Travels with Penelope

Travel, Food, Wine, Spirituality and Everything Else

December 12, 2013 Reflections

If a psychic had told me back in the day when we were cleaning up after the American War that I would be traveling to Hanoi, I would have been duly skeptical.  I am having one of the happiest two weeks of travel experience I can recall. For whatever issues may persist here in Hanoi, there is also an underlying contentment and a Buddhist acceptance of what is. Nonattachment.  As the young Vietnamese sales manger of The Golden Sun Suites, told me, “We do not look back and complain, we move on and look to the future. We never talk about the war.” Sounds like the Mandela approach.

Son, the young lecturer from the university with whom I have become good friends agrees. He told me that not all, but many Vietnamese wanted to become friends with the Americans. I have experienced this in their graciousness, kindness openness and curiosity. Even when I am out alone walking the streets taking in the life, it is the same with none of the brusqueness I have experienced in some European cities. And heaven knows if anyone the Viet have reason for resentment, but I just don’t see it.

We came to Hanoi because my partner was invited to teach a course in Materials Engineering at the University of Mining and Technology. He is using his textbook: Introduction to Materials Science and Engineering. The students surprised him when they showed up with photocopies of his book. We mused that it is as costly to copy as to buy a paperback edition. A few days after our arrival I was asked if I could come in and work with the lecturers on their English. I did and now they have asked me if I could come back, teach and stay much longer. Definitely giving it consideration.

Last evening Son, Hoan and Ling came to the hotel to escort us for an evening of street food. Tonya another prof from UC Davis arrived Tuesday. She has been joining us each evening for dinner and stroll. After a walk through the usual din of the Hanoi evening with its thousands of motor scooters darting hither and yarn we settled in at Hanoi House on one of Hanoi’s oldest and famous street-food streets. Ling who has lived in the area all her life except for a five-year stint in Pejing to study economics, guided us. Friends have dubbed her the Hanoi Girl.

We’re on the street!



Hoan took care of the ordering in Vietnamese. We had some choice dishes in mind that were not on the menu. Unknown to us Hoan also ordered those items. Our waitperson sent out to the other street food places to get whatever we wanted. By the time everything arrived, there were twelve courses on the table, with at least half a dozen veggies. Everyone served himself or herself by extending a reach if necessary, up and down the table securing food with their own chopsticks. This is the way here. All food served at once. No serving spoons necessary.



A friend wrote and responded to my description of life on the street. She said she, too, needed quiet, away from the noise…my intent had been to simply describe with no personal thoughts or needs in mind. But now that she mentions the need for quiet, I recognized that I am ok here. When I need silence I retreat to the hotel in the day, and evenings on the street remind me of Shiva creating a dynamic if a bit unruly, dance. The subtle and not so subtle interconnectedness of life cannot be missed or avoided. There is something to it that feels so right. I cannot believe I just wrote that considering how much time I spend alone when I am in my own zone.


IMG_2511Restaurant dishwashers after closing.

IMG_2518Strolling the streets after dinner.


IMG_2526Night Market

IMG_2521Typical night wedding


IMG_2413On duty?

IMG_2524Tonya mimicking a vendor.

IMG_2520When we were on the road driving back to the hotel from Mai Chau, we stopped at a Sunday morning farmer’s market. Son bought me a big bag of miniature chestnuts and two bamboo sticks stuffed with rice. He informed me that the rice cooked in a special pot for bamboo and a local delicacy only to be found around Mai Chau. Back at the hotel, Chef Jack using one of his carving knives sliced and removed the bamboo. It contained a long roll of rice that had softened and blended together somewhat like Japanese mocha, but not sweet or quite so creamy. Jack sliced it and Rose one of the servers with whom I have had lovely sharing’s brought it to me along with a big plate of peanuts. “You must eat it with peanuts,” she insisted. There was enough for lunch for two days. Com is the Vietnamese word for rice.

Yesterday Chef Jack roasted the mini chestnuts. Labor intensive to crack open and remove from the shell, still, they are good. I plan to take a big bag to Son tonight when we go to dinner.

I haven’t had much time for reading Unbounded Wholeness, but the words continue to give me much food for reflection and a line onto t the larger view that the Tenzin Wangyal describes in the book than the limited view of my present.

I brought one other book with me: The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton. A Trappist monk, he traveled to Asia in 1970 to meet with the living Indian and Buddhist sages among them Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche and the Dai lai Lama, and to attend a major conference. I read it for the first time over forty years ago. I find it as relevant now as it was back then.

1 Comment

  1. Penelope, I’m enjoying your blog. It’s been fun to follow your impressions of Hanoi from the first impacts of the city’s busy sights, the way in typical P fashion you’ve made friends and absorbed the heart of the place and its people, and your joy/sadness at leaving. Looking forward to more!


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