Shoe Repair, Take 3

It’s that time again! The zipper on my left boot has been slipping more often and yesterday, with a final tug, a side of the zipper pull slipped off the teeth. I’ve been able to tie the boot shut with some string, but it won’t last long.

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Er…it works for now.

With some help of google and the hotel staff, we look up a local shoe repair shop and get a written description of the repair we want and we’re off. It takes us a while to find the place; sandwiched between a new teahouse and a restaurant, the shoe repair storefront looks more like someone’s house. But a no-nonsense older woman comes out when we knock on the door, followed by her husband. After taking a glance at the shoes and our note, she nods and we talk business. She wants around USD $30 for the repair and won’t take less. We don’t have a lot of power to talk her down, so we try a different tack: could they resole Stoytcho’s flip flops as well for that price? We pantomime this action, putting new rubber onto the bottom of his flip flops. She gets it and agrees–we’ve got a deal. Stoytcho takes off his flip flops and, now barefoot, hands them over to the woman. Meanwhile, the man is turning my boots over in his hands, evaluating, assessing, and thinking of repairs.

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Stoytcho, barefoot because he didn’t bring a spare pair of shoes.

Three days pass before we can return to them to pick up the shoes. When we arrive, the woman smiles and retrieves our shoes, perfectly repaired. For my boots, they removed the old zippers and added new ones in for both the left and right shoe so they match. They’ve also done some sewing where the threads between the leather parts were failing, and added glue at some of the weakened seams between leather and rubber sole. Stoytcho’s flip flops are a bit more of a patch job: they found some old black treaded rubber and glued that onto the bottom of each sandal. It’s crude, but works like a dream. They don’t slip on the wet tile and marble in wet bathrooms, nor out on the sidewalk.

We thank the couple and give them an extra tip for their awesome work. Then it’s off to take more steps and continue our trip around the world.

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Ok this was totally in Hong Kong instead but LOOK AT THOSE FRESH, GOOD-AS-NEW BOOTS.

P.S. If you’re looking to repair your shoes in Hanoi, we can definitely recommend these two. You can find them right around here (+/-1 on the address number):

Hanoi and Vietnam’s History

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Hanoi is two things: hectic and contradictory. It is hectic because it is the capital. Everything must happen here, but bigger. Vendors clog the sidewalks with impromptu eateries and storefront goods spill out onto the streets. We’re here also here during the tail end of Reunification Day celebrations, which every year commemorates the end of what they call the American war and joining of North and South Vietnam. In the evenings, young couples and families walk the boulevards of the Old Quarter and along the river, weaving their way through rivers of motorbikes and dodging the occasional car. During the day, it’s business as usual: everyone on a motorbike has somewhere they need to be five minutes ago and most driving rules are loose. In the early afternoon the roads flood with schoolchildren, walking home with friends or catching a ride on a motorbike with parents. Neither will stop, so watch your step.

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And Hanoi is contradictory because it is both the seat of the country’s communist state and a business center. Nearly everyone here is involved with business of some kind, whether selling food or household goods or running restaurants and coffee shops. In the downtown area, multistory malls with Louis Vitton and Burberry stores attest that anything can be had here, for a price. Teenagers pose for photos in front of monuments to the revolutionaries, but in the shadow of shimmering ads for Pepsi. Yet all this occurs under the watchful eyes of Uncle Ho, the adoring personification of former leader Ho Chi Minh. Vietnam feels less like a communist country and more like a country that used communism as a unifying word against colonial forces.

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The museums and monuments corroborate that idea, dedicating themselves more to portraying the evils of colonialism and the heroic acts of people who fought the colonial forces than to illustrating a post-capitalist worker’s paradise. A visit to the Women’s Museum yields two floors dedicated to female revolutionaries who fought against the French and American forces and their fates when captured. Similarly, Hoa Lo Prison (known by American POW’s as “Hanoi Hilton”) is divided into two parts: the first is a scathing reconstruction of conditions here during French colonial rule, depicting torture and treatment of political prisoners at the hands of the colonial forces.

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The second half of Hoa Lo Prison is a museum dedicated to the American POW’s housed here during the war, with specific attention paid to the good care and conditions the prisoners received. Wander through and you’ll find yourself staring at goods given to them for personal hygiene and entertainment, at photos on the walls of them playing volleyball or celebrating Christmas. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition, a sort of proud elevation of the Vietnamese people over the barbaric colonial forces. I can’t comment on veracity, but it’s certainly interesting to see.

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As we’re leaving Hoa Lo prison, we overhear a tour guide talking to a visiting American couple. “There’s a joke here we say,” the guide says. “If you ask us whether we forgive the Americans for invading, people will say ‘yes, yes, we forgive the Americans.’” The guide pauses and chuckles, “But if you then ask whether they forgive the French, people will say ‘well, we forgive the Americans.’”

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