Xin chào tù Việt Nam,
We’ve decided to postpone the trip to Yunnan in China due to lots of flooding there. Instead, we are taking the chance to see more of Việt Nam; first to Hà Nội in the north; Đà Nẵng and Hội An beach in the centre; finishing at Phú Quốc in the far south.
Like lots of other Australian tourists, we have found ourselves in Old Hà Nội – partly on a recommendation and partly because the Ha Long Bay tour company has an office here.
The old sections of modern cities seem to draw the backpacker tourists. Travellers going to Dubrovnik will spend all of their time in the walled city on the coast. Visitors to Galle will almost all gravitate to the former Portuguese fort in preference to the commercial centre. Here in Hanoi it’s the same. Why is it so? Aren’t we all in the thrall of the mode of thinking which says everything new is superior to everything old?
I suppose I’m segmenting the market – and making big generalisations, but old Hà Nội fits the same patterns as other places.
These are the types of travellers who don’t tick places off and talk afterwards of having “done the Colosseum” or “doing the Great Wall this year” etc. They are people who are genuinely interested in the culture and the physical landscapes of their destinations. They’re not necessarily historians but they go to the older parts because the new is too much the same as what they’ve come from. If every city is the same but still different, these people are looking to find the differences.
In Old Hànội, the demarcation between café/restaurant/street food is so blurry as to disappear. Last night we dined on the corner where three frenetic but friendly women served us Bún Chả, which was the only dish on the menu (there was no menu). This was a delicious soup of grilled pork with rice noodles plus (Linda’s favourite) crab rolls. The sign says it’s a ‘special traditional food of Hà Nội’. Apparently, Barack Obama tucked into one of these when he visited earlier this year, thereby affording that particular restaurant priceless fame. At our little dining place, Linda got a quizzical look when she asked for a glass of white wine: the choice was water or beer.
The streets in Old Hànội are narrow with no effective footpath because they are jammed with thousands of parked motorcycles. The shops often double as family homes, with activities of family life going on in the same premises as the retail offerings. Most are three metres wide, this inconvenience being a hangover from the period when they had to pay a heftier tax for shop fronts wider than that. As a consequence, many shops are just three metres wide and the premises go back and up as far as they can.
During day and night the streets are bustling with people going about their business, mostly on motorbikes. It’s refreshing to see women playing an absolutely equal role in the society. They dart about the city in clothing befitting the climate, fulfilling their equal role in society without anyone doubting their place. Linda finds this particularly energising, especially after two years in Dhaka where women are still in the shadows of the men.
Old Hà Nội is a very charming part of a thriving city. The people who come to the oldest parts of the cities are wanting an authentic immersion into a foreign culture. They don’t want the certitude of the new city. They are the people who think that globalisation means homogenisation. As Quaing – a local bloke back home from engineering study in Canada – says, they don’t want to see sky scrapers. Hà Nội has sky scrapers but they are not here in Old Hà Nội. We are as far away from sky scrapers as we can get whilst still being in the city.
Hẹn gặp lại tù Greg