Our Man In Hanoi: A Brief Encounter With Graham Greene

on Wednesday, March 19, 2014
It's funny how fate sometimes lands you in the lap of literary history.

There I was, happily traipsing through the streets of Hanoi, taking happy snaps of my grandmother and me eating all sorts of unidentifiable creatures, when a friend commented on one of my Facebook pics that I was at the hotel in which Graham Greene wrote The Quiet American. That's right, no expense has been spared for this holiday extravaganza with 90-year-old gran; we're shacking up at the Hotel Metropole, the only building here that is older than she is. A few quick chats with the manager and I tee up a visit to the Greene suite (which, I find out, is still used as a regular room).

Fast forward a couple of hours. The concierge leads us through the narrow corridors, swipes his key card and presto... we're in the room. Well, not that room. Turns out there was a slight miscommunication. I am in W. Somerset Maugham's room, the place he worked on The Gentleman In The Parlour. I plonk myself down at his desk, feeling thoroughly British. See:

It's cool but it is not THE room. Rumours abound that Graham's place is the showpiece, left intact from his days writing what is arguably his most celebrated work. Heck, I can make believe, if only for this experience, that I actually like The Quiet American. There's even word that his typewriter is still on the desk. I am practically plutzing to see it. I ask the concierge who says that unfortunately he doesn't think it's available to see. I become a petulant child... "But... But... But the manager promised!" A few quick calls and he comes back. The room is ready for me to see. I feel like a total dick but one who is about to play with Graham Greene's typewriter.

A gold plaque announces room 228 as The Graham Greene Suite. There's a second plaque telling me it's also the room where Australian Governor General Quentin Bryce had her headquarters while in Hanoi, but I don't really care. I am a proud aussie and all but seriously this room is about one person and one person only. And maybe his typewriter. The door opens to... just another opulent Metropole suite. Yes, any remnant of Greene's stay has been swept aside to make way for the ugly intrusion of modern technology. Large flatscreen TV. Fancy iPod dock with garish speakers above the sacred desk. It's a travesty. I compose myself, let the disappointment wash away. Graham Greene may well and truly have left the building but HOLY CRAP I'm at the desk. I'll just pretend there's a typewriter. Clackety-clack.

I suspect the concierge thinks I'm insane. I ask him to take a photo of me with the great man. Now we're besties and everything. Say "existential Catholic angst".


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