Today was a big day. Starting with breakfast, a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s mosoleum and living area, the Hanoi Hilton prison where John McCain was notably held, the Confucian literary temple, an interview with a prolific North Vietnamese veteran and author, and an exploration in a night market spent eating greasy donuts and haggling for ludicrously cheap wares. I’d love to write about each of these in more depth, but for now, I’d like to share a more overarching reflection.
Hanoi is truly magical. It seems that the city possesses a liveliness greater than the sum of its parts. That was evident to me walking through today. The traffic is truly like nothing I’ve ever seen. Cyclists, pedestrians, motorbikes, and cars surge onto the road, operating on a vague level of teamwork and respect. There are no traffic laws,no speed limit, no crosswalks, and few lights. And yet everything seems to mesh together into one cohesive unit, the blood in a circulatory system that moves the people and the goods throughout the body. The streets are filled with life. Throngs of people moving about their daily lives. Sitting on scooters, smoking, conversing, making and eating food, waving. The sounds and smells are immense. I feel like I am in a place that is unfiltered and authentic. This city does not have anything to prove to anybody. The result is spectacular. Cigarette smoke, food aromas, and engine exhaust mix to form into something truly unique, the essence of Hanoi. The air is abuzz with laughter, discussion, foot movement, the varying sounds of scooters whizzing by, and invariably, the horns of motorists. Hanoi is alive. I am alive.
I feel alive in this place. Darting across the street is an endeavor in and of itself. Check both ways takes on a new meaning as you scan both directions for mostly scooters coming from all sides and at all speeds towards you. Then there is the odd car, pushing everything in its path out of the way. The crossing pedestrian must be aware of these hurtling metal machines. And yet, there is a sense of vigor to it. In the US we wait for the LED man to come on to tell us we can walk between painted lines towards the other side. Here, your life is in your own hands. The sentiment is the same in the night market. Wading through masses of people, competing voices break the auditory haze. There is no order, or at least that is not how it appears. The citizens mix on the streets, dodging trash piles and discarded food. Somehow, the experience is not cheapened by this. It is the stark difference from the U.S. that makes Hanoi so magical. Finally I go to bed thinking what tomorrow will bring, what I can ponder, learn, and realize about the benefits of the unfamiliar. All in the streets of Hanoi. Of course, some favorite pictures from the day below.