Taking no prisoners. Including herself.

Look Both Ways

At first I thought taxi rides were my favorite thing.
Weaving in and out of motorbikes, other taxis, and bicycles laden with every kind of cargo one can imagine: flowers, fruit, construction material, children, you name it. There is a chaos to it, but a kind of order, too.

Then I went for a walk along one street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and I loved the energy at street level. I got to poke my head into shops, where young men are painting large canvases, girls selling silks and fabric, lots of little trinkets that looked familiar from San Francisco Chinatown shop windows (no doubt, also made in China). It was rainy yesterday, so I walked through the drizzle and the mud and let my eyes float over the street vendors with their worlds of sausages, sticky rice, meat stews, colorful ice creams (I recommend the ginger) and shrimps. With host-friends I visited the fabric market (rows and rows of fabric stacked 10 feet high of every kind of fabric imaginable, most at about $2 per meter) and purchased enough fabric for 4 outfits. We visited a tailor around the street (infamous, I was to experience, for cupping breasts as measurements are taken) to be fitted. I have waiting for me 6 tailored items. Late to a wine date, we swung quickly through the market below, which was too vivid for my wee little brain to take in completely. I could recount some things here, like fried doves, banana leaves wrapped artfully with twine, indistinguishable meats, passion fruits measured out with old rusty calibrating tools, etc. But I think it’s best we wait for when I can get the images up on Flikr. I mean, I’m a writer and all, but my descriptive abilities met their match when I found myself running through the market, shoes soaked through, large tarps leaking grey droplets into buckets (of dirty cleaning water? Or is that stew?), the cleaver hacking on wood tabletops mimicking the thump-thump of my sandals slapping the wet ground while neon lights scratch over glistening orange duck necks bent back into awkward angles –

Do you see? That last sentence was a run-on, and horribly inadequate to describe the surreal feeling of it all –rendered ironic because it it precisely the reality of Vietnam that is most difficult to process –and now I’m about to delve into the world of esoteric descriptions, and I really think we’re best just to call the whole thing off.

But, to answer the question I know you’re dying to ask: I only saw one dog in a cage –dinner. (He was yelping, however, and it made me rethink my entire willingness to try.)

And so, back to traffic.  Now let me tell you the most wonderful experience of them all: crossing the street. It’s very simple and very intense and I think I like it more than anything. As instructed by my hosts (although there is a fundamental disagreement between the two on whether or not eye contact is essential or desirable to avoid) it’s very simple: just walk.
With vehicles of every size and every speed whizzing around us, we step off the curb, without looking both ways, and, taking our lives into our own hands (or, rather, putting them in the hands of others) we walk out into the middle of traffic. Horns blare, bikes swerve, but in general (one hopes) everyone simply accommodates and works around. This seems to be the way.

Traffic in Hanoi is a lot like traffic in Marrakesh, Morocco; and, I would imagine, traffic like many places the world over that don’t believe in traffic lights: it’s a particular frenzied energy that somehow feels to me more natural. Sure, red and green lights help create “order” such that the whole system moves according to some Divine Traffic Plan, but it feels more organic to just let chaos ensue and know that, hey –“it’ll all work out.” It’s the age old quandary: is there more sense in order, or order in chaos?

Plus, I have yet to see traffic in Hanoi that compares to traffic in the Bay Area. Full stop.

§181 · April 19, 2006 · JetSet · · [Print]

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