We are in Hanoi. Times have obviously changed, for yes, there is in fact, a Hilton Hotel (quite swanky too). This is the most schizophrenic city I have even seen; more so than even Saigon. People everywhere try to creatively separate you from your money, which leaves a rather unpleasant taste on the palate. Many taxi drivers cannot be trusted to take you where you need to go, fruit vendors ensnare you in their baskets, try to get you to photograph your partner for a souvenir, buy overpriced bananas, and refuse to give you change, youths sell counterfeit books, shine shoes (uh, everyone wears sandals?!?!), claim to be students collecting money for the Red Cross and then yell at you when you don't donate 20 USD, while others just hold out their hats and beg. Yet, it is a wonderful city as well; much of the cityscape is gorgeous. The traditional Asian and French architecture combine beautifully with the lakes and occasional gardens. The old city retains much of its original character: each street was named for the craft or product sold, and many of them continue the same traditions. We found the streets of blacksmiths, silk, shoes, metalwork, herbs, red candles, and funerary supplies (joss paper and incense), among other things. We also visited the restored home of a wealthy merchant, where I spoke with a guide who gave me some insight into important items and symbols in Vietnamese homes. Of all things, the colorful, pieced silk placemats and tablerunners are quite significant in that the fabrics used include four symbols: the Chinese characters for happiness and longevity, bamboo for the father, and flowers for the mother. The guide explained to me that when people sit at the table, the mats are to remind them of the happy, strong family in the home. I've really enjoyed the cultural lessons I have received thus far. I just hope the touts and scam artists don't ruin the reputation for tourists in the future.