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Home sweet home in Hanoi

September 11, 2010

As long as I have been an airport regular I’ve had a thing for the baby blue Korean Air 747. 747s are impressive enough as it is –four engines, a wing span that dwarfs runways, and body so mighty that lifting off the ground seems unimaginable. Add a paint job the color of the Georgia autumn sky and I’m in love.

Imagine my delight when I found out I’d be flying partway to Vietnam on this wonderful beast.

After one last trip to the Model Bakery in St. Helena, we boarded on Tuesday afternoon and settled in for a long flight. The first few hours passed easily just by watching the flight attendants and having a meal. We definitely weren’t in the United States of equal opportunity hiring anymore. Every flight attendant is fairly attractive, of equal and minute proportions, and acts like each passenger is a guest in their living room. From the time we got on the plane until we landed in Seoul their uniforms were clean and wrinkle-free, hair smooth, and make-up perfect.

I would never make it as a flight attendant for them.

Our meal choices were beef or bibimap. I chose bibimap and the flight attendant asked me if knew how to eat it. I did not (and neither did the Chinese lady next to me) so she handed us an instruction sheet. It was a bowl with little piles of spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and two other unidentified things. There was a separate packet of cooked rice that you put on top of that, followed by hot chili sauce and sesame oil. Mix it all together and you have a pretty tasty meal. There was almost a cup of seaweed soup (a la cup o’ noodles). After the flight attendant handed over your tray she peeled the foil lid off and poured hot water in from a kettle. I can’t imagine doing that for 350 people.

After about four hours of sleep for me and four movies for Jonathan we made it to Seoul. The airport is clean, busy, and huge. By then neither of us really cared and we hazed our way through stopping only for a required cup of Starbucks coffee (almost $3.00) for Jonathan.

I barely remember the flight to Hanoi. It was mostly a game of keeping my head from falling forward while I slept. I ate something but couldn’t tell you what it was.

Arrival in Hanoi was easy. We got our visas with only minor confusion and were collected by our chief pilot and several of the other pilots who have been here for a few weeks. Thankfully all of our bags showed up and we headed off to the Thang Loi Hotel in Tay Ho.

We were braced for the heat and humidity – even at 10pm – but completely unprepared for the journey to the hotel. I don’t know if I will ever attempt to drive or ride a motorbike here. Everything moves at an even pace, everyone uses their horns constantly (more often just to say ‘hey, I’m here’), and no one stays in their lane. I felt like we were always about to run over someone or collide with another vehicle. It’s insane. It took about 40 minutes to get to the hotel, and when we pulled into the road (the hotel is on a peninsula of sorts) there were still people everywhere including a man operating a backhoe.

The hotel is a sprawling complex on West Lake. The doors open to an inner hallway that isn’t climatized and have balconies that overlook the lake. The rooms have the kind of system where your room key goes in the slot and activates the electricity in the room. This means, when no one is in the room the air is off. When we got there we cranked the air down, took some ambien to make sure we didn’t wake up in a few hours, and went to sleep. The beds also only have a sheet on them, so I woke up a few hours later huddled in a ball, shivering. The same thing happened to me every night on my trip to Thailand, so you’d think I would have learned, but I guess not. We’ve now learned to cheat the system and put something into the card slot so the air stays at a constant temperature (wasteful Americans, I’m sure).

We’ve also learned to cheat the internet here so we can access facebook, but I still can’t figure out how to get on blogspot (these are all posted by emailing them to Jamie.) There isn’t wireless in the rooms, but the wired internet is pretty good. The hotel staff treat us well, and we have a great breakfast every morning. We have a decent selection of channels, though the tv has only been on once or twice. The bed is a king, which I love, but it feels like they forgot to put the mattress on top of the box springs.

Welcome to Asia.

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