Since last night was a late one, and we didn't care to get up and see the body of Ho Chi Minh, we slept until 11 a.m. I don't feel the slightest bit guilty about this, as leisurely days like this have made it possible for me to NOT be an exhausted mess by this point - nearly 3 weeks into the tour.
After lunch Marv and several guys set out on a mission: To buy the ugliest shirt money could buy. Clothes are readily available in tons of small stores and markets and MAN are some of them hedious. I don't know who buys these heinous clothes since people on the street are dressed perfectly normal. Everybody was encouraged to participate in the ugly shirt competition, and the winner would get free drinks for the night.
Marv ran in to one very large obstacle when searching for a shirt to wear: He is roughly 3x larger than the average Vietnamese man. Their clothes are TINY so his pickin's were slim. This is the reason that I didn't participate in the competition. Clothes for women are even smaller than mens, so there's not a chance in hell I could find a single shirt to fit me in all of Hanoi (much less an ugly one).
Marv was finding little success and the closing time was nearing for the only tourist attraction I wanted to visit, Hao Lo prison, a.k.a. the "Hanoi Hilton". So he paused his quest and we set off for the prison. We asked the tourist information office how to get there and had to explain that, no, we were not looking for the actual Hilton hotel. Having learned our lesson last night about taxis we haggled with the driver, who initially wanted more than double what was reasonable. It seems that the most effective tactic is to name the price you're willing to pay and, if they don't accept it, move on to the next one. Usually they'll fold and accept what you offer.
The Hao Lo prison had been used since the 19th century to house Vietnamese people who fought against France's invasion. Of course I didn't know this, and only knew that it had been used to house American POW's during the Vietnam war.
The propaganda machine was back in full force, as you can see here this placard says that the American prisoners were treated amazingly well and had a super awesome time during their incarceration. Yeah, and the name Hanoi Hilton is literal, not ironic.
A face that kept popping up in pictures was a young John McCain, who, I would like to declare, was totally hot back in the day. They even had his jumpsuit and parachute on display that he was wearing when he was captured. He was in his 20's when he was at this prison and his hair turned white during his time tere. Also, he can't raise his arms up since they were broken there and he didn't receive proper medical attention.
I learned that most, if not all, American POW's were pilots that were shot down over North Vietnam. I'm glad I took the time to go and, in a way, pay respects to those who served (voluntarily or not). I really haven't done too much war tourism, but Vietnam isn't all about the "American war" so I think I've seen a decent amount.
After the museum I was ready for some A/C and relaxation but Marv was still on the war path for an ugly shirt to enter into the competition. I took a taxi alone back to the hotel (price determined in advance, of course) while Marv went back out shopping. And, amazingly, he found one that fit! Here is a group picture of all the competition entries:
This picture doesn't do the ugliness of his shirt justice, as there are various patches with nonsensical English phrases on it, and actual textured paint splatters. This thing cost $5 - not really cheap by any standards.
On our way to dinner (our last as an entire group - boo hoo) we saw a pretty fierce motorbike accident. A cute little dog was trying to cross the street and was playing Frogger to get through the oncoming traffic. A motorbike slammed on its brakes, hard, so it didn't hit the dog and both people riding on it fell off and went flying. Marv swears he saw the motorbike hit the dog but it was nowhere in sight, so it was well enough to run off. The people got up and got back on but we could see one had a bloody face, despite his dinky little helmet. Once again: Traffic in Hanoi is insane!
At dinner we held a secret ballot vote to see who had succeeded in finding the ugliest shirt. The title was neck and neck, with Ass-Tight-Pink-Spandex (on Stefan, 2nd from the right) versus Floral-Mesh-Cut-Outs (on Phil, 4th from the right). The competition was intense, but Phil won by 1 on the very last vote. I think the deal breaker was the fact that one of the floral mesh cut-outs on his shirt perfectly revealed a nipple. Now that's fashion forward!
Here is a picture of me feeling up the spandex "Dolce & Gabbna" shirt, which I'm posting just because it was so obscenely gross yet sexy at the same time. And, for the record, it WAS a mans shirt.
After dinner we went to a so-typically-Asian private karaoke room, which we actually had to book in advance. We only spent an hour there since the beer was so expensive ($2 - we ain't paying that!) but we did have a gay old time singing to the Spice Girls, Britney Spears and ABBA with our very own personal sound system.
Marv & I had to depart for the airport at 6:30 a.m. the next day so it couldn't be a late night for us. The piss warm beers just weren't going down as smooth as they have - refrigeration is not a huge priority here - so after hanging out for a while we said our goodbyes and went to bed.
I am absolutely crushed to say goodbye to these people, a few in particular. I have made some lifelong friends who I cannot wait to see again soon. It hasn't been 24 hours since I last saw them and I miss them terribly.
It's a very sad day for me.