Some general thoughts
Topic today: Humidity. Thick, oppressive, heavy, ever-present, humidity. Water hanging suspended in the air. In an act of futility, your body works overtime trying to cool itself, but alas..there is no relief. What's that song? "I fight humidity, humidity always wins."
As you walk around, in a constant state of dampness, you find yourself grasping for anything that will give you solace. Then you find it...there it is...that one little, tiny consolation...you are not alone. Everyone, I mean everyone (including the Vietnamese) are sweating buckets and looking hot.
One Vietnamese man I spoke with referred to this time of the year in Ha Noi as: the "time of sticky skin ". I think that to be a gross understatement, but I suppose it is a matter of perspective?
Oscillating fans are everywhere and while they offer a surprising amount of relief, the undisputed champion remains, the air conditioner. All hail the mighty AC!!
Piece of trivia... found out today from Hoang, a new colleague's son that "Ha" "means river" and "Noi" means "within". So Ha Noi means "within rivers" Ha Noi sits between the Da River to the west and the Red river to the east.
Topic today: Beds. You may think to yourself, "well...that's an odd topic. What can he possibly have to say about beds?", and, I must admit it's probably not a topic that one usually comes across in your run of the mill travel blog. When you stay at tourist hotels in Ha Noi, you will find the typical soft pillow mattresses that you find in any major hotel in most countries. When you make the choice, like I have, to rent a house in a Vietnamese neighborhood so you can experience the "real" culture of a rich and diverse country like Vietnam, you are in for a surprise. The Vietnamese mattress is a very firm, 2" thick, futon-like affair that will not compress down no more than about 1/4". This mattress sets on top of wooden slats (no box springs here). Don’t misunderstand, these are not your whimpy, saggy wooden slats like you remember from your childhood summer camp bed, these are beefy, 5/8” thick slats made of hardwood. By American standards this falls into the comparative category of "Holy Moly! That's one firm mattress!". In the hot summer months, the Vietnamese remove the futon and sleep directly on the wooden slats to stay cooler – even when they have AC.
Now you might logically want to ask: "How comfortable are these mattresses to sleep on, and how well have you been sleeping, Paul?" Hmm...If I'm writing about the topic, I'll bet you could make one guess and be right. I might add that I know for a fact that in a city of nearly 11 million people, it is next to impossible to find any kind of sponge rubber, memory foam, etc. pad to put on top of the mattress. However, after three days of intense searching on the internet and in stores within a 10 mile radius of my house, with the help of a kind and generous student who has been assigned to help me acclimate to Ha Noi, I have managed to locate a 1.75” foam rubber pad inside a pillow case-like thingy at a nearby furniture store that specializes in beds and bedroom stuff. It had to be ordered form their main factory and will arrive tomorrow. What's that Anne Lennox song? "Sweet dreams are made of this...". So I close with this:
I made an inquiry of about why the beds are designed the way they are, and the answer was very interesting and rich with culture. “We have a long history of war dating back thousands of years. Our people have always been forced to sleep on the ground when fighting in the jungles for our homes. We are used to sleeping on hard surfaces. Soft beds are only for the wealthy and we are farmers and people of the land.”
Here is some context for this statement. I visited the Vietnamese National Museum last Friday (https://www.vietnamonline.com/video/national-museum-of-vietnamese-history-in-hanoi.html) with a new work colleague and her son (a history buff who translated the exhibits - he also just graduated from the College of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota and will begin a Ph.D. program there this fall ). According to the museum, Vietnam has been invaded and occupied repeatedly over the millennium. By the China (on a number of different occasions), Mongolia, Japan, France, and India. America also had military advisors, and later combat troops in Vietnam from 1955 until 1975. In addition, starting in 4000 BC, yes, BC, there has been a number of archeologically known/supported dynasties (and legend has more, but they have yet to be found…although they are discovering new artifacts every year with the most recent dating back 4000+ years) with the last dynasty lasting from 1802–1945 when the French invaded Vietnam (http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/timelines/vietnam_timeline.htm). Inside of each dynasty there were many coups so there have been at least 5975-ish years of warfare….a lot of sleeping on the ground. The Vietnamese culture is so, so rich and fascinating. One of the dynasty emperors, I forget which, or when, banned the name of his predecessor and forced the population to adopt the name “Nguyen”. I was told this has resulted in greater than 40% of all current Vietnamese people living in Vietnam having the last name Nguyen (pronounced “win” with an "n" sound at the beginning that is hard to describe but easy to hear). I asked if people with this name were able to trace their genealogy back to discover their original family name before this event and was told: “No it has been too many thousand years. The names are lost.”. A consequence of this event is the current structure/order of Vietnamese names: Last name/middle name/ first name. So, the first name /of: Ms. Vu Quynh Nga is: “Nga”, last name: "Vu"
Topic today: Flip-flops and long shorts. In certain temples in Vietnam, you cannot enter with shoes on or if the length of the legs on your shorts falls above your knees (male or female, local or foreigner, young or old It doesn’t matter). To enter with shorts above the knee, or with shoes on, would be considered disrespectful of ancestors and spirits, therefore, it is prohibited. So Huy (pronounced "Wee"), my assigned guardian student, and I went on yet another quest. This quest? Find a pair of long shorts for the new guy. Now, those of you who know me may find this hard to believe, but here in Vietnam I feel like a giant. The average height of men in Vietnam is 5’ 3”. The average height of women in Vietnam is 5" 0" (http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/society/152008/vietnamese-s-average-height-increases-insignificantly-after-a-decade.html). This means my 5’ 9” frame stands out above the crowd - of course the pun was intended? duh! Although there are a few men here who are my height, I’ve never felt so tall!! I'm FINALLY the guy who gets to stand in the back row in group photos - Yay! The guy who gets to ride in the FRONT seat of the car so he has enough leg room - Yay! The guy who gets picked FIRST during pickup B-ball games - Yay! I mention this because it was almost impossible to find a pair of shorts that fit my scrawny 30” waist and fell below my knees! – no problem waist size-wise, as the men and women here are built like me (i.e. thin). By American standards. 99.9% of the thousands of people I see daily would be considered to be either "skinny" or "slender". Believe it or not, my “long legs” were the problem! Finally found a pair of shorts.. size Vietnamese “XLG”. I’ve never viewed myself as extra-large, but apparently, here in Vietnam I share many qualities with Andre the Giant and Godzilla.
So on to flip-flops…well, tennis shoes are seen occasionally on the feet of the Vietnamese, but flip flops are ubiquitous. Due to the hot temperatures, humidity, and constant rain (puddles everywhere) flip-flops are the way to go - your feet dry quickly. Additionally, it is customary to remove your shoes when entering someone’s home and it is so much easier to step in and out of flip-flops than it is to untie, retie shoes. Ergo, flip-flops rule the day.