Monday, July 16, 2007

Summer in the City

Karen and I, in our constant search for methods to beat the heat, decided to go to the Hanoi Water Park on Saturday July 14th. It was about thirty-six degrees on Saturday afternoon as we strolled in to the park after surprisingly few wrong turns and language barrier questions with the Vietnamese. There is an amusement park and water park connected just ten minutes away from our old house in West Lake. It is usual Merliano madness for us to do things in this way. We wait until it is three times further away from us to go. Case in point: Karen, after living in West Lake for 10 months and working at Cleverlearn, has taken a job, two weeks after moving out of West Lake due to its relative remoteness, with a Kindergarten walking distance from our old house. This is not intentional of course, it is just how the Merlins roll. Now she has a 25-30 minute commute to her new school from our new flat in the middle of the city.
Back to the water park. We were quite impressed with the presentation of the HWP as there were many slides, pools and other attractions, and most importantly there were canteens every twenty or thirty feet selling cold beer. First and foremost I must explain that Vietnam does not hold itself to the North American standard of safety. There is very much a play at your own risk sentiment in the Nam. I have experienced only two water slides in this country and feared, quite literally, for my life. In Cat Ba island water park I was sure I would be shot right over the side and fall thirty meters to a most certain death on the jagged rocks below. This quite real possibility did not deter Karen who went down the slide repeatedly until injury on one of the more suicidal slides sidelined her for the rest of the day.
The second slide was at the Hanoi Water Park. In Cat Ba on the first slide, we had to go down on foamy "crazy carpet" looking mats that allowed you to hit the speed of light as you shot through the half-tunnel water slide with your stomach residing somewhere behind your eyes, resting agains your sinuses. At the HWP you are actually placed on inflatable raft like things and expected to travel the slide in tandem. Karen and I squeezed and wriggled our way on to the flotation device and prepared for the ride of our lives. ( I just learned that flotation doesn't have an A when spellcheck corrected me)We maintained our positions for no more than three seconds as the raft bucked us off like a deranged bronco leaving us twisted and disoriented as we shot through a jet black water slide like human bullets. With no light and no idea when we would be shat out of this tube, we positioned ourselves for the blow, and with me taking up the rear, just hoping I didn't crush Karen when we hit the water. What seemed like minutes later, after leaving a considerable amount of skin from various body parts behind in the slide. We emerged like hairy cannon balls at the bottom of the slide. I decided abruptly to make that my only attempt, but Karen, never one for learning her lesson, spent the better part of two hours trying out the various slides of death and dismemberment.
I did what I am apt to do in most situations like this, and proceeded to get afternoon bombed on .75 cent beers watching Karen shoot through a series of intestine like plastic amusement.
We left the water park just after five and went to Al Fresco's restaurant to use up a coupon we had for 250,000 Dong in free food. (About 15 bucks)and then went home to wash the pool water off and put cream on our sunburns. All in all, a good Saturday.
Talk to you soon,

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Aftermath

We are moved and settled in to the new flat. It was not an easy move, and I will explain to you the epic ordeal that ensued after my last blog.
First, The woman who found our new place and promised to help us move by hiring a truck and a team of two sturdy Vietnamese men to move our things, advised us that it is illegal for a moving truck to operate in Hanoi between noon and eight pm. We agreed to wait patiently until 8 O'clock to receive the movers. Eight o'clock came and went and of course there were no movers. We called up Madame Dong, the hilarious name of the woman who had set everything up, and she advised us that the movers had been there and gone after not being able to reach us, and now they were finished for the evening and would not be coming back. We assured her that we had been there the whole time waiting for them and our phones were in front of us. We verified the telephone number with her and it turns out that not only is English difficult for her to understand, but she has a fairly limited grasp of numbers as well, as she managed to get a phone number wrong that was printed clearly and handed to her.
Moving on. We made our way to the Hotel Sheraton where there are usually van taxi's and shiftless drivers lounging about and asked one of them to follow us to our house. Problem the first, our house is on a alley that is too narrow to allow traffic other than motorbikes. The taxi parked about two hundred meters away and waited for us to slowly load up the back. Problem the second, a numerous collection of very large and heavy bags and no trolley to help us carry them the two hundred meters in the dark. Karen and I loaded up the motorbike with luggage and boxes and wheeled it down the alley. Keep in mind the temperature is sitting somewhere around 40 while this is going on. After a half-hour of sweating and balancing bags precariously on a motorbike, we were ready to head off to the new place.
We turned down the alley that, as far as we knew, was big enough to accommodate a moving van, just to see a mountain of dirt taking up half of the street. The closest we could get to our new place was five houses down. I sighed from the very pit of my being, took a deep breath and popped the trunk. We unloaded the bags, carried them down the street and deposited them at the foot of the stairs of our new house.
Almost finished. We paid the useless taxi driver, who didn’t lift a finger to help, and bid him a friendly piss off. We turned to face the pile of belongings taking up the entire entrance of our new digs. Then I looked up the stairs to our front door, where there was just another door leading to another flight of stairs. Wiping away a single tear as it rolled down my sweaty face, I shrugged and went straight at it. Fifteen minutes later, everything we owned was piled into our new living room.
You might think this the end of our tale of woe on our moving day, but you would be mistaken. Now we had to face the wheeling and dealings of our landlord.
We had already agreed on the amount of rent we would pay and what that would include. We had agreed to pay the rent on the premise that it would include a cleaning lady to clean our house and do our laundry. Also, it was promised that the internet would be hooked up and the sheer white curtains of our bedroom would be replaced with a darker more light blocking material. You all know what is coming next.
The curtains were not changed, the internet was not hooked up and the cleaning lady had magically changed from twice a week to once a week and laundry was no longer included.
As of this writing, it is July 10, 2007, and we have been in our new place for 12 days. We are still waiting for the internet to be hooked up and the cleaning lady has been in once and managed to break a window and flood Karen’s bathroom. Any other evidence of her two and a half hours wandering around our house went unnoticed.
As always, fine readers, We wish you all the best,
Viva le Vietnam,