The taxi’s route to the airport passes through a number of suburban neighborhoods of varying degrees of prosperity and in each I noticed well cared for dogs on people’s stoops. I’d noticed this in Hanoi, too, and it was one of the differences from eight years ago, when the few pet dogs I saw looked skinny and flea-bitten. Then there are the jokes about eating dog meat, but that practice seems to be receeding to the margins, confined mostly to older men concerned about their verility. In the old days, I never saw anyone walking a dog on a lead, but the practice has become fairly common in Hanoi, where, in the mornings, people go down to the lake to exercise, many taking their dogs, who for the most part sit quietly waiting for their masters to finish their calesthenics or their badmitton game. The happy and contented dogs are a mark of increasing prosperity, I think. For purely sentimental reasons, I’m happy to see the change.
Someday I’ll have to put the check-in procedures at Noi Bai into a story — no one would believe it as non-fiction travel writing. I always start too early for the airport, but today my early start paid off. Traffic was bad on the drive out of Hanoi and there was chaos at the airport as hundreds of Vietnamese workers on labor contracts were processed through to Cambodia and Laos. Their extended families came to see them off. And of course I had excess baggage, then there was no ticket number in the system for me. At various points I was separated from both my baggage and my passport for varying lengths of time. In any case, I’m now drinking iced coffee in the airport’s internet cafe, so all is well. And I must give the Vietnam Airline staff people props. I was frustrated and sweating, but they were calm and professional amid the chaos. Must be because they get a lot of practice driving to work!