A f-R-ee Evening in Old Quarter

Hanoi, September 24 2009

Our first night in Hanoi, we stayed at Old Street Hotel which I booked through Air Asia’s Go Holiday. 1 room with twin beds Rp.172.500,- per night. So, Rp.86.250,- per person per night. My first and only reason for choosing this hotel was merely because it was the cheapest hotel I could find in “Go Holiday” at that time (August ’09). Exactly the same reason as when I chose City Star Hotel for the first night in Ho Chi Minh City.

However, I became more excited about Old Street Hotel, because I read in the hotel details that there were bicycles rent for free. Wow! If you are to offer me something, tell me that you have a bicycle that I can use, you will gain 80% of my interest. And if you say it’s for free, you will add another 15%.

Our driver stopped in front of a small inn (I don’t think this should be called “hotel”.). I read “Old Street” on top of the door and “Queen Star” on the glass door. I saw a long row of motorbikes parking in front of it, but no bicycle. I already wondered since we entered Old Quarter area. How can one enjoy cycling in these narrow streets filled with hectic traffic?

The front office said that our room is still being prepared and asked our choice of welcome drink. I can’t recall what I had required for. Green tea, I think. What I remember for sure is that I immediately ask about the bicycle rent. That was the time when I understood that Vietnamese can’t pronounce “R”. Since he wasn’t speaking English in a grammatical order, I had a hard time to get what he meant. Does he mean “fRee”? Does he mean “fee”? Meaning, “charged”?

“It is free, isn’t it? I asked.

“Yes, yes. Free.” That was I thought I heard. But then he continued, “Two dollars.”

What? Free, but two dollars?? “You mean I have to pay two dollars for renting a bicycle?”

“Yes, yes. Free.”

I was simply too anxious to experience cycling in a new country. Okay, deal. 2 USD is it. The young man at the front desk reached for his cell phone and made a call. Actually I planned to cycle to Hoan Kiem Lake and take pictures there under the evening light. But my bicycle didn’t come and it was getting dark outside. I became impatient. But the young man at the front desk said that I should have required in advance if I needed a bicycle. How would I know? It wasn’t written so anywhere.

The other young man mocked at me, “You Philippine!”

“No! I’m not a Filipino,” I said.

“Oh you, where from?” He opened a book on the desk. “Oh, Indosia,” he said again.
Another new thing I learnt. Many Vietnamese turned out not to be able to pronounce “Indonesia”.

In this hotel another thing disappointed me. It was the wi-fi which was said to be available in the room. While waiting for my bicycle to come, I mentioned about the wi-fi. The front desk man said that wi-fi isn’t accessible upstairs when it is raining. I looked outside. It wasn’t raining at all. I felt cheated. About the bicycle and about the wi-fi that’s accessible in the room.

The other young man frowned and said, “You talk, talk. You sit.” He pointed at a chair next to him.

“I’m coming here not to sit!” I was getting mad. The way his friend said, “You Philippine!” made more upset. Is that how you treat a customer? Do you judge people by their nationality? Suppose I am a Filipino, so what?! Do you think Vietnam is the greatest nation on earth? This is a thing that can easily get to my nerves: Judging people by where they come from. I hate that!

Old Street Hotel which claimed to be a 2 star hotel was far from City Star Hotel in Saigon which also claimed to be a 2 star hotel. After being in City Star Hotel, entering Old Street Hotel wasn’t what I had expected to be like. And… those 2 young men made matters worse for me.

A man came riding a bicycle with another bicycle in his hand. I paid him $2, he took my passport, and off I went. It wasn’t a comfortable bicycle, but enough for an adventure wandering the narrow hectic streets of Old Quarter. At times I felt something was wrong and then realized that I was cycling on the wrong direction! While watching out for the swarming motorbikes, I had to always keep it in mind to stay at the right. Whenever I were going to cross a crossroad, I had to tell myself repeatedly that if I want to avoid crossing the street, I should turn right instead of left. In the end I had fun. Instead of enjoying a quite evening strolling along the street, I felt like driving a boom boom car. Every crossroad, every motorbike, was a challenge that stirred up my adrenaline. The conclusion: $2 was worth for such an exciting bicycle game – in real life :P

1 comment:

  1. Shuni, it's really fun reading your story, as if I were there with you ..hehehe.. thanks..