Not a single one of the bikes we have rented has a functioning set of dials. The tank is always on empty, the odometer always reads the same and the speedometer only budges when we hit a pothole. Not that it is all that important - there are not speed limits in Vietnam.

> There are no western fast food joints

> Am I so old that I think it odd that children still play the same way I did? Or is it just that I don't watch the children in America. Here they amuse themselves with climbing trees, floating sticks in gutters and putting things in the street to be run over. I've seen games of marbles, jump-rope, hopscotch and one that involves throwing a shoe at a stack of Pokemon cards. Whatever you dislodge you win. Videogames are for teenagers. One of the more threatening games that boys here and everywhere enjoy is throwing things. I threw crab apples at cars when I was a kid. Perhaps they cannot afford them for here they throw stones. At everything. The trains all have metal grates covering the windows because of this.

> One can immediately tell one has entered the old quarter of the city using only ones ears. The same number of motorbikes buzzing pell mell up, down and around the wide tree lined boulevards of most of the city are squeezed into narrow streets lined with buildings that bounce their honking and revving back and forth. Additionally every ground floor space contains a shop, restaurant or bar that's spilling it's guts out onto the sidewalks where the bikes park and pedestrians pick their way amongst it all.

> The vendors seem aggressive to us. Make eye contact and they will address you. Return a hello and you will get a "where you from." Give them this and they will ask your age and on until you find yourself with a cyclo driver or postcard seller following you down the street. Ignoring them works but it is difficult to be rude to these friendly people.

> There is a whole street full of shops selling Christmas decorations.

> History has shown what the Vietnamese military is capable of but appearances can be deceiving. The young soldiers training near Ho's mausoleum seem more suited to the spirit crew than the front lines. We spoke with one whose quiet voice and deep brown eyes were matched in softness only by his demeanor. The young recruits being drilled were not large and as they ran around the square they would occasionally skip or do a funny exaggerated jump from a curb. All the while their cheap tennis shoes flapping on the flagstones in a friendly patter.

> There are few gas stations about. More common are the vendors selling gasoline cut with other liquids like kerosene from plastic bottles on the road side.

> The prison known as the "Hanoi Hilton" has been partially torn down to make space for one of the tallest buildings in the city. In the lobby of that tower is a Christmas tree and a banner in English, "Luxury Apartments for Rent."

~ Nigel



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