Saturday, November 27, 2010

In search of Hanoi's water puppets

"You've never been to Hanoi if you haven't seen the water puppets," Jojo Lapitan said over lunch on the last day of the International Rice Congress in Vietnam. I guess I have experienced Hanoi then, since I went to the puppet show on my third night in this vibrant city...

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Getting there was nothing short of a challenge...

It was the night after the Grain Quality and Nutrition technical session. People were ready to go out and relax, as we have finished our presentations. A large group in a foreign city, with different agendas, and only one Vietnamese among us... that certainly spelled disaster – we couldn't stay together as one group. We were supposed to eat a buffet dinner, but the place we went to was packed. The group decided to split up: the shoppers and the tourists. Tran, the sole Vietnamese in the group, went with the shoppers; while the tourists (including me) wandered off armed only with road maps provided by the friendly staff of the Royal Gate Hotel. 

Our goal: arrive at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in time for the last full show. 

(We wanted to catch the 9:15 pm show.)

Challenge #1: We didn't know where we were.  
The taxis dropped us off a popular buffet restaurant somewhere in Hanoi. Unfortunately, the short drive only allowed me to locate one of the roads we passed by on the map. By the time we got out, I was disoriented. Thank goodness for road maps! While the group was busy figuring out where to go as a big group, I had the chance to at least narrow down where we likely were, with the help of the restaurant staff and those policemen-like people right on the sidewalk. The shoppers left a few minutes earlier than we did.

Challenge #2: We didn't know a word in Vietnamese.
... to be more specific, we did not know how to be conversant with the attendants who were trying to assist us. By this time, I could only attempt to thank people in Vietnamese, and I was sure I was pronouncing the words wrongly. Eventually, we figured that the attendants were saying that we're supposed to go along the main road on a southeasterly direction (thanks, map!) and then turn left on the Ly Thuong Kiet Street. Whew!

At the intersection, we saw the Pacific Place Hotel. I figured that there were English speakers in there because it was a hotel... and I guessed correctly. They drew the path on my map, which I was able to show the rest of the group. 

Challenge #3: It was a LOOOOONG walk.
A few minutes on the road and I knew I wore the wrong pair of sneakers. After a whole day on high heels, all that my feet needed for a long walk were ample arch and ankle supports, and my sneakers didn't have those. I should've brought my trusty running shoes instead, I thought. Time was running out, and we had to walk about 2 km; the orienteering challenge was a welcome distraction.

An hour after we started walking, we finally arrived in the Hoan Kiem District... the water puppet theatre was somewhere close by. We could almost smell it!

(The tourist group, pausing – posing – at the Hoan Kiem Lake. Do they look like they walked the 2km?)

Challenge #4: Shouldn't we have reserved tickets?!?
Okay, I had to admit that I didn't consider this one. Rachelle Ward (a former PhD student in GQNPC) asked me about the ticket situation during a break in the session earlier that day. I didn't know the wisdom behind her question until the group arrived at the theatre. We were ahead by just a few minutes to a busload of tourists, all wanting to buy tickets! The ticket lady said there were no more tickets available; however, I didn't walk all the way to the theatre and not see it. Priscila (Brazil) and I convinced the lady to sell us six tickets (never mind where we sat... we wanted to watch!).

FINALLY! We got in the theatre, sat back, and enjoyed the puppet show. =)

(The stage of the night's performance.)