I went to Hanoi in April for one (1) month and ended up staying two (2). Not because I loved it that much (it was hugely interesting). But because the first month was a slap in the face. Now that I was awake, I could look at it over a second month, by which I mean properly.
I arrived in the evening, and it felt like the Asia of my dreams when I have been drinking a lot and I can hear the neighbour's music. In those dreams. That Asia.
The house was pleasant. Just below my window was a woman who made probably the best pho I have eaten yet. And all around the house, everyone was building other houses. There were already lots of houses. They seem to have replaced the military draft with a mandate to build something. There were saws and winches and hammers and, when it got serious, cranes and music.
A bit beyond that were massage parlours (the other kind) and they always thought I wanted one.
There's lots of food, and lots of cafes. A gobsmacking array of cafe varieties. The coffee was great almost always. They have coffees with an egg in them, and you have not consumed a better thing than that.
It was hard to order food because the Vietnamese language fled my brain as soon as it got close, and it also bungled the great Google Translate. I'm pretty sure "banana technology" isn't edible, nor is it technological, or real. Either way, ordering was pointing. If you lose your fingers, you go hungry.
Some restaurants looked like garages and served great food. Others looked like restaurants and served mediocre food. Others looked like garages and served... food that was not nice at all. Or maybe they were really garages, in which case it was my fault for not being as granular in my assessment of the establishment's purpose. It wasn't easy. Every building with a hole in it had a motorbike stuffed in.
It's All Normal
There was a garbage can in the middle of a crossroad, a pig on a leash, and there was a gym in a garage and it had sharp swords and spears, so that was fun.
And that kind of thing was normal. Hanoi tends to spit on good sense and yet makes it all work out in the end. For example, without fail, every time I have stood at a huge intersection with motorbikes, bikes, cars, buses and trucks hurling themselves through it at the same time, every time and without fail there is this:
a tiny grandmother walking her cart of wares diagonally straight through the middle. Like a living middle finger, she never stopped, never looked left or right. She played Russian Roulette with the carnage of steel around her and never lost.
That one will die in her sleep, if she wants.
I, on the other hand, got into two minor accidents in one morning.
I also got into a puddle deeper than my ankles when walking to bar. The puddle was a good 20 meters long, unfortunately, so I couldn't help but think of worms crawling in through my pores as I waded through.
I did have a deworming pill. You're recommended one every 6 months in Hanoi because garage food, but quite unrelated to the pill, I had explosive diarrhea one Sunday and if anything in there managed to hang on through that little extravaganza, it's welcome to stay.
A lot of foreigners get swallowed by Hanoi, coming for a month and staying a year or 10. They teach English, though some of them knew a lot less of it than I imagined. How does that work? Well...It's like those friends who insist on teaching you snowboarding when you're in your malleable 30s. They're sh*t at teaching it but look a lot more alright on the board than you do, so you go right along with it.
What's not alright is a large, floating dead catfish in the big lake in Hanoi, trapped between where it's supposed to be and where it very well cant't go. There were a lot of smaller fish doing the same, but I thought the bigger fish were supposed to set the example of proper aquarian etiquette.
It's difficult to have good etiquette in a rowdy city where sushi is sold out on the street (and it's effing good!!) and certain bars give free beer every week, for free.
Locals feel free enough to exercise in droves on the sidewalks. It's the cutest thing to watch all the zumba moms go at it in the pretty evening light.
Hanoi is pretty, and pretty dirty in some places, and pretty loud, and pretty chaotic, and pretty amazing to see and drink and eat and live. Have you been?
What do you think?