Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 4

For what happened previously go here

Having been sufficiently stunned by news of impending doom (i.e., our suitcases could be confiscated along with all we’d packed for shabbat and for other important parts of the tour), I entered the Temple of Literature compound and tried to relax. I thought of all sorts of alternatives to what we had planned and I knew that no matter what, our people were going to be well taken care of. We could bake bread, if necessary. I was pretty sure that beans and barley were available in Vietnam. We might have to buy large amounts of canned tuna to use for lunches to make up for the cheese and the peanut butter that would be confiscated, but we would be all right and our travelers would not even notice the problem.

As I walked through the gardens, relaxing became easy. It was beautiful, calm, tranquil — perfect. When I caught up with the group, they had just spied what was to be their first bride of the day.

Apparently, Vietnamese brides and grooms take full advantage of the period preceding the wedding and they go from place to place with a bevy of professional photographers being photographed in the outfits they have selected for that day. Like Chinese brides, Vietnamese brides often have more than one wedding gown– the traditional one (in China- red, in Vietnam, an Ao Dai in any color) and a white bridal gown such as those worn by brides in the West.

Here is the bride we saw at the Temple of Literature

Bride in Ao Dai

Bride in Ao Dai

We enjoyed a brief concert of Vietnamese music on traditional Vietnamese instruments and then set off for the Museum of Ethnology. There, inside the museum we saw colorful exhibits of ethnic minority customs, traditions, and dress and outside we saw models of homes and buildings of many of the ethnic minorities.

As the day wore on, the sun came out and Hanoi became very beautiful. And what did we see but more brides! Everywhere! And some of them were pretty adventurous!

After a visit to Maison Centrale, known to most Americans as “The Hanoi Hilton,” the place where captured US pilots, among them John McCain, were held, we went to Hoan Kiem Lake, a lake in the center of the city and were treated to a cyclo ride through the old city. The old city has 36 streets that were named for the crafts and trades that were located there. Although some of the streets still have some of those specialties, one cannot easily discern which street was for which trade or craft. One can, however, get the feeling of what it is like to travel at motorcycle/motorbike level in this busy city. You can see it here.

With the day quickly waning, I was getting more and more nervous about the suitcases. Even if I had figured out the solutions to my immediate problem, I really hoped that our people would have their belongings so that they could change their clothes and feel comfortable over the weekend. Since we were leaving at nine p.m. for an eight hour trip on a night train where we would sleep, our deadline for luggage delivery was all too critical.

My husband went to the restaurant to prepare dinner for the group while I went with them to the mini-hotel.

It is apparently called a mini-hotel not just because there are a small number of rooms and only one elevator, but also, I am guessing, because people use it only for a short amount of time. In fact, there were some lovely and wholesome looking young women dressed alike (black shorts, white blouses) waiting at ground level who one might imagine were in some way connected with the hotel. But I digress…

The purpose of going to the mini-hotel was to give people a chance to shower, change, and redistribute their clothing and personal items and pack only their small carry-on for our trip up north for the weekend. Taking the large suitcases onto the train was not a good idea. However, until the suitcases finally arrived, people didn’t want to shower, fearful they’d only have to put on the same clothing they’d been wearing for two days.

Our train was leaving at nine. The suitcases were not delivered until shortly after seven. Of course between suitcase delivery and the train there was distributing them to each room with only one small elevator and five stories of building and then collecting them again and then driving to the restaurant and having dinner. We were rushed.

The good news: ALL of the suitcases made it. The bad news: They had fastened a heavy plastic strip that held our largest suitcase closed and I had no implement to open it. There was no time. I decided to take all three of the large suitcases and our two small ones with us onto the train.

Our people were wonderful. Everyone was ready on time for the bus. They had left their suitcases outside their doors to be collected by the porters. We were out of the woods.

Or so we thought.

One couple said they weren’t sure where to leave their suitcase and they left it inside the room. When the time came to turn in the keys, they realized that they had locked the room with the key inside. I thought that would not be a problem, I went to the desk and asked for a duplicate key. The clerk didn’t understand me. I showed her a key and asked for another one and wrote the room number. She nodded no. I said “when you clean the room…” Of course, it was only later that I realized that most people staying there, maybe all of them, don’t leave the room and then come back. I had her call Mrs. Mai. I explained to her what had happened. Now I had two Vietnamese women who didn’t understand what I was saying, I believe. However, after the conversation, the desk clerk called someone and said, “wait one moment.” I am certain that when Vietnamese people learn English they are told that “wait one moment” means “this could take hours.”

I decided that my people needed to go and eat. I sent them on the bus to the restaurant. I assured the couple that I would not leave the hotel until their suitcase was liberated.

Finally a young man showed up on a motorbike. I assumed he had the key. I said to him, “You have the key?” and shook my head hopefully. He said, “yes, yes.” I’m guessing that when Vietnamese people learn the phrase “yes, yes” they are told it means, “I think you are a nice person and I would like you to be happy.”

The room was at the end of the corridor on the fifth floor. It was on the left. He walked down the corridor and opened the last door on the right. I said, “No, it’s this one.” He said, “yes, yes.” He went into the room and closed the door behind him. I thought, “Great! there’s an adjoining bath between them!”

He walked out of the room and said, “wait one moment.” He returned a few minutes later with an assistant and a tool box. They went into the room on the right. Then I heard loud banging– as if they were trying to break down the wall. It continued for a very long time. I waited. I sweated. I looked at my watch. I knew I had missed dinner, but how long could I stay without missing the train?

The banging continued. I sweated some more. It was 8:30. The train was at 9. I had no idea how far it was to the train station nor did I have any idea how much traffic there would be. I was cutting it very close. I called Mrs. Mai. I told her that the men were trying to break down a wall to get the suitcase, but so far, no luck. She told me that when the suitcase was finally liberated, she would have it picked up and brought to our other suitcases and that the couple would have it on Monday morning when everyone else got theirs. She called me a taxi and told him to take me to the train station.

I got into the taxi and I wanted him to know that I was in a hurry and so I wrote 9:00 on a piece of paper and apparently that was all it took to get him into Hollywood-car-chase mode. Ohmigosh! He flashed his lights, honked his horn, and drove on the wrong side of the street. As we reached the train station, I began to fear that maybe there was more than one station in Hanoi and I hoped we were at the right one. At that very moment, our big red bus pulled up and beside it I found my husband and all of our travelers.

Stay tuned to find out what happened to the suitcase, why I once again had to break down a Vietnamese door, and other exciting slip and slide adventures next time..

Continue the adventure here


  1. and you call this fun?????

  2. I love it. I love traveling. I love the people we take along with us. I love the problem solving. I love it most when things are going well and we don’t have these challenges. After Friday (part 5), things get decidedly easier.

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