Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Spirit of Hanoi

Whether it is blossom time or not
Jasmine is always jasmine
Elegant or not
One is nevertheless a citizen of the capital

Nguyen Cong Tru (1778-1858)

The French could not subjugate the Vietnamese spirit of independence, but their influence is visible in the fading colonial facades of the once brightly colored buildings, weathered by war and old age, looking all the lovlier for the wear. The smell of freshly baked baguettes drifts in the bustling streets as the sun begins to stir the citizens of the capitol. Old friends meet at the Hoan Kiem Lake, the heart of the city, to talk and reminisce about times gone by, as the silohuette of their berets show against the sunlit surface the lake's perennially green waters. Badminton nets spring up on every empty corner, and around the lake gangs of Hanoi's old generation gracefully practice their Tai Chi, their arms slowly rising and falling, as if floating on water, or caught in a dream.

Scarlet banners hung across the streets shout "Long live the Communist Party of Vietnam!"

Its been a week since i returned from Vietnam, but the smell of pho and baguettes still lingers in my nose. I remember staggering down the sidewalks of the Old Quarter, crowded with tiny pho 'shops', low tables covered with fresh vegetables, clams, and meat surrounding a steaming pot of broth and rice noodles. Foot stool chairs strewn across the cement footpath were buried beneath traditional straw hats, baseball caps, and hungry citizens enjoying their morning meals. Women selling the famous french baguettes stopped me every couple steps, .15 cents a roll.

Men and women sipped Vietnamese tea, while others waited for their dripping coffee to slowly fill their thirsty cups. I weaved my way through them all, past curious children squatting on door steps, smiling and sometimes saying hello. I tip-toed around women filling the baskets that would later hang from the shoulder-slung bamboo sticks as they wandered the streets selling all kinds of edible deliciousness.

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Its been a week since my ears rang with the sound of motorbikes beeping their horns incessently, seemingly in beats of threes, as their engines gently hummed along with the city's song. At every corner the men of this mad orchestra leaned against their heavy metal instuments, arms folded calmly, waiting for a chance conductor to bid them play. "Madame, motorbike? Cyclo?" Motos flowed thru the streets, and sometimes up, over the sidewalks, the blood of the city fighting to flow through its conjested veins.

My very first cyclo ride back in Chau Doc, at the end of my Cambodia trip. Cyclos hold a special place in my heart, not only because of the amazing experience of driving though the streets of the tiny, rarely visited town, but also because my cyclo 'driver' was the first Vietnamese man to propose to me :)

Its been a week since I risked my life to cross those narrow streets that seemed to grow as wide as the Red River as I slowly stepped across, bikes flowing around me like a stream wrapping itself around an island.

Its been a week, but the song of that sleepless city still sounds in my ears, as fresh as the morning baguettes and as sweet as the freshly sqeezed fruit juice sold on every old quarter corner. Its been a week, but I can still feel the embrace of Hanoi in all my senses, even in my dreams.


Anonymous said...

Reading that post...made me want to want to go back...I always want to go back but reading that and seeing the pictures made yearn for the traffic and the sounds of the streets...and of course the smells of the markets.

When I first went to Hoi An we met the bst cyclo driver ever...he was so proud to have aussies and he loved his number...007, sadly he passed away last year but he was one of the best cyclo drivers ever...
Its good you enjoyed yourself there..

Anonymous said...

I forgot to say that last year when I went I was very lucky to be a part of the celebration of the 30 year Anniversary of the war ending. It was interesting to see...

I know I have already said this but you must see more of the country...

Inge said...

Hello Melissa, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I think your photos do the beauty of Vietnam justice, and they definitely make me nostalgic... Hanoi was one of my favorite places in the country, I was ready to move there after 2 days! But let's give Japan some more time first, it might start to feel neglected ;-). (PS: we travelled to Mai Chau with Handspan, a Vietnamese organisation)

Mom said...

Love your journal and Vietnamese pictures. You look beautiful. Miss You.

Joel Alfaro said...

you said yes right!?


Loved this entry as well.