The Streets of Hanoi
I sit in a teaming mass of hectic, seemingly disorganised humanity all vying for space, all trying to eek out a living and exist in a labyrinthine web of narrow streets criss-crossing in a bewildering maze that never fails to draw me in, hypnotise me with its limitless fascinations, and leave me lost with no idea of a way back home. An old lady stooped of back and wrinkled of face hobbles past shouldering a bag barely any smaller than she. Her quarry of discarded cardboard boxes weighs her down as she weaves through the melee en-route to a trader who, in exchange for her day’s toil will pay her enough for a little food. She steps into the road in front of me and is narrowly missed by a Range Rover. The Range Rover seems twice the size of any Range Rover I have seen before as it dwarfs these narrow streets and the swarm of bicycles and motor scooters that make up the mass of the cities transport. A white Bentley coupe passes by blocking my view of a child hawking gum and pencils from a tray hanging from her neck. A middle aged woman wears a weary face telling of too many sleepless nights as she weaves her way through the shin high stools supporting men drinking beer on the pavement. As I sit consumed by the spectacle of life being played out on one of the world’s most fascinating stages a familiar face fills my field of vision; “I knew I would find you here you old friend of my grandfather”. I burst out laughing, my old chum Phong has tracked me down. “Come on, down your beer, we have to go shopping”. He throws me a plastic helmet and I clamber onto the pillion of his Honda. “Did you forget” he shouts as we weave throughout a mass of motorcycles pedestrians and bicycles “it is my son’s birthday today”. We pull up outside a small shop and a man plonks a child’s bicycle onto my lap, “for my daughter” laughs Phong as I try to position the peddles so they don’t leave too many bruises on my chest and his back. As I wonder how we manage to make a safe passage through so much disorganised traffic without collision we hit the numberplate of the machine in front of us. The rider looks back and as Vespa collides with the little bicycle on my lap. The pink basket falls from the bicycle, we, that is the seven of us on the three motor scooters, all look at each other, smile, and continue. We pass by rows of cafés lit with pink neon, pretty girls sit outside selling themselves for an hour, or a night. We peel right down a street lined with wicker baskets containing chickens. Phong pulls over and after several moments inspecting the contents of one of the baskets he selects a large cockerel; “tonight we eat boiled chicken to celebrate my son’s birthday”. It takes seven minutes to slaughter, pluck, and prepare the rooster for the cooking pot, one cannot complain that it is not fresh. And so passed my first evening back in Hanoi, a city that truly never sleeps.