8,745 MILES: DAY 11 IN HANOI

Monday, July 31, 2017

I woke up this morning to “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi blaring through my window from across the street. Then “Chantaje” by Shakira. To be honest, I was a little confused about where I was.

Trang, her mom and I visited the Ngoc Son temple and pagoda that sit on an island surrounded by the Hoan Kiem lake in the city. A Hanoi landmark, The Huc Bridge roughly translates to the “shrimp bridge” because of its red color and leads into the island.

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We went inside and before we entered the temple, we had to pray to ask for permission to enter. There were people there lighting incense, leaving money and food on altars and praying on their knees. I didn’t take any pictures inside because I felt like it would be intrusive and disrespectful, so I just stood and watched and tried to take a few snapshots with my mind. I’ve never seen someone worship in another religion (Buddhism) before. I thought it was beautiful.

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Trang told me that this particular temple represents academic success and that it gets particularly crowded around the time of entry exams for high school and college students. “This is where you pray for your GPA,” she and Thu laughed. Oh, gosh. My GPA. I don’t want to pray about that right now. There are five more weeks left before my classes begin and I don’t want to think about it until that Monday morning.

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Pen Tower: homage to journalism

We also picked up my finished áo dài today! It’s a gift from the Duong family and it’s absolutely beautiful. I love it so much. I will wear it whenever Trang and I present our documentary at school.

In the afternoon, we went to a city pool where Trang’s mom has been taking swim lessons. It looked about 25 meters long and probably 25 meters wide: a square instead of the typical rectangular-shaped pools that I’m used to in the United States. It was very crowded. The chlorine was so potent that it irritated my eyes and the water was murky. But since when has chlorine ever bothered me? I swam alongside Trang’s mom for the length of the pool a few times as she practiced her breaststroke and we swam there for about an hour. Trang’s dad picked us up and we got Vietnamese baguettes, my favorite street food so far, – chicken this time! – on the way home. They were delicious. I think I liked these more than the pâté ones.

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