Learning to Love Hanoi

Well, it’s taken a few days, but I would say that Hanoi is growing on me.  I’m not sure it’s a city I’m going to run back to visit, but I have reached a certain level of acceptance.  First of all, I’ve learned that where the streets are concerned, it helps to approach the chaos like you’re a superhero and nothing can touch you.  As for the rest of the craziness, well, I’m getting used to it.

I spent this morning shopping while Prescott went to a cafe to deal with some emailing.  There are some fancy boutiques here, but most of the stores are very local and highly specialized.  And they usually come in multiples — where I’ve taken a photo of only one store, you can imagine at least five or six more of the same on the same block.  For example, there are many stores — practically adjacent to one another — that sell stuffed things that remind me of the state fair:

img_6976As for fake flower stores,  there are about twenty of them, all at the same five-way intersection:

img_6977One unique store was the “guy turning newel posts and candlesticks” vendor, which I stopped to see both because I love woodworking and because the dog was excessively cute.  But I haven’t seen anything else like this in all of my wanderings.

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This is the store where I bought my dress, which would be considered pretty upscale around here:

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After the shopping adventure, Prescott and I took a long walk to another part of the city, to an area known as West Lake:

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This is a pretty typical site around the lakeshore — lots of people hanging out, drinking mystery brews crafted by women sitting on tiny stools.

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And this is a less typical sight, but it somehow feels quintessentially Vietnam to me:

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We saw this Soviet-style monument along the way:

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And one park had orchids:

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We passed by all of this because we were headed to a cooking class at the Hanoi Cooking Centre, where we learned how to make five different vegetarian Vietnamese dishes.  Vegetarian cooking isn’t all that common in Vietnam — they love meat and serve very little without fish sauce — but you can find it here and there.

Our class started with a tour of the nearby market, where we saw all sorts of fruits and vegetables (and animal parts).  Here are a bunch of different kinds of rice:img_6986

They also had a vast assortment of eggs — here, from left to right, are quail, duck, chicken, and goose:

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I’m also fascinated that there are hundreds of women who continue to carry produce balanced on their shoulders in these baskets:

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The cooking class itself was lots of fun.  The only participants were the two of us and a woman from the UK named Louise, so it was all very up close and personal.

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I don’t know how I’ll ever find the ingredients to make it (banana flowers are not exactly plentiful in Singapore), but I loved the banana flower-tofu salad.  And we learned that every banana flower has baby bananas inside!

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Overall, Hanoi isn’t what I’d expected — it’s neither quaint nor quiet nor particularly French.  It’s dirty (there’s trash everywhere — shop owners just throw stuff out by the curb and then sweep up at the end of the night).  It’s loud.  It’s chaotic.  Some restaurants sell dog, and we saw people picking lice out of other people’s hair in a public park, and both of those things freaked me out a little bit.  But the city has grit and interesting architectural variety and character, all of which Singapore lacks to some degree or another.  So I’m glad we came.

 

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