Saturday, May 20, 2006

Brother Act

BIG EVENT!!! Our first "real" visitors came to Hanoi this past week. Ira's brother Dick, his wife Sue and daughter Leslie(20 years old) were able to undertake the long journey from their home in Bethlehem, PA where Dick and Sue own a great seafood restaurant(www.starfishbrasserie.com). We eagerly awaited their arrival ever since they told us that they were going to be able to come. We wanted to be able to show them our adopted city and let them experience for themselves what attracted us to Hanoi. We also wanted to see how people might view the city having never before experienced it. Ira met them at the airport and was easily able to recognize them as they came through the airport doors wheeling their half-empty suitcases that they hope to fill with new clothes and souvenirs. Ira had arranged for a car and in half an hour they arrived at Sofitel Plaza and their introduction into the little neighborhood that surrounds it. When you live abroad, the biggest thing you miss is family. Through the wonders of Skype and email, we do stay in touch with both sides, but there is a time difference and you can't just pop over for a visit anytime you feel like it. Of course, as Ira's mother Pearl always says "the minute you hang up you think of many things that you meant to talk about."

We won't give you a detailed play-by-play of the all-too-short week but we can tell you that they spent one day out on their own on an excursion to Halong Bay, the most scenic attraction in Vietnam and spent the rest of the time enjoying Hanoi pleasures. Sue and Leslie had several nice outfits made for them and did a lot of other shopping. Ira also arranged for Leslie to spend a couple of hours with a young woman closer to her age. she really enjoyed riding on the back of the motorbike and shopping where the young Hanoi women do.

Ira arranged an itinerary, making sure that Dick, Sue and Leslie visited Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum and his "house on stilts" as well as the infamous Hoa Loa Prison, dubbed the "Hanoi Hilton" by Americans unlucky enough to have spent time there during the war.

Shopping, strolling and dining were high priorities as was a ride in a "cyclo" which is a bicycle rickshaw that is now mostly a novelty for tourists rather than a primary form of transport.

We tried to do as much as possible while still leaving them time to enjoy the gym and pool and of course the "Happy Hour." We took them to "Cha Ca La Vong" on their first night. This Hanoi institution serves only one dish-fried fish with various condiments. It boasts no decor but it is great fun to serve yourself from the sizzling skillet that sits on a charcoal fire right in the middle of your table.

Later meals included examples of upscale and less formal Vietnamese food as well as some Western meals including the best pizza in Hanoi at Luna d'Autunno.

On our final night, we enjoyed the sumptuous buffet at Sen, where traditional dishes are cooked at various stations. We then repaired to Fanny's Ice Cream for the best ice cream in town.

They say that all good things must end. In truth ALL things must end, whether good or not. This special visit was no exception and on Friday morning Ira went to the airport to wish Dick Sue and Leslie a safe journey home. As he rode a cab back to the city, the familiar journey was just a little bit different as he text-messaged to his Vietnamese colleagues
"Anh buon it" (I'm a little sad)

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