Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Meandering a Last Day in Hanoi, Between Art, Archaeology, and Whirling Scooters as a City Changes

Scenes from our last day in Hanoi. 
The bartender at the Odeon offered a favorite view of the city. 

The days have fall into a simple pattern here.
We sleep, enjoy a long breakfast, a conversation about the dreams, the day before and a plan for what’s to come, hit the streets, walk as long as we can until we stop at the Odeon  Brasserie to watch the scooters.

Walking through the Quán Thánh Temple a few days ago a painting caught Caroline’s eyes.
We chat about it a bit every night.
A painting of Hanoi in the rain.
Let’s try to haggle a bit about the price, we thought.
Yesterday, I woke early and make my way to Quán Thánh Temple to inquire about this painting by Nguyen Minh Thanh hanging in the bottom left corner of the small gallery adjacent to the temple. 

The owner was not there when  I arrived.
Her young daughter was there.
She said her mom would be right back,
calling her to confirm.

I walked  about the Temple,
A women praying. 
A man lighting a fire,
Burning currency for his elders.

The  light made  its  way through the age old 11th century Taoist temple,
dedicated to Xuan Wu, or Trấn Vũ in Vietnamese, a principal deity in Taoism,
one of the Four Sacred Temples of the capital.

I look around.
It’s a wonderful place.
I walk in a circle.
Feeling the place.
The peace.

The owner arrived.
We haggled a bit.
And I bought the painting. 

I text Caroline.

Leaving the hotel
Say goodbye to our German friend on the way.
No strikes today.
Flights are leaving  Hanoi.

And walk to Lunch.
The Hanoi Social Club, “provides things for your tummy and live musical vibrations for your ears. Good food, good space, good music, good people.”
The Social Club is gorgeous.
Full of travelers.
A quirky vibe fills the colorful eatery.
HS clubs are graduates of the KOTO school of hospitality training for disadvantaged youth.
We sit dreaming of living away from the crazy USA.

“Can we take a little break and not rush off?” says the little one.
“Thanks  for bringing me,” says Caroline. 
There is so much to explore, learning about the way the world has changed.
We’ve had a thousand conversations here.
How has Hanoi changed,
we’ve asked everyone we know here.
Many answer by looking back a thousand to the Chinese years,
when it became capital.
Then to Uncle Ho in 1949.
’54 the French liberation.
And then the American War.
When Nixon had an extra secret plan to get us out of Vietnam,
By bombing Cambodia.
A coup in 1979 removing Cambodian Head of State, Prince Norodom Sihanouk
Disrupting and laying the ground work for the Rhmer Rouge.
Kissinger belongs in jail.
1979 Vietnam invasion.
Stops the bleeding. 
And then and only then in 1986 peace.
After generations peace in Vietnam.

We walk to the museum of history.
A banyan tree outside must  be twelve feet wide. 
Three hundred years old.
The city builds around its trees.
Remembering its roots.

The dragons stretch and wind through history.
Twisting and turning like the illuminations in the Book of Kells in Dublin.
Ageless images of history outside Christianity.
Buddhas and Shivas.
Archeology of ages.
Between narratives of thousands of ethnicities,
Intermingling before nation states or borders.
Stories of dynasties.
Struggles between happiness and unhappiness.
And how we can be ok and at peace with what life is.

The little one is becoming slaphappy.
School kids laugh during their tour.
Dragons look like grumpy old men. 
Elders watch,  avoiding the heat.

And we make our way through the ages.

Back through the streets, past the lake, through the old quarter.
Back to the ODÉON Brasserie,
Our favorite Wine Bar,
Looking  at the train street,
Leading  to Ho Chi Minh City.
16 hours.
The cycles and cars and people intersecting.
People with their kids on  scooters.
Wearing masks to protect from the air pollution.
Waiting for the train. 
Drinking  a beer.
A woman selling her snacks.
If this was New York people would kill themselves.
But instead they yield.
Everyone yields to each other.
Energy blurs.

Andrew X  Pham describes the dynamic in  Ho Chi Minh City in  Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam:

 “Nobody gives way to anybody. Everyone just angles, points, dives directly toward his destination, pretending it is an all-or-nothing gamble. People glare at one another and fight for maneuvering space. All parties are equally determined to get the right-of-way--insist on it. They swerve away at the last possible moment, giving scant inches to spare. The victor goes forwards, no time for a victory grin, already engaging in another contest of will. Saigon traffic is Vietnamese life, a continuous charade of posturing, bluffing, fast moves, tenacity and surrenders.”
Snapping photos.
We  thank the bartender.
And bid adieu. 
A hot pot and bed.
Peaceful people who live with a nightmare of memory next door.
Thinking  about Cambodia and genocide, war and peace.
And the next step on our journey. 

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