I am only on my 3rd day here in Hanoi and already it feels as if I have been here forever, which I mean in the best possible way! The first few days have been a bit of a shock to the system, as is always the case when visiting a new country, but I have already fallen in love with Hanoi and all it’s quirks!
As my hospital work does not start until next week, I have been making the most of the first few days to explore my new home. There is so much that I could write, but here are just a few of the highlights:
7 Things I love about Hanoi:
1.The People: They greet you with curiosity and a smile, they welcome you to sit with them and chat to you although you have little, if any, language in common. They happily thrust their adorable children into your arms and laugh at the rather bewildered look on said child’s face as they check you out. They laugh openly at your tentative attempts to speak Vietnamese and your rather tragic efforts to eat rice with chopsticks. (By the time I leave I may just about have mastered this!)
2. My family: Mum, I love you, and obviously you cannot be replaced, but my Vietnamese family have adopted me as their “Scottish daughter”! Ms Van lives with her husband Mr Hung, their 15 year old son, Giang and their niece, Ha. Ms Van likes cooking, going for walks and looking after her family. Mr Hung doesn’t speak English, somehow we still manage to have a laugh via the universal language of gesticulation, mime and sound effects! Giang speaks English incredibly well and loves Chelsea football club. I couldn’t have asked for better hosts!
3. The Food: Every morning we sit down at 6:45 for breakfast of Pho noodles and ommelette, after which mr Hung makes strong, sweet Vietnamese Coffee and Green tea. Ms Van was initially worried that I would not like Vietnamese food and even offered to try and make me Western dishes! I was so very touched by this and assured her that I would enjoy her Vietnamese cooking! For the record, I am now addicted! She has even shown me how to make Nem, the local spring rolls, which I hope I can recreate back home!
4. The Roads: The family have lent me a bicycle and this has been my main mode of transport, although the rules of the road take a little getting used to. Firstly: There seem to be no rules. Your drive on the right (Except when you drive on the left…) The biggest vehicle has right of way and you don’t argue with it (I am MORE than happy to be consigned to the gutter if it keeps me alive!) The horn is used frequently and ethusiastically and means “I’m coming through/get out of my way/I’m here/I’m just tooting for the hell of it!” (usually all of the above) Oh, and traffic lights are merely a suggestion in most cases, especially when you are on a bike or motorcycle….
I had a baptism of fire on day one when Giang very kindly took me out on a tour of Hanoi by bicycle! Despite inwardly screaming “Argh! I’m going to die!” for most of the morning, it was a great introduction and got me initiated very quickly!
Anyone who goes to Hanoi must also learn the etiquette when it comes to crossing the road. Faced with a wall of motorcycles and tooting cars at a pedestrian crossing, you must fight all your instincts to run (you will be minced!) and make like the locals and cross very slowly. The traffic simply moves around you like a shoal of fish!
5. The way the Hanoians exercise: The Vietnamese love their exercise. It is no wonder that they are so slim! In August, temperatures reach their maximum and it is incredibly humid, the sort of weather that leaves you permenantly sticky, even straight out of the shower! Early mornings and after dark are when the locals go out and exercise. This morning at 5am Ms Van and I took a walk to West (Ho tay) lake. I simply cannot describe what a beautiful experience this was. Young and old take their spot on the lakeside to stretch, do Tai Chi, aerobics, jog or cycle, while the bats flutter over the water catching insects. Last night we joined the masses pounding the concrete in front of Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum – a much more upbeat and noisy affair, with everyone from toddlers learning to walk (and falling flat on their face!) to their grandparents, all getting their daily fix and having a good gossip while they were at it.
6. The belief that ANYTHING can be transported on the back of a bike: Everywhere you look, there are bikes piled with bunches of flowers, bundles of brooms, packages of banana leaves, all varieties of fruit and vegetables, crates of beer, pots and pans, cardboard boxes, dogs, children… All piled precariously high and/or sticking out several feet either side. Special mention to the two men wo were transporting an 8 foot high pane of glass vertically on the back of a motorcycle. Respect!
7. The markets: An assault on the senses in every possible way with rich smells colours and sounds hitting you from every direction. “Highlights” so far have included the large cockroach that ran up my leg (I am extremely proud of the restrained way in which I didn’t run screaming at this point!) and also the moment when I realised that yes, that WAS a dog being butchered on the stall next to me! You certainly see where your food comes from here!
Hanoi: You’re busy, you’re polluted, your traffic is crazy, your people are beautiful, your history is incredible, the sights are stunning and I am proud to call you home for the next 3 weeks!
For Photos from my trip, please use the following link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22579090@N02/sets/72157634906209009/