8,745 MILES: DAY 15 IN HANOI

Monday, August 7, 2017

The camera is FINALLY fixed. Trang and I took it to a camera repair store behind some alley in the city and all the guy had to do was flip the switch on the record button from “HS” back to “HD.” I don’t know what it means, but I’m grateful it isn’t because of a software or age issue with the camera.

We had baguettes for breakfast with one of Trang’s friends, who did sand-painting with us last week, and sort of poked in and out of different places along the way. We wandered into a few alleys, spaces between businesses, where houses had been squished in. There was very little light there and the air smelled like mildew. Trang explained that the area has very high property value and many of the people who have lived in these houses for generations don’t want to move out, an issue of gentrification.

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The forbidden picture…

After breakfast, she took me to a coffee shop where I bought coffee beans to bring back home with me. It was the kind of coffee shop that is only for coffee drinkers who are all into pour-overs and drip coffee and can taste the difference between coffee from Colombia and from Ethiopia. I sat there waiting and noticed a wall shelf of customer coffee mugs, much like the wall in Lexington Coffee Shop. I took a picture of it and suddenly one of the employees tried to tell me something but couldn’t in English. Another employee took his place and told me that one of the coffeehouse’s “basic principles” was not to allow photography of the machinery (I had barely included it in the corner of the picture). I apologized, a little taken aback. The girl next to me said, “This is your first time here, isn’t it?” I said, “Yes, and also I can’t read any of the signs with the coffee shop rules so I have no way of knowing what they are.” I’m still a little stumped. Why couldn’t I take pictures of the brewing machines? Are they contraband? Will the camera flash ruin the shiny steel exterior? I don’t get it. (For the record, their other “basic principles” include no wi-fi access and no talking.) Anyway, the seats there were way too tiny so I didn’t stay long. Trang left to help some friends with a photoshoot and I took a cab (alone, for the first time!) to the floral book café, where I worked on transcribing and wrote some. I had more coconut coffee, hot this time, and more pomelo and honey tea, also hot this time. The total for both was about $2.50. The taste? Priceless. I want to find some pomelo loose tea and bring it home with me.

I took the cab home (alone, again!) and the driver dropped me off at the back entrance to the neighborhood, but thankfully I knew my way and walked back to the house. Trang’s grandmother was so confused when she came to the door and Trang wasn’t there. She let me in and started calling for her out the door, like one would a lost puppy. I tried just shaking my head “no, no.” She didn’t get it. When Trang got there, she told her that she thought she had been kidnapped. She also said that we should separate because she was tired of trying to talk to me in Vietnamese unsuccessfully. Trang told her, as she has many times before, that she shouldn’t try in the first place. It won’t work. It was kind of comical.

After lunch, Trang took a nap and I went to Café Phuong (a name that is pronounced nothing like you’d think it would be), just around the corner from her house. It was nice to get out and be independent. The entire menu was in Vietnamese, though I can recognize some words –cà phê for coffee and trà for tea. The women working there didn’t know English, so they called someone and put me on the phone. A man’s voice said, “Hello, what would you like to order?” I just took a wild guess, since I didn’t think it would be fair to ask him to recite the entire menu to me, and went with Vietnamese milk coffee. Trang warned me that they mignt take advantage of the pricing since I’m a foreigner, but they didn’t. They were very kind and accommodating and I really appreciated it. I wrote for a while there, grateful to find a little corner of peace in the loudness that is Hanoi after a weekend away.

When I came back, Trang’s grandmother was confused a second time. She told Trang’s mother that she thought Trang and I had argued and that was why we had separated some during the day (totally not the case).

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