"Most of my treasured memories of travel are recollections of sitting." - Robert Thomas Allen
As I type this I am sitting alone, under a much needed cooling fan, in an old world teak tea house in Hanoi with a mug of tea in hand...Very peacefully and happily reflecting on a lovely afternoon at the Temple of Literature and, indeed, a wonderful five and a half months in South East Asia. And yet I find myself scanning the doorway for a familiar and friendly face to join me for a cuppa. I find this oft happens and usually when it does it's in atmospheric cafes in thronged cities. I know that no-one who fits the bill will appear but it's a compulsion that I can't seem to suppress. It comes upon me when I have the feeling of looking down at oneself in a very particular time and place, which stays with you, as though in a scene of a book or film; a sense of being very much of a moment and place but longing for someone to share the experience to validate it somehow perhaps? 
It's just after 10pm and I am looking out at the street in Hanoi's atmospheric,quixotic but chaotic Old Quarter on which we are staying as its characteristic craziness begins to subside for another day. The usually relentless cyclo and motorbike traffic slowly begins to disperse and the crowds of tourists dissipate as weariness, tiredness and the nightly bar curfew set in. I am grateful for these moments of relative peace and for the cooling influence of the fan above. We are enjoying Hanoi but it is hectic, frenetic and hot. Having spent a month in Saigon, over 2 months in Vietnam and cycled on Highway One I would have thought that we'd now be somewhat inured to the country's crazy traffic and humid climate but Hanoi represents, for us at least, Vietnam's zenith in both respects.
But what makes it all worthwhile is the undeniable sense of place here. A lot of Asian cities, as they modernise, prosper and thrive, have become relatively homogenous. For example Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and, even to some extent, modern day Bangkok. But as I survey the street scene outside I know that I couldn't possibly be anywhere else in the world save for Vietnam's capital city. This is a city which is unapologetically and, even, brashly Asian; a grand old dame of the Orient. The Lonely Planet describes it aptly when it says: "Hanoi is probably the most graceful and exotic capital city in Asia...there are sweeping boulevards, tree fringed lakes, ancient pagodas and a compact historic centre where a constant tide of motorbikes swarms, hawkers in conical hats ply their wares while locals sip coffee and bia hoi (beers)". Phil joined said locals at a bia hoi joint last night for an hour or so. Which is, to put it in context, a bit like the bar part of a rural Irish pub; a strictly male preserve except this version is al fresco with tiny plastic tables and seats. He arrived back to the hotel room smiling at, no doubt the effect of the bia hoi, but also at the prices. At 5,000 Vietnamese dong per glass (70 cent in Euro) and preservative free grog there's certainly reason to smile. 
I haven't been writing much lately I know. I find that pregnancy quietens me somewhat and makes me more introspective. But I have been inspired today by our visit to the beautiful Temple of Literature. I feel a need to write re-surface.  But I had better sign off and to bed as we are up in just a few hours to head on a 3-day 2 night cruise to Halong Bay. We opted for one of the more expensive tour options as we did a lot of research and it seems, with Halong Bay tours in particular, you get what you pay for; if you go budget your boat could have a hole in it. All reviews of our seaworthy vessel are exceptionally good, thankfully. Their slogan is "Luxury you deserve". Our hopes our high. We've never been on any kind of a cruise before so we are all really looking forward to it. Luca is extremely excited and has come up with pirate names for all of us to be used for the duration of our sea voyage (I'll leave you guessing on that front me hearties). Phil has even downloaded "Death on the Nile" to watch onboard. So, I'd better be joining me bosuns in their slumber and bid you all Goodnight. For now.


At August 7, 2011 at 1:56 PM Roger said...

Well done, Linda - very evocative. I feel I nearly know Hanoi now! Beautiful picture of a sleeping Luca.
Enjoy your cruise to the islands. Love YaYa Rog xx

At August 9, 2011 at 2:15 PM Linda de Paor said...

Thanks Ya-Ya Rog. Would you believe I am back at that very cafe having a cuppa right now. Philip is going to head out to a Bia Hoi place when I go back to take over babysitting duty of a slumbering boy :)I think he'd be delighted to have your company over a beer there - it's an authentic but sometimes slightly intimidating experience for a solo Westerner. We all had a wonderful time on the Halong Bay cruise. Luca had a ball - did every activity going - including exploring caves and kayaking. He got to don the Captain's hat and "drive" the boat on the journey back to Halong City today - have some lovely pics to put up but the one of him as "Captain" you'd love in particular. So we'll send a couple on to you this evening Hope all well with you & Ya-Ya Eva. Speak soon, Love us 3 & 1/3 xx


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