My day: Wandering aimlessly, drinking lots of water, enjoying Hoan Kiem Lake, stopping for cold drinks, and realizing how little interest I have in shopping.
Hanoi has this big section called the Old Quarter, sprawled around a big lake that today, Sunday, seemed to be the lounging-around destination of a fair number of local residents. My guidebook recommends the French colonial architecture, but in fact, this area is wall-to-wall shops, and just about every shop is selling stuff for foreign tourists. A fair percentage of nice things — silk and other soft goods. A lot of cheap knick-knacks too, but nothing (I am very happy to report) that looks like it came from Bali or Thailand.
Nice experience: Getting my camera repaired (see below).
Disappointing experience: Having the taxi on the ride home charge me double the real rate, which I knew because I had paid it in the morning. The rotten thing is, tourists are warned that there are these crooked taxi meters, but what the heck can I do about it? The meter runs, it goes too high — but am I going to fight the driver over $6 instead of $3? I ought to, but I don’t. I just don’t feel like arguing over $3. And yet, it makes me not want to be here. It makes me feel like the city is full of crooks (everyone tries to overcharge foreigners for just about everything here). In Cambodia, tuk-tuk drivers back down if you make it clear you know the real price. Here, taxi drivers and xe om (motorbike drivers) argue back and hold their ground. Even a fruit seller tried to extort a dollar from me for 10 cents worth of rambutans (on that, I held MY ground). I think the government needs to conduct some tourism training, especially for taxi drivers. Sure, Western people have money. But no one likes to be cheated all day long.
Now, about my camera: Back in Cambodia, the control that allows me to switch modes became a bit wanky, but it still worked. Today, I managed to drop my camera into a puddle. Luckily it was still in its case, and I grabbed it really fast, and a very nice shopkeeper ran out with a roll of toilet tissue to help me dry it off (see, not everyone here is trying to rip me off).
You might wonder how I became so clumsy. I was in fact very excited about seeing an old Honda motorbike — I need to admit that so you’ll appreciate how miserable I was when I discovered that the mode control was now completely unusable. I could manage to take pictures in automatic mode, but it was not stable — the mode would change itself without any activity by me. I broke my camera because I was eager to take pictures of a motorbike.
It would not have occurred to me to try to get the camera repaired, except for this: Last night I was reading a book I brought with me, Catfish and Mandala, by a Vietnamese-American guy who bicycled through Vietnam a few years ago. His bike got really messed up on arrival at the Saigon airport, and he took it to a local shop to see if it could be fixed. He was pretty sure it was un-fixable, but he was wrong. The quality of the repairs surprised him. So I walked into the next camera shop I saw and asked if anyone there could fix my camera.
I don’t think the three guys in the shop — one playing solitaire on the computer, one napping in a lawn chair, and one watching TV in the back — spoke much English, but somehow we managed to communicate about my camera’s problem. I left it there and went off to find an ATM, because I had spent almost all my cash. Note: A lot of ATMs seem to be out of cash these past few days.
Three ATMs later, I somehow managed to find the camera shop again (some minutes of panic while that seemed unlikely to happen), and my camera was — yes! — fixed. The little control is working the way it did when it was new, almost three years ago. Price: $12. Probably triple the local rate, but I didn’t care.