then maybe a “bia hoi” or two on the street and an easy dinner at home, like one or two Vietnamese spring rolls:

Sunday is “family” day, it seems.

After a quick breakfast

you stroll around the neighbourhood (before it gets too warm, as the rain has finally stopped) to see what’s going on.

Many people are on the streets and  there are a lot of make-shift shops. People have time and chat and, of course, everybody would want to talk to me but that is limited to gesturing.

The local “garage”…

Living room doubling up as fish and poultry shop…

 

All the spices and extras you might need for Sunday cooking:

Big snails (for a hearty soup):

Vietnamese “oysters”…

 

A leisurely Sunday dinner of duck, bamboo in duck broth and some rice noodles for the duck soup that is served as “desert” rounds of the day. Life could be worse…

 

Back to the “Treadmill”…

Since I have come back to my Hanoi home from Thailand the other evening it has been raining constantly. And while I like singing in the rain I don’t like riding a motorbike in the rain, especially in a city with our kind of traffic. So I am confined to my apartment and the closest few shops that I can reach with my mini-umbrella without getting soaked.
The weather frogs expect the rain to continue till Sunday! It’s a bit depressing, really.

But then: always look on the bright side of life :)

If things get really dire I could always explore the many massage parlours in my neighbourhood ;)  I have been told they are of the type “for men only”…


When I am on my streets people still look at me like at an exotic animal in the zoo. With my peripheral vision I can even see that they point me out to each other. Well, so be it. At least in three little shops I am a well respected client by now (no wonder since I am a big spender): a milk shop around the corner (milk is quite expensive in Hanoi and not very tasty), a “universal” shop just a few doorsteps away and a door-opening which is the shop of a lady selling eggs and the like.

I bought 10 duck eggs yesterday with the idea to have some for breakfast.

In the end I had only two boiled duck eggs (trung vit lon),  boiling time about 12 minutes,  for breakfast (with greens and ginger):

They were just perfect! In fact, the embryos could have been little bit further developed. I am being told that very few foreigners “dare” to eat this. I hope you don’t think bad of me now that I confess that I adore these eggs…