Bye Hanoi Travel Blog | Chapter 9

r.j. kushner
5 min readDec 28, 2023

The weather on Christmas was spring-warm. There are days when the smog covers the sun, but we’ve had a good run of misty blue skies.

We did laundry and, as is customary, hung our clothing out on the balcony to dry. Using this method, my clothes got much drier than they do in the machine and my white shirts looked much whiter. I also got to observe how weirdly colorful all my underwear is compared with the neighbors’ underwear across the street. Either they’re drab or I need to tone it down.

That evening we went back into old town, which was the busiest I’d seen it yet. The big Catholic Church was all lit up and overflowing with people on every side. I got my picture taken in front of it and kept being told to go further into oncoming traffic and that it was fine.

We then walked to the tailor for the final fitting of my suit. It was a little crowded and me and this other guy kept almost walking in on each other in the changing room, which was a curtain. How do you knock on a curtain? It got to the point where I was almost like, “Aw to hell with it — get in here and let’s work together!”

The suit fit great, although the tailor told me I need to stand straighter. We shook hands.

The next day was dedicated to packing and gambling on how much food we could possibly get away with taking through customs.

We got to the airport a couple hours early for our flight from Hanoi to Tokyo. They were playing “Lord of the Rings” on a big screen at our gate.

I saw a guy walk by wearing his facemask on top of his head like a yarmulke. I thought I’d seen every facemask configuration by this point but this one was new to me.

We boarded and I sat by an elderly woman who spent the flight watching the most violent zombie movies I’d ever glanced at and looking completely unfazed. She ordered hot green tea with sugar and then Nhi and I both proceeded to order the same exact thing.

The Narita airport in Japan was big and clean and empty when we arrived and they had lounging chairs where you could put your feet up. It made LAX’s waiting accommodations resemble Frankenstein’s lab.

The airport also had a smoking lounge. I peeked in and saw someone smoking. Not sure what I expected.

We pushed our carryon luggage around in a little shopping cart, a new and exciting airport feature for me, and of course I picked the one cart with a bad wheel.

There was a gum ball machine in the airport dedicated exclusively to plastic rings with E.T.’s big face on them. We got lucky and got one with E.T. wearing his signature hood and grinning, rather than the one where he was depicted hoodless and screaming.

We got the exit row for our flight to Chicago. It’s kind of like being part of the crew, except you pay them the same amount for a regular coach ticket to spend 12 hours contemplating the burden of hundreds of lives in your hands.

After reading the instructions for the exit row, the English version of which was only about four sentences long, it essentially boiled down to agreeing to do whatever the flight attendants told you in an emergency, and telling other passengers to exit. I determined that, in an evacuation, I would shout things along the line of, “Move, move, move!” and “Don’t be a hero!”

The big benefit to the exit row is the legroom, supposedly, and you get your snacks a little earlier. The con is that you don’t get any storage space in front of you. I had to wedge my book and my water bottle into my side and I believe this was directly responsible for the unfortunate pasta sauce stain that I ended up with on my shirt during breakfast. Also, pasta for breakfast? You can only get away with this while in the sky above Canada.

A few hours into the flight the woman in aisle next to us laid down on three empty seats to watch “Mission Impossible.” Nobody said anything.

By the time we touched down in Chicago my feet were so swollen they could barely fit into my shoes. I had also accumulated four stainless steel spoons and one fork from the inflight meals. I don’t think it’s a big deal that I took this amount of cutlery, but I always looked around with my bloodshot eyes to make sure no one was looking when I stuffed them into my fanny pack.

Nhi said I need an ending to this blog, something to “tie it all together,” but it’s 4 a.m. in Chicago and I am very jet lagged, so I will say this: Thank you for reading and going on this trip with me, and if you ever have a chance to take a photo of a wooden cutout of a 40-year-old Bart Simpson pulling down his trousers in a proud display of his tattoo-covered rump, please, for the love of God, take it.

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r.j. kushner

Dubbed by the New York Times as “all out of free articles this month.”