I’m so thrilled to share another guest blog by Ali Swanson, a good friend who lived in Vietnam in 1992. Here’s Ali:
Ahhh, the Hotel Metropole, a HaNoi classic!
During my semester in VietNam, they were refurbishing this grand dame of colonial hotels. Sometime in April or May of ’92, the hotel was re-opened, and they featured a Western-style, Sundays-only, brunch buffet. Given our regular morning meals of rice balls, or baguettes, and strong coffee with sweet milk, this was a feast.
Entrance to the buffet was a shocking $10US–the official exchange rate at the time was $10,000 Vietnamese Dong to $1US; you probably could have fed a family of 4 on $10US for an entire week. I had brought with me about $500US for the entirety of my trip and, by April, I had barely used any of it. I decided that the luxury of the buffet and the company I was in was well worth the cost.
Also, as there were, at this time, no official relations between VietNam and the US, we were completely cut-off from news sources except what came in the mail (and that took a month transit time each way!). At the Metropole, you could buy week-old copies of Newsweek for some scandalous sum of American dollars. I do believe that this is how we found out that the Rodney King riots had consumed Los Angeles.
The crew that trooped out from our “Foreign Students Dorm” at the University of HaNoi, was a ragtag combo of myself, one of my classmates, a couple of Japanese embassy folk, and one or two of the rarely-seen, American graduate students that were also enrolled at the university. Conversation during our meal was broadly political, occasionally philosophical, and always funny.
My classmate, Fielding, was a dapper, brilliant, former Yalie who, to this day, is the funniest person I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I greatly admired him, and felt lucky to be invited to spend this time with him and the others.
One of my favourite days during my trip was on a Sunday, after brunch–Fielding had decided to spend some time that afternoon with one of the Japanese embassy officials and, as the day was quickly becoming hot and humid, he asked me to take his leather bomber jacket back to our dormitory. The only way I could tote the jacket on my bike was to actually wear it–flying down Hai Ba Trung Street on my bike, in Fielding’s beautiful jacket, I felt excited and giddy for the future. I was in an amazing place, interacting with fascinating people. Who wouldn’t have been thrilled?