Grocery shopping in Hanoi…..wow……geez, I’m sitting here just laughing…..out of sheer exhaustion……! It’s……..I don’t even know where to start…..
Let me back up a bit…..I’d stayed at the hotel in the Old Quarter for 5 days, but obviously I couldn’t stay at a hotel forever, so Mike suggested I stay at his place until I get a job and find a place of my own. Very kind, plus practical for us both. We can share some expenses until we get on our feet financially.
So, I pack up my bags, grab a taxi and take it over to the section of town wherein Mike lives and mind-numbingly comprehend on the way that Hanoi is absolutely, positively, unbelievably HUGE!! It is a big, BIG city. The taxi driver was an artist….they all are. Anyone who drives or bikes around Hanoi on a daily basis is an artist. It’s as if the traffic is a river of people wending their way through the narrow and the wide streets, the alleys, flowing ♪ over, under, sideways, down ♪ and around each other. It’s truly an art.
Before I left the hotel, I’d called Mike and told him I was on my way and that I’d call him again when I was at his place so he could unlock the gate and let me in. About half way through the cab ride I realized my phone battery was dead. …Oh…… cool…… okay….so….. hopefully the address is correct. The cab driver was spot on – in this enormous city, he amazingly got me to the correct alley……now which house in this winding alley? The driver had to drop me off at the entrance because his car wouldn’t fit into it so here I am with my two suitcases walking down an alley in Hanoi, Vietnam, my Vietnamese is pathetic at best, and I’m hoping, praying that if I just say “Mike”….. “Michael”…. somebody will know who the hell I’m talking about. I figure he’s the only foreigner around here and I’m a foreigner….maybe they’ll figure we two go together and send me the right way. Again, I’m in an alley in a huge city in a foreign country, I don’t speak the language and I’m hoping, hoping, hoping that I’m in the right place, right? A couple of people seem to indicate they know him and lead me to an enormous iron gate. A woman comes to the gate and I say “Mike? Michael?” while I’m circling my finger in the air as if to say “around here….?” She speaks rapid-fire Vietnamese to me, turns around and walks away. I’m hoping this means she’s going to get Mike. A man is very, very kindly and politely standing next to me to be there for me in case I’m in the wrong place (the people here are amazingly good-hearted and accommodating). After interminable minutes I hear Mike’s voice saying, “Jan!” My heart leaps and my senses ease. I look around….and around……and…..straight up….I mean up. He’s at the sixth floor of the building……”I thought you were going to call!” “My phone died!” “Okay, I’ll be right down!”
So, I’m finally home……a couple of days of adjustment….culture/big city shock……constipation……tmi, ok, sorry…..lack of sleep….sleeping (or trying to) on a wooden slat, no mattress (we have got a folding mattress since)…..cold showers, no hot water….NO hot water……none……two days……I’m grouchy…..I gotta get it together. Whether I’ve got it together or not, I’ve got to go to a bank and exchange some traveler’s cheques for Vietnamese ðong and get some shopping done so I can stop spending money on eating out. Mike’s on the same page….gotta save money…be practical. Time to go grocery shopping.
First things first – exchanging traveler’s cheques. This took a good hour….easily….quite easily. I’m not sure why, but it took a very long time to get them exchanged. Traveler’s cheques are thoroughly examined, scrutinized, inspected and audited in Hanoi, have no fear…..I suppose it’s for the best. So, finally, job done…..honestly, it’s a whole other story, but, anyway, …. we go for a ‘ca phe sur da’ just to chill out a bit before taking on grocery shopping….
Who knew? We had no idea….just getting to the grocery store – looking up in the phrase book “supermarket”….then….”food” + “supermarket” after we realized the cab driver was taking us to a ‘Best Buy’ type of “supermarket”… Finally we arrive…..Big. It’s big. Really big. Two stories. You can actually take your shopping cart on an escalator onto the second floor. It’s more of a ramp than the type of escalator we’re used to in the U.S. So we walk around, trying to find all the items on our lists…..we actually did pretty good overall, as we were being deluged by the same ‘muzak’ type of song over and over and over and over and…..Mike said the song was like listening to Barney on speed…… Noise, noise, noise…sensory overload….difficulties obtaining an extra shopping cart, but that’s Mike’s story…… Everything imaginable for sale in this store – Super Duper Ultra WalMart Deluxe…..
One of the main things we were looking for was a rice cooker. After a bit of surveying, Mike found what appeared to be a good one – the right size and all. Fully six people helped us with the purchase….plugging it in, making sure it worked before we took it, filling out the warranty for us – unreal customer service. It’s so funny – we’re sort of freaks of nature here. We’re the geeks and everyone seems to want to talk with us and have interaction with us. It’s bizarre – here we are, two Americans in Vietnam, appreciating and admiring their culture, their kindness, while they’re so curious about ours.
Anyway, after a very crazed and confused….dazed & confused?…. taxi ride home, we lugged all our purchases up six flights of stairs….fun times!….and decided it was time to chill out….literally….cold shower first (actually, I’m starting to like them)….. then a bottle of Chilean wine we’d purchased at the grocery store……the cork of which I’d dug out with Mike’s pen knife because, while we remembered the wine glasses, we forgot the corkscrew…..