Taking no prisoners. Including herself.

Hello, Hanoi
(Part 3 of Many)

We made it.

3 hours later than I set out to write, I am sitting in someone’s living room drinking strong coffee and sugared lotus seeds. The Xe Om driver, knowing a shortcut, made his way beautifully through traffic and dropped me off in the Tay Ho district. I have come to this street because my friend Jenny lives nearby, my friend Aaron owns a wine bar down the street, and I am confident that if all else fails I can beg them for some pity. It is the only place in Hanoi from where I can find my way home.

I pass by a sign that says “Cafe. Wifi!” and, yearning for something that feels like home, I step inside. And a home is what I get.

The “cafe” is little more than someone’s home converted to accommodate an extra table should someone pop in for a coffee. I am just that person.

Before I can turn around and leave (for, I realize, I have interrupted a game of poker), the woman of the house looks at me and I ask “kà fe?” In a flash another table and chair set has been placed, and the woman is pouring coffee from a Jim Bean bottle into a dainty porecelin teacup. White sugar, condenced milk, and an aluminum thermos with additional hot water is laid on the table.

I have asked for Nescafe and milk, but the motor-oil-thick coffee dripping down my cup tells me I have instead been given Vietnamese coffee. I suck it up, add heaps of sugar, and prepare for the ride of my life. Speed-writing juice!

The woman brings me more sugary food: mango, lotus seeds, and wrapped fruit candy that I can’t make out, but the wrappers says “Jinzhong Classic fruits & candy: good taste!” This is exactly what my body needs after retching over a toilet for 4 hours last night, (good old Asian stomach bug…): coffee and candy!

The caffeine kicks in. I write with fury, and determination, not noticing that everyone has left the room and retired to the back. This is something I love about Vietnam: someone brews some coffee and puts a sign outside their front door -  Instant cafe! And when they get a taker, like myself, they feel safe and trusting enough to let that stranger into their home, unattended, to type away in peace as they make lunch in the kitchen.

I hear pots and Vietnamese conversation clanking away behind me, and I am finally home in my words.

To Be Continued…


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