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Đi bằng xe máy

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Driving past the water park on the shore of West Lake, Zack commented on how unsafe the Ferris wheel looked – “I would NEVER get on that thing” he said, a comment I found ironic as he swerved to miss on oncoming car, narrowly avoiding the scooter passing on our right. We were taking a quiet and relaxing Sunday afternoon spin around the lake on our new scooter; anyone with any inckling of what Hanoi traffic is like will understand that this drive was is neither quiet, nor relaxing… but it was a lot of fun. We are now the proud owners – actually hirers – of a white Sym scooter that we have affectionately named Mantle, which is obviously short for The Praying Mantas.

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At this point Zack is the only one of us actually driving and I am the official navigator. This works well as Zack’s pro-scootering skills do not extend to any directional memory of Hanoi’s streets and my complete lack of driving ability or awareness is increasingly apparent. Besides this leaves me free to back-seat drive, shouting in Zack’s ear whenever we are nearly smushed between two buses – just kidding dad 😉  I’m also able to watch the scenery and interact with other scooter riders at the traffic lights, I even got to pat a dog that was sleeping on the lap of a neighbouring driver.

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A few weeks ago The Satorialist posted a blog entitled “If you’re thinking about… scooters” Well as it turns out… I am (well at least posing with it):

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Cuộc sống buổi sáng trên đường phố

Below our apartment

Below our apartment

Another morning and I wake around 6:30am. I walk to the front of our apartment where I slide open the glass doors and let the morning noise, heat and smell flow into the room. As Zack heads out the front door I brew a fresh pot of tea and sit on our small balcony to observe the early morning rush of life on Tran Phu street below. Earlier last month, when we were still suffering jet lag, I would stare out our window at 5:30am, watching the hundreds of early risers beginning their day. Even now, I am amazed when the street is busy at 7am on a Sunday. At a time when the majority of Washingtonians or Melburnians would still be sounds asleep, Hanoians seem ready and raring (literally in the case of the scooters) to go. I recently came across an old blog entitled The City That Never Sleeps In, a title which seems only fitting for the city the author was writing about.

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Perhaps it is because we have only been here a month and have not yet tired of the incessant honking, yelling and air pollution, but I enjoy our balcony and the sights and sounds it affords me. Every morning I see an old man, crippled with old age, slowly making his way. To where? I have no idea. He is accompanied by a young women, perhaps his granddaughter, who walks patiently beside him, a cloth mask protecting her mouth a nose from the car fumes. People ride past carrying an array of different materials; baskets of flowers on the backs of push bikes, some so large they threaten to conceal the rider;  loads of pineapples that look so heavy I don’t know how the old women manage; even the occasional piece of miscellaneous building material stretching five times the length of the bike.

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This morning I read a great blog post from a fellow Tran Phu admirer (the street rather than the person) that shares a bit of history and many more great photos. After spending the first part of my morning observing, I descend down to street level and become a participator rather than a spectator… although not a scooter… chưa (not yet!).

on the open shaded road... the quieter end of the street

on the open shaded road… the quieter end of the street

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Night Life

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Our street, one of the quiet ones around

 

Last week we went to a bar about a 10 minute walk from our house. We had been invited by one of Zack’s colleagues and I forewent my usual hanoian bedtime of 9pm (as dictated by my confused body which can’t decide if I’m in Melbourne, Washington, Seoul or Hanoi) and ventured outside after dark. The bar was great, set along a “quiet” shady street, the three floors of the old ramshackle french building were connected by steep, slippery concrete stairs that must have seen some nasty slides. Decor ranged from old posters and faded fabrics to bottles hanging from the ceiling and shisha pipes on the tables. We sat on the roof where the balmy weather made us thankful to be done with winter for a while. The evening smells were wonderful. A humid combination of fading food and incense with an underlying odor of car fuel, sweating rubbish and the occasional whiff from an open toilet door. This mixture, a scent that I am inept to describe, seems to prosper in the dark. We were there in an effort to meet new people and that we did but for me, the best part of any outing has been the journey to and from the location.

As I’m sure many of you have either heard or experienced, traffic in Hanoi really is terrifying. I do have a memory of bad traffic but in the 10 years since my visit I assumed it couldn’t be as I remembered… this was a correct assumption…. it’s not like I remembered… it’s definitely worse.  Stepping into oncoming traffic is not an action I take lightly and at nighttime, when all that is visible are a series of blinding lights racing towards me, my hesitancy is strengthened by my natural instinct not to die. As my mind and body have a standoff as to when is the best time to venture out I begin to consider the benefits of waiting on the sidewalk until daybreak so I can avoid crossing the road in the dark. Needless to say we did make it home and once safely on the other side the road never seemed that bad. My current tactic is to look both ways before I step out and then keep my head down until I reach the sidewalk. It turns out the worst part of our walk home (yes it was only 10 minutes) was an awkward encounter with a small possum sized dog. After sizing us up for 30 seconds, this possum-dog decided that we were bad news and commenced barking so hard it could barely keep all paws on the ground. After a moment of stunned silence there seemed nothing else to do but yell loudly, startling the man near by, and run down the street… screams evolving into nervous giggles once we reached the corner. So… all up a nice evening in Hanoi.

Hẹn gặp lại!