I’m back at the sandwich shop that I first visited the day of my arrival in Hanoi, and I’ve just finished eating the second-worse bahn mi of my life. I suppose that’s neither here nor there though, as I didn’t open this journal to complain about a bad sandwich.
Weather is rather dreary today: cool, and raining on and off. Out on the rear patio of the cafe a soft light suffuses everything. The whitish walls of the surrounding buildings glow cool and gentle, and the wet leaves of the plants out here glisten invitingly. Yet everyone that works here looks miserable. Probably doesn’t help that there are exactly four customers, excluding myself, and more people than that on staff.
Yesterday was something else. Had a wander around this magnificent city filled with such a frenetic energy. A crazy energy! It’s amazing that anyone can find a spot of peace in the chaos, but they do, because it’s inside each and everyone one of them, thus it’s everywhere they go, rolled up a like a light jacket or a sweater, and tucked away in a backpack or beneath the seat of their scooter.
But the city! That energy I mentioned! Everything in the world happening all at the same time constantlyconstantlyconstantly! And everyone and everything packed so damn tight that we’re all on top of each other: chickens crammed in cages or strutting around the sidewalks, dogs lying on the pavement and sidewalks, scooters everywhere moving or not, all honking and the honks have different meanings from “get the hell out of my way” to “go ahead” to “I’m just behind you”—all sorts of little subtleties—and then the cars in the way slowing things up some, but really they have rank over the scooters, so if you’re on a scooter you better get out of the way, and after the cars there are the buses, particularly in the old town, and they really back everything up and cause traffic jam after traffic jam in an area that’s already enough of a cluster fuck so that one can hardly move even if he’s just walking.
Trash just seems to get tossed about anywhere, and the washing of pots, pans, bowls, cups, utensils gets taken care of on the sidewalks which is where most people eat, and you figure that soapy water goes down the gutter into a drain and out into a lake or river likely.
But there are quiet places to be found, external to one’s self. It’s just necessary to look through every doorway, every alley, and every side street.
Last night on my long meandering walk home I came upon a fellow seated on a plastic stool, as all Vietnamese sit on low plastic stools for eating or just relaxing and watching the world spin by, and so this fellow was relaxing and smoking something, something quite strong I suppose, out of a sort of bong. As I’m walking past he waves me over and pointing to the “bong” offers me a smoke. Now it’s not something I normally partake in, but I have smoked a bit of weed in my life and so I thought this might be a fascinating experience to add to my Life List of Fascinating Experiences and so I obliged him by taking a long, deep draw. A very much too deep, very much too long draw, so that I damn near fell over almost immediately after, and had to hold myself up by the wall—my head was spinning so crazily I thought I was going to pass out—until the man offered me to sit down on a stool and brought me some cool water, which helped my slightly dry throat but didn’t do anything for my wretched light headedness and the queasiness of my stomach. Of course the man thought this was funny, and I can see why, and presumably his son thought so as well, but they were nice enough to invite me in to share with them their dinner, wonderfully simple fare even if I do eat primarily plant-based, but the humbleness of the meal was of something beautiful, and that it should be shared with me made it even more so. Chunks of fatty pork and quail eggs in some sort of chili oil, rice, and cabbage with a sort of brine to dip in. He cracked open a beer for me and we cheers’ed but by this point I had broken out into a cold sweat and had begun sweating through my shirt and was dripping from my brow, and my stomach was feeling particularly bad so that I had no appetite even though I was starving five minutes ago, and was struggling to keep down the food and beer. My mouth was cotton dry, and there they were trying to feed me more, adding morsels of meat and eggs to my small bowl of rice. Eventually though, and unsurprisingly, it became too much and I had to run out into the street and puke everything up. I felt a good deal better after that, but we all agreed that it was best that his son drive me home on his scooter, as it was only five minutes away, versus twenty-five if I walked. I attempted to get a broom or something from the lady of the family to clean up my mess but she would hear nothing of it. Was probably just disgusted with me and wanted me out of her sight. I managed to snap a few pictures of the spread and my new friends before hopping on the back of the boy’s scooter and being whisked away home. The flow of the still warm air over my skin was quite bracing, considerably more so because my shirt was soaked through completely by this point, and I was feeling good, so good in fact that I managed to shoot a couple videos on my phone while weaving through traffic. I was then left in front of the alley. We shook hands and he sped off. I stoopled down the dark alley and took my time getting the key into the padlock on the other side of the gate, crept up the stairs into the apartment, cleaned the rice from my sandals, took a cold shower, and fell into bed.