Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Year in Vietnam

My first steps.  Walking through five airports in 24 hours.

Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Taipei, Hanoi.

All the time praying that my overweight suitcase will make all my connecting flights while trudging through airport security lugging a briefcase, fleece coat, and my overstuffed backpack dangling pair of tennis shoes, umbrella, bike helmet, water bottle, and a portable backpack.  Yes, I agree with the flight attendant, all I am missing is a tent.  

I am moving East.  It hits me in Los Angeles when I queue up to board amid a sea of Asians.  I consider the possibility that I am the new token white girl.  I just became a minority.  On the flight to Hanoi from Taipei I pull out the Vietnamese-English dictionary attempting a conversation with the man sitting next to me.  This might become my new bible or perhaps just equally venerable as Lonely Planet: Vietnam.  I rattle off the Vietnamese words I know.  Not too many, but it's a start.  May bay.  Airplane.  Yes, I arrive in Vietnam by may bay.

Noi Bai International Airport.  Passing through customs and collecting my overweight luggage seems too easy.  I make a beeline for a kiosk that reads SIM, and I feel comforted that in less than 10 minutes I will have official connections to Vietnam: my own mobile phone number.  With new resolution I exit the airport to the line of taxis.  20 dollars, one man offers.  15, I respond.  Ok, he nods his head quickly to make to question the value I am receiving for this cab ride.  After we are settled into his small SUV Jeep looking car, I tell him the name of the hotel I made reservations at and he nervously nods.  Lucky Eden Hotel, he has no idea where that is.  After he makes a series of phone calls he shoves the phone in my face and I speak with a man who speaks only a little more English than the cab driver.  A few more phone calls and he finally understands.  Much to my chagrin, I realize after the fact that the price he quoted me in Vietnamese Dong at the end of the trip was $20 not $15.  The next second after the cab stops in front of the hotel a Vietnamese guy comes out to bring my luggage inside.  The friendliness of the staff is comforting.  However, I nixed my warm opinion of this hotel when they charged me over double of what I actually owed.  I quickly learned Rule 1: Bargain for everything.