After Saigon, I headed up to the country’s capital, Hanoi, by plane. Famous for its Old Town, the city is, just as Saigon, quite busy, full of motorbikes all the time, which scared me a bit sometimes.
I very much appreciated the fact that I could stay at a local’s place, Dong, who is a journalist, too. We talked about French (the presidential elections were close!) and Vietnamese politics and she explained me to what extend Vietnam still is a communist country. In fact, I had been looking for signs of communism, but it didn’t really feel different to any other country I had been to so far. Everywhere you go people ask you to buy something from them, negotiation is quite common and of course there are different sort of social classes – some people only earn one dollar per hours or even less, some much more. However, according to Dong, you cannot say or write at all what you want to: the media is controlled or owned by the government. Reason enough for her to stop working for them and starting her career as a freelancer.
Getting to know true Vietnamese life
The best part of living in her area was the fact that I was the only tourist everywhere I went. People were often smiling at me, waving and telling me things in Vietnamese or trying to communicate with hands and feet. Some pointed at me to their friends, and children, who often spoke better English than their parents, sometimes walked next to me and told me their few words they could say. I don’t think I have ever said “hello” more often in such a short time. Once two men showed me their camera and I thought they wanted me to take a photo of them, but I soon understood that they wanted a photo with me – I just laughed and accepted. Soon I’ll be probably known as somebody like “Julia, my American friend” within their Facebook friends. 😀
I really started to like Vietnamese people. In the beginning, I was probably more cautious, since I wasn’t too sure if they would take advantage of the fact that I was a foreigner and did not understand their language. And although I am pretty sure they sometimes charged me a bit more than a local, I still feel that they were being caring somehow. When the motorbike driver wasn’t sure if the address I gave him was correct, he called Dong and asked her since he couldn’t communicate with me. Very often a big smile was the only communication possible and that was enough for me to appreciate these people.