Thursday, August 4, 2011

Walkabout in Hanoi with an iPhone

iPhone 4, Pano 

Hot diggity dog with extra mustard!  Not all my Hanoi iPhone pics were lost.  Apparently, the Picasa program that I use to organize my travel photos managed to copy the pictures into a folder.  It was labeled 2010, but it turned out to be the iPhone photo library.  So, I get to show you some stuff that I shot with the gadget.  The above shot was taken from the restaurant.  I've also located my videos for Hanoi traffic, but I need to figure out a way to edit those things.  

Discreteness.  One of the things that I am using more and more is the iPhone to capture what I observe in my travels around Hanoi.  People are not intimidated by a person shooting pictures with it.  The little gadget has a few advantages over my point and shoot, which I used during the last visit to Hanoi.  It doesn't scream out, CAMERA.  With the phone, I was more discrete.  In other words, I wasn't broadcasting myself as the "Stupid American Tourist" with big call signs with an DSLR rig like a Canon or Nikon around your neck.  I love the wide angle lens of my Nikon D80, but there are some advantages to the photography apps that I was able to use.  I observed people feeling their personal space being violated by these huge cameras with huge lenses.  With the iPhone, I just sort of shot street scenes.    

The Hipstamatic app is pretty much what I am using for these shots.  It produces some interesting effects. This is a shot of the train station in Hanoi.  From here, I went with some friends to Sapa.  Traveling like other Vietnamese is enlightening.  Let's say when you travel in Vietnam, it isn't like taking AMTRAC or the MTA Blue Line in Los Angeles.  

What I tried to do is to take shots of the Old Quarter as I walked about the area.  The little Hisptamatic app seems to accentuate a particular type of feel in the images.  Taking shots with this thing felt more like using a Polaroid, since the pics were usually squarish.  So here are my results, along with my random thoughts of gibberish.       

This gate is older than America.  There are buildings in Hanoi that predate the USA by well . . . you know.  Vietnam is an old country.  There were a number of banners and flags celebrating the 1000 year birthday of the city.  That's right, 1000 years.  My home in Long Beach is considered to be "Historical" because it was built in 1918.  Hanoi, specifically the Old Quarter, was founded in 1010.  

The Hanoi of 2011is a bustling city accentuated by the cacaphony of honking horns, motorbikes, and the general hum of a living and breathing city.  It is so not Los Angeles.  People walk.  The traffic is well, let's say, unique.  I walked around the Old Quarter, and the age of the city becomes very apparent.  Sections of streets sell specific products.  There was one street that only sold hammocks.  

As you can tell, the streets are narrow, and the shops are also narrow but deep.  I remember that the explanation was that you were taxed based on how much space the building front took up.  Essentially, these places are the Vietnamese equivalent of shop houses.  

Commerce is very prominent in Hanoi.  Vendors of all kinds sell many things.  I remember when I took the train ride from the Sapa region back to Hanoi, there were vendors selling baguettes.  The Vietnamese take chunks of bread and dip them in condensed milk.  I just like bread, so no condensed milk for me. 

The one thing that I found really nice is that you can have a lot of foot traffic in the Old Quarter.  In fact, I rarely saw any vacant stores.  All the stores were active, and in addition to that, there were vendors selling items on the street itself.  Realistically, this wouldn't happen in the USA.  We have so many regulations in terms of commerce, but then you don't have the shadow of the censorship.  You are free to say anything, except stuff about the government.  It is sort of like Thailand.  You say anything bad about the King, and you are in big trouble.  

The city is alive.  However, unlike Bangkok, the city does sleep.  Effectively many of the shops close after about 11PM.  There are sections of the city that still seem to bustle.  Bangkok on the other hand seems to become active at 11PM during the evening.  

Things are wrapped around the old in Hanoi.  The electrical grid seems to be an ad hoc experiment in how quickly can you make an octopus wiring problem.  The modern and the ancient collapse upon each other in Hanoi.  

There are these quaint alleyways that zig zag through this part of the city.  The scooters are ever present, reminding you that you are not looking at an old photograph of an ancient city.  It is an ancient city with various levels of adaptations.  The scooter is a good example.  Hanoi is a city that I would call scooter town.  The scooters average about 150cc, and they are pretty good with mileage.  The bigger thing is that having a big car is not an advantage in Hanoi.  It is hard to maneuver in certain parts of Hanoi in anything bigger than a scooter.  The city was not designed around the car, like Los Angeles. 

As you can tell.  Cars are not really a popular item here.  Part of it is the cost.  It is very expensive for the average Vietnamese to buy a car.  In fact, even in Thailand, a car is an expensive thing.  In certain parts of Thailand, a house costs the same as a car.  So, it makes perfect sense for the scooter to be the primary form of transportation here.  

A person asked me, can you live here?  I said.  Maybe.  There are advantages and disadvantages to all places.