Life Life

10/12/2018 - 08:04

Thank you Hanoi

Not to go so far as to say that I spent my whole youth missing Hanoi like the cliché people often say. Though at times, this saying is indeed quite charming...

I just missed a flight to Hanoi. I tried to forget this regret by focusing on the mountains of work piling up at the end of the year. When I did have time to listen to my heart, Hanoi that day seemed to come back to me.

Bicycles with tiny white daisies beautifying Hanoi’s streets. Photo: Ngoc Ha

Not to go so far as to say that I spent my whole youth missing Hanoi like the cliché people often say. Though at times, this saying is indeed quite charming. With me, Hanoi, first off, is a memory of the tram in the distant past. That day, perhaps there was a little girl wearing an old cotton jacket who followed her mother to the capital to send her sister off to university.

Therefore, whenever I later encountered some old pictures of Hanoi, I remembered a street with no name, the silhouettes of people riding their bicycles and the crisscrossing tram tracks at a junction. There was no ice-cream for the little, bewildered and scared girl in Hanoi that day, though it was her big wish.

Later, when I had become a woman – small and confident enough but no less romantic - Hanoi with me was the frequent trips back. In some ways, Hanoi sometimes made a one-hour flight become suffocated. I realized that I was allured by the mysterious fog on the lake surface, by the rows of trees on the uncrowded roads. I wondered since when had my habit of admiring Hanoi in the early morning started. Perhaps when we take a step back to observe Hanoi, instead of interacting and colliding with its flow, the city seems to put on a very vague and romantic beauty – a Hanoi in the crisp autumn breeze...

When I got tired of the alleys or the old and worn out staircases, I listened to the sound of the city in the stories of my friends. The old times with its joy and sadness are all rekindled in a corner of Hanoi. The strange thing is that the old seasons seem to be immersed in Hanoi, and people laugh even when it is not happiness. I thought of laughter as small sticks of wood, slowly burning and never dying out.

Hanoi in me might be a night wandering around Nguyen Truong To Street with some jicama bought from a street vendor for a healthy dinner option. In return, more than half a bottle of wine was gone the next day because I couldn’t bear to throw it away. It was another rainy night; I was on an upper floor of a very high building, looking out at other high buildings.

Sometimes Hanoi was a slow, sunny afternoon. There was no wind on the top of the trees, and the traffic was slow on a small road, near the North gate church. The footsteps lingered on Phan Dinh Phung Street because the trees there were so green, and at times, autumn was far away but the yellow leaves had fallen.

The street that I usually stop by, just go a little bit to the side, an elegant restaurant can be found. If you move on a block or two, you can find a restaurant serving duck stew with dracontomelon fruit. This dish perhaps had become my reason to go out on dates. 

Hanoi, to me could also be the image of a sweating delivery man in the late afternoon, saying he had to carefully watch out for this order because my hotel was in his route home. It could also be the frustration of a taxi driver for taking a ride that was too close. It made me laughed because I knew I was not too strange for this to happen in Hanoi but it made me realized how I am still confused about and within Hanoi. It could be the image of a young electrician up high on the electricity pole, patiently cutting wires. Knowing that, I understood that it was alright to wait, it was nothing compared to the hard lives out there.

Hanoi could also be a different presence, absurdly when a young colleague of mine told me that he didn’t care where (his wife and child) go, just let him be with his love of Hanoi. The first time I was to take cover from an afternoon rain, I had a coffee on Church Street. I sat in the high terrace, watching people come and go, checking in and taking selfies. The cake that day was too sweet; and the sweetness seemed unable to cover something happening in me, its young companion. I took a bite of the cake, looked at the cold rain as a way of accompanying it. And then, there appeared another Hanoi, lovely with a knock on the door at noon in a very sunny summer day ...

It is impossible to shape, or know all about Hanoi, even when I have gone around it, touched the star-fruit flowers, smelled the grass on the so-called hills; or when I took a morning stroll in Duong Lam, listening to the winds on the ancient “duoi” bush (Streblus asper tree); or when I took a boat trip that one day on the Red River to realize how much I love the Perfume river... I still thank Hanoi.

Because of my treasured memories.

Khang Nhien

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