Somehow, I have survived my first day in Hanoi. This city is so different to anything I’ve experienced before.
Yes, I’d been warned about crossing the street, but nothing can prepare you for the actual experience. It first hit me last night, when we were leaving the airport. I waited at a pedestrian crossing, watching the scooters whizzing by. Luckily for me, Rebecca grabbed my arm and pulled me across to the safety of our van. Mission Accomplished.
This morning, we met Derick from Bloom Microventures, who will be guiding us through the program and helping us adjust to life in Hanoi. He grew up in Hanoi and took us on a tour of the city this morning.
First stop was the Hồ Gươm Lake and a temple that overlooks it. This was an awesome chance for us to learn about the history of Hanoi. Derick explained to us that this lake and temple are significant in tales of the King who established Hanoi. It is believed that he found a sword in a forest after he was defeated in a battle. This sword brought good fortune to the King, helping him win many battles. One day, when the King was resting in Hồ Gươm Lake, a turtle visited him and told him to return his lucky sword. The King dropped the sword into the lake and the turtle now brings luck to anyone who sees it. After that, the hunt was on to spot the lucky turtle.
After that, we left the temple and took a stroll through the French part of Hanoi, where we indulged in a morning ice-cream. Derick promised us that we would taste the original recipe, unchanged since the French brought it over, and it did not disappoint.
The final stop for the morning was the Museum of Literature, built on the site of the first university of Vietnam. This museum contains original stone tablets containing the long history of Vietnamese scholars. It is also a place of worship, where many students will come to study Confucianism or pray for academic success.
One of my first impressions is that Hanoi is a city that bears its history in the open, for all to see. Even after more than sixty years of complete independence, the cultural influences of the French and Chinese are particularly shown though the architecture and food on display in the streets.
– Jacinta, Poverty Reduction through Microfinance program, Vietnam, January 2014.