Monday, August 15, 2011

The Hustle and Bustle of Hanoi (and all the Charm in Between)

This is what I will always picture when I think of Hanoi. It was our first stop in Vietnam and I will admit, coming from Laos, we were a little culture shocked when we first arrived. Motorbikes whizzed by our faces and incessant honking filled the air. Fortunately, it didn't take long for us to adjust and before the sun set, we were enjoying noodle soup and a cold beer curbside in the Old Quarter. But to say Hanoi is fast paced is an understatement, culture shocked or not. It is the type of place you would believe the tazmanian devil is from, that is, if the tazmanian devil rode a motorbike.

We were flabbergasted by the number of motorbikes we saw and how they navigated intersections with ease and without road rage. Crossing the street became the first (and most) important skill to learn. The secret was to KEEP walking and let the bikes do the work, as hard as it may be. In fact, it's easy to see how the whole city of Hanoi is the type of place that can pass you by in a blur if you let it, but it's also easy to see it's charm if you're open to it. On our first night there we went down to beer corner for a sidewalk beer and some traffic watching. Mid sip, I noticed something missing. It was my flip flop. When I looked down I realized my flip flop was not only in the hands of a Vietnamese man, but it was already almost fully mended with a new sole glued to the bottom. Believe me, my $2 Old Navy flip flops did not need mending. Without hesitating, I grabbed it out of his hands and ripped off the rubber he had already adhered to the bottom. With hand gestures and smiles he tried to convince me my flip flops were worth fixing, but I kindly declined. Then, together, we chuckled genuinely and he went on his way. Many may find this annoying or even aggressive, but I chose to find it charming, and the charm of Hanoi is everywhere if you know where to look... It's in all the women who cook noodle soup on the side of the road. (I swear, they would feed you forever if you let them. One woman even fed Andy herbal tea upon hearing him sniffle). It's in the little plastic stools we sat in each night (even though we broke two of them). It's in the polite manner in which drivers honk (yes, honking here is polite) and it's in all the haggling games the people play. And boy do they play a lot of games...

Another game! Standing on a street corner one moment, wearing this the next. Literally, in an instant, this woman dressed Andy up in her getup and then tried to get us to buy some fruit. Lucky for her we were hungry. Lucky for me, Andy haggled the whole time forgetting he was still wearing her hat. This was the perfect game for picture taking.

Location:Hanoi, Vietnam

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