Hanoi's deceptive streetscape


Walking in Hanoi can be an "assault on the senses" (a phrase I ran into somewhere recently). The sounds, smells, motion, and masses can be overwhelming, making it difficult to focus on any one thing. One feels as if one must keep moving, swept along by the flow of it all, but moving in a blur. As a result, we've found that we must walk the same street several times, at different times of day, to really begin to see what is there.

Just this morning, TM and I went out in search of a bit more breakfast. The few yogurts and the loaf of french bread that we had in the kitchenette here had not gone far enough. I knew that there was a fruit stand next to the Somerset driveway, and a bakery across the street, so we headed first to the bakery. Form some reason, though, the door was locked. So I decided to head up the short street that runs right into the Somerset driveway, at a right angle to Thuy Khue. This street connects the another long street that parallels Thuy Khue (Phan Ding Phun, I think). We'd walked this short street a couple of times, seeing some small shops, including a couple of places that sell baby formula, and so I figured we might find somewhere else selling bread, at least. Lo and behold, there on the east side of the street was a large-ish market, jammed with little booths of meat, rice, noodles, fish, and all sorts of produce. In fact, there were two floors above of housewares and clothes. We had never spotted it before, because, I think, it's only open and busy in the morning, and we'd walked that stretch at noon or later on other days. Later in the day, it has the look of a semi-abandoned, semi-completed building. (There are many buildings in hanoi that look that way to me. They seem to be either under construction or in decay... or both... until you look more closely and see that they are actively in use.)

This market is clearly not a tourist destination, and TM and I attracted a bit of attention. We first wandered upstairs and walked around the housewares stalls. We bought a plastic potty bucket (with a lid!) for K to try using. (Go back to the posts of our previous trip here in July 2006 for discussion of the small children scooting around in the potty buckets.) Then we wandered down to the ground level, and browsed among the pigs feet, organs, hunks of raw meat, fish (live and dead), crabs, etc. Eventually we bought some eggs, pineapple, bread, and bananas. By the time we headed back, the bakery was open again, but we had our hands full and so we skipped it. Maybe another time.

Tomorrow we take the Somerset shopping shuttle to the Unimart for a more modern shopping experience.

M discussed the Ha Long Bay trip briefly in her previous post. It was a lot of bus travel for a little bit of boat ride, but the scenery is stunning (even on a hazy day). I can definitely see taking a multi-day trip that included kayaking... but not with very small new family members.

We're behind posting our pictures, but it's not for lack of photography. M and B have taken their role as National Geographic trainees very seriously, taking pictures at every turn. But uploading them takes a while, and it's time-consuming to sort through the hundreds of pictures on at least two cameras. Not to mention the batteries....

Today was spent walking around the east end of West Lake. A fairly quiet neighborhood walk, with ample opportunity to ponder the water quality. We've seen people fishing in West Lake, both with poles and with nets (either in boats or submerged to their chests)... but I'd be nervous about eating fish caught in that water. (Of course, that may be just what I was eating at the cha ca restaurant the other night.)

K has advanced over the last few days from behaving like a one-year-old to behaving like an eighteen-month-old. He is much more squawky and much less willing to have things done for him. We're trying to teach him not to screech whenever he wants something... by teaching him to sign "please" before we give him whatever it is he is screeching for. So far, not much success. He may think he has a strong will, but he will find that he has met his match in E. Her legendary stubborn-streak will prevail, I feel sure... but how quickly? And what does this all mean for the long plane flight home?

He's also suddenly become a bit more avoidant with E, especially when it is time for the evening pre-bedtime bottle. He will reject the bottle, rather than have her feed him and hold him close. And he seems determined to avoid eye contact with her. B remains one of his favorites... but then B has a whole pack of little boys at home who think he is the coolest thing since Spiderman.

TM remains a bit confused about whether we are still in Vietnam. This evening, he was trying to explain that we are in Hanoi, but not in Vietnam. Then, when we explained the whole city-country relationship, he wanted to know whether Hanoi was bigger than Vietnam. He is also very quick to correct us when we say that we are "going home" when we are just returning to the hotel. It is important to him to remind us that Vietnam is not home. He has been putting up with many people wanting to speak to him and touch him. He obviously doesn't care for it, but he puts up with it. Before lunch today, we visited the pagoda that is built on a small island in West Lake. E had K and as we walked around, she found herself surrounded by a group of ladies, mostly older, who good-naturedly scolded her for not having a hat on K. And then they wanted to know if E was K's mother. (They didn't speak English, but E caught the word for mother and context helped her figure out the questions.) When she said yes, one of the women held E's arm next to K's, pointing back and forth from one to the other, and then pointed from E's hair to K's... laughing at the ridiculousness of this pale blond woman being mother to the little, dark-haired Vietnamese boy. By the time I wandered over with TM, they were pointing to and touching the scar on K's lip where his cleft was repaired, and they were obviously discussing that. A few moments later, a monk ushered us out, a bit sternly. At first, I thought that E and K had stirred up too much of a commotion for the temple grounds... but then it seemed as though visiting time was over and everyone was leaving.


StaceynCorey said…
Wow, sounds like you guys are getting out and about around the Westlake much more than we did. It's so nice to get out and see some areas out of the tourist areas.

Some of those encounters with locals can be a bit unnerving when they poke and prod. Some of the questions are a lot more personal than the typical American would ask but we had to remind ourselves that it's just a different culture. Sounds like TM has been a great sport!

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