Settle in, have a look around. There’s blog posts below, from Hanoi and elsewhere. Some photos and art and such to gawk at. And of course a bit of my writing, especially old stuff about my neighborhood of Kenilworth in Washington, DC, where I go often in my mind though I haven’t lived there for over a decade. Enjoy…
There’s a magical street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter called Hang Ma. It sells toys, birthday party supplies, and things to help the young at heart celebrate whatever holiday is coming up.
Last month was Tet Trung Thu, Vietnam’s mid-autumn moon festival. This festival is focused especially on children, so Hang Ma was bursting with goods and buyers.
There were masks for sale.
There were handmade, mass-produced festival emblems made out of colored paper, like this star. Others take the shape of animals – fish shapes are everywhere – and are made to hold a candle or other small light and be a lantern. Nighttime kids’ parades with these lanterns are apparently a traditional feature of the moon festival.
The one above features the face of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s hero.
In addition to the handmade traditional stuff, there was tons of tacky modern toys, too.
A wander on Hang Ma is a must for the fall season. Can’t wait to see what’s coming there for Christmas…
Hanoi’s construction techniques continue to amaze me. And, while watching a building going up — or in this case coming down — I’m not sure whether to admire or shudder. Perhaps both.
This guy is four stories up, one-hand, no shoes, jack-hammering away the brick-and-cement wall on which he stands.
Now that’s courageous! Or perhaps a touch foolhardy? It certainly ain’t no sure foundation. He’d probably make a great mountain climber!
This is a bia hoi.
It’s a place to get fresh beer. (Bia means beer in Vietnamese.)
Yes, you read correctly: fresh beer. Not bottled. Not canned. Not kegged. Fresh. Basically, they bring it from the brewery in buckets and serve it out of a big vat. At busy times, waiters scurry ‘tween vat and tables carrying round trays crowded with freshly poured, sudsy glasses, barely able to keep up with demand.
I’ve come here to relax and get some work done. And drink some fresh beer, of course; I like the stuff. I’m about the only person you’ll ever see typing on a laptop at a bia hoi, though. Bia hoi’s are the dominion of groups of men, mainly at night but sometimes in the afternoons, who congregate to drink and smoke and eat and pass the time.
I choose to sit at table number 13. Surely it will bring me luck. Though that bottle opener is a sacrilege. Who would drink bottled beer at a bia hoi?!
(Incidentally, there was an incident that meant table 13 was unlucky for me. I spilled fresh beer on my laptop. Oi! In the end, though, all I needed was a new keyboard, which didn’t cost much. And my keyboard had been malfunctioning so much that I was about to buy an external one anyway. Probably saved me money. So maybe it was lucky…)
Across the street from me is a public park, and beyond that the quiet waters of the Westlake. In the park, young and old exercise their right to exercise on blue-and-beige exercise machines provided by the local municipality. My favorite is the old lady doing hip thrusts as she stares inscrutably into the gathering dusk.
If you want to enjoy a bia hoi, you sit down and holler for some beer. “Em oi! Mot bia!” Hey you! One beer!
You quaff. You eat the complementary peanuts. You chopstick some morning glory with garlic, some crusty fried tofu topped with a hunk of uncooked bitter greens, and some grilled buffalo meat with rice out of little white bowls.
You throw your trash under the table, in or somewhere near the trash can.
You admire the every-glass-is-different, made-of-recycled-glass glasses. And you never drink alone. (I’m breaking the rules.)
Bia hoi’s dot Hanoi. It’s hard to go far without seeing one. If you went on a walk and had two beers at every bia hoi you came across, you’d be drunk by kilometer one. Even though the beer doesn’t pack that much punch.
Come to Hanoi and find your bia hoi.
I’m reviving my race and culture blog, Whiteboy in the (small) City, with a post that includes an opinion essay I published about how my parents made change with love, not politics. Don’t know the backstory of how my parents did this with a cross-cultural move from rural American Amish country to Washington, DC? Click through and find out…
While you’re there please sign up to follow that blog, too, which I’m hoping to post on more regularly.
After a week of 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures early in June, the summer has settled down to intermittent heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. Thankfully, the near-constant cloud cover has kept the temperatures down, mostly around or below 90.
But the big Ho Tay lake still attracts local swimmers who wade in to cool off, especially on a weekend afternoon. I applaud the water-time recreation! Though, frankly, I’m not sure I’d want to get in myself. Maybe I’ll get to go on the lake in a boat sometime…
Are you really angry but unsure about resorting to violence to solve your problems? Need an alternative to punching the daylights out of the person who is driving you mad? Strap on these seed knuckles and plant a non-invasive species instead!
These fully organic, fast growing grass seeds are harvested sustainably in the paradise that is California. And unlike buying brass knuckles, springing for seed knuckles means you won’t support extractive industries with your hard-earned cash.
So, next time you need to get out some aggression toward that person who really riles you up, avoid court fees and possible jail time — sock it to Mother Earth as an alternative! Simply put on your seed knuckles and punch the ground.
Instead of an enemy, you’ll make a plant!
Brought to you by Swords Into Plowshares Pacifists Inc.
I sing Hanoi’s hardy two-wheel drivers:
load-carrying magicians, traffic connivers.
When clouds decide to let torrents free,
they slip into something a little less comfy
then go back to delivering kegs, chickens, crops
so fast they dodge ’bout half the raindrops.
They poncho up, these fearless riders:
bicycle pedalers, motorbike striders.
The hanger-on-back just an extra bump
under the liner, like a camel, two humps.
The deluge could thunder like this all day,
but they just shrug and sigh and say,
“It’s part of life, this getting wet.
We gotta get where we gotta get!”
Photo: Note the high heels!
Take Long Bien bridge over the river,
water and wind makes you shiver.
Hail, storm, and lightning so hard to ignore!
Yet a whole city rides on through the downpour.
So inspiring, so courageous, so colorful: it’s huge!
I’ll poncho, like them, through any deluge.
Last week I looked up the street and saw a bunch of colorfully dressed people standing around. Hey, a parade about to start! I stuck around to watch.
There were dragon and lion dancers. Drummers and bands. Altars and palanquins carried on shoulders. Some mean looking dudes all dressed in black. And lovely yellow-robed ladies swaying in unison.
And then a palanquin so tall it didn’t fit under some of the things hung in its path, while a soldier waited to keep an intersection clear for the procession.
Apparently, it’s common for local temples to have their own little festival, which might include a parade, in the month or so after Tet, the Vietnamese celebration of the lunar new year. I’m glad I caught this one.
Finally, here’s a quick video so you can see (and hear) everything in motion, a little bit as I saw it.
It seemeth that knights of contemporary Hanoi have left behind their lance in favor of sundry lengths of pipe. And their steed no longer hath four legs, but wheels of two. What is more, their field hath become a thoroughfare thoroughly paved, with the sun-dappled, grassy arenas of yore forgotten by all but the most hoary head.