Taking no prisoners. Including herself.

Hello, Hanoi
(Part 8 of Many)

More stories from my first couple of weeks…

*    *    *

It is Têt, and Bắc has invited me to spend this special new year’s week — a week so fantastic it is like New Year’s & Christmas & 4th of July & everyone’s birthday combined, I am told — with her family in Hai Phong.
On the bus we pass by fields green with rice paddies. The air is cold and bone-drilling. I do not want to write, but I have told myself I will write under all conditions.

I really don’t want to write; I want to eat xôi — a delicious, red sticky-rice, colored and flavored with a fruit that I couldn’t begin to name. I daydream about my perfect moment, my perfect mood, perfect place to write — and because I know it doesn’t exist, I convince myself that it must be now, this, here.

So I choose to write on this honking bus called Hải Âu, which, Bắc tells me with some stiffness,  means “sea bird.”

“Seagull?” I ask.

“No, not seagull. You know, you have this here in America, I think? A bird that lives all the time at the sea?”

I tell her I think it is ‘seagull.’ She shakes her head and sighs.

I am just waking up. That is to say, de-jetlagging, un-culture-shocking, shaking off a dream, so finally see I am really here. What a rude awakening it took.

There are water buffalo stomping in the rice paddy squares. The earth is muddy and upturned under their feet.

There is electronica playing over the bus speakers, interspersed with traditional Vietnamese theatre comedy. Even though I can’t understand, occasionally I laugh hard out loud — humor is universal! — and sometimes people turn around to look at me. I am the only westerner on board. I smile my big, goofy smile that says “hey, I’m a westerner! Thank you for understanding.”

The road is awash with mandarin orange and cherry blossom trees strapped to the back of motorbikes, going somewhere, going everywhere, the whole country orange and pink, orange and pink and red. All these symbols purchased and given away. It is like seeing Christmas trees bungee-ed to to the top of cars in the States over December. I imagine how many festive trees are right this minute zig-zagging and cross-stitching across Vietnam, weaving together this community into its necessary social tapestry. That’s what all tradition is, I suppose.

What to expect when we arrive at Bắc’s family, I have no idea. All I know is that we will drink tea and eat dried fruits, and I am okay with that.

Bắc turns to me suddenly and says “when we arrive my sisters will ask you if you want to take herb bath [with the 'h' pronounced, God bless her]. This is our tradition before Têt, to be clean for the new year. Will you like to take herb bath?”

I tell her, “I’ve never met a Herb I didn’t like.”

To Be Continued…

§564 · February 15, 2009 · Adventures in Asia, Location-Location, Narrative · Tags: , , , , , · [Print]

1 Comment to “Hold the ‘H’”

  1. Aunt Penni says:

    Just got around to catching up on your blog. My only comment is the question of the bird that lives all the time at sea. Albatross?? Maybe an Erne (sea eagle?) Just a thought. I am a bird watcher…..always on the lookout for Bald Eagles here in Albany, Oregon, and I have been rewarded several times, but never with my camera with me…darn! Keep up the good writing.
    Aunt P

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