Tag Archives: hanoi

Version 0.77 (The Grab Bike Driver Prompts Wonderings)


Sometimes when I sit here at the cafe, watching the world go by as it does, an individual will stop, who, for whatever reason, affects me in such a way that I begin to wonder about his life. I write this because just a moment ago a Grab bike driver stopped at the mini-market on the corner where a table and stools are set up. Even as he was parking his bike I was wondering about his life, for it was clear that he hadn’t arrived to pick anyone up, but had just arrived for a smoke and a drink. I got to wondering about how much money he made in a day or a month, where he lived, if he had a family to support. How many hours does he work and what does he do on his time off? I am thinking about all these things as he sits there contentedly smoking from his pipe. I realize I will never know the answer to any of those questions though. But I am curious, and I think it would be wonderful were I to be a fly on a wall of his home, or could somehow secretly ride along with him on his motorbike as he drives people around the city. And to understand the language and listen-in on his conversations such as the one he is having right now with the other guy at the table!


Version 0.76 (An Illusion of Prosperity, and the Joy of a Haircut)


I’m sitting at a bia hơi near the apartment where I’m staying, just a stone’s throw from the lake, watching a few chickens scratch and peck along the sidewalk and the park. The usual hangers-on of dogs are roaming about scavenging for scraps of food and looking for handouts, and up and down the streets the usual and constant parade of motorscooters, the occasional bicycle or car, families out walking (late evening, just as the sun is going down and the heat of the day begins to subside is when neighborhoods become most active), children are shouting gleefully holding their parents’ hands. The lights of highrises across the lake shine brightly, reflecting in its surface like dreams of prosperity that should be so easy to achieve if only by walking down to the water’s edge and scooping up with one’s hands or a pail. And then I look around me more closely and see the lights hanging from the corrugated steel awnings, and listen to the chatter of the family having dinner behind me (presumably the family that runs the place) and I see that right here, on this unassuming street corner that is like nearly every other in Hanoi that prosperity of a kind has already been acheived by some, if not many, and that illusion of prosperity rocked gently by the ripples on the surface of the lake is exactly that—an illusion.

I was down around Old Quarter today to enjoy a coffee at a favorite spot, and to have a slice of banana bread that unfortunately wasn’t available. Very basic things, and I had some delicious fried morsels at a little street food stall near the famous cathedral as well as a bahn mi. I’ve been pondering a haircut for probably over a month now, and today it finally happened. Walking back to my apartment it was along a stretch of road by a park where there are always several barbers, their chairs, mirrors, and other accoutrements of the trade at particular spots day in and day out. Each man to his station. I just happened to be looking at a certain gentleman whose chair was empty when he turned and saw me. We made eye contact and he made a shaving motion across his cheeks whereupon I made a cutting motion above my head. It was a fine thing this, having my haircut out in the open, watching children play at the memorial park in front of me, and young girls pose for photos with friends. Something so wonderfully joyous and life-affirming having a haircut outside while the world whirls by around you. The cars, buses, scooters, horns beeping, children playing, people walking and photographing, shop owners selling whatever goods they’re selling on the strip behind me the trees, and the sky overhead, the grass and the sidewalk beneath. It seems almost a crime to force people indoors for a haircut. Here, under the joy of the sky I was able to get one for $5 or so, and I would have gladly paid twice that.

Version 0.75 (Updates, Thoughts, Craft Beer in Hanoi)


I’m writing this at a craft beer bar in Tay Ho. They have one or two more locations scattered around Hanoi as well. This first beer I’m having is inspired by phơ. It is fantastic, though the phơ that I’ve had is not nearly as complex in flavor as this beer (not really sure if that says more about the beer or the phơ). Frankly I think it’s the spices, or lack thereof which they use up here. The phơ I’ve had farther south has been better flavored in my opinion. That said, it’s a delicious beer, and probably not a bad rendition on the theme. And they just brought me another beer as a gift (so she says). Also delicious. Seriously some of the best craft beer I’ve had anywhere on Earth.

Anyway, it’s a quiet Sunday night for me, though it usually is, traveling or not; and seemingly a quiet night in Quang An as well, though it ususally is, weekend or not. Some of the bia hơis—various corner shops selling cheap, fresh beer, snacks, and perhaps a banh mi or fried rice—may be busy however. Maybe that is why I like the area so much. Old Quarter is a mad house 100% of the time, but Tay Ho, and most specificfally Quang An, is quieter, and just western enough to feel comfortable to a westerner, plus it has a variety of food you won’t find elsewhere in Hanoi.

My camera should perhaps be returned from Fuji’s repair shop on the 27th. Right now I am at my apartment until the 28th, so the timing could be perfect. It likely won’t work out that way, but instead some other way, and that’s fine too. There is no great rush into anything.

Prices to rent a motorbike seem to be much cheaper than I first thought, so I may opt to rent one for a month. The freedom of movement that would afford me would be wonderful, rather than having to take trains and busses all over. But again, I will just have to wait, and make sure I read the prices correctly.

Furbrew, the beer bar I am at, is a modern bar set inside a building with windows and a front door. This means there is also a/c. Very different from the bia hơis one see everywhere, usually just set into a concrete bunker with a tin roof, an open front and plastic tables and stools tumbling out onto the sidewalk, which means if it’s hot like it always is this time of year, you know… hopefully there are fans where you’re sitting; there are always some scattered around these open air joints.

The staff inside Furbrew was mainly young girls, high school age, maybe one was college age, though it’s often difficult to determine age so I’m quite possibly far off target. I find it interesting (though hardly surprising, nor does it bother me in some moralistic or ethical way like it would some other ninnies) that they’re working a bar, although it looks like some really good food is served too. I guess one would describe it as a gastropub or bistro rather than a bar. My bill for my three beers, one of which I received for free was only 95k dong. I left them a 25k tip which is basically a dollar, and their faces lit up like the Christmas tree in Times Square. The appreciation for that extra bit of money is astounding to me, and warms my heart.

I love being here so much. It is unfortunate that I don’t have an unlimited supply of money or else I’d consider buying a place.

Version 0.73 (Cafe Doppio: Nexus of all Quang An)


Rereading messages from Jasper and now I’m not sure what to make of what happened to me in Kuala Lumpur. The only other option means it was just a normal attack that anyone with M.S. would have, and NOT as a result of losing my worms to sickness or food related issues, which it seems I have not. Yet it still seems obvious to me that if certain Indian foods or spices are not affecting my worm family they are at least affecting me. Because it always seems there is a trouble after partaking of the tasty stuff.

I so love this little, yellow cafe that is like a dandelion on a street corner from which I can watch the world whiz about in no apparent meaning, but to each of those lives out there zipping by on a scooter or walking past there is a sense of purpose, at least in the immediate present. However, if there isn’t, there certainly seems a good show of it.

The cafe sits at the confluence of two narrow streets and two separate gated compounds opposite those streets that contain offices, schools, apartments and a fitness studio in one, and government-related business in another. Sitting in here safely behind the glass, and looking out on all that goes on outside is a bit like watching two rivers flow together into a central pool which then flows outward to either of the two compounds, but sometimes in reverse order, or in any other direction so that there are nearly always near-head-on collisions and traffic jams, yet for the most part a regular flow is maintained and very rearely does traffic get so snarled up that it grinds to a standstill.

Sitting in this cafe and looking out through the glass it seems as though I am at the very nexus of Quang An, Tay Ho, that I am a little bit like God looking out at his kingdom, or that I am an eye located in some central vessel of a great body observing its movements, and the flow of cells and microbes through the arteries of this one central part, that I am in the world but not necessarily of the world, and even to say that I am in it is a stretch. The world is temporary and spins by an ever and always new cast of characters, but I am permanent. I am and always will be I am.

Version 0.71 (Brief Moments)


A wind drifts over the lake, lazily, like the heat that wafts from an open oven. The supple, flexible ends of branches of trees sway in the dragon’s breath. Lotus blossoms protuding from the mud of the lake look like candle flames. And as the magenta giant sun falls away behind the clouds, the local bat population takes to wing. People are out, lounging in the shade or zooming around on scooters. Construction workers are busy laying down new tile for the sidewalks that line the perimeter of the lake, or hammering marble curbs into place. Daily there is something new to be seen here. The same same everyday. But different. The same motif painted in the same colors, but in different tones, like Monet’s Haystack, or Rouen Cathedral.

Version 0.49 (A Zen Tale)


Life seems so simple here. People are either throwing themselves into work (even if that means standing at attention while waiting for customers, like soldiers lined up waiting for the command to attack), or doing absolutely nothing; just sitting around on the omnipresent little stools, chewing the fat amicably (often with tea and sunflower seeds, or tobacco). This of course seems an obvious observation on the surface, for what do people the world over do? They work, then they relax. But as an American, the peculiarity I see is not so much in the doing, but in the when of that doing. Mostly Americans are all on the same, or very nearly so, schedule, meaning everyone is either working or not working at very specific times throughout the day. Here at times it seems as though half the population is doing nothing, and this in the middle of the day, while the other half is hard at work. Well, those are some thoughts and observations.

I suppose I could also say how much closer they seem to nature, and by this I mean the human animal in its natural state, simply eating, drinking, sleeping, socializing. I look at many of the Vietnamese as I walk around Hanoi, mostly the older generation, and I look at their dogs, and I watch their chickens strut about a garden or pick through a trash bag on the curb, and the similarity is utterly astonishing. I can’t get it out of my mind. Their behavior looks so natural, so completely free of pretense, of thoughts of needing to be elsewhere doing something. There is at times a sort of zen-like essence to it, like one old story that goes: There was once a disciple of one Zen Master having a chat with a disciple of another Zen Master. The first disciple was explaining to the second how his master could perform all sorts of miracles, such as, for example, performing calligraphy in the air with a brush as the characters appeared on a sheet of paper on the other side of a river hundreds of feet away. After recounting this and other supernatural feats he asked his friend what his master could do. The other disciple replied that his master could perform amazing feats as well. “As an example,” he said, “when my master is hungry, he eats, and when he grows tired, he sleeps.”

Version 0.46 (Needing a Break, Leaving Soon)


Oh Hanoi, Hanoi, Hanoi, you weary me with your noise, your pollution, your noise pollution… your stink, your humidity, your scooters and motorbikes and the smell of their exhausts and the sounds of their engines; your crumbling roads, your crumbling sidewalks, your lack of sidewalks, your sidewalks that are not sidewalks but are parking lots instead, your incessant horn honking, your puddles and mud on and alongside the roads, your polluted lake littered with trash and dead fish, and its murky, milk-coffee-grey color; your solicitations from untrustworthy taxi drivers.

You’re cool. You’re beautiful (on the whole). You’re great! I really like you, but I’m not doing anything here with you any longer. You no longer stimulate me in the way you once did, and my life here no longer feels purposeful. I need to leave. At least for a little while. I’d love to come back though. And don’t forget it! I love watching you grow, and the frenetic, insane energy contained within your walls, streets, and alleyways. I love your little shops, and eating stalls and cafes found through the doorways, the living rooms or dining rooms or hallways of families’ homes, up a back staircase to a second or third floor. I love how so much is hidden away, tricky to find, but still discoverable if you know where and how to look. Often times it seems walking down an alley or through a door must be like walking into the bedroom closet of a certain professor, parting some clothing and finding yourself in a strange new land. I love the smiles of your people when smiled to. I love all the varieties and tastes of your food, especially the fresh fruit I can find on many a street corner. But I fear so much of this I can find elsewhere, and right now I need an elsewhere because at least the discovery of a new place will stimulate and renew the sense of purpose in me (I hope). This stagnancy must not last.

Version 0.43 (Some Thoughts on Being a Foreigner)


I’m a little shocked, for I haven’t journaled in two weeks. Truthfully I haven’t had much to write about.
Scratch that.
There’s been much to write about, but my camera has been doing the journaling this time. Right now I just want to sit quietly and think back on whatever I think back on. Down whatever merry lane my mind might carry me.

I’m at Ella Cafe in Tay Ho having a coffee as I usually do around this time, six in the evening. An hour ago I had my first ever massage by a professional massage therapist: Swedish, 90 minutes, $30 (or 680,000 dong). It was a nice treat to myself, though I have a hard time imagining it being worth the quadrupling in price it would cost in the States. Perhaps that means it wasn’t particularly good? Oh well. It’s impossible for me to say as I have no prior experiences to compare it to.

I have successfully applied for and paid for my visa extension. I assume it will be filled. In less than two weeks I’ll be in Da Nang. This is something to be excited about. I haven’t been out of Hanoi since arriving, and though I planned to rent a bike and drive down to Ninh Binh for two days, I realized the visa extension was more pressing (passport used as collateral for the bike). I really love this country, though, but I can’t place what it is that speaks to me so plainly and loudly and happily. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the fact that as an American with American money, everything is so inexpensive here. Now, it’s not just that, but I can’t in all truthfulness claim that that doesn’t have something to do with it. There is also the explosive growth I’m seeing in Hanoi. Everyday it seems a new business is opening or a new building being erected, or ground being broken somewhere. It looks to me like there’s a freedom to do almost anything you like, with little red tape and restrictions getting in the way. Little money required as well. One of my favorite sandwich shops is little more than a closet next to a convenience store. I imagine most of their business is to-go for they only have two, small, round tables out front.

But I think too, about the fact that I’m a foreigner with a fair bit of money relative to most Vietnamese (I guess) and think about this position of privilege that I am in because of this, and I can easily see how my judgment is skewed as a result. But how might I judge any differently? For I am who I am, and I come from where I come. Certainly some things that I see as inexpensive, many Vietnamese citizens will disagree, and for them i have very real empathy, because I come from that place in the U.S. Yet I don’t think they are unhappy because of this. I think the Vietnamese are some of the happiest and friendliest people I’ve come across, and the most communal and social, and I believe this is the driver behind their general happiness. Having more or less here doesn’t seem to matter so much because they are all part of various very tightly knit communities of family and friends.

These are all just observations made by a white male tourist from America over a two week period.

Lights flashing, streaming by in the dark
Others making shimmering daggers across the lake
The honking of horns like notes on a musical staff that is that same line of cars and motorbikes
Fruit hawkers on the sidewalks with their wares resting in woven baskets: sliced pineapple in plastic bags, enormous crescent shaped bunches of bananas, passion fruits, dragon fruits, lychees and still others unrecognizable to me.
Blue and red plastic stools everywhere, speckling the sidewalks, some their seats split, cracked, and taped together, and others brand new.

Screaming, shouting children pouring out of the gates after school like ants from an anthill.
Throngs of parents on scooters packing the streets, backing up traffic all around,
or nearly nonexistent the children left to their own devices to wander off and get a snack or play games.
Two old men, a tea pot, tea cups, a board game on the sidewalk, and several other onlookers exhorting, advising the players on strategies and next moves like the groups one might see in the United States surrounding a barbeque pit, or arched around the engine bay of a car, the hood up, attempting to diagnose a problem and prescribe a fix.
The mist over the lake and the cloud in the sky merged in the distance, becoming one.
Corn grilling, corn kernels battered and frying, bananas battered and frying.
A barber asleep at his spot on the street, the back of his head reflected in the mirror hanging on a wall.

Verison 0.40 (Chaos and Speculation)


Hanoi, Vietnam.

The chaos.

Finding oases in this city is crucial, and if you’re just arriving may seem like an impossible task. However there are more than one may think, from small cafes down mysterious alleys and quiet lanes, to those mysterious alleys and quiet lanes themselves. Sometimes a more obvious place, like a public park. Even a gym may be considered as one. And hopefully one’s own home. Wandering around Old Quarter on foot (wandering around anywhere in Hanoi on foot, with the exception of certain lanes and streets, I’ve found) is an exercise in awareness and maintaining an inner tranquility. Not a problem for me, but I imagine for some people this could be a struggle, thus, this stressor that for some is minor or negligible for others may be like cymbals crashing in their ears, and after only minutes of this they’ll want to run back to their apartments to cower under the bed sheets. It doesn’t help that even when shopping employees are apt to hover by one’s side like a pest, or at the very least stand at a sort of military-like attention. This I find more exasperating and bothersome than the simple act of weaving through traffic letting the horns wash over me like so much spray from a waterfall.

My laptop is still dangling from the chains of Limbo. Three days and still not repaired. Maybe not ever. I wonder if they can at least extract the contents from it so that if/when I do purchase a new one I will have not lost anything. I am now uncertain about my time here. The purpose that I established for myself was one of using my laptop as a means of potentially making some money trading crypto and forex, but more importantly (maybe) as the only way of soliciting an agent or a publisher for my stories. Cultural immersion is of course the other reason for being here, but I don’t know that I would have opted to rent an apartment for a month otherwise. Who knows what I’d be doing. The thought of something else never even crossed my mind. So, all this leaves the question of what do I do to occupy myself now? (assuming the worst). There is an art supplies store about four miles south of here that I will probably pay a visit. I’ve been wanting to paint for some time. Maybe this is an opportunity to begin. I may also look into clay throwing as pottery is something else I am curious about. And there are a good deal of pottery works here. There is much for me to think about in this regard.

Version 0.37 (Tranquil)


My first proper day in Hanoi. If I can’t get my computer working or a replacement, a one month stay here will be, while I am unwilling to say pointless, perhaps longer than necessary, considering my reasons for coming here, which weren’t to vacation and be a tourist (not that the photography hasn’t been brilliant already in just two hours).

I’ve finally eaten today, even if it is just a slice of orange bread with a flat white. I’m sitting in the most cozy and peaceful and adorable cafe in the Old Quarter, called Tranquil. Books & Coffee. For what I feel that I want at the moment it is absolutely perfect. Flat white was bad, though—too milky, too flat, too little coffee (that would be the same thing as too milky…). Maybe their espresso doses are small… The orange bread slice was magical, however, though I should probably eat a proper meal soon.

Jazz is playing softly in the background, injecting just enough rhythm and energy into the space to keep it from turning into a naptime nursery. A mellow voice and a light piano. I don’t know who it is, because I don’t know jazz, but I do know that it fits the mood here. Tranquil is precisely the thing necessary when one wishes to escape the chaos of the Old Quarter streets. It’s a damp, cool cloth to an overheated forehead. It’s a balm to a frenzied mind.

My elbow rests on the small, square table in front of me, and my chin—the full weight of my wearied mind—rests in the cup of my hand.

I’m gazing at the wooden counter, unseeing.

Breathing only.

The sole, familiar sounds in here are the radio, the grinding of coffee, the tinking and tapping of coffee implements, the pump of the espresso machine, the aerating of milk, the stacking of ceramic cups, and the quiet which envelopes myself and each of these individual sounds and which acts as space for them to express themselves, a conduit by which they might move from source to sea—my interpreting brain via the canal of my ear. Silence, like space, is a fecund ground from which life may spring. Without silence there is only chaos, a solid wall of noise, uninterpretable, like trying to see through the solid rock of the Alps.

Right now, in my inner and my outer worlds, I am drifting; swimming a bit too, pulling an arm effortlessly, lazily through the warm waters of my world, kicking a leg easily. Swimming in space, and swimming in a silence whose veil is intermittently pierced by sounds the likes of which become pleasurable against the silence cradling them.

They are like arrows shot, puncturing air, gliding through space.

Shimmering diamonds.

A falcon dives. The stars in the night sky sparkle.

Space may be black but silence is white.