|Today it's Tuesday, March 13. We flew out of JFK at 9 pm March 9, landed in Qatar on March 10, and 2 hours or so later, flew to Hanoi, where we landed early in the morning on March 11. I write this out in detail because it's impossible to believe. We've seen so much and done so much in a place so different and so familiar that I can hardly begin to describe or react to anything.
At the beginning, then. What do I mean by different and familiar? Certainly the language people speak, the sound and the rhythm of it, is new. Hanoi was a mixture of old and new but some buildings that looked old were fairly new – I had no context to judge by. There were new buildings in typical urban commercial styles, there were new buildings with balconies and colors and carvings that were just different than anywhere else I've been, but they also sagged a bit and looked dusty or dithered with gray. I only know they were new because our guide, Ha, told us so. We have not been without a guide since we exited through Customs at the airport. We walked through back alleys in Fez and drove on the wrong side of narrow highways in South Africa with no guide but I don't think we could have found our way out of the airport here without help. And I'm not sure why.
People are friendly when you have contact with them. In Hanoi, like any city, people were most often intent on their own business, their own path. But in traffic, this was raised exponentially to a unique kind of gladiator driving. Motorbikes are everywhere. Imagine a beehive where every bee is mounted on a two-wheeled vehicle and each one of them is headed in a different direction through the same space. Imagine a Manhattan in which half the pedestrians, half the bicyclists, and half the drivers were mounted instead on motorbikes, and they all drove them like cab drivers, on the streets and sidewalks and through the buildings. And in Hanoi, the cars are driven the same way. At an intersection, the driver without fear acts as if they have the right of way and challenges everyone else to disagree. And with short quick beeps of their horn, they do. Just keep moving, straight ahead or looping around, working the gas, the brake, and the horn all at once. In some way, I haven't quite recovered. Not that I was afraid. Traffic operated by its own logic. But I felt like I was being driven through a kaleidoscope. And I'm still bouncing off other brightly colored objects.
People working with tourists are extra-friendly. So much of the tourist industry is new, and seems to be booming. Our room in Hanoi was quite comfortable but smallish, but the front desk and lobby were teeming with staff, three black-suited men and women always at the front desk, waiting to answer a question, at least five men in long Asian buttoned brocaded robes, waiting to carry something or open a door or get what you needed. All with gracious politeness and smiles and passable English. We walked through the Old Quarter, and we walked to the Temple of Literature, and we had lunch in a local storefront serving - which i'll get back to in my next attempt.