Spending four days in Hanoi meant a lot of time for Isla indulging in her newfangled joy of the cyclo. This old means of travel, cycling around Hanoi by a cheerful Vietnamese man, after some minor haggling (it costs about 100,000 Dong to get a good hour or so of rambling), proved to be a major attraction.
Unlike Bangkok, Hanoi was a place where people genuinely reached for Western children to play with them, give parents some time to consume meals, relax etc.. Thailand is less so such a place these days, despite the claims of those who say it is. I believe that the constant frown or reluctance by Westerners to hand over their kids has given rise to a caution by Thais in Bangkok to suggest we do so. A rightfully informative media campaign to highlight child abuses and kidnapping in the West has generated a parental fear that manifests in our social mistrust when placing our children with strangers. The sad effect of the poster child that is Madeline McCann is an endemic suspicion in UK and US parents that will not easily leave us.
In Vietnam, the caution does not yet exist; the enthusiasm for all and sundry to take Isla and Josh and play with them; to talk to us about their own children, their hopes for their futures, their dreams for their descendants…these interactions relaxed the Diplomat and I completely (perhaps naively some might bark). I feel that a little trust in the good nature of people goes a long way in this land and meant Isla got to enjoy herself thoroughly.
As did I…being able to get a glut of photos of people going about their daily lives….
I have previously said that Hanoi is a city where you can see it on two levels: the first being the ground storey with its neon plastic facade, its abundance of plastic and factory goods that you’ll find with a 500% markup and shinier packaging in any western store. Here people swarm like ants, asking you to buy (but not pushing you), the incessant beep of the horns create a scene of chaos. It is different to Bangkok…the air isn’t heavy with the odours of cooking spices. Cooking tends to occur under a roof here, customers spilling out into the streets on endless small blue plastic stools to chatter loudly.
The second level is that of the higher storeys of Hanoi’s buildings. Above the plastic shop fronts are a wealth of crumbling colonial masquerades. Solid brick buildings covered in concrete or stucco faces peep through trees and snaking black power lines. Windows are the size of doorways, interiors are dark, creating an itch of exploration that won’t go away. Occasionally a Vietnamese will be seated on a balcony, dragging on a cigarette or hanging washing, staring with unblinking eyes down on their small empire.
There is also a third view of Hanoi. One seen when you are on the move, deftly curving in and out of the traffic, dodging mopeds, pedestrians, carts, cyclos, cars.
By the end of it, Isla and I have gone out towards Ho Tay Lake, and there, in the vast expanse of its glittering, calm surface is a fourth view of the people of Hanoi…that of solitude. It’s one Isla and I pause at…and we like it very much…
Is this what diplomacy is all about?