You'll be please to know that my paternal instincts have proved exemplary. Our sleeper bus to Hanoi was uneventful; Kirsty slept like a baby, not waking or crying once throughout the 15 hours. You see the secret is routine, the avoidance of late night sugar and if all else fails dipping her dummy in brandy seems to help. Next week new and expectant mothers, my tips on breastfeeding.
Actually, the above is not strictly true, our slumber was rudely interrupted by a local forcing a tightly wrapped bundle under our bed. This in itself was alarming, but when the bundle started to move of its own accord we were guaranteed to spend the rest of the journey sleeping with one eye open. It was the stuff of nightmares and the smart money says that said bundle was a dog, judging by the smell. Sadly, this bow wow was not destined to run round the table searching for scraps, it was more likely doomed to be the centre piece of said table. Yes, although you must learn to accept the nuances and customs of the countries you are travelling through the Vietnamese passion for munching on man's best friend is not one that we will be partaking in.....unless it comes with chips and a side salad.
To wander round Hanoi at night feels distinctly like you are ambling round the streets of some European city with its well lit squares where couples converge. The centre piece of the Old Quarter, where we are staying is Lake Hoan Kiem, which lights up at night for families to come and promenade and rather bizarrely a load of locals with scales offering to weigh you for a few thousand VND - as you do. But I suppose even more strange as a sight are the scores of well dressed Vietnamese picnicking on carpets all over the pavement of the streets. Hanoi, like many other places we have travelled through, likes to group their shops and stalls, so not content with the one place selling giant cuddly bears, you have a whole street of them all competing for the same customers. Today we have walked down, among others, Flip Flop Way, Dried Squid Drive, Sunglasses Sidewalk, Ice Cream Alley and, our personal favourite, Fruit Shake Street. Somebody has got to tell these people that somewhere in Dried Squid Drive somebody might also want a fruitshake to go with their squid.
The Hanoi fruit shake is quite something, a heady combination of tropical fruit, coconut milk and a good glug of condensed milk. It's a winner that's guaranteed to help us put back on some weight.
So you find us here in Hanoi, a little stuck. We are awaiting our Chinese Visas before we can move on . Despite paying for the express service we are still having to wait 6 days - damn those pesky weekends - we'd forgotten they existed.
So the days have been filled with a few trips around the place to kill the time, allowing us to observe Vietnamese society at work. My advice to you is to avoid any form of business higher education that is accredited to any Vietnam institution..I've earned one just wandering around the place. I've already briefed you on their views on the importance of location, but I feel I can save you some money on a costly MBA by outlining the major points for success over here completely free of charge:
1. Rather than innovation, step 1 is all about identification. Identify a successful, established business.
2. Mimic and replicate every aspect of that business down to name, logo and services offered till there is no easy way to tell you apart.
3. Hoodwink unsuspecting travellers into thinking you are part of the original company, trading off their name whilst offering a sub standard product.
It'll take a lot of hard study but you too could have your own Vietnamese MBA in matter of an afternoon.
So Saturday was our one year Wedding Anniversary and thank you all for your messages of varying degrees of support, shock and relief. Yes I've grown fond of the wife over the last year and she has become very dear to me these days. Needless to say it was all I could do to mark the occasion with a pastry and a sachet of iced coffee for that special breakfast in our hostel room. In all seriousness when you get to spend an entire year together, more time that you will probably spend with each other cumulatively over the next 5 years, it's difficult to make one day uber special, but I can pretty sure we will remember the Wedding anniversary where we went and ate street food on the corner of a busy road in Hanoi for the rest of our lives.
It's been seriously scorchio here. Uncomfortably so. So it was with great delight that a near apocalyptic down pour arrived the other afternoon. As the locals raced for cover and every tourist donned a plastic poncho, sold to them at outrageous prices by vendors that magically appear out of nowhere, us true Brits marched on in nothing but shorts and t-shirts much to the bemusement and amusement of the locals. It was a welcome relief and if it can just limit itself to a short, sharp, heavy hour we will gladly run about in it every afternoon.
A few more Vietnamese observations for you: the women are the real work horses over here, doing much of the manual labour leaving the men to idly lounge about on their motos and cyclos touting for business while simultaneously cultivating a belly that they like to show you when it gets warm. Vietnamese drivers are quite clearly the most relaxed about not working of their S.E. Asian counterparts. The Thais are ferocious in seeking work, not taking no for an answer, the Cambodians, hardworking but respectful to a 'no thanks' but the Vietnamese barely raise a hand or eyebrow to you in most places, proving to be more laid back than a Rastafarian on Ritalin. At least women are putting the hard yards in.
Monday we headed out to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to see the final resting place of Vietnam's great redeemer. Sadly, 'Uncle Ho' can't deal with too many visitors these days without getting over excited so he takes Mondays and Fridays off (thanks Lonely Planet, we owe you one!) So instead we went off to explore the Presidential Palace area which includes Uncle Ho's former residence. For fans of 'No Entry' and 'Exit' signs it's a must see, for fans of being interested, I'd suggest you skip this one. This may be a tad unfair, because I am sure with a guide the whole experience might be a little more worthwhile..but when on a budget.
Success today. The Visas have arrived and the transport booked. Tonight it is the turn of the Sleeper train to carry us to our destination in the north of Nam. On to the highlands of Sapa and in a couple of days over the border to China..to eat Chinese food...of course over there it is just called food.