Why Hanoi does not Annoy
Let me think of all the ways that Hanoi should really annoy me. There's the traffic; it's constant, noisy and gives the impression of being completely un-disciplined. Then there's the pavements, or rather there's not. There's pavements alright, but not ones that you can actually walk down for more than thirty metres or so without having to step out into the road to avoid a parked motorcycle, a hastily set up cafe, a man repairing domestic fans or a motorcycle repair business that spread out of its three metre by three metre concrete shop and has flowed organically across the pavement and is starting to colonise the kerb and gutter.
Then theres the heat. And the dust. And the Asian high pressure system which traps and collects the fumes from the city, holding it all in, trapping it in the form of an almost tangible haze, exactly
at head night. The motorcycle exhaust fumes, the cooking smells, the welding fumes coming from the blacksmiths' sheds, which are also about to flow out their business premises and begin to colonise the pavement.
The thousand and one laundries, carpenters' shops, restaurants, all the wafts, smells and fumes from seven million people living and working in such close, if not to say, intimate, proximity to each other all contribute to Hanoi's ambience.
The French colonial architecture, which in the late 19th century, may have been a jewel in the crown of Indochina has fallen from grace. It's crumbling and decomposing almost to a point where in scarcely recognisable for what it once was, and all around it's being colonised, a form of reverse colonisation as the Asian temporary architectural style of galvanised iron sheeting, scaffolding poles and blue tarpaulin sheets replace the crumbling parts of the French buildings with a ramshackle urgency.
All this should give plenty of reasons to absolutely detest Hanoi. But of course I don't. A physical description goes little way to describe what Hanoi is like. Of course it's a bit tatty, a bit run down and a bit chaotic, but there's real vibrancy here. A real sense of a people hauling themselves up. It might not be ideal, but if you haven't got a premises to open an electric fan repair business then the pavement will just have to do.
The pavements are packed with cafés, all of them with people sitting outside eating, drinking coffee and chatting. Some of these pavement cafés have conventional indoor cafés attached, some do not. While some have just a few plastic tables chairs and a disposable barbecue on which corn on the cob is roasted to serve to their customers, that and small glasses of insanely strong and delicious Vietnamese coffee.
Women carrying improbably large pans of mangos and pineapples – peeled and cut into attractive spiral shapes, passion fruits and a thousand other instant snacks to sell to hungry workers. I love the Asian vibrancy, a million micro business occupying just a few square metres each. These are the clever, resourceful and hard working people that are propelling Vietnam's ferociously emerging economy.