Thuy's family has been extremely hospitable and today we went and saw some historic sights in Hanoi, such as Hoan Kiem Lake--which has a legend very similar to the Excalibur one. An ancient Vietnamese King received a sword from a tortoise there (the tortoises there are huge--the preserved one in the temple there must have been five feet long at least) and used it to defeat the Chinese. Then when he went back to the lake, the gods took the sword back and it's supposedly still in the lake (no word if the sword or the king will come back at Vietnam's hour of need or not).
Before we went to Hoan Kiem Lake, we had a very nice breakfast at a small, hole-in-the-wall (almost literally) shop. I found out that noodles are apparently eaten in the morning, and rice tends to be eaten for lunch and dinner. For breakfast then, I had something I think called "muong suon" (or something to that effect). It was kind of a noodle soup like pho, but there's pork with bone in it and it was delicious. They had me put some green lemon (I thought they were tiny limes, but the taste is more like lemon, I think) some pickled garlic sauce, and some chilies in it. It was hearty and flavorful. It was filling at the time, but I think it wore off quickly because we had lunch shortly after the palace of literature--which must have only been three hours afterwards.
After walking a short bit around Hoan Kiem lake and seeing this island temple built in the middle of the lake, we took a taxi to the first university in Vietnam. It was built in the 11th century and it had all of its graduates' (or a large portion of them--there seemed to only be a few years--relatively speaking) names written in stone on these big tablets resting on the back of turtles (they must be a very important animal to the Vietnamese--I saw lots of turtle statues). The university was pretty well preserved, though a section of it (the temple to Confucious) had been destroyed during fighting in 1946 and was completely rebuilt (ironically enough with the help of American Express in the early 2000s).
Afterwards, we went to lunch at a place that specialized in Hue cuisine. I had a ton of the things we saw on that Anthony Bourdain show--the in-shell shrimp in the rice thing and that clam soup thing. We also had some pork belly that we rolled with basil, pineapple, and cucumbers in a spring roll type thing that we dipped in a shrimp-chili sauce. We also had this fried pork thing with shrimp and bean sprouts that we also rolled in spring roll type stuff. Everything was very good--the different things in the roll all had unique flavors that really came out as you chewed--pineapple, cucumber, papaya, basil, radish, the meat, and the sauces. I have photos of the food--but it's all on my camera. The shrimp on a wafer in the rice cake thing was especially good--you didn't notice the shell at all. Actually, despite having sea food (shrimp anyway) in everything, nothing tasted fishy. With the exception of the baby clam thing from Hue--though even that wasn't too fishy, but it was still my least favorite part of the meal.
After lunch we went and had coffee--first I tried a Vietnamese espresso--which basically had a ton of sugar or something in it. Then I had a Vietnamese frappe chino--which had coconut and a lot more cream or something (a huge part of it was white and that had the coconut flavor) and I really think if Starbucks or someone tried selling it in the US, it'd do well--the coffee wasn't too strong and the hint of coconut was great.
From the cafe, we took a taxi to the Vietnamese opera, which is near the museum of the national revolution and the National Museum of Vietnam. Today we went to the NMV, hopefully tomorrow or the next day, we'll see the museum of the revolution. The NMV was smaller than I expected, but had a lot of bronze and Stone Age artifacts, as well as a great deal of pottery and images from the wars against the Chinese and Mongols for Vietnamese independence. Vietnam's been invaded a crap ton of times from the north--one of the battles that turned back an invasion was interesting because it was a naval battle, which took place in a river and the image of it showed the Vietnamese land soldiers charging into the shallows of the river to hit the Chinese soldiers wading in from sinking ships.
We had to leave that museum and come back to Thuy's brother's apartment at 5 to pick up his daughter from day care. I spent most of the day with Thuy's sister-in-law and her brother-in-law (extended families seem close here). Unfortunately I'm butchering their names--I think the brother-in-law is Khai and I'm going to have to ask her sister in law again...
Vietnamese is very difficult to pronounce--and from what I'm learning, they have just as difficult a time pronouncing English. One odd thing I've noticed is that I feel a lot more comfortable here since I can at least read the script than when I was in China or Korea. I think there's something about being able to at least recognize the writing on stores and shops makes it less alien, though it's just about as foreign as China was, and arguably more foreign than Korea! I also found it strange that there were a bunch of foreign tourists--but the most seemed to be French or English speaking. I only saw about two people who spoke Russian, which surprised me, as I expected the close Cold War ties between Russia and Vietnam to lend to more tourism from there. Apparently the ties to France and the West seem to be growing much faster than I expected.
It gets dark very early here. I started writing this at about 5:50, and by 6:45, it's completely dark outside. We're having dinner here and I'm going to try to stay awake until at least 8 or 9, then go to bed. I believe I'm heading out by motorbike with Khai to a village that specializes in pottery. Hopefully I'll be able to exchange money soon so I can start grabbing souvenirs. I at least hope to be able to get something at the museum of the revolution--I saw some neat post cards that had old propaganda images on it. I expect there'll be some cooler stuff there.