Meeting Hanoi Head-on
Going to Hanoi was like plunging into a river of irritants. The traffic was impossible, the kind of impossible that makes you say why bother. Hanoi is a sea of humanity that makes Delhi look tame. At least in Delhi, there is sense in the madness. Hanoi is a river of impossible, a winding stream of endless humanity going absolutely nowhere. A bottomless pit flowing from one meaningless place to the next. It made me realize that I do not want to be going nowhere when I could be here inside of me.
There were lovely elements to it, too. We hopped onto a cyclo with a one-armed guide named Hue who found us sitting on the steps outside of the Ho Chi Minh Museum looking like the tired tourists we were. We told him where we wanted to go, even though he wanted us to spend unwarranted hours in museums to drag out the tour. We just wanted to see the city without being responsible for dodging its obstacles. Sidewalks are cluttered with parked and moving motorbikes and people squatting on six-inch-high plastic stools sipping thick sweet coffee or eating Vietnamese fare.
The cyclo tour was almost the highlight of my trip. The weather was cool, and I could watch the city pass me by without investing in it. We saw the tattered and torn B52 that the Vietnamese had so proudly shot down. We saw a piece of a bomber lodged in a polluted pond memorializing our defeat. We pedaled by places and motioned Hue to keep going because we really didn’t care about them. We were there for the ride, for the color, for the women pushing bicycles loaded six feet high and six feet wide with cheap ceramic ware, the men in synthetic Santa suits and bobbing Christmas balloons in front of stores. We were a part of the bustle now, part of the river stream that flowed smoothly around us without hesitation.
We hopped onto a cyclo with a one-armed guide named Hue who found us sitting on the steps outside of the Ho Chi Minh Museum looking like the tired tourists we were.
The ride ended with a retreat to a café that slowly filled with people as the afternoon came to an end. We were above the din of the city, at peace on a rooftop that hovers over Hoan Kiem Lake. Where young people smoke dope because who is going to tell them not to? Where egg coffee tastes so sweet that it doesn’t taste like Vietnam, but it is. This is Vietnam with its nooks and crannies that take days to find. Like the quiet restaurant called Dragonfly, on a side street that I wandered down to prove that peace lay hiding somewhere in this mass of chaos.
We had booked two Viator tours. We had had luck with this company in Chiang Mai, Thailand, when we went on a bike and boat trip. The bike tour required traveling through Hanoi on a bicycle. This turned out to be a lot easier than walking, and riding over the motorbike-only bridge was a thrill. On the other side of the bridge, we wound our way through the suburbs and back through a banana plantation before we entered the fray of Hanoi again. The second tour we took is barely worth mentioning. A mass of tourism, a three-hour bus ride, 20 minutes on a bike ride to yet another temple with yet another woman getting dressed for yet another ritual that involved fire and multiple gods, a tour up a river in a boat paddled by a man who used his feet to propel the oars through the water. Oceans of tourists, floating along to get away from the oceans of people in Hanoi.
I feel myself tiring of cities, perhaps even of Southeast Asia. Ever since my trip to Nepal where I wandered among the mountains, which were even more spectacular than the coral reef that grabbed me in the Perhentian Islands Northeast of Peninsular Malaysia. Ever since then, the wonders of this part of the world seem pale, dirty, tired and overwrought. It makes me wonder if my walkabout might be coming to an end. Either that, or it’s time to move to another part of the world to discover other wonders and beauties that await me.