I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve deleted the words off this page, rethought both the sober and drunk messages that I’ve sent to guys who didn’t deserve my day dreams, let alone my scrambled midnight brain. All I know is I need to stay. I need to experience more than the people who are meant to come in as fast as they go out of my life- however frequent it happens it won’t stop me from searching for something real in this somewhat-misty city.
Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam is this vast tropical grid of skyscrapers, motorbikes and coffee shops. Its currently rainy season so that means you’ll be changing twice a day from the humidity and freezing your chest and legs off on the Grab bike home from work. I do anyway. I don’t purposely choose a grab bike to work but it’s the cheapest option and you really do see a lot in a 30-minute journey. It’s a very different ride to work here. I’m used to lush rolling green hills which are soon to be forgotten by first time buyer homes, and all the locals who have been there for years will tell passers-by how it was in their day– you’d see them using significant arm gestures at the sky and lots of finger pointing. Then, as we’d come up to the T junction where I was very imminently and tragically going to arrive at work soon, we’d see this woman who always seemed to be walking as if her shoes were torturing her, and my mum or I would eagerly shout, “there she is!” My face pressed up against the glass, I’d watch her padding unevenly along the pavement with her arms out for balance. We knew she was on her way up to the local shop to purchase a few things as my mum would see her carrying a bag on the way back. I’m actually chuckling at the thought. Now, my second month in, my regular ride to work has changed into me sitting behind my Grab driver on a motorbike with a mask fixed to my face, and clutching the bar behind me whilst simultaneously finding a good song on Spotify to start my ride to work. I also do a mental check before I set off too far down the road…helmet? Check! Notebook? Check? Lunch? Check! For the next half an hour I see everything from a 2-year-old on the back of a motorbike wrapping his tiny arms around his mother’s waist, to some absolute but I can’t help but feel…genius, carrying a fridge on his back whilst storming through a red light. Yeah…there’s no such thing as a stop sign here, it’s more like a concerned neighbour’s advice which you would never take because you don’t even remember their last name to write on last year’s Christmas card so, you just wrote their house number on the envelope and popped it through the letter box. Although, I’ve seen some pretty random things, I’ve also seen and heard of some near fatal accidents and the traffic here really is as nuts as it sounds (sorry mum). However, it doesn’t stop be from noticing the extraordinary things, the things that I wouldn’t normally get to see back home. For instance, the skyscrapers that rise as if they are tall enough to reach into the night sky and pluck out a star for you- are lit up, and from the tinniest lights that cover these giant builds, you get see these enormous GIF-like ads. I realise that the roads that I travel back on are mostly congested but there’s a part of journey where I’m on this road called Dang Thai Mai, it’s what I call ‘food street’. There are streets for everything in Hanoi; silver street, shoe and chicken street, but this street is just an alley full of some of my favourite restaurants like Bao Wow- I just like to call it ‘food street’. Anyway, as we’re piping along Dang Thai Mai (it’s never really busy when I’m on my way home from work so…), I let go of the bar at the back of the bike and I can’t help but want to hold my arms out straight like a bird and close my eyes. Just for a second or two. What’s the line from The Notebook? “If I’m a bird, you’re a bird!”
There’s also another thing I must tell you. Hanoi is both a new world and a cesspit for meeting men. You will find great connections, whether it’s something you have in common like a book, a country or (my kryptonite) he makes you laugh until your cheeks hurt. Although, these connections feel wonderful and you get a bit starry eyed for a few minutes or a night (up to you), they all seem to do the same thing; become Facebook friends but will never end up in your contact list with an emoji next to their name. It’s not like home, these guys are just like you, searching for something and are at a particular time in their lives where they also want connections but avoid anything long term. Yes, even friendship. Am I the only person who likes to think that falling in love is just a friendship on fire, which takes time? I think we’re a little mad to be honest, mad to believe in all our teenage movies, in books and the culture of ‘meeting the love of your life whilst travelling.’ Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of these stories but as a rule of thumb here, we all wear masks when we first meet each other and this is not the place where you will get to know these guys long enough for them to take theirs off as quickly as you do yours. If you do end up meeting a guy though, I’m routing for you, I’m routing for everyone to meet someone who will stay. Whether you meet someone straight away and you fast become each other’s favourite person or your friends in each other’s lives and you’re letting the chips fall where they may, allow these people to exit your life as quickly as they came in or just enjoy whatever happens and try not throw around his last night with your first, it never helps that psycho part of our brains.
Enough about men, lets talk about my experience of Old Quarter- where you’ll find any kind of street. I once saw what I think was bannister street, there’s just a venders upon venders working on the floors or tiny plastic stools banging bits of wood into blocks and banisters parts hanging from the roofs and walls around them. I went to Old Quarter with a group of friends in search of shoes, to which I found my first pair of sandals for 200k, which is around £6 and they’re the comfiest things in the world! On the way to silver street, we were stopped by a lady offering us wooden fans, and the weather was so hot we couldn’t refuse so we all picked our favourite colour for around 20k each. I would highly recommend investing in one of these and also a long condom-looking rain coat that you will find either in Old Quarter or in VinMart (the ASDA or Tesco of Asia), these are essential during rainy season.
Something else I did last week was visit Ninh Binh, a group of friends suggested I go with their tour guide so I Whatsapp’d him and booked the day trip for the next day. The locals call Ninh Binh – Halong Bay on land, its somewhere where if I had a few days could both read and write a book. Its around 2.5 hours to get to it but by 11.30am we had reached one of my favourite parts of the tour which was the boat tour to see the Mua Caves, the lake is vast and you must sit two to a boat with your rower using their feet to paddle the boat. You go through three caves, which are low and you might even have to duck your head a few times to avoid the limestone knocking you out. From there we went for a bike ride through the local villages and rice fields and had a buffet lunch- which for a pescatarian like myself, wasn’t too shabby! The final leg of the tour is where you walk over 500 steps up to the top of the Dragon Mountain, for the most beautiful views. After stopping a million times to catch my breath, and letting a 4 year old child who was running, I repeat RUNNING up the stairs pass me, I managed to drag myself to the top and THANK GOD I DID! Check out these views…
Today is Friday, I am finally finishing this blog post, after what feels like days of procrastinating about opportunities, life lessons and bad decisions (mum and Dad, I’m okay), I feel present and caught up in these crazy two months of moving my whole life out to Vietnam. Wherever you are in the world reading this, I hope that when things seem most dark, it will show you the light. Yes, I just quoted Harry Potter.