Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Bangkok, Thailand--Hanoi, Vietnam--Day 40

Today was off to an early start-- I met Sam at 5:30 am to get to the airport. Luckily none of my planes at this point have really been delayed (knock on wood!) so I made it with time to spare. I paid Sam and my airport taxi, checked in, went through immigration and found myself in the airport waiting area again (I’ve been here twice before in the past few weeks!)

The flight from Bangkok to Hanoi was great- I even got two seats to myself although I was the last seat on the plane in the very back! I flew Thai Airlines and they give you flowers when you land! Pretty neat! I got through immigration, etc. just fine and met my driver to get a ride back to the hotel.

I set up my stuff at my hotel then was back in action to go get the hippo pictures. I got a cab from the hotel and we set off to the zoo, which wasn’t too far from my hotel. My driver, Hai, spoke a little bit of English but when I asked him about coming in with me to the zoo, and trying to explain why, we hit a major language block. We couldn’t understand each other and so finally, after a lot of pointing and gesturing, I got him to park the car and come in with me.

At the entrance to the zoo was a HUGE group of children, all swarming around the tiny entrance which was being regulated by a man. We had to literally push and pull our way to the front and after a quite animated conversation between Hai and the ticket man, we were finally let in after I paid for the two of us. Once we were in we found a map to the zoo but of course it was written in Vietnamese and didn’t have any pictures of the animals. So I had to get out my little notebook and draw Hai a picture of the hippos. This is when I realized what a smart idea it would be to have a picture of a hippo in my bag, but I didn’t so I tried my best to draw a hippo that didn’t look too much like a bear or an alligator. Considering that my drawing skills are absolutely horrendous, I was pleased to find that Hai recognized what I was drawing and he pointed excitedly in the direction that they were. Hai actually mentioned that his friend worked at the zoo, and I couldn’t tell if he meant with the hippos or not (that would have been too good to be true!). So I kept my fingers crossed that we weren’t really headed towards the bears or something and after walking for a bit we came across the hippos! Yay!

When we got to the hippo enclosure, we found two hippos (a mother and her son) who were sadly in a unhappy situation. There was what appeared to be an electrical wire around the area with a big sign prohibited people from climbing in (although I did see one person try!) and the water was absolutely filthy that they were in. There was no pump or anything so they were just sitting in old, dirty water. I tried to explain to Hai that I needed to know their names and so he brought me over to the sign that said “Ha Ma” (which is hippo in Vietnamese) and for about fifteen minutes I tried and tried and tried to explain that no, I didn’t need to know that (but yes, I understood that) and that I needed their own personal names. He went off and found a zookeeper (I think) and came back saying that a 1 o’clock they will be fed. Or something. I don’t know. Something was going to happen at 1 o’clock. It was 12:45 at this time so I thought perfect! We came just in time!

But that wasn’t the case. The mother, Lala, and her son Dep, were in the water and Dep was swimming around a bit, but not too much. It tuned out that Hai had asked this mystery zookeeper to rouse the hippos (much like in India!) and so around 1 o’clock comes this man with a huge stick that has what looks like a pointed NAIL on the end of it. I was horrified as he stuck the stick into the water after climbing over. I didn’t know what to do--if I should have tried to stop him from poking the hippos with the stick or what. It was too late, and I am sure that my point wouldn’t have been understood (or that I could have gotten my point across---he probably would have done it anyway since there was now a huge crowd standing around) and he put the stick in the water and poked the mother, who snorted loudly and jumped out of the water (as much as hippos can jump). She was obviously startled but did get out of the water. I grudgingly took the pictures and Hai found out their names (at this point the figured it out) and we were able to go on our way back to the hotel.

Not so fast though! This mystery zookeeper wants 50,000 dong (the Vietnamese currency) for EACH hippo! This actually doesn’t end up being too much money with the exchange rate (about 6 US dollars) but I knew that the money wasn’t going to help the hippos in anyway, just to be pocked by this keeper. Oh well, 100,000 dong later we were on our way back to the hotel where Hai laughed at me for having to do what we just did.

I got back to the hotel and then tried to set up something for me to do in the next few days, but found that the hotel wanted me to book private tours which I wasn’t interested in. I want to meet people, not go by myself! So I walked down to the main downtown area and found the central lake and a temple in the middle of the lake, and then on to an area called the Old Quarter, which is a really neat area with crowded streets and shops. I found a great place to book a tour for the next two days (yet another boat cruise however this one is to Halong Bay which is supposed to be spectacular scenery) and felt much more at ease after having something to eat.

After a while I walked back over to the lake and then over to the water puppet theater to catch a show at 5:15 which was really cool (it’s the traditional Vietnamese puppetry art) and then came back to the hotel to finish up transferring the pictures and getting stuff ready for my trip tomorrow.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.