Wednesday 14 January 2015

Days 232-4: Hanoi - But where are all the motorbikes?

The mausoleum containing the embalmed
remains of Ho-Chi Minh
Hanoi has rules:

1) Pavements are not for walking on.  (Surely you didn't expect them to be?  What a strange idea!)  They are for parking motorbikes on.  Also for cooking meals on.  Mending motorbikes on.  Soldering on.  Setting up street cafes on.  Child-sized white plastic chairs spread into the road each evening, where slender Vietnamese girls eat coconut ice cream while a few less-than-slender Americans overhang the seating and send it groaning to the rubbish tip.  Pho noodles for sale; pho noodles for sale.  Next door, a souvenir shop sells 'iPho, made in Vietnam' t-shirts.  Apple, get outta here; we're socialists ... and we've got every Smartphone on the free market to boot.  But don't walk on the pavement, OK?  You can step into the traffic if you want to pass by.  We have motorbikes to park and noodles to serve and more more more motorbikes.

2) Don't wait for the traffic to stop before crossing the road.  Of course, you can wait if you like.  Meanwhile, New Year will flame and crackle, then the next one, then the next millennium.  The East African Rift Valley will open into an ocean; the earth will gain three degrees, maybe more.  The era of nation states will wane and wax and wane again.  Christ might consider his second coming.  And still you will be standing beside the road, watching the air blacken with motorbikes.  So why not take a deep breath and step into the metallic barrage, hoping it will spit you out safely on the other side of the road?  Go on.  It's the only way.

Wise tortoises at the temple of literature.
I wonder if they have heard of the teacher
called "Tortoise" from Alice in Wonderland?
Hanoi also has its share of stories:

We started our visit at the Nang Tam vegetarian restaurant which derives its name from a Cinderella tale of sorts.  In this version, Tam / Cinderella not only has to lose a glass slipper but also turn into a peach tree and, after it has burnt down, into a fruit from the Cay Thi tree to be reunited with her prince.  Hooray for the prince who can recognise his girl in a piece of fruit (yet surely this counts as obsessive behaviour?)!  And hooray for a restaurant that puts pineapple in the soup.  Why have I never come across this before?

But the city's main story wallows in the lake at the centre of the old town, where a turtle once surfaced to give a mighty sword to the founder of the Le dynasty and, later, reclaim it.  Was this a blessing from the turtle kingdom on Vietnamese independence from the Chinese?  By comparison, George's mythical dragon doesn't quite cut it.

And then there are the sights:

We visited the temple of literature where Hanoi students were celebrating their graduation.  Guy quickly turned photographer for those posing in front of the flowers and the turtle statues.  (Turtles can be intellectuals as well as warriors, it seems.)

Next up, the Presidential Palace beckoned, complete with Ho Chi Minh's cottage in the grounds, showing that he was a man of the people and lived in an ordinary house like the masses.  A perfect piece of PR.  I didn't notice a kitchen in his house though.  Did he have his noodles brought across from the palace kitchens?

Then it was time to stroll past the French opera house and eat our final bowl of noodles on the balcony of a cafe overlooking the street.  We ate coconut ice cream on the pavement (blocking the way of pedestrians, of course) while hopefully not quite crushing the white plastic kindergarten chairs (or are we fatter than we think?).  One final road crossing; will we survive?  Phew, that motorbike swerved at the last moment.  Yes, yes, we're still alive.  It's time to board the train to Sapa ...

Dragon statute at the temple of literature
Graduating students
Cranes standing on tortoises!
Offerings at ToL
Rub the statue for luck?
Proud graduates
The presidential palace in Hanoi
Ho Chi Minh's study in his modest house in the grounds of the presidential
palace. Note Lenin and Marx photos!
The "house on stilts" where Uncle Ho lived for a while in the palace grounds
Door to door sales: Hanoi style
The remains of a crashed American B52 in one of the cities ponds.
Door-to-door sales? More like bike-to-bike sales in Vietnam!
Dinner time!

1 comment:

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