I am not feeling at my best today. My ankle became swollen during the long flight to Hanoi, which is to be expected for a man of my age who drinks as much, in the free departure lounge, before flying as I do. It’s happened before and so I knew exactly what I needed to do. Find a chemist and get myself some anti-inflammatory tablets.
Now, that’s easy enough in South Africa, America or London, but here in Hanoi it meant a combination of sign language, pointing and nodding. I pointed to the ankle and she nodded, gave me a pack of tablets and showed me two fingers. I assumed that meant two per day. After all, I did point out I am English and not American in case there were any lingering hard feelings.
The trouble is that was three days ago and my left ankle is now twice the size it was then, which was twice the size it should be. Perhaps the chemist thought that when I pointed to one ankle I wanted the other one to match. Or maybe, when she showed me two fingers, popped two imaginary pills into her mouth and then made the international hand gesture for swigging a drink, she meant water. Especially in the morning.
How could she know that where I come from that particular hand gesture means only one thing. And is usually demonstrated in a pub. So, it’s a quiet night in the hotel on my own later with my feet up. And I shall try water with my whiskey. I plan on taking a week’s worth of tablets in one go tonight. That should deflate me, one way or another. Hopefully, tomorrow, I will be able to put my sandals back on again.
I don’t like living in hotels. They serve a purpose for a day or so here and there when you are on your way to somewhere else. But you try setting up home in one for a period of time. For a start, housekeeping gets on my nerves. The bin, for example, belongs under the television so can I lob my empties into it without standing up. It doesn’t belong under the desk behind me where I have to crawl on my hands and knees to move it from everyday.
And, after you have cleaned the bathroom, please put the shower head back up to where I left it this morning. I am 6’2 and not four-years old. Also, unless it is winter time, I sleep on the bed, not in it. So stop turning the duvet down every afternoon. Leave everything how I left it.
And if you really must watch your favorite Vietnamese soap opera on the television as you make your way around my room then tune it back to the sports channel when you leave. Or news channel. Whatever was on when you got there. You are just making work for me.
I hope none of them read this or I am going to have to start hiding my toothbrush. I already make sure it is zipped up in a wash bag, put in a drawer all day and not left out on display. Do you do this? You might want to start.
They don’t pay these housekeepers much and you don’t want to even think about what a resentful little maid might do with something you put in your mouth everyday. If I was American I would take mine out with me, or lock it in the safe. Maybe there is nothing to worry about. Not everybody thinks like me.
And then there is the food. The menu never changes, although that doesn’t matter in Hanoi where there is every kind of food you can imagine within two minutes of my front door. I am definitely going to try those snails I saw in the cafe up the road this morning. I have never eaten snails before. Well, I have once but I was only a kid and it wasn’t in a restaurant.
However, in a place like Botswana, where I lived in a hotel for three months whilst writing Shaggy Dogs & Black Sheep, and the nearest alternative for lunch is a twenty-minute elephant ride away, then hotel menus can become very dull very soon.
Then there is the laundry service. On the afternoon that I had handed my first bag in, having told lies, as usual, on the inventory form in the wardrobe, I was called, when walking back through hotel reception, by a very pretty young thing.
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘your laundry, there is a problem.
‘Did I miscount?, I asked, innocently.
‘No, there are holes,’ she continued.
‘Everything has holes in it’ I told her, including my hopes and dreams. She then pulled out an old shirt that I never wear outside the house and pointed to a tiny hole.
‘Laundry don’t want you to think they do it,’ she explained. I told her not to worry about it but she then said the shorts had holes too.
‘There aren’t any shorts in there,’ I replied.
And this is where it became a problem because she then had to try and tell me, in an open hotel lobby, that it was my ‘under shorts’ she was referring to. Now, you try explaining to an eighteen-year old Vietnamese receptionist, again by using sign language, not to worry about that either.
‘Those Calvin Kleins are probably older than you are love. But they are not all like that I promise.’ Go on, try doing it in sign language and see if you can make the ‘you’ part of that not seem like you are blaming her. Or suggesting something else.
I don’t know who was the more embarrassed me, or the receptionist. Actually, yes I do. It was her, because I couldn’t really care less. But this all meant one thing. If I am to avoid embarrassing another one then I needed to make my own laundry arrangements.
One of the strange things I noticed during my early days in Hanoi is that most laundry signs are located at the travel shops or tour centers. I suppose that is something to do with the back-packers again. I’m only guessing.
The other strange thing is that they always seem to be closed. Again I am guessing but perhaps you have to actually go into the tour guide instead of banging on the locked door next to it.
The one with the laundry sign overhead. Only I don’t want to be sold a trip to Hung Dong Bay or somewhere. I’ve come far enough already and I am not going on another airplane for a while. Not with these ankles.
Anyway, after three days of looking for a laundry I had one of those moments where the thing we are looking for had been staring us right in the face all along. And I mean it quite literally. The twenty-four hour laundry is directly in front of my hotel, no more than ten yards away.
And after I had walked all the way around Hanoi three times, with what looks like a club foot, banging on locked doors. Still, I found it in the end. It’s probably where the hotel send theirs anyway before doubling the price and hanging it back up in my wardrobe.
After putting holes in my Grundies. I can do my own laundry now thank you. Well, take it over the road myself.
Next door to it is my favorite coffee shop in the town. It’s the only one I have been to but the coffee is great and there is something about the place that just feels like home to me. I’ve worked out why that is.
For a start they use condensed milk and so that reminds me of my grandmother, who died twenty-years ago. And that’s a great thing. Not that she died, you idiot, but the association.
And then, right now as I am gazing around, I realize that this cafe also looks exactly like my nan’s kitchen did, in her Guildford council house in 1974.
Complete with the flies, overflowing ashtrays, lino flooring, peeling Formica table tops and the grease stains.
It’s a replica. I reckon those could be granddad’s socks over there on the floor. They will have holes in them too.
I am starting to like Hanoi
Part four next weekend