Saturday, October 20, 2012

The longest day

I've never known a 20 October quite like it.  Began at Auckland Airport, took me through a night on the plane to Singapore Airport where, unexpectedly, there were fish and orchids and sunflowers, then on again to Hanoi where there's been incredible traffic, distinctive houses, people everywhere, horns tooting incessantly, oppressive heat, strong beer and a delicious meal and then finally an early bed at about 8.30pm that felt like the wee small hours again so that when I woke a couple of hours later at 10.30 I was totally confused by the numbers and couldn't understand why it was dark and people weren't hammering at my door.

Interesting, though. Hanoi is like Jakarta and Delhi in the traffic and noise and press of people on the streets - but also peculiarly Vietnamese. The typical houses are 3 to 6 storeys high, the more expensive with balconies and wooden shutters, painted and pretty with potplants - but all only one room wide. So there's not much living space inside, and people spend most of their time outdoors. The Central Lake was particularly busy today because it's Ladies' Day when flowers are given and fusses made, and also apparently popular for weddings, as there were more brides being photographed along the lakeside than you could shake a stick at.

The main first impression of Hanoi though is the traffic: a constant tide of scooters ridden by one to four or even five people wearing thin plastic helmets, roaring along with their thumbs on the hooters. There are zebra crossings and sometimes even crossing lights but in practice the only way to cross is to forget a lifetime's training and simply step out into the road and keep walking, slowly. I wasn't above taking shelter behind old men and  women at first, but then found that it does work: the bikes and cars part for you, and as long as you don't confuse things by losing your nerve and stopping in the middle, you'll reach the other side. I'm not brave enough to try it on my own yet though.

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