Even so, my first order of business in Hanoi was to figure out how soon I could make the jump to Sapa. There was space available on the night train Sunday so I grabbed it, knowing that I’ll have more time in Hanoi between Sapa and Halong Bay and then again before crossing over to Laos. With my train ticket set, I e-mailed my favorite hotel in Sapa and booked a room for four nights, then I turned my attention back to Hanoi and took a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake.
I only made it halfway around the lake before a student named Duc introduced himself and asked if I’d help him practice English. Duc said he’s in his third year of a four-year University program, focusing on English but also studying Chinese. He grew up in a small village about 100km outside of Hanoi and his goal is to become a high-school English teacher.
While I was talking with Duc we noticed a woman in traditional dress posing for a professional photographer, and I sneaked in a few shots for myself.
As you get closer to the mausoleum, essentially the most sacred ground in the country, the number of restrictions multiplies and the officials grow increasingly tense. At one point I walked somewhere I wasn’t supposed to and a soldier ran at me blowing a whistle – thankfully not one of the soldiers brandishing an AK-47. In the chaos I couldn’t find Duc, so I just got in line with the rest of the sweating masses. Two couples started talking to me in line and I put my foot in my mouth even quicker than usual. Based on their accent I asked if they were from Australia. They all broke eye contact and looked uncomfortable. “We’re from New Zealand,” said one of the husbands coldly.
The line moved at a decent pace but it still took a solid hour just to get to the outskirts of the mausoleum. Near the door to the building the guards made sure we were walking in proper formation and weren’t speaking loudly. I’m not sure how much of the elation I felt when I finally entered the building was due to the presence of the honored President and how much was due to fact that the place had the most effective air conditioning I’d felt anywhere in the entire country. In the room with Ho Chi Minh’s body there were at least eight guards, four standing on the ground at every corner of the glass case, and four guards grabbing people and pushing them forward to keep the line moving.
“My girlfriend just drove by on her motorbike.”
“I told her I was going to visit my parents in my village this weekend.” Turns out Duc had a date with a second girlfriend the night before and used the out-of-town lie as his cover.
“How many girlfriends do you have?” I asked.
“Three,” he said with a smile. “One main girlfriend and two others.”
“That’s a dangerous game.”
“Yes, very dangerous,” he agreed. Duc was clearly a smooth operator. He warmed up to the topic and asked me, “Do you think it’s easy to flirt with girls?”
“You’re talking to the wrong guy, Duc. I’m terrible.”
“For me it is very easy to flirt with Vietnamese girls,” he said. I asked him how he met his girlfriends. He said his second girlfriend was a student at a high school near his university and he happened to see her walking home one day. He though she was beautiful, so he started following her. She noticed him and walked faster, so he matched her pace. Then she started running, so he started running. Eventually she made it home and ran inside, and her parents came out and scared Duc away.
A week later he happened to see her again and he asked her why she ran away. “I was frightened of you,” she said, and they both had a good laugh.
“And that’s how you flirted with her?”
“Yes,” Duc said. “Very successful.” Duc then said the only problem he’s had with the ladies is in the kissing department. Before he met his main girlfriend, which was just a few months ago, he’d never kissed a girl before and he wasn’t sure how to go about it. So, of course, he turned to the trusty Internet, where he found a six-step plan that he quickly put into practice with his main girlfriend.
Duc’s Six Step Plan for How to Kiss Your Girlfriend
- Take her someplace where there aren’t other people around.
- Stroke her hair.
- Softly touch her hand.
- Kiss her hair, neck, and/or the side of her face.
- Back off a little and stare into her eyes.
- If the reaction is good, move in for the kiss.
Apparently the six steps worked like a charm with his main girlfriend and it has been smooth sailing ever since. Duc continued to instruct me in the finer points of flirting until I had to say goodbye so I could catch the night train to Sapa.