The Hanoi Hilton – part 24A


Beijing. The Chairman’s chair.

Sunday 16 November 2014 – in Hanoi

At last I can post again. No internet on the ship for 17 days (unless you paid their exorbitant rate – $0.79 per minute!). Then Word Press was blocked in China so I couldn’t access this blog. Very frustrating. But now this hotel’s wi-fi internet works perfectly and is fast, faster than I’ve got at home. It’s great.

Our hotel in Beijing was absolutely brilliant. I’d rate it probably the best, friendliest, and best designed hotel I’ve ever stayed at. I’ll give them a 100% review on Trip Advisor. It’s called the Shi Cha Hai Shadow Art Performance Hotel and that’s exactly what it is.It’s a newly architect designed hotel in the Shi Cha Hai hutong, an old narrow street of private dwellings, schools, military somethings, little shops and tiny restaurants. People and kids everywhere, the antithesis of yer Plazas and Raddissons and glass, marble and chrome monstrosities. That’s why I chose it and my friend was as delighted as I was.

The shadow art performance is what it says. Each Tuesday and Thursday at 8pm they put on a Chinese version of the wayang kulit puppet show behind a screen, with text of the dialogue electronically projected onto the screen. It lasted about half an hour, then you could go behind the screen and see how it was done. Some kids had a great time with the puppets.

An example of their service – I accidentally rolled onto my glasses on the bed and broke the frame. Emergency, I have no spare. The guy at the desk said to leave them with him, he would cycle to a repairer and bring them back. So at 6.30pm he brought them back to the room, fixed almost better than new, an undetectable fix. When I said “How much?”, he said “No charge, sir”. How about that for service?

But overall we hated China. Dirty, unfriendly (not always), too crowded (not surprisingly), and a bit rude. I admit I’m a bit plump but I was getting finger pointing and comments between blokes on the street. Just rude. And the spitting. Disgusting. Cigarette smoke everywhere.

The weather was brilliant for our whole five days, coinciding with the APEC summit. Clear blue skies every day. A bit cool at around 12 – 14C, I’d guess, but not bad. The Wall was freezing, though. I’d estimate 2 – 4C at the village and my friend said it was probably near zero or below up there. There was a fair breeze blowing. I saw the wall from the village but I couldn’t go up, and my friend said even he was struggling to get up the steps and deal with the cold. Been there, seen it, it’s enough for me.

But when we left yesterday, Saturday, it was as if a switch had been flicked and the haze and smog was so bad that we could hardly see the planes on the tarmac.Obviously the order had gone out, “OK boys, you can start up your factories and smoke belchers again, APEC’s over.

The crazy thing is we could not get any good food in China. We got peasant food at tiny restaurants nearby, I mean pork balls in noodle broth and another noodle dish with just a tomato mushroom sauce. Crap. It cost us Y26 for the two bowls so at $5 including a 500ml beer. I suppose we can’t complain, But I can complain about the cigarette smoke. We were practically gasping to get out.

Only once did I have a nice crepe folded over full of egg and veges and spices. That was good. That restaurant was weird. There were small stalls at street level with all different things on offer. You had to pay Y100 up front to get a plastic card, then you chose your dishes and the vendor swiped your card. At the end, you reclaim the balance. But you had to carry your tray up some steep steps to be able to sit at tables. That’s hard for me, but a waiter did help by carrying my tray part way.

This has been a strenuous trip and I’m feeling the strain. I’m getting weaker and weaker, I assume from the diabetes and maybe the leukemia. Yesterday I nearly fell in the airport toilet. I was leaning way forward on my arms and I almost couldn’t push myself upright again. I couldn’t find my balance for 30 secs or more. That was scary. I’m losing all the strength in my thighs. I have trouble standing up from a sitting position. Stairs are very hard. But I’ll push on. It’ll be OK.

Boy I’m looking forward to Bali..In retrospect I’ve been a bit too ambitious – five weeks travelling is a lot. And spending five weeks sharing hotel rooms with a friend I’ve never travelled with is ambitious, shall we say. We get along very well but my friend is a fit walker and I’m really slowing him down. We haven’t had a cross word, though.

This hotel in Hanoi is beautiful! It’s the Oriental Central Hotel, and boy, is it central. The streets outside are absolutely thronged with people, cars, motor bikes, rickshaws, push carts, everything, and all the vehicles’ horns are blaring. To get a meal we just walk along the street a few doors or cross to a blocked off street of shops and bars and restaurants. It’s only 50 – 100m  away. The view out the window is just a mass, a maze, a jungle of roof tops of every shape and height and size. I’ve never seen anything like it. We’re on the seventh floor. They build tall here, no space between building, just stacked upwards.

We’ve had an embarrassing blunder. I booked a “Junior Suite” with windows, assuming from the web site that it was twin beds. But when we arrived it’s a big double bed. Uh oh. No way. The hotel was fully booked last night so my friend slept on a folding bed they provided. It was OK, we both slept very well. But I’ve asked for a separate room anyway due to certain “night noises” that are seriously keeping me awake, so today we’ll split up. Unfortunately the other room is windowless but it’s no problem. I think my friend will use that and just come here when he wants windows!

I’ll post this now and do some more pages asap. Standby. (Wow, I nearly lost all this writing just now. I accidentally closed the browser and I thought it wasn’t saved, but after several minutes I found I could recover it. When I’ve written so much, the thought of losing it is almost panic.)


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