Having already spent a month in Hanoi, we were in two minds about if we should go out. My colleague mentioned that he’d seen US and DPRK flags being placed for the Summit, however, so we obviously decided to hit the town.
In the taxi, and ironically near the biggest building in Hanoi – the Lotte Tower – we spotted our first poster and decided to jump out. If you’ve never heard of Lotte, it is a huge Korean-Japanese conglomerate, and is a pretty big deal in Vietnam. The poster itself was innocuous enough, simply showing the flags, and saying ‘DPRK-USA Hanoi Summit’, but it was opposite the road that caught our eye!
On the expressway were workers putting up the flags of Vietnam, North Korea, and the USA. For me, personally, it was strange to see the North Korean flag somewhere else than either North Korea or my office. We thus decided to risk life and limb to stand on said expressway to capture the perfect photo.
It was raining, and being Hanoi most people drive scooters. As we stood there a guy came flying off his, landing almost at our feet. Myself and the two guys adding the flags ran to his attention, grabbed him and the bike, and they phoned his friends. We waited until they came and took him away, and the adding of flags continued. It’s funny how life just goes on.
There’s only so much watching of flags being raised that you can do, so we decided to head to the embassy of the DPRK (North Korea) in Vietnam to see if anything much was happening. The embassy was fairly understated – a surprising fact when you consider the historical relations of the countries. With it being 10pm on a Friday night, however, not much was happening there bar the honour guards.Weirdly (or not) the North Korean embassy is next to the former Thai embassy that moved in 2015, and now looks eerily like a ghost house.
After so much journalist “work” we decided it was now time for some liquid refreshments and headed to the Tannin Wine Bar in Hanoi’s old quarter, theepicenter of the now-hordes of tourists that have flocked to the city. The bar itself is extremely plush, and we unsurprisingly opted for the “Peace Negroninations”, their current “special” to celebrate the upcoming Trump-Kim summit.
I have to say it was not only expertly made, but the sweetness added through the inclusion of flavoured (south) Korean soju probably made it superior to a regular Negroni. Alas we didn’t get to meet the inventor of the cocktail, but the manager assured we were not the first to come in and sample it.
Whilst discussing the cocktail an American girl chimed in that her friends in Korea had asked her what she felt about the upcoming summit, to which she replied “well I just had a peace cocktail”. Let’s only hope the upcoming negotiations between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un go as well.
With it being too late to get the alleged free Kim or Trump haircut being offered by one enterprising barber, we decided to go the next place on the summit drinks trail to Hanoi’s Standing Bar.
After a standard argument with a Hanoi taxi driver about change we got into the bar at 11.45 pm (it closes at 12) to be told it was too late for us to get a drink. We then explained we had traveled all this way to try to the “Kim Jong Ale”. She rolled her eyes and magnanimously agreed to sell us a beer.
The Kim Jong Ale was allegedly inspired by the volcanic mountain Paektu, the legendary birthplace of not only the Korean nation, but also the father of Marshal Kim Jong Un: Generalissimo Kim Jong Il.
The beer itself was pleasant, and had an almost Kimchi-like aftertaste, although the service left somewhat to be desired.
We left the bar at about ten after midnight, with people still in the bar ordering drinks. Perhaps Hanoi’s Standing Bar is a “local bar for local people”, and perhaps the leaders of the USA, and North Korea should look elsewhere if they need a place for a few beers and to discuss denuclearization.
Hanoi might not yet be at fever pitch, but there’s something brewing here, and it’s not just the beer.