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Trip Start Apr 21, 2005
Trip End May 17, 2005

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Flag of Vietnam  , Ha Nội,
Sunday, May 15, 2005

Hello again.

On my last trip here, I met a couple of people.  This trip, I went to visit them.

The first was Peter from Australia.  He runs his own store, Peter's Donuts.  He had a stand at Hoan Kiem Lake during the 30th Anniversary Independence celebration.  His staff was exceptionally friendly and talkative so I kept going back.

Peter first came to Vietnam in 1996.  He liked it so much he kept returning.  After a few years he married a local woman.  He was working for one of the big 3 American autos at the time.  Around 2001, his request to transfer to Vietnam was granted.  This year he left to open his own business.  His main store is in Hanoi's first shopping mall that just opened.  The location is designed for locals not tourists.  The menu includes Asian-style hot dogs, hamburgers, milkshakes and Australian meat pies in addition to a few basic, local favorites.  Looking at the traffic outside his shop, I think the idea is catching on.

It was interesting to listen how the country has changed.  The picture he paints of 10 years ago is quite a bit different than what I see now.  When he first arrived, there were lots of beggars and bicycles on the streets.  Still some, of course.  But economic development has really changed things.  A local Vietnamese told me it was actually illegal to talk to foreigners until 1990.  But the necessity of tourism dollars forced the government to relax its policy.  I think there's going to be some more capitalistic changes in the next 10 years.

The other person I met was Ly.  She's a university student studying to become a translator/interpreter.  Ly likes to practice English with foreigners.  Whenever she sees tourists she tries to start conversations.  Usually it amounts to giving directions to sights.

Ly has classes in the morning six days a week.  She was telling me about the pressure of choosing a vocation.  I really didn't understand.  In college, my major changed several times.  Here, however, you can only go through university once.  And whatever vocation you pick becomes your profession for life.  No changes.  I'm not sure if it's social or political.  But I talked to others without degrees who said the same - it's hard to change jobs.

Ly invited me over to her house for dinner to meet her family.  They have a shop on the ground floor with their house extending five stories above it.  I kept winding up the stairway to get to different rooms.  She is the sixth of eight children.  One of her older sisters was visiting from Japan.  After living there for a number of years, she actually had more of a Japanese appearance than Vietnamese.  The other sister I met lived in the house with her husband and two children.  I thought they were newlyweds they were so happy together.  But that's just their whole family.  Ly told me all her friends like her family.  But she likes to spend more time at home than out.

Ly's family asked how I learned the language.  So I pulled out the workbook I received from my host family on the last stop.  It's something like The Alphabet - for ages 4-6.  Everyone gathered around to see.  Inside the book, I had written the sound of each letter next to it.  My own cliff notes.  I proudly recited the Vietnamese alphabet in their own tune.  Just like American kids do the A-B-C's on Sesame Street.  Except that I got corrected.  Over and over.  In unison, they'd all respond with a different sound.  I was a little stunned.  I eventually determined that the north has a completely different dialect than the central.  A Hanoian had told me on my last visit that the French wanted to separate the country into three provinces when they came to colonize 150 years ago.

Later in the evening, five of us walked over to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  The huge courtyard outside, Ba Dinh Square, becomes a pedestrian walkway at night.  Many go there for an evening stroll or just to hang out.  The mausoleum is lighted. It has a much more majestic look than during the day.  At 9PM, a patrol of guards came out.  They marched in formation to lower the flag.  Not a very significant event but somehow pretty cool to watch.  After wards, the place vacates.

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