Dear Escapees, In the interest of full transparency I have to confess that I’d first noticed, of all things, a mandolin hanging high on a string in the corner of a tiny six foot wide music shop, just a few blocks from our hotel, if you can call them blocks. You couldn’t see it from the street. I reached up and unhooked the tuner heads from a string, that’s when Marce turned to go. I said, “Hey how about that? it’s a nice mandolin.” I could imagine her massive eye roll even from behind. I asked the proprietor, “How much?” He adopted that pained expression all Vietnamese vendors can call up instantly. After pointing out the instrument’s features he smiled and said one million five hundred dong. I smiled and handed the instrument back to him.
I confess it wore on me. It was bigger than me, It called to me so much during our Ha Long trip that I pulled up my currency converter app figuring when I get back I could probably get him down to one million dong so that’s all I’ll take with me and if he won’t come down in price, I can’t get it. See how that works? It won’t be my fault, it’ll be fate. A kismet kinda thing. After all, what’s a million dong? Like $42 USD. What’s the worst that could happen? So as soon as we get back to our hotel room I ask M. if she’s up for a little walk, because I haven’t a clue where music row is. No. Ok I won’t be long. Johnny FairPlay here.
Look, there is no place I’ve found on this earth where it’s easier to get more profoundly lost than Hanoi. Somehow I stumble into the same music shop but he’s not there. Only his bitchy daughter is and she doesn’t care whether she sells this thing or not. Finally I resort to where’s the old guy? That’s when he walks in. Kismet, right? Initially he’s resistant to the one million dong concept, but with a beautiful example of pained proprietor face he eventually agrees. Now where is the case? Bitchy daughter looks through a large tub loaded with gig bags and hands me a cheap black bag with Ukulele stenciled in bold white letters. She wants 30,000 dong which is about $1.25 USD but I don’t have it. An even more pained version from the old guy who glances at his daughter then motions that I should go now.
Shopping in Vietnam is exhausting but if you’re successful in getting your price it can leave you feeling ebullient and alive.
Feeling especially alive I head toward Hoan Keim Lake and the most reliable ATM I know of. Get a million dong on the first try and watch powder blue uniformed street sweepers line up and do warm up exercises. This is a crazy intersection featuring seven roads leading into a large square of mayhem. There are no traffic signals, not that anyone would obey them. I decide to celebrate with a sidewalk table, a beer and a banh mi and just watch the show. Have a Graham Green moment. Just then a familiar face walks by. It’s my kayaking partner from Ha Long Bay. Of all the gin joints in Hanoi…etc. We sip a couple of cold Tigers and watch the madness with bemused smiles on our faces.
Full disclosure, I might have had several coldies but my story is that it was just two and I’m sticking to it.