Greetings from Hanoi!

This is my first time really traveling abroad since I started grad school in 2008. Sadly, my poor income as a teaching or research assistant do not provide much leisure time or money for foreign travel, which is a little sad for someone working on global media and global cities! Thus, the only travel I’ve done in the past few years has been to and from conferences. (Many thanks to the fine folks at the Univ. of Umea, Sweden for bringing me out to the Media Places Conference in December, which had been my first time out of the country, in years!) Luckily, since I’m one of the happy recipients of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, I have this spring quarter off, and a little bit of extra money to visit Vietnam for a short research trip. Sadly, I can’t stay too long, since  I am now under enormous pressure to finish because… I just was offered and accepted a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities: Cultures in Transnational Perspective for the coming year. (Woohoo!)

The final chapter of my dissertation is looking at the people who make up the formal and informal tourist economies of Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. HCMC)/Saigon. To satisfy some of my curiosities for research and personal reasons, I decided to include a tour at the start of my trip. I ended up booking a 10-day tour through Pacific Holidays, which arranged for my travel, transfers, accommodations, and two half-day guided tours to historical and cultural sites (Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum and the One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi, the Reunification Palace and Binh Tay market, etc. in HCMC) in Hanoi and HCMC. The rest of the trip includes free days in the cities where we can wander to our heart’s delight. The Vietnamese portion of the tour is carried out by Vidotour in Vietnam. So far, it’s been a perfect compromise for the hospitality researcher and the backpacker in me.

Here are the dynamics of our tour thus far: our guide in Hanoi is a young woman, Thuan,  my companion (who all the Vietnamese refer to as ong xa, or husband) and I are joined by a young couple from Minnesota on their honeymoon, a mother and daughter pair from Southern California, and a couple of former teachers who are recently retired. I am the only person this group who isn’t white. It creates an interesting dynamic, especially when I helped Thuan round up the travelers at the airport, when I noticed that she only had our names on her sign and none of the other traverls. Thuan often turns to me and asks me to translate things for her, and one of my fellow travelers said to me, “When you gathered us at the airport, I thought you were the tour guide, because you’re Asian. I thought to myself, her English is so good!” Awkward…

Anyway, after being dropped off at hotel (funny enough, I left Santa Barbara, California to stay at the Santa Barbara hotel in Hanoi), we were given the afternoon off. Of course, after showering we took off on foot to find some strong Vietnamese coffee.

"Ong xa" with his strong black iced coffee
Mission accomplished: “Ong xa” with his strong black iced coffee.

Then, off to find a cheap cell phone (got the cutest wee, purple Nokia) so my relatives in-country can call me. If only I can figure out how to turn off these annoying alerts/ads/news stories constantly being sent to me phone!

We eventually made our way to some local bia hoi, or fresh local beer, and food!

First taste of the local bia hoi. Yum!

Along the way, we made our way to Hoan Kiem Lake…

Hoan Kiem Lake
Hoan Kiem Lake
Traffic circle at Hoan Kiem Lake
Traffic circle at Hoan Kiem Lake

Where I saw this amazing series of ads for made-in-Vietnam products:

Side 1 of a triangular three-part ad.
Side 1 of a triangular three-part ad.
Side 2
Side 3

Of course, like any great trip, we got incredible lost along the way, and learned to recognize the signs of cranky-tired-grumpiness in our fellow travel partners.

Our night ended early, crashing around 8pm, and here I am at 5:30 am blogging about our first day. Now, off to breakfast and then Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, the One Pillar Pagoda, and the Temple of Literature (like a good English soon-to-be PhD!).

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