Balloon Girl

There are lots of bicycle-based businesses in Vietnam. In the late afternoon on days when there is mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, balloon sellers station themselves around the square so that after mass mothers and fathers can buy a toy for their kids. I snapped this picture on a street leading toward the cathedral.

baloon girl hanoi sm

I’m working on a couple of longer pieces for the blog, but until they are ready I’ll occasionally post photos from my recent trip to Vietnam.

The Sidewalk Poets (VN Diary No. 28)

Just returned from morning coffee with “the sidewalk poets,” an informal group of friends — poets, novelists, editors — who meet in cafes and pass around samizdat copies of poems and stories. They also publish in official channels and actually have a private (non-government) press, called Trash. I’m still digesting a lot of what I heard, but I learned more about contemporary Vietnamese poetry in two hours with these guys than in three weeks knocking on official doors in Hanoi.

The Tale of the Two Spring Hotels (VN Diary No. 27)

I had a post up yesterday briefly about my unpleasant experience checking out of my hotel in Hanoi, but I took it down because I wanted to verify the facts. Here is what happened: While I was still in the US, my friend G booked a room for me at the Spring Hotel No.1, where she has put other foreign visitors in the past. G gave me the email address of the hotel and I wrote to them to arrange a car to pick me up at the airport and to confirm the reservation. In that email, I specifically mentioned that my friend had already booked a room. The car picked me up, but took me, not to the Spring Hotel No. 1, but to the Spring Hotel No. 2, which is owned by the same family, but is more expensive. A lot more expensive. Turns out the two hotels have the same email address and when I emailed, they chose to ignore my information that G had already booked a room and confirmed a price. It was late when I arrived and I had the vague sense that it was not the right address, but it was, I knew, the right neighborhood, so I didn’t worry about it. And I didn’t varify the price because my friend Giang had already told me it was $16 / night. Imagine my surprise yesterday, then, when I was told I had been paying $50 / a night. Now, it’s a nice enough hotel, though there is no restaurant and the service consists of sweeping the floor and making the bed each day, but I have stayed in several hotels in Hanoi and there is absolutely nothing that makes the room I stayed in worth $50. Thirty dollars tops. My friend G agrees with me that the owners took advantage of me and intentionally pulled the switch. So if you’re headed to Hanoi, my advice would be to avoid both the Spring Hotel No. 1 and the Spring Hotel No. 2. They treated me less than honestly.