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PHO, BUM GUNS, MILES OF SMILES, AND MORE

Rajen Bali

Over the years, I have fallen in love with Hanoi. I treat it almost like a second home and try to come here twice year. What I do I do here. Almost nothing. I just sit on the shores of the Hoan Kiem lake, enjoying the rippling reflections of ever-so-green trees and flowers. Almost at all times of the day, there is the never-ending spectacle of fitness-freaks of all ages, indulging in various forms of highly active fitness routines. Surprisingly, even though there are younger people around, bulk of the fitness-enthusiasts – both men and women – appear to be at least over 50! Many of them are definitely much older. The zest, seriousness and joy with which they indulge in various regimes of physical fitness - including dancing to music ranging from The Blue Danube Waltz, The Blue Tango and Rock Around The Clock/Macarena – is just amazing. I mean, many times I start sweating just looking at these good people go through their activities!

When I am not sitting around the lakeshore, watching the ever-changing panorama of dynamic and joyous life, taking pictures of everyone/everything, being smiled at, or, smiling at people passing by, I walk around the streets, lanes and by lanes of Hanoi, forever getting surprised by the colorful and dynamic unfolding of everyday life.

A few days ago, while wandering around – rather aimlessly, as usual – I picked up a small free guide book-cum-map from a shirt-store named Gingko. What attracted me to place at first was the slogan: “Life is Too Shirt.” The little guide has some amazing “…things to know when you’re a tourist in Vietnam.” So, with useful inputs from the Gingko Little Guide, I am trying to share “…Almost all that you need to know about Vietnam.”  Obviously, due to constraints of space, I can offer some information about only some things that you need to know.

Even though the title of this piece puts Pho and Bum Guns first, let us start with ‘Miles of Smiles’. One, the smiles are genuine. Two, they are constantly flashed by Pretty Young Things, Toothless Oldies of both sexes – and all others in between. However hard-boiled or skeptical you might be at first, you will have to agree that these smiles are the difference between Vietnam and other countries. Caution – since you will have no choice but to smile back at the original smile-flashers, you might find your facial muscles getting tired. It is recommended that you come prepared with a muscle-relaxing potion.

If there is a National Dish of Vietnam, it has to be the ‘Pho’. It is that very large bowl full of oodles of noodles, assorted crisp greens and various kinds of meat. A bowlful of taste, nutrition, happiness and satisfaction. Of all this these is no doubt. There is also little doubt that this dish was invented in the late 1800s, to create something which was equally appreciated by the French and the locals. The doubts arise as to how to pronounce the word “Pho.” Is it ‘Fo’ or ‘Foe’? Or is it ‘Phuuuh’, or ‘Fuh’, or ‘Faux”. Well, ‘What the p….’, The good guide says:”…Start by practicing the common foods like pho. Take “fuh” like you are going to say that naughty four-letter word which rhymes with “duck”. Then make it a question.” Got it?

From the mouth, let us go to the other end. Here, I must mention something which comes to my mind. It dates back to those long-gone flying days of mine. In an Air Force Crew Room, there was a poster which said something like: God gave man two ends. One to think with and one to sit upon. Our problems start when we use the wrong end for thinking/sitting-upon.” So, kindly be sure that we are talking about the end which God gave you to sit upon. If you are in the habit of using that particular end for thinking, then…..there is no point in your reading on. But, I presume that you are in the habit of using your bum to sit upon, as ordained by the Lord Almighty.

In Vietnam, you will find notices in all toilets instructing you to put all tissues and toilet paper in the provided bins and NOT in the toilet-bowl. Next to your throne you will find a hose with a small ‘shower-head’ and a ‘switch’. This is the Bum Gun. So it is the stream from the hose of the Bum Gun which does the essential cleaning. The toilet paper is merely used to dry off your nether regions. I am quite sure that many of you, after using the convenience of the Bum Gun will be looking around for such equipment in your town/city. Go for it.

I think I will have to split this guide into parts. I will end this first part with some rather unusual ways the locals have of sending text messages. ‘kakaka or hiiiiiii = laughing. “uhm” = agreement. ‘gg or gg = good night. I do not yet know how to text ‘Bye Bye’? So, just a conventional “See you again with some more guide lights in Vietnam.”

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