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zondag 29 maart 2009

Last days

Alas, all good things must come to an end. And in general way to soon. I'm writing to you with a jetlagged mind in the comfort of my own chair. Although traveling is always fun, it feels good to just sit here. Unfortunately I've got to work tomorrow, ... but that's tomorrow.

Before flying back, we still had two more days in Hanoi. Hammy filled these by going on a mad shopping spree with my sister, to which I was allowed to tag along. The result was a score of gifts for ourselves, family and friends. Most of it was taken up by clothing. Hammy got herself about 20 new pieces of clothes, most of which was tailor-made at two stores named Le Soleil and Countryside Silk (near the St. Joseph Cathedral). She also bought a designer dress in a shop named Cocoon (30 Pho Nha Chung, Nha Tho Area), in which she looks absolutely gorgeous. It has a traditional Southeast Asia cut, but with a modern twist. As for myself, I get a few shirts and three suits made by the best tailor in Hanoi, Minh Quang (175 Phùng Húng).

In between shopping, we paused for a visit to the Love Chocolate Café (26 To Ngoc Van, Tây Hồ). As the name suggests they specialize in chocolate. For those who know me: it doesn't get any better than this, I swear. The inside design is a bit kitch, but the service and the calm more than makes up for that. And the chocolate! Hot chocolate with banana flavor, chocolate pudding, intense brownies, chocolate cake with coffee sauce, chocolate chip cookies, ... and that's only what we had! Mmmmh, chocolate.

The first day was rounded off by drinks at Minh's Jazz Club. Minh can be considered to be the father of jazz in Vietnam. He started listening to jazz during a time when that kind of music wasn't on the radar in the country. Moreover his father was afraid he might attract negative attention by the communist party by listening to it. Minh studied the classics by day, and jazz in secret by night. Eventually he played a concert in the capital in front of an audience that had some influence. He kept to the traditional repertoire, except for the last song. This song started out like a classic, which he then flipped into a jazz rendering. At firtst the people were taken aback, but after the initial shock he got a thundering aplause. Since he has been playing, recording and teaching jazz. For the last twelve years he also runs his own bar. Every night there is live music, performed by now established names and up-and-comers. This particular evening we saw amongst others, Minh's son perform. The repertoire was a mixture of local and American jazz. I made a little video, which I'll be posting on online somewhere soon.

The second day we had an excellent brunch at the Sofitel Metropole. This hotel was originally build by the French during rule of Ino-China in 1901, and is therefore a prime example of colonial art. It was then, as it is now, one of the finest luxury hotels of Vietnam, with rooms price between €200 and €500 a day. Surprisingly enough, they offer a brunch package which is very good value for money. These brunches are priced €15 to €20, for which you get an offering of assorted imported cheeses from Europe, pâtés, a sushi bar, caviar, a main dish (we had rabbit and langoustine), and a desert bar. For what is considered in Europe to be a bit more expensive than student prices, you can stuff yourself from 11h till 16h on excellent food, in a little oasis of calm.

In the evening my sister took us to some back-alley projects near the Westlake to a local sculptor of Buddhas. For the measly price of 800 000 VND (about €30) we were able to buy a 20 year old statue of more or less 50 cm high. It used to serve in an actual temple. These sculptors have got a deal with several temples to provide them with new statues at a lower price, in exchange for which they are allowed to resell the old ones. The woman who sold it to us, told my sister that we got a significant reduction in price because of sis's vietnamese roots. I would like to thank my little sibling at this point for the trouble she went through in letting us stay at her place (the same goes for her boyfriend of course) and for letting us schlepp her around during the shopping quest. She has been instrumental in showing us the good stuff and in negotiating the fairest prices. I'm sure she saved us a lot of money. So, again, thanks baby sis.

As I said in the beginning of this post, all good things must come to an end. That evening we packed and the next morning we were off to Hanoi airport for our first transfer to Singapore. The only thing we couldn't fit in our luggage was the wrapped up Buddha (the skinny serene version by the way, not the happy fat one). Hammy has been going on about buying ever since we decided going on this trip. Needless to say she was extremely happy we were able to get our hands on a semi-antique. She carried the statue like a baby during the entire trip. Upon embarking in Hanoi, right before we would be passing immigration, an office stopped us. She asked to check if the statue would fit into the overhead compartments in the plane. The Buddha is sitting on a lotus flower, making the base just a little to big to fit. She told us we would need to check it in. Hammy pleaded that it would get damaged and that we would make it work and that afterwards we were taking an international flight where there would be more room. The officer must have seen the despair in her eyes, because eventually she let us pass.

After 5 hours we arrived at Singapore airport, where we needed to wait for 6 hours to catch our connecting flight. Luckily the airport is quite big, so we were able to wail away time visiting the orchid garden, the butterfly garden, buying shoes for Hammy, getting a new gadget for me (iPod Touch, damn my sister's boyfriend and his iPhone gadgety goodness), and take a swim up on the roof. At midnight local time we got on board, and about 14 hours later (with a trip of 6 hours back in time) we were back in Europe. I got a little time left to just chill and do nothing, waiting for my kitties to get back home (I'll be glad to see them). The only question that remains now, is: where will be going next time?

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