Unexpected meeting – The next day, Belle cheerfully reports that she’s booked a much cheaper hotel than we found last night. 20,000 VD for three nights! That’s no money indeed. However, we do need to extend our holiday. The booking is from 18 to 21 March. That’s next month, when we will be back in the Netherlands long and wide as planned. Not convenient, but due to five days of uninterrupted travel. Fortunately, Belle manages to rectify the mistake quite easily.
Downstairs we sit down for breakfast, where a delicious glass of chilled red wine is served. As an alternative to the traditional fruit juice. I think. In the end wine is also a fruit juice of course. A fruit juice plus. Well, that way I never get rid of the drink. Gna, gna. Belle takes egg and bread, I choose noodle soup.
During the checkout at the lobby desk, we see that Randy has made way for a lovely young lady who just charges us the price we agreed on last night. Another bias to smithereens. Sorry Randy, if there’s a rat, it’s me. Maybe that’s the moment when I finally realize I totally misjudged those ladies last night also. Sorry, ladies. But don’t worry about it. I’m just a stupid, Western tourist.
On the way to the Caballos hotel
In the street we both carry the big backpack on our backs and the small one we hold in our hands. It is possible to zip the small backpack on the big one, but that would be much too heavy. We use the navigation system Belle downloaded on her mobile to find our way to the Caballos hotel.
Two theories that don’t last
Hanoi is as hectic as Ho Chi Minh City, but somehow there seems to be more structure in this city. This is therefore the north of the country, North Vietnam. I believe that the Dutch writer Gerrit Komrij once wrote that the northern part of a country by definition functions more orderly and disciplined than the south, which is always more frivolous and dissolute. According to this theory, the south of a country is always more southern than the northern part of its southern neighbors. So the south of the Netherlands has a more southern temperament than the north of Belgium. I honestly don’t know.
Incidentally, more structure in Hanoi does not mean that there are fewer mopeds and scooters driving around. Here, too, the crackling two-wheelers crawl around us in the most impossible ways. Maybe it’s because Hanoi makes a less run-down and polluted impression than Ho Chi Minh City. But that may have more to do with the part of the latter city where we stayed. We actually didn’t see anything there. So that is also a reason for nothing, but this time I cannot blame Komrij.
Not a Vietnamese Pantheon
We pass a small temple located between the houses and shops. I say ‘small’ to avoid the impression that we have run into the Vietnamese Pantheon. Had it been up to me, we would have missed it at all. But Belle always sees everything and always wants to see everything. Once inside, the temple turns out to be bigger than I expected from the outside. It also contains multiple rooms and multiple altars.
But that is, that is…
In the vestibule we are received by four ladies and a gentleman. And I know that gentleman. That’s an old acquaintance from Uden, Roy. A fellow theater maker at the time. He was also a theater director in Gorinchem for a while. Nowadays I think he is a columnist at a Dutch paper and he and his sister have a theater program with stories about Indonesia and Indonesian food. But what is he doing here? Is he also head of a temple complex in Hanoi? How on earth does he combine all those different functions? Hanoi is not right next door.
Roy also pretends that he no longer knows me. He wouldn’t even speak and understand Dutch anymore. Just a little flawed English. But apart from that it is Vietnamese from here to eternity wiht him. Oh, oh, oh, how proud he is to master that language. Very clever of course, but you don’t have to exaggerate it that way. And there is absolutely no reason to deny your past. But that’s the way it is with people. When they reach a certain position abroad and forget where they come from and who they are. Then they certainly don’t want to know anything about vague acquaintances from the past.
Well, and then that temple itself. It is a crazy fair full of brightly colored knickknacks that you can also find in souvenir shops. Earthenware and bronze vases, candles, incense sticks, Buddha statues and other dolls. The kind of dolls that used to be collected by bearded aunts. Nowadays, dolls like that sometimes play the leading role in American horror films.
And then the offerings eh. That can be anything. Bananas, mangoes, oranges, apples, beer cans, bottles of wine and money. Belle wonders what they do with the fruit. My thoughts are obviously more about the beer and wine. The temple ladies say that the fruit is eaten after a few days and the drink is also consumed – thank you Buddha. Vietnamese are religious, but not ticked off by fate.
In the center of this burst of color and fragrance, people are standing with their hands clasped together. Their faces facing the colorful display on the altar, mumbling. No idea what they are saying After all, I am deaf and do not understand Vietnamese. But I doubt I would understand if I was hearing and mastered the Vietnamese language. They invariably close their prayers with three gentle circular movements with their hands and then leave the room or go to the next altar without fuss. It all looks quite relaxed.
Roy has left in the meantime. Maybe he runs several temples here in Hanoi. Who knows? We drink some tea with the temple ladies yet and leave 200,000 VD on a saucer when we leave. But we have not walked a hundred meters when we’re accosted by one of the ladies. I left the small backpack with all our valuables in the temple. They assumed it was not an offering.
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