Crossing the street in Hanoi is a gamble. Lights have no meaning and motorcycles zoom an inch from your nose as you try to make sense of who has priority. Everyone is the answer. Such vibrant city with people shouting, honking motorbikes, plates from the street food clanking. It is 9 pm and I am enjoying a beer at a corner bar with my wife and take all of this in. I say bar but in reality it is a corner shop with a few low stools for chairs and barrels for tables. The beer is fetched from a cooler with ice of course. Fridges are a luxury here. Nevertheless, I am feeling relaxed. Smiles for everyone indeed.
The picture within the pictureSometimes you are there at the perfect moment with the perfect light and you know it. Your hands are sweaty trying to capture it without messing the composition or exposure. What a thrill. This was shot in Hanoi on a lazy afternoon next to the Hoan Kiem lake. My tummy is full after eating a bowl of proper pho at another shop down the street that looks very popular. They prepare these in big vats and serve them extra hot. We sat at a communal table and within minutes Vietnamese people were chatting with us and sharing some of the cheap vodka. Downing it quickly the alcohol melted the ice and we exchanged cultural information for a few hours before thanking them and waiving goodbye.
Hotels can be luxurious in a city were space is a premium. Our room while not very large was extremely well cared for. The staff extremely helpful and resourceful and getting pho with lots of chilly for breakfast quickly became my thing. We thought that doing something new would fill up the time nicely so we enrolled for a 2 hour language lesson as well as a walking culinary tour.The railway of truthThe city of Hanoi is crammed with people and like any major city slums are present if you look hard enough. In alleys from the main roads in between shops it is more difficult, but sometimes it is obvious just looking down the tracks.
A smartly dressed Vietnamese named Hahn picked us up from the hotel and took us to their headquarter offices. With an alleyway entrance under some stairs I started thinking sinister thoughts but we soon met the head of the company and together with Hahn they gave us our language lesson. Little did I know that these phrases would come in handy at the time. The 2 hours went by very enjoyably. They first offered me some rice wine straight from a big urn, homemade I might add, and I took a sip to not offend them although the taste left much to be desired. They then started teaching us some phrases and I was surprised to receive a few photocopies of a book that was a teaching aid for foreigners. My pronunciation was comical apparently, while my wife excelled quickly. Numbers and phrases memorised we made our way to out culinary experience.
TreehouseI like looking up sometimes when I am in the city. What suprised me in Hanoi was how people worked with the environment sometimes. This is a classic case. The tree is part of the city now. The colours in this picture are prevalent throught the city of Hanoi. Streets of Hanoi take another meaning when you have a guide. I would always recommend getting a local guide whenever you are in a new country. He/She will help you learn the ropes, the phrases and the customs of how to talk and behave with locals. Hahn showed us everything. He took us through the streets and also though the alleys. How crammed living is only get apparent once you are off the main road. Eye opening as well. Colours are everywhere and trees sprout out of buildings giving a sense of man and nature being closer together. Our guide showed us proper street food, from betel leaf all the way to seaworm burgers which were delicious and I would have anytime again. He also gave us a tour of the local market were frogs and eels were for consumption and birds for companionship. When I asked Hahn why everyone has a bird in the city he replied:"There is no room for animals so people keep birds". I saw this in China too were the urban surroundings forced people to keep only birds for pets and like good pet owners would bring them to the park to enjoy each others company.Work is GloryThe deep influences of the communist party can be found everywhere in Hanoi like in this restaurant. Modernisation and western influences can not be avoided but the city knows who it is in its heart.
Of course I tried dog... I won't do so again though. When I was a kid we used to joke about bad meat at a restaurant coming from a dog or cat. I don't think you can mistake the taste of dog meat. It so unique I can never use that joke again.
Hanoi is a wonderful place. Full of smells, sounds and with people not caring if you are a foreigner. Hahn's language lessons came in handy. Numbers were useful for negotiations and simple phrases put a smile on peoples faces making it easy for them to start conversations. Simple little things like that improved my experience of the country and left a better impression. Don't try the dog though...