Why don’t we wear hats any more? It used to be that every man wore a hat, and the hat indicated social status. Top hats were for the aristocracy, bowlers for the clerks and financiers, trilbys for the dandies and artisans, and cloth caps for the working man. As I understand it, to be outdoors without a hat on was to mark yourself out as somewhat of an eccentric. I presume this died out in the 60s. It’s probably all John Lennon’s fault.
Many a visitor to the UK is disappointed to learn that everyone does not walk around in a bowler hat, humming ‘Rule Brittania’ in between sips of tea. Likewise, if you go to France you are unlikely to meet someone wearing a beret and a striped sweat-shirt with a chain of onions hanging round his neck. In Vietnam, pointy hats are everywhere. I hope they never die out.
I’m in Hanoi. Wireless internet is free in more or less every hotel and cafe. The French colonial influence means great coffee and bread, and the buildings and tree-lined boulevards are reminiscent of Paris.
At first I thought that every Hanoi resident was obliged by law to recklessly operate a moped at all times, such is the horror of the traffic. You cannot move for mopeds. There are zebra crossings in Hanoi, but they serve as a stage for performance art, as tourists and locals trot like drunken ballerinas between swerving, honking bikes. I imagine a techno remix of Swan Lake playing in my head whenever I cross the street.
Vietnamese food is not the greatest; chunks of gristly meat stir-fried in murky sludge and heaped on an oval plate is standard fare. Fresh spring rolls are a treat though. They are not fried, are about six inches long, a couple of inches in diameter and translucent. The bits of carrot and onion within them can look slightly vein-like. These characteristics contributed to one of our travel-buddies naming them ‘floppy dicks’.
We visited a prison which was built by the French to house Vietnamese dissidents, then later used by the Vietnamese to house American GIs and pilots. I think John McCain might be amongst its alumni, although the English translations in the museum were vague. During their reign, the French were fond of introducing the guillotine to any Vietnamese people who said they might prefer it if they fucked off. I suppose it’s not the worst way to be callously murdered, but seeing one preserved for posterity still sends a chill down my spine.
Vietnamese money is, like the venerable Aussie dollar, made of what I think is polyester. It doesn’t crumple or tear, and it doesn’t matter if you get it wet. The only problem is the number of zeros at the end of each bill. One British pound buys you about 26,000 Dong. I took out a million Dong this morning, supposing that it would last me the rest of my time in ‘Nam. The machine was kind enough to dispense two 500,000 Dong notes. It may as well have sprayed insect repellent out of the cash slot for all the good it did me. Trying to pay for things with my 500,000 Dong note became embarrassing after a while.
We said goodbye to one of our travel buddies last night. She insisted on buying shots, so we’re a little tender today, and not altogether enthusiastic about taking a night train out of Hanoi this evening. The shots we were drinking were B52s. I’m not sure how tasteful that was, given the history of location. There are so many Australians here. I’m not complaining, but I am starting to say things like ‘She’ll be right’, ‘It’s all good’, ‘Aw, it’s dinkum, she’ll be right’, etc.