24 Hours of Pho

Last night, we arrived in Hanoi as part of U.S. Department of State’s Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative, as managed by the University of Montana.

After a full day and night of travel, it was wonderful to see Nguyn Ngoc Lan, whom we’d met in Montana. During her time in Montana, Lan followed Scott Crichton of the American Civil Liberties Union for two weeks. Now it is Scott’s turn to follow Lan, a disability rights attorney, and to learn from her.

But first, she and her husband wanted to introduce us to Hanoi in the very best way possible – by stopping at one of the thousands of “street food” purveyors for a bowl of pho. It is Gwen’s opinion that pho is a magical food. One spoonful, and all of the exhaustion disappeared.

Our hotel also serves pho for breakfast, a great way to start the day. More energy! Our hotel is near Hoan Kiem Lake, so we walked there first thing and Scott took his place among the hundreds of people doing their exercises. He opted for solitary tai chi, but Gwen’s favorite was the group of women moving energetically to “Gagnam Style.” Also, the older gentleman doing fingertip pushups – dozens of them – with his feet braced on a high bench. Gwen’s exercise consisted of sitting on a bench and fanning herself.

For our first day, Lan had arranged for local guide Alyssa Le to take us on a tour. We visited several temples, one more beautiful than the next, and saw Ho Chi Minh’s Masoleum – befittingly somber – as well as the stilt house where he opted to live simply, instead of in the lavish presidential palace. And, we had more pho for lunch, at a place on the street near the lovely and tranquil Temple of Literature.

In the evening, we ventured out on our own in search of cha ca, fish cooked tabletop with greens. We initially got lost but Gwen eventually found the restaurant. Anyone who knows Gwen’s (complete lack of) sense of direction will understand that this is something of a miracle. Scott points out that she actually asked for directions and also consulted a map.

Now, well rested and energized by pho, we are ready to begin the business part of the trip. Scott has three presentations today, to the Quoc Dan law firm and the Viet Sunshine Law Firm, and then Action to the Community Development Center, where Lan works.

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