[UPDATE: It appears I have subconsciously taken my inspiration from this post, without proper credit. Oops!]
If you want to read how the NY Times spent 36 Hours in Hanoi, you can do that here. If you want to read my version, well you’re in the right place.
After going to the office Friday for a morning meeting, I spent the rest of the day working from home. Finishing around 6, I spent the next hour and a half working a few upcoming projects. (details coming soon).
At 8 I headed to meet some friends to watch the Vientam National Symphony orchestra at the 99-year old Hanoi Opera House, an old and awesome French-styled building that packs a lot of charm. They were running late, so I stopped by a nearby pool hall, Wings, where some months before my patronage earned me the highly-esteemed VIP card, number 112. I ordered a club sandwich, and skyped my dad from ipod while playing two games against myself.
I made it to the concert a few minutes late, but not too late to be treated to an hour and a half of symphony orchestra and opera. The plan was to go immediately to Solace to catch a ride on a boat a friend had hired for his birthday party. Unfortunately, the uproarious applause at the end of the concert coincided with a text message notifying us that the boat had just departed, and wouldn’t be re-docking for another two hours.
We were left with three choices: 1) go to the re-opening of Apocalypse Now, a seedy but happening place that had been shut down in a drug raid three years before, 2) go to another local bar and basically hang out with ourselves, 3) find a way onto that boat.
Odds against us, I was the first to arrive on my motorbike at Solace, where the boat had taken off from. I could see the boat, which seemed to be sitting still in the water (more on this later). After wandering among the docked boats and being shut down by several uninterested locals, I walked back up the pathway to the road and started chatting with the taxi drivers and locals sitting around drinking bia hoi.
Sure enough, there was one guy willing to take us out there. Despite an admirable performance on my part to bargain him down, he was asking the ridiculous price of 600,000 VND, or right around $30. But if we wanted to get on that boat, it was the only way.
Suckers for the idea of pirating a schooner to get onboard the party boat, Jimmy and I split the cost for the five of us, since we were basically dragging the rest of the crew along. Ten minutes later, a small boat with what sounded like an old lawnmower engine driving it forward appeared, and reluctantly we tried to maintain our balance as we boarded the sketchy craft.
Ten minutes later we boarded the boat with indian screams and pirate noises. Ten minutes after that, I realized why the boat had seem so close and still from shore: it was stuck on a sandbar. We had boarded a doomed ship, essentially volunteering to join Gilligan and friends on their island. Not that this really affected the party- the light wind atleast made it seem like we were moving.
Two hours of engine-revving and a couple of 360s later, two small boats came to take passengers back to shore. After two such trips, the boat was lightened enough to allow it to break free from the sandbar, and we made our way back to shore only an hour and half later than anticipated.
In the parking lot, the notoriously-asshole parking attendants gave me grief for not having a parking ticket. They couldn’t understand that I didn’t have one because I’d arrived for the boat around 10pm, well before anyone from the Solace crowd had started to arrive, and before the parking attendants were there. Some mayhem ensued of which I’ll omit the details, but after paying $3 to get my bike out of there I made my way through the empty streets to my house and fell into bed exhausted just around 4am. The party had been fun, I was reminded of how sketch Solace is and why I’ve only been there twice in the past 6 months, despite the fact that its a staple of the late-night scene in Hanoi.
I awoke the next morning around 10, and spent the next two hours working on the aforementioned side projects. I then met up with some friends to work on a presentation to the Red Cross for MotoMedic. Basically, intense traffic congestion and the abundance of alleyways make ambulance response times something terrible: around 45 minutes in the cases that they can actually respond to. The idea behind MotoMedic is to equip motorbikes with first-responder gear, which promises to reduce the response time to maybe 10 minutes. Aaron and Katy founded MotoMedic and have been working on getting it off the ground for a few months. I like the idea a lot, so I offered to help in any way I could.
I headed to play ultimate frisbee at 3. Its played at the UN school, which is in the middle of Ciputra, a complex where rich locals and expats live in seclusion from the charm, craziness, and realness of the rest of Hanoi. The cookie-cutter houses and air of exlusivity make it a somewhat disturbing place, but as far as frisbee fields go it has one of the best.
Two hours later, I’m zigging and zagging my way home, blasting the new MGMT album inside my monster motorcycle helmet. A quick shower later, and I’m out the door to meet up with friends to head over to the American Club, where “the world’s greatest beat boxer”, Killa Kella, is set to perform. Maybe every two months there’s a relatively “big” event/concert that is thrown , and you can count on the majority of expats attending such a party. (Ratatat, one of the DJs from Jurassic 5, and Girl Talk are the only semi-famous performances I’ve seen in a year in Hanoi.) It was good to run into a wide mix of people, many of whom I hadn’t seen in awhile, and the reasonably-priced beer and solid performances kept everyone happy.
I snuck out early and headed home around 11. I’d gotten my late-night fix for the weekend the previous night, and I was looking forward to some peace and quiet to ease the transition to Sunday. I put on an episode of the BBC Life series (not the one with Oprah), but drifted to sleep before making it very far at all.