Two young lecturers from the University of Mining and Technology picked us up in an SUV at the Hanoi airport. Yes, we made our connection. SUV’s are a rare site on the streets of Hanoi, but I did not know that at the moment. The two men had interacted with my partner when he taught at the university two years ago. Friendly, inquisitive and chatty, they held an ongoing conversation on the hour-long ride from the airport to the Golden Sun Suites Hotel. A radio program broadcast in Vietnamese played as a backdrop to the lively conversation. Broadcast in Vietnamese it took awhile to recognize a sporting event. Our hosts informed us how excited they were by the football game between the UK and some other team. After our twenty-hour flight, I quickly forgot the name of the other team. “Unbounded wholeness” continued to reel through my mind
The streets were quiet, dark and with dimmed lights the petrol stations and cafes seemed to be closed. . It may be midnight, I thought, but it is Saturday night. After adjusting to the lights I noted shadows of people sitting and sipping in outdoor bars.
When the driver turned onto Hang Quat Street, I noted to my partner how wonderful that we were residing on such a quiet street. Saying nothing, knowing how tired I was, he did nothing to dispense my short-lived ignorance.
The next morning breakfast, the best I have ever had in an east or west hotel, was served by a friendly staff, all of whom looked like teenagers. Not that they are, it’s just that they look so young. Jack the chef appeared and we complemented him on our first and fine Vietnamese meal.
My awakening occurred after breakfast when we exited from the hotel onto the street for a walkabout. Hanoi, yes, we made our connection in Tokyo, is a place where everything that could possibly happen happens on all levels at the same time rather like a cultural, historical systems theory set in motion in the material world. Signs of modernity sit side by side with signs of various past epochs.
The margins of our quiet street framed a fast moving river of taxis, trucks and motor scooters, bicyclists, and pedestrians including old women carrying baskets full of this and that items for sale, across their shoulders. Metal doors on what I thought in the darkness of the past evening were houses had been raised to reveal retail shops. Retailers sat on low benches waiting for customers. Teddy bear shops abound along with picture frame shops, shrine shops full of Buddha’s, bakeries, hardware’s, clothing, knock-off (famous brand) shoes and purses, you name it; it’s here, even a chain store called K-Mart with a small CVS written in the right hand corner of the store sign. We headed out into the noise and bustle slowly taking in this amazing, ancient city.