Moving to Hanoi is not something that idlers and the idyllically inclined should do. The city breathes fumes – the thick paste-grey in the sky owes to the never ending rush of scooters that race around the warren-like streets… and is matched only by the billowing wafts of steam and woodsmoke that puff out from every street corner, advertising the specialty of each vendor as you walk past. The drab parts I understand, for the city itself is over 1000 years old, and you have to admire a place where the roofs are thatched with whatever seems waterproof, and the closer to the dirt you have to sit to eat, the more likely it is to be symphonic with deliciousness.
Everything that isn’t grey is the colour of perfumed gems. As prevalent as the old here is the new – and I don’t just mean the slow (thankfully slow) influx of accurately gelled hairstyles and KFC and smart phones. The new is the plastic bags here that are always in festive shades of blue and pink and yellow. It’s the sundresses that line so many alleys, the stacks of saffron money burned brightly for the dead, the mossy green shine of the sticky sweet rice cakes, and the candy-land array of soft fruits and jellies that are served over ice and a pour of coconut cream . It’s the coral-silver of the live fish that thrash in the deep basins at the wet markets. It’s the strata of sharply defined bubbles that lines the most perfect cup of coffee you’ve ever had (sold everywhere, for about 75 c), crisp with ice, better even than chocolate. The electric sparks of the lanterns the children carry during festivals, and the flash of their chopsticks as they crouch in the morning before school eating noodles in the brilliant starched white of their uniforms. It’s every blushing piece of fruit that’s piled like a painting in the baskets of the hat-ladies, almost too beautiful to eat or even haggle for, despite finally getting the hang of how to do that (don’t offer more than 50% of their first offer to start with, and don’t settle for less than 75%, unless it seems like a good price to begin with. In a way I never mind paying a bit of extra Tay tax, ie: foreigner tax, if it’s for farmers and vendors. They’re doing a good thing). It’s so many things.
Three weeks have gone by since I’ve posted, and uncountable things have happened in that time. It would be impossible to find a way to explain them all, or even to start at the beginning, so I’ll do the only logical thing and just start somewhere. Here. We’re starting here.
It hasn’t always been easy. I’ll spare you the drudgery of the details, the real-life stresses, the language barrier and all the sometimes unnerving tasks that need to be finished before a place halfway round the earth becomes in any way, Home. The internet arrived at our apartment only a few days ago.
Sometimes, I look out on the city and I’m overwhelmed by it all. The roofs go on forever and the traffic never stops it’s breakneck pace. The sky is usually starless and my cats are far away. But – today is the first day of the beginning. I finished my ESL training course this weekend and I’ve sent my first CVs out, plastered nicely with an agreeable picture of me looking quite teacher-like. And there are still so many things to do, people to meet and Vietnamese to learn in order to peel away the next layer of this place. (I can peel a green tangerine, and the fruit ladies can peel a pineapple like a cubist master… but there’s more to a city than just it’s food. Even this one, where the daily meal is the untranslatable lifeblood of it’s people). I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t had time to start, but I’m still here looking out over the rooftops, and finally I’ve got time to not just look, but dream.
From Hanoi, from a top floor tiny penthouse apartment in the heart of it,