City Slicker

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The Independent Culture
A year ago this month, President Bill Clinton lifted the US trade embargo on Vietnam. The liberation of foreign investment laws and relaxation of visa regulations for tourists in Vietnam has finally oiled the hinge of the door towards the gaping pockets of the West.

Ubiquitous item of clothing: In an average temperature of 38C, the men take enormous pride in their defined crease-in-sleeve, sweat-stain- free shirts. A few women stand out from the smart majority by flaunting a tinsel style popular with Barbie dolls in the Seventies, often while perched on a Russian moped.

Drink of the moment: Try the local rice wine if you've got a metal palate. Otherwise, there are Saigon Lager and Saigon Export (where it's exported to is anyone's guess). These are almost half the price of imported brands.

Eating out: There's an abundance of eating places and the variety of Vietnamese cuisine is awesome, whether in a hotel restaurant or on a kerb- side stool in a back-street alley. If you want to be a culture-pooper, grab a bite of French bread and cheese from one of the small eateries or have a scrumptious steak and chips at Le Loft on Hang Bai Street.

For the adventurous, try the Cha Ca Restaurant at 14 Cha Ca Street, where you can sample a lump of turtle dipped in "nuke mom" (fermented fish sauce) while enjoying the view of pickled cobras in their glass jars.

The meeting place: The Pastry and Yogurt Shop on Hang Bong Street oozes with Westerners who catch up with each other over pain au chocolat and about the only decent coffee in Hanoi.

Latest fad: For the residents of Hanoi, karaoke is taken as seriously as jumping on the bandwagon of free trade. A place to practise with privacy is in a karaoke booth at the VIP Club in the Boss Hotel at 60-62 Nguyen Du Street.

Song on everyone's lips: Boney M's Daddy Cool. Western Music offers a Seventies night every night.

Customary habits: For all those who don't trust an East Asian wake-up call, particularly if you stay at a bottom-of-the-range hotel like the Hong Ha, you'll be reassured to know that religiously at 5am, the surrounding neighbourhood provides a cacophony of raucous attempts to cough up phlegm.Investigating the inhabitants of one another's hair is a personal habit brought to your attention wherever you go.

Entertainment: For a taste of Vietnamese culture, try the water puppetry at the Kim Dong Theatre. Imagine a stage of puppets water-skiing in time to clashing cymbals and the shrill whine of stilted chords. It's a cross between Sooty at the swimming baths and Tarzan of the jungle - ideal for the hard of hearing but rather sore on the eyes, even with goggles.