There is something about Hanoi, beyond the crazy traffic, millions of motorcycles, constant hooting of horns. It’s not that each time I come here I seem to be given the gift of the Hanoi hack and pollution throat…no, it’s more than that. There is something raw about Hanoi, about Asia as a whole – a combination of people striving ahead, optimistic about life and the future and frankly, seeing progress in their living standards, or of those around them. Sure inflation in Vietnam is 14.5% and food prices are skyrocketing, but there yet is this sense of progression, even destiny for some. There is an “earthy-ness” to life here – I walk the streets under the scorching skies, streets that are dirty, streets that are parking lots for motorcycles, dining areas for restaurants, hair salons for anyone with scissors and a mirror, and the playground for children. I weave my way through the heaving masses listening to callouts for my attention or simply the constant chatter of life amongst the hooting of horns and continual construction noise.
I see a young boy riding his bike on an open patch of the sidewalk or pavement – he’s smiling as he tears up his 20ft before slamming on the brakes to turn around. He practices riding with no hands which lights up his face with fat grin. And all the while, an old man, perhaps his grandfather, sits on the side chuckling to himself watching with a sense of pride.
I am taken back to the days of growing up on the farm – of the dirtiness of that, of everyday being in touch with the earth, of reveling in the sun, the outdoors, full of birds and butterflies. I reflect on how distant my life of offices and airplanes is from that. and perhaps, that’s the “something” of Hanoi. Perhaps the connection still here of office life, of business, of striving to provide for children and yet still have this raw mix of unfinished-ness, of dirty streets besides clean ones, of hair salons on street corners, beside makeshift restaurants and flower ladies, mixed with BMWs, Benz, and haute couture. Its poverty with richness, dirty, toothless elderly women walking beside women out of fashion magazines. Perhaps this is the “something”, perhaps its life in all its glory before its been “sanitised” called “development” and the annoying “health & safety” people have gotten their hands on life taking out any sense of personal responsibility and common sense.
And yet perhaps its me. Perhaps, it’s the reality that I want to see, that I have been looking for. Perhaps its my values shining through of life connected to the earth being true, of life full of its messiness being joyous. Vickers would be proud.