Wednesday 20th December
A lot of studios can appear a little seedy, unprofessional even. This place was nothing if not impressive, and visitors were greeted by an imposing samurai costume at the entrance. Once the preparation was complete, I went to a small café to let the cream soaked in. I had a "pâté roll" which I’d seen available everywhere (and which I later understood to be another kind of Bánh Mì). It contained a sort of mushed meat. I have no idea what it was, and I wondered if it was probably best not to know. Like our own sausages, I guess. Anyway, a beer, some fries and the pâté roll cost around £4.
When we were on the tour, some of the others were surprised how easily I managed to cross the road. I told them that Vietnam roads were but the country comparison to those in India! And on reflection, I realised just how different the two countries are. I love India. I've been there a few times, from Mumbai and Pune, to Dehli, and across on the east coast to Chennai and Bangalore. But India is a total assault on all five senses, from the moment you land until the moment you leave. Even the Indians go to Goa for some downtime. Some streets in Hanoi are hectic, but there are plenty of places to find tranquility too. And, biggest of all, there’s no hassle. There are no beggars. Stop for a second on any street in India (certainly as a white-faced tourist), and you have a small crowd with hands out, tugging at your clothing. The only equivalent in Vietnam is a shop owner asking if you want to come in. But it’s very low key. Not "in your face" or intimidating - and if you say a polite "no", they generally just back off.
Technology has revolutionised travel, and possibly in no way more than communication. One or two of the staff in the tattoo studio spoke really good English, but my artist only spoke a few words. However, if he did want to talk with me, he’d pull up an app, speak into it in fluent Vietnamese, and then show me the English translation. If I needed to reply, he tapped a button, and I repeated the process back to him. Magic!
When he’d finished the outline of my tattoo, which took around 90 minutes, he went off for lunch. A bowl of noodles arrived for me, along with some iced lemon tea. It didn’t seem long since I’d had breakfast, so I wasn’t particularly hungry. My artist needed to keep his food intake up though - lots of concentration needed on his part.
At lunchtime the sun actually came out, or at least its rays could be felt through the clouds. It was mildly warm for the first time since being in Vietnam.
Wandering around I came across a couple of tiny stalls (next to each other, of course) selling octopus legs to BBQ. I had to try it, or course, and it came with some (optional) chilli sauce. It was without doubt the most spicy thing I’d had since arriving here - way beyond the Indian meal. Having said that, without the chilli sauce I think it would have been like little chopped up pieces of rubber. Still, at least I tried it.