Our hotel in Hanoi was in the Old Quarter, a frenzied and chaotic labyrinth of streets that rambled like they had been laid out by a toddler chasing a rabbit. Each street specializes in selling a certain product. Apparently our block was the bootleg DVD retail section, whenever we walked out of our hotel we were offered the latest Hollywood fare at 75 cents a pop. We’ve been gone from home for so long on this journey that we hadn’t even heard of most of the new releases.
A few streets over from us was the street devoted to the coffin sellers, the one place we could walk without someone asking us to come in and browse their fine selection. We felt fortunate that we didn’t appear to be in the market for a new coffin.
The sidewalks in Hanoi are an extension of the interior spaces. Anything that can be done inside is available for all to witness on the sidewalk: stir-frying dinner, cutting hair, chopping poultry, boiling water for tea, arranging flowers. The locals make such good use of the public space we half expected to see a baby delivered right out in the open. That is of course where the sidewalk isn’t being used as an open-air moped parking garage.
Oddly enough, one thing that doesn’t take place on the sidewalk is actually walking on them. So everyone crowds into the street: pedestrians, mopeds, bicycles, cars, rickshaws and ladies wearing conical straw hats balancing produce for sale on bamboo poles, all somehow manage to make way for each other in the daily ritual of Hanoi life.
Click the link to read more about our trip to Vietnam.