Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sabbatical Post 1 – Arriving in Hanoi

We left Columbus Monday evening November 16.

As I write this blog, it’s Wednesday night, November 18 in Hanoi – a good exercise to try to stay up past 9 p.m.

We arrived in Hanoi about 11:30 a.m. this morning – which of course was 11:30 p.m. back in Columbus – after a Columbus to Chicago flight. . . and a Chicago to Seoul flight. . . and a Seoul to Hanoi flight.

Landing in Chicago:

Landing in Chicago

It was an endless night:  we left Chicago at midnight central time and flew for something like 14 hours – and it was still nighttime when we arrived in Seoul – 4 a.m. local time.  But it was now Wednesday morning.  What happened to Tuesday?  The sun never rose on Tuesday.  Our north to west route took us backwards in time and forwards in time (over the International Date Line) simultaneously.  Or something.

The plane was the same type that I recently took to and from Israel.  It seemed roomier.  Was it just because it wasn’t full. . . and we actually had THREE seats for the two of us?

The 3 of us? No trip would be complete without a rubber chicken.
A story I'll tell you later.  Maybe.

Or was it laid out a little bigger?  It seemed like even without the extra seat that my “personal space” was bigger.  I’m good at sleeping sitting up – in part because I’m SUPPOSED to sleep that way with my “wedge pillow” to ward off reflux.  When I sleep on flights like this, I don’t even recline my seat: I’m more comfortable just sitting straight up.  My wife prefers to lie down – and with the 2 people in 3 seats layout, it worked out nicely for both of us.  Truth is, that nighttime flight back from Israel is typically one of my “best nights of sleep” of the year – so this was “even better” because it was a longer flight.

Endless night.  As we arrive in Asia, daytime has spread across the U.S.
But we haven't seen ANY daytime throughout our trip.
As transit passengers in Seoul, we enjoyed the excellent facilities of Incheon Airport—places to lie down, get a free shower, reconnect with the world on WiFi etc.

Incheon Airport in Seoul -- A pretty fabulour place!

Transzzzzzzzzzit Lounge

Susan even managed to participate in an “authentic Korean Culture” program – painting a key ring that we’ll use for the key to the home we’re staying in in Hanoi.

Susan Gellman -- in South Korea for less than 5 hours --

Our flight to Hanoi arrived shortly before 11:30 a.m., but it took well over an hour to clear customs and immigration, completing the confusing Visa process.  We came with photos for our Vietnam visa and letters indicating what we were going to be doing here.  I’m not sure why this couldn’t be done in advance, but we went through this process with dozens of other travelers, finally getting the opportunity to pay $45 cash American each and getting a pretty Vietnam Visa page added to our passports.

I remembered to hit the ATM before leaving the airport.  A longstanding family tradition calls local currency Sigourbeys.  I’m not sure of the spelling on that – but it goes back to Gellman Family Vacations of a full generation.  The first such vacation was when Susan was pregnant with Ben – who will be 30 next March.  We took a family trip to Brazil – Ed and Rosalie Gellman (Susan’s parents) and David (Susan’s brother) and Susan and me.  Permanent snapshot recollections from that first family journey: 1) Susan floating on her back, 7 months pregnant with Ben(jy), observed from our 17th story (or so) hotel room in her ladybug pattern swimsuit. . . 2) a dinner with Gellman family cousins in Sao Paolo where we expected exotic Brazilian cuisine, only to find that these elderly Jews overcooked Eastern European Jewish food just like Ed’s family. . . . 3) “Nobody told me it was the RAINY season” – a quote by a stranger named Morty, the quintessential irritating American tourist. . . and 4) “Que Pasa” – what another hotel patron said to David when he opened his hotel room at 4 in the morning because the drunk guy was trying to get in the wrong room. . . and oh yes, there was the video I secretly made of the “South American Bowl” – examining whether water really drained in the other direction in the Southern Hemisphere.  This was back in the day of big, shoulder-held video cameras, and my little production (filmed on January 1) was a surprise to everyone when we viewed the video after our return.

Anyway. . . Sigourbeys here are called Dong.  So of course Susan calls them Ding Dongs.  And the way it shakes out, we were instant millionaires.  I had read that 21,000 dong equal one dollar.  Adjusting that to 20,000 dong, that means that 1000 dong equals a nickel.  So you can understand why I simply withdrew THREE MILLION DONG at the airport ATM – and was able to hand my wife A MILLION DING DONGS before we even left in the taxi for where we’ll be in Hanoi.  As it turns out, the exchange right is even slightly stronger, dollar wise – at the moment 22,465 dong to a dollar.  Or a dong equals 0.000045 dollars.

The taxi they arranged for us took about 30 minutes to arrive in the neighborhood of Mai Dich—about 9 km from Hanoi’s famous Old Quarter – to our east.  The airport (I can see now) is 25 km to our north.  Google Maps says 42 minutes – but we did it in more like 30 minutes – not going very fast, and maneuvering around typical Hanoi traffic.  It seemed like our driver short-honked at every vehicle we passed – and that many drivers like driving between lanes.  And as you get near the city you get into the coexistence of cars and motorbikes.  Quite a lively scene.

The program in which we’ll be involved (through the Greenheart organization) is administered locally by CSDS – Center for Sustainable Development Studies – a Vietnamese NGO.  We’re staying in the home of the Nguyens, who work in two different parts of the program.  We seem to have expelled their children, Kid and Nim (13-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl) from their room – at least temporarily.  There are 7 young people staying upstairs, and others nearby at the building where the office is located. 

Our first errands were to get SIM cards for our phones so that we can function easily here in terms of phone and internet, and buy some towels.  What an incredible revolution that is—going to a country halfway around the world, opening your smartphone, inserting a different SIM card, and connecting to local telephone and worldwide internet (and for a fraction here of the cost in the U.S. and (probably) Europe).  It was an easy transaction – except for the fact that, had we not been accompanied by another employee of CSDS, we wouldn’t possibly have been able to work out our needs and the variations in what we were purchasing with the merchant who spoke no English. 

In the nearby market (but it seems like all of urban Vietnam is a market), we looked at, haggled slightly, and purchased 4 very colorful towels.  Hung showed us the office where we’ll be reporting tomorrow – and we stopped for a cup of Vietnamese coffee – before returning to our new home, having dinner around 6 p.m. and then trying to stay up so that we won’t be waking in the middle of the night.

Seen where we bought the towels.  A taste of home?
So I may be boring YOU. . . but I’m keeping myself awake!

I’ve spent much of the last 6 weeks preparing to LEAVE Columbus – trying to put things in order so that Tifereth Israel will function pretty well in my absence.  Pretty well – we wouldn’t want it to function TOO well now, right?! 

I really did almost no preparation until the trip over – reading a small book at Vietnamese culture and habits, looking over the pertinent sections of Fodor’s.

So here we are. . . having said a lot but having done nothing.

Good Night (from) Vietnam

Jack Chomsky

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