Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 24 - 23 March 2015 - In Hanoi

 I do not know if it had anything to do with Hanoi or the presence of Elvis – I slept like a baby and as if I had no care in the world. The problems I was having in getting my car into Hanoi to drive through the country was every bit alive. But that did not affect my sleep. The mind is a strange creature. It may have even anticipated the email from Sandeep Bhat from Kasargod, who is currently based out of Dubai. This is what I got from him when I woke up in the morning.

“Hello Mr. Suresh, Greetings!...I have been following your South East Asian Drive blog right from the day you left Cochin. I have a special interest in SEA coz I had my education in Singapore and I worked and travelled extensively in the ASEAN countries. From your latest blog I understand you have issues taking your car into Vietnam. Hence, I would like to share one of my local friend’s number with you…She belongs to some influential political family in Hanoi and has some good contacts at the government level. May be she can be of any help…I pray things would be sorted and you start rolling on your machine...”
What a start to the day. I could not believe my eyes. The Guardian Angel had once again surfaced. Hope filled my mind and the heart with gratitude. The goodness of a person located so far away was lifting the despair that faced me. Elvis and I went down for breakfast to the hotel restaurant in a happy frame of mind. Most items on the buffet were empty and the restaurant looked ransacked! We had to ask the girl manning the restaurant to get additional portions of the buffet. While we were at it the Manager of the hotel, Tim came up to us and apologised that he was not in the hotel the previous day. He had heard about my travails from Shrey Bansal, my tour agent in Delhi. Tim said that he would check with a travel agent friend and get back to us if he could help. Another Guardian Angel, who came up with spontaneous assistance!

The first stop of the day, in fact, maybe the only one, was to be the Indian Embassy in Hanoi. I had an appointment to meet the Ambassador the next day. But considering the crisis facing me I decided to try and meet Her Excellency this day and seek her assistance. At the embassy I was asked to meet Joachim Fernando, Second Secretary, who hailed from Tuticorin. He patiently listened to what I had to say and along with Mahadevan, a senior MEA official, went about making a schedule to attack the problem. The clearance of the Deputy Chief of Mission was taken to send a request from the Indian Embassy to the Ministry of Transportation, Vietnam to end the imbroglio. The secretary of DCM was tasked with getting a note ready, which she did without any hesitation once the required information and supporting documents were provided. She said that she would even send a Vietnamese translation along with the letter so that the matter would be dealt with faster! The matter was constantly followed up by Fernando and Mahadevan.
When all this was being organised, Fernando asked if we would like to meet with the Ambassador. I told him about the appointment for the next day and requested if it could be advanced. He got on the phone with Her Excellency and we were asked to get to her office as soon as possible for she had to leave for an engagement in 20 minutes. What a wonderful meeting it was. Mrs. Preeti Sarin, a 1982 batch IFS officer, helped us understand Vietnam better than if we were to read up a few books in the short time that we were with her. She also suggested small diversions from the route that we had envisaged in Vietnam to get a feel of the Hindu influence in the region during the Champa era, an Indic civilisation that existed along the coast of Vietnam between 500 and 1500 AD. Mrs. Sarin also told us about Bollywood stars who are wonderful cultural ambassadors in this part of the world and how the serial ‘Ballika Badhu’, dubbed in Vietnamese, has taken the country by storm. Later, we took leave of the embassy officials, who said they would get back to me with any information they would have.

On the way to the Indian Embassy in the morning I had tried to get through to Mrs. V, the contact provided by Sandeep. The calls went unanswered, but she got back to me in the evening and I explained the problem I was in. She promised whatever help she could. I also got a call from Joachim Fernando who said that the Ministry of Transport could grant the permission if a local travel agent or a Company could stand guarantee that I would take my car out of Vietnam. I asked Mrs. V if she could provide the guarantee. I sent her a draft of the guarantee, which she said she will try and get organised tomorrow.
Lunch was at a traditional Vietnamese restaurant “Quan An Ngon”, not far from the Indian Embassy. Elvis and I ordered fried noodle with sautéed beef and vegetables and stir fried macaroni with minced beef for the main course. While waiting for that a couple of mugs of draught beer prepared us for the repast. The restaurant was full to overflowing. The dishes are prepared in full view of the customers and the waiters, young boys and girls in traditional attire, were ever willing to help with explanation of the dishes. We also ordered a Vietnamese pancake that has to be rolled on rice sheets along with basil leaves and lettuce and dipped in a special sauce. When the next table was being cleaned I saw what looked like a glass of falooda being cleared away. I was immediately attracted to the sweet dish counter, where I got one prepared for myself. With jelly, water chestnuts, syrups, tapioca pearls and coconut milk it was divine, to say the least.

Once we left the embassy we walked down to the Central Jail and took somephotographs there when loads of tourists were going in and coming out of the historic facility in central Hanoi. Thereafter, a short walk brought us to the Hoan Kiem Lake, where people were indulging in evening recreational activity like Tai Chi. We walked into the Gecko Café opposite the Lake and had a glass of cold coffee with the primary intention of connecting WiFi to send details to Mrs. V.
Dinner was at a local eatery that consisted of steamed rice and a pork preparation. One thing must be admitted – the quality of pork, which is the staple here, is of a very high order.

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