Week 1: In which we discover the delights of Hanoi’s street food…

… and the true value of the VND

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A basic ode to street food:

I profess my professor said to not

Eat ice, or fruit, or anything not hot

But with price so low and a wallet thin

How could I resist a lime with Phố Tình?


With pointed gestures and smiles I try

To communicate with shopkeepers even as they lie

To foreigners like me who don’t speak Vietnamese:

‘That will be 90,000 VND, please.’


I’ve tried Bánh Mì, Chè and Bánh cuốn

And there’s even more food I want ‘fore I’m gone

With only five short weeks left, how the time will fly

Soon I will miss you, Vietnam, tạm biệt , goodbye



Hẹn gặp lại!



A Religious Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Walking down Hanoi’s Lý Quốc Sư Street of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, I, the inquisitive tourist, came across, in close proximity, two Vietnamese landmarks of seeming peaceful but curious coexistence. At the head of the street stands the grand St. Joseph’s Cathedral with a rusted metal statue of the Queen of Peace (Regina Pacis) outside.


The church immediately stands out in the region not only for its great height and clearly Western style architecture, but also because of the open space it is afforded in a region of the city where most streets are as narrow as a single car. As I passed by St Josephs, congregants streamed out of the Sunday morning service, and later, as I was returning in the opposite direction, a young Vietnamese bride in a traditionally Western white dress was taking wedding photographs with her groom, the two effortlessly smiling in the 97-degree heat. A man at a coffee shop across the street tells me I am welcome inside the church, if I want to enter.

Only a few doors down the street, tucked away from the bustle of motorcycle traffic, stands a Buddhist shrine Chùa Lý Triều Quốc Sư (Choo-ah Lee Chee-oo Qu-ohk Soo-er). A young woman sits outside the gate of the temple, selling firecrackers and Vietnamese cone hats. I ask her if I can enter, and after receiving no answer, I step in. A classmate says the Buddhist monks waved her in after she hesitated outside.


Within the shrine monks sit at tables, peeling and eating small fruits, while western dressed Vietnamese men and women kneel shoeless at various altars with their hands together praying. I slip my sandals off and walk towards one of the shrines, noticing a stack of fake American 100 dollar bills in a pile next to a gold Buddhist figure, a pile of curiously shaped green fruits and a poster with about fifty photographs of whom I assumed were former or current congregants in the Buddhist community. One of the formerly praying women smiles at me as she exits.


I learned in my course reading that Vietnam is a predominately homogenous population of ethnically Vietnamese people who have long practiced Buddhism. However, the country has nevertheless struggled throughout its history with how to deal politically and socially with its minority religious and ethnic sects, including its Catholic population which arrived in Vietnam with French missionaries in the seventeenth century. Lý Quốc Sư Street, which itself is named after an 11th Century Buddhist monk (as is the shrine), demonstrated not the struggle between, but rather the peaceful coexistence of different peoples, as well as their welcoming attitude to outsiders such as myself. The two landmarks also showed to me the preservation of the old and historical Vietnamese tradition in the modern world. The church shows wear from pollution with its grey stone now blackened with soot, but happy Vietnamese teens take selfies on iPhones outside. I discover the Buddhist community has an active Facebook page, featuring photographs of boys and girls my age in the standard blue robes praying. A girl comments on one photo about how funny her expression is in the image.



Chao, Hanoi!

Chao, everybody, and welcome to my first blog post for Princeton’s Global Seminar in Hanoi! My name is Vanessa and I’m a sophomore (excuse me, a rising junior) at Princeton University.

This is somewhat belated, since I’ve already been in Hanoi for exactly a week and a day now, but for my part, I’m going to be blogging on my experience in Hanoi for all of you to see on this website.

Follow me to see the transition from gross airport food…


to being united with friends…


to having our first dinner together as a class and so much more during our time in Hanoi!


Shout-out to Princeton and the Office of International Programmes for making all of this possible, and I’m looking forward to sharing my experience with you!




La Roma: First Impressions

Ciao, e benvenuti nel mio blog!

The past ten days have been very exciting and fast-paced, especially for those of us like me who have never been to Italy before, but we do get a nice amount of down time to relax (for instance, no seminar was scheduled for yesterday, so most of the morning and afternoon were free). I finally got ahead on reading earlier, so I decided I really ought to start keeping a journal/blog. Since this is a first impressions post, I’ll try not to ramble on for too long.

These first ten days, what has really struck me about Rome has been…

  • the vibrancy and richness of the city. This is true both literally…
    First gelato in Italy!

    the strawberry gelato is so pink

    <3 the Tiber

    the Tiber river!

    so many flowers

    so many beautiful flowers~

    …and more figuratively–people here are generally quite friendly and readily start up conversations. There is also so much to see and do here: the Colosseum (il Colosseo) and the Roman Forum (il Foro Romano), the Vatican (il Vaticano), the Pantheon, art museums (most notably La Galleria Borghese, featuring a stunning collection of paintings, sculptures, and ceiling art), castles, gardens, piazzas and churches and fountains, oh my! (And that’s just the start.)

    We only have about ten days left to explore this incredible city, which to me feels way too short and where did the time go and what should I see next.

I’ve also been really amazed at

  • how cheap many things are here, seeing as Rome is such a popular tourist destination. That is, things are cheap if you know where to go. For instance, there are 2 pizza places within a block of where we’re staying that offer large fold-up pieces of pizza that cost about 3 euro. You can easily get a nice cappuccino for ~1 euro (or so my roommate tells me, since I don’t drink coffee). I paid under 2.50 euro today for a bunch of 7 decently-sized bananas from the supermarket. A panino costs about 4-6 euro, and you can easily get certain types of pizza (such as la margherita, which generally appears to cost around 6 euro) for <10 euro.
    Also, many museums/government-owned areas have free admission on the first Sunday of the month. That’s how we got into il Castello di Sant’Angelo for free on Sunday the 5th and saw some incredible views:
Sharp, pointy objects, yay! There is no cause for alarm or concern.

the angel at the very top of the Castel Sant’Angelo

pano game too strong (lol not really)

view from the top

angle 1 from above

trees + buildings

the river's back!

angle 2 from above

angle 3 from above

view of St. Peter’s in the background

look at those angels flanking the edges of the picture

technically not a view /from/ the castle, but still a nice pic

To wrap up, another simultaneously surprising and striking aspect of Rome so far is

  • how quickly we have adapted to some aspects of life here. For instance, many of us now take backpacks/tote bags/etc. to the grocery store (il supermercato) of our own volition. Having customers pay for having to get a plastic bag for their purchases makes sense to me, in lowering both environmental impact and the frequency or likelihood of ‘splurge’ purchases on consumers’ part. Dividing up our trash into different segments (compost, plastic, glass, paper, non-recyclable waste) is taking longer to adjust to, but I’m glad that I’m being reminded to lower my environmental footprint every time I have a meal in the kitchen. The last bit makes me wonder whether these more environmentally-conscious habits/practices will continue once we get back to the States. Given how quickly we seem to have adapted in some ways here in Rome (e.g. to walking at least 10,000 steps every day and to carrying a bag with us al supermercato), and yet the lingering resistance to changing other aspects of our lifestyles (e.g. to dividing up our trash and to balancing social life and time alone and successfully communicating with the rest of the group), I’m not quite sure. However, once we’re back in the familiar atmosphere of our homes, I feel that we could all too easily return to our old ways after our stay in Italy.On the other hand, I’m hopeful that my much greater knowledge of the Italian language and increased appreciation of the long history and culture of Rome will stay with me for much longer. Last night at dinner, I successfully managed to speak to the waiters in Italian to ask for silverware and to respond to a greeting, which is more than I’d gotten from the ~third of Duolingo in Italian that I’ve looked at. Today in Italian class, we essentially wrapped up our second unit (on asking directions and getting around as tourists/newcomers), and tomorrow we’ll be starting a third unit on food. Last Friday, we learned more about the history and significance of the Jewish Ghetto in Rome, getting a glimpse of the terribly crowded, restricted living conditions that nevertheless, for a time, allowed the Jews to largely stick to their own culture and faith under immense pressure to convert. Later today in seminar, we’ll be discussing the papal bull that authorized the creation of the ghetto, as well as the diary of Anna del Monte, who was imprisoned and tormented by priests and converts for 12 days (after a certain Sabato “denounced” her, falsely saying that she wished to convert to Christianity) before being released and returned to her parents in the ghetto, ostensibly more sure of her own faith than ever before. I wonder at her resilience and determination in the face of persecution, and wish I could be like that too (though perhaps with less screaming than was reported in the diary, albeit only partially written by Anna, according to the translator/editor).

    Well, it’s time to have lunch. Un paninoUn pezzo di pizzaUna zuppaUna pasta? I guess we’ll see.

Ciao for now, and see you next time!