Hanoi

Unexpectedly, we find ourselves unemployed.

“What are we going to do?”

“I dunno. Vietnam?”

This was a condensed version of a conversation from March that we had. We’d always wanted to go to southeast Asia. We knew it was cheap. We knew that we liked Vietnamese food, eating it most Sundays before going out to hike in Busan. We wanted to be in the same place for a few weeks before going back to our ‘own’ (less and less, yearly diminishing returns on sense of nationality) countries.

Vietnam or Bali was the choice. I’m sure that Bali is great in many ways, but I’m really happy we went with Vietnam.

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Hanoi 2017

Vibrant is a term that I never truly new the definition of until I walked through the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It’s thrown around in the travelsphere like a talisman; Look how vibrant this costume is! This rickshaw ride showed us so much vibrancy in the city! The people are so vibrant! You know that you’ve read these descriptions of the many places that travel bloggers now travel and blog.

But Vietnam is actually vibrant.

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Bustling, but not stressful. Loud, tempered by silence after curfew. Trust and intense connection with a human community, such as must have once existed in major cities all over the world but which is vanishingly rare in 2017. It’s not always confortable, oh no. It’s real, though. It sweeps you up an makes you think about what you’ve been missing, living in a boxy gray concrete apartment and ignoring your neighbours every time you misfortune to find yourselves in the same hallway. If you’ve become a city person, you can eventually relax into it.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter has streets for everything. There may well still be guilds, functioning as ever within the ancient and less-ancient city walls. They each make and sell different things. There is fan street. Coffee street. Knickknack street. Beer street. Grave marker street. Wedding street. Bead street. Jade street. Everywhere people, all the time. Except after 23:00. That’s the city-wide curfew.

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Hanoi is walking, eating, walking (always slowly, zen masters crossing the traffic in all directions at each intersection), beer, eating, coffee, walking, eating, bia hoi (fresh beer), eating, ice cream, beer, sleeping. On weekends the city centre becomes a playground for the children, zooming around on hand-modified hoverboards that they sit on and make dart around the ankles of adults. Traditional music is played on street corners, mixed with modern pop and Ed Sheeran’s intractable beats.

Hanoi is a steam room in the afternoon, a mobile sauna that sweats out all the toxins in your body without the need for pretentious terms like ‘wellness’ and ‘sterilisation.’

Hanoi is every meal as the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Hanoi is wanting to learn how to make all this abundance and knowing that the only real way would be to apprentice with one of the vanishing grannies who knows the old ways.

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Hanoi is desperately human, and overwhelmingly successful. Abject poverty is not the ever-present albatross around a traveller’s neck that Mumbai gifts you the moment you leave the international airport. People are, truly, ‘Happy Enough.’

Hanoi is relaxing in the din. It feels like a place I’ve always been looking for, especially since falling in love with the loud and ancient feeling of Napoli more than eight years ago. A real city. Hanoi is not as old as Napoli, but it feels like the city will be much the same in 100, or even 1000 years. The thread of humanity living in citites, holding on and making do and keeping going, not giving up but not getting all big in the head about how awesome everything is and is going to be. That was a crazy, disorganised thought. But that’s how Hanoi is.

May it always be so.

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