Postcard from Hanoi
Poised gracefully and confidently between the centuries old way of the past and the forward-thinking young and technology-focused generation of the present, Hanoi appears to live in the moment and is facing forward to the future. As our street food tour guide, Tu, (IG: VietnameseGod) said, "When we are having coffee with our friends, we talk about where we travel, what we are eating, and the future. The past is the past."
Life happens on the streets in Hanoi. With a population of 7.5 million and humidity in the 90’s daily, there is a lot of hustle and bustle. People, motorbikes, cars, and bikes are everywhere, going in all directions at once, honking, swerving and dodging. Traffic rules are a mere suggestion. Part death defying and part art, it is pure Hanoi!
Food happens everywhere on the streets as well. Virgin chickens are sold as sacrifices for the alter, eels, all kinds of meat, pho, spices, vegetables, and herbs are all on display. Walking through someone’s home for a good noodle or hanging out in a smokey coffee shop drinking egg coffee with the young and hip of Hanoi is a norm. And if they don’t have wifi, even in the tiniest tucked away spot in an alley, the locals won’t even bother to patron the place. As Leo, our guide for the week, says, "Ask anything, we are open." This is a reference to the recent news that the internet borders are wide open and there is free access to the world. Phones are everywhere and wifi passwords handed out with the menus. Hanoi is all about moving forward in every way.
Delicate little birds, liked for their song, hang in bamboo cages hang above doorways, women carry fruit and flowers in bamboo baskets in the market, temples, pagodas, alters and incense in every corner, generations of families live together in small vertical spaces, trash, hygiene, and laundry are all kind of a mystery, cigarettes are sold and smoked anywhere, all alongside Tuan’s son working on a computer next to the kitchen sink with an open doorway into the front room--which serves as an antique store selling old Buddhas and jade. The art and textile scenes are rising in importance, creating a small but committed artist community in Hanoi. Hanoi is truly living and thriving in that evocative and exciting space between the past and the future.
Just as a yoga pose or meditation seat has an alive and balance seeking energy of ease and strength, so does Hanoi. People have smiles on their lips and a kindness in their hearts; they also firmly know who they are, what they believe, and how they want to live. They want to please us, the tourists, but not because they want or seek our approval; rather for the simple fact that they are glad to share with us their offerings of who they are. It is so refreshing to just enjoy what they place before us, experience their culture, and be free from the game of who or what has the better whatever...truly living in the flow of moment to moment enjoyment of presence. This is the gift of Hanoi.