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The Hanoi hop-on-hop-off bus tour and the white man who refused to wait
Several months ago, I was reading up on Grindelwald, checking out accommodations and wondering how long I could vacation there before getting bored. It's a place for hikers and mountain climbers, and I am neither, but the place is picturesque enough to inspire any writer and amateur photographer.
I read everything I could find online about Grindelwald. Eventually, I came upon a forum and a discussion about the price and quality of meals. Several Americans, all males, wrote scathingly about the prices. It was robbery, they said, and the food wasn't even very good.
How could the place attract tourists, one said, if no one could afford it. Zermatt, someone chimed in, was a better option. I opened a new tab in my browser, searched for Zermatt and viewed the photos. Hmmm... Not as quaint as Grindelwald. Zermatt is larger and is located in a narrower valley. I clicked the tab close and went back to reading about Grindelwald.
Farther down the thread in the forum, a Swiss replied that the prices the Americans were complaining about were, in fact, average. He explained very patiently that, as with anywhere in the world, prices depend on the standard of living of the people in the locality. He gave figures of the average salary of a Swiss employee to prove the co-relation between standard of living and price of basic goods.
The noisiest of the Americans active in the discussion would have none of it. The prices have to be adjusted, he insisted, so that Americans could afford it.
I left that forum thinking: Shouldn't tourists go to places that they could afford? It's simple, really. Do your research before even choosing your destination. If you can't afford the prices in one place, choose another destination where the prices of goods and services are within your budget. Why insist that the rest of the world adjust to your personal means?
I would have forgotten all about the Grindelwald exchange had Sam and I not encountered a white man in Hanoi whose sense of entitlement echoed that of the noisiest American in the Grindelwald thread.
It was Friday, our second day in Hanoi. Sam and I had tickets for the Hanoi hop-on-hop-off bus tour. I bought them online, printed out the voucher and studied the route. After reading that every bus started its rounds at the Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square on the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake, we went there directly, and located the ticket booth where I exchanged the voucher for tickets.
It was a little before 2.00 p.m. According to the website, the tickets, the brochures that came with the ticket and the people at the ticket booth, the bus was scheduled to leave at 2.30 p.m. With more than half an hour to kill, we crossed the street to a convenience store and was back at the bus stop 10 minutes later.
What was there to do while waiting? We took photos to entertain ourselves.
The skies were gray and our photos weren't turning out too well. After a while, I sat on a bench while Sam continued to take photos. She was especially fascinated by the senior citizens who seemed so relaxed there.
There were others there who, like us, were waiting for the bus to leave. Two couples, one with a young child in a stroller.
The white man with an attitude
Then, a third couple arrived. A white man and an Asian woman. Almost as soon as they stepped beside the bus, the man was looking for the driver. The driver explained by holding up his fingers that the bus would leave at 2.30.
A few minutes later, the man — North American based on his accent — started sounding upset. He was raising his voice to the driver. The latter who didn't speak English fetched the tourism representative at the ticket booth. A woman came over and explained to the angry American that the bus followed a schedule. The one currently parked there would leave at exactly 2.30 p.m.
But I have been waiting for ten minutes already, the white guy objected. As though he had made such a sacrifice that justified altering the schedule just so he would shut up. Well, it was 2.20 and he would just have to wait ten minutes longer.
And just what did his companion do while he was huffing and puffing? Nothing. The Asian-looking woman was calm and polite. Although she seemed to be listening, she didn't take part in the verbal tussle. My impression was that she was already used to her man's attitude. It was just the white guy who was acting and talking like things should be done according to his convenience and preferences.
I'm just making an observation here. I'm not saying that the white man in Hanoi personified all American tourists. I am saying though that, considering the Grindelwald thread I had read and my encounter with this white guy in Hanoi, there is more than one white tourist that thinks that, wherever they go, things should be adjusted to make everything easy, agreeable and convenient for them. Hmmmm...
The hop-on-hop off bus tour
In a nutshell, the hop-on-hop-off bus tour wasn't a particularly nice experience. "Kinda lame," as Sam later told her father.
To allow us to take photos, we climbed up to the upper deck of the bus. Sam took a window seat and I took the one right in front of her. I put on my earphones and I was all set for the experience.
The audio wasn't synchronized with the actual location of the bus. Sometimes, it was delayed; other times, it was ahead. After a while, I just gave up. Never mind where we were exactly; I'd just see the sights.
I recognized the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum because who would miss that, right?
Then, there was the Hanoi Ceramic Mosaic Mural — a wall 6.5 kilometers long decorated with ceramic tesserae from Bat Trang Village. The designs represent various dynasties in the history of Vietnam, modern art works and even children's paintings.
I so wanted to see it up close.
But I looked at the narrow sidewalk, was reminded of my scary Saigon experience and changed my mind.
Other than that? Well... The photos didn't come out too well. The sky was too gray, the bus windows were too small, there were cables crisscrossing the streets that hung too low and, occasionally, tree branches hit our heads.
Amusing, in a way, but if we stood up (safe considering the speed of the bus) and lifted the camera to frame better shots, either our arms or necks could have gotten tangled with the tree branches or cables, or both. That wouldn't be amusing at all.
There was one place though that captured my imagination.
It was a street lined with huge old trees on either side. The sidewalks were wide. And there were beautiful villas. That photo above was taken as the bus was about to exit the street. A belated attempt on my part because I was wide-eyed and frozen in my amazement. I remember thinking, "I want to stay in one of those villas. For a month. Maybe two. Or three."
To this day, I don't know the name of the street and I still can't locate it on the map.
Much later, I discovered that some of those villas could be rented. The price? Anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 US dollars. The bigger ones cost more. Never mind renting one. When I visit Hanoi again, I will just try harder to locate that street. And I will walk its length. I have to pay nothing to do that.
Cooling off after the tour
We hopped off the bus in the same spot where we hopped on it. Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square on the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake. We walked a bit looking for a place where I could get iced coffee and found a restaurant with a large veranda overlooking the lake.
But there was parfait in the menu and I had that instead. Sam had yogurt. We stayed there for quite a while. Smoking. Chatting about business plans. Yes, I talk business with my daughters. That afternoon, we talked about my business plans and her own.
We took a Grab ride back to the apartment then went out later to the night market. But that's another story.