Saturday, February 26, 2011

City Snapshot: Hanoi

A street in Hanoi (Mã Mây, maybe?)

On February 10th Matt and I departed for our first visit to Vietnam, and my first trip outside of North America. En route, we met up with Matt's dad and his dad's wife, who you could call our hosts since they planned the trip. We all arrived late on the night of the 11th and were welcomed with the sight of an overburdened motorbike on the dark road into Hanoi, a perfect way to begin our two week adventure.

We stayed near the Old Quarter, a place with such hustle and bustle that it's impossible to really describe with words since everything is a flurry of color and sound and smell. The picture above is deceptively calm, but you can catch a glimpse of the uneven sidewalks crowded with motorbikes, the narrow buildings leaning up against each other, the wires in strange and hazardous clusters, mingling with the paper banners strung across the street (leftover froTết, perhaps?), and the ever present fluttering flag of Vietnam.

What the photo doesn't show are the street vendors selling produce, meat, clothes, flowers, paper, shoes, food, and just about anything else you can think of on the sidewalks. Sometimes they are store fronts or restaurants that spill out onto the sidewalk with merchandise or, in the case of restaurants, with stools, tables, and usually the kitchen. Sometimes the sidewalk is the entirety of shop, with the shopkeeper squatting next to his or her merchandise, which has been laid out on the sidewalk, right next to the gutter. Sometimes the shops are mobile, carried on a bicycle or a bamboo pole over the shoulders of a woman in the quintessential conical farmer hat.

What the photo can't show is the ever-present cacophony of honking cars and motorbikes. It can't show the mouth-watering smell of noodle soups and grilled meat, or how that smell unfortunately mingles with the odor of sewage. It can't show the subtle taste of the clear broth of phở for breakfast or of the cold lagers (Bia Hơi--fresh beer) you can find at beer corner.

But until we get smell-o-vision and taste-tv, you'll have to settle with this photo and these words, which together serve as a snapshot of my impression of Hanoi.

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