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Late night recollections of Hanoi

SINGAPORE | Sunday, 13 April 2008 | Views [636]

I should be sleeping now because I have to wake up early but my brain is still quite active. I was lying in bed just a while ago trying to let my thoughts run their course and into the darkness but instead I ended up with the urge to write. I was thinking first about my snoring, and then about how I always worry that I'll wake up my hotel roommate(s) with my snoring when I travel. Xai complained about it one night in Hanoi. Lianyi is already used to it although it wakes him up quite often. In KL, Mel said she didn't hear me snore at all, but I don't know if she was just trying to save me some embarrassment.

Then of course I thought about travelling, and the first thing I thought about travelling was Vietnam. I suddenly remembered Raphael the Australian who gave us too much to pay for his share of the cab ride, and whom we bumped into again while contemplating the strangest hot dog sandwich in the world at the pit stop between Hanoi and Hai Phong.

Then I thought about that cab ride. How we dropped Raphael off first at Hang Bac, which looked like a really happening street to be on, and then finally got off at our own street, Hang Ga, and saw it for the first time with not a little twinge of disappointment. Well, I don't know for sure about Lianyi but I was disappointed. There wasn't really a buzz, or any cool shops, just the usual loud honking and hawkers selling bamboo, household items and unappetising street food.

Hanoi was not a surprise in the way one hopes all of one's travel destinations will be. It was more of a shock. The unexpected cacophony of traffic, the nerve-wracking unfriendliness of the streets and sidewalks, especially to people  like us who wanted just to walk. The reign of motorcycles here was something I was not prepared for, nor made aware of during my research and planning of the trip. How can something called so charmingly "The Old Quarter" be like this?

Vietnam was... difficult. I don't recall the trip without fondness but much of my recollections are overwhelmed with fear and anxiety -- and I'm not even talking about the end part with the hospital. I just mean the tripping over motorcycle wheels and balancing by the side of open drains and, of course, the road crossings.

That first day that we got to Hanoi and dropped off at Hang Ga, I was so tired and scared of the Hanoi outside that I didn't really feel like leaving the room. Yet I hated the room too, and I didn't want to stay in for long. I found the dilemma so exhausting. Not that I'm used to luxury -- we stayed at similar types of lodgings in Laos and Cambodia -- but the combination of the hostile exterior and the uncomfortable shelter was enough to drive me close to homesickness. I was just grateful I had Lianyi with me, someone whose fleshy bit between the shoulder and the chest I could rest my head on to regain some sense of security.

But that's the kind of situation that brings people together. When Xai arrived the next morning and said, "I don't like this place," and when I asked him, "You mean this hostel or Hanoi?" and he said, "Hanoi," it was that kind of moment where you know you're not alone and that for the next four days or so, someone else will be cowering by the side of the road with you, refusing to cross.

Tags: hanoi, vietnam

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