Last week in Hanoi brought humbling experiences, laughing yoga, and of course, more pho.
- Because I’ve been here for 5 weeks, I’ve really gotten to know my little neighborhood. These are the small things I appreciate on my walk to work:
- Ladies on the street making chicken pho in front of their open-face restaurant. A group of about 6 of them that clean the full chickens and cut them, prep and cook the noodles in a giant pot, and cut scallions
- The homeless man that sits on the corner and always says ‘hello’ in a cheerful voice. Shirt unbuttoned and open, slouched over, and once caught him cutting his sparse mustache with tiny scissors
- Men doing construction at the end of the street. Over the month, we actually got to see an entire store be built, filled, and opened.
- The lady in the liquor store who’s always sleeping on the floor
- A group of guys squirting weird yellow stuff into bags (really should’ve asked what that was)
- A man, with a body permanently shaped into an Asian squat (curved back, etc), sharpening knives on a stone.
- A typical Vietnamese wedding (told from someone who lives outside of Hanoi):
- EVERYONE is invited, upwards of 1,000 guests, and if someone asks you about it, you invite them
- Usually starts in the morning at the bride’s house then moves to the groom’s house and is over early afternoon
- Bride wears a traditional Áo dài (dress) and a white wedding dress
- I wrote earlier about the honking and how it’s more friendly than in the US. However, I was later in a taxi that just honked at everything, many times, so I questioned it. Yup, really just being friendly and giving people a heads up. If it’s a longer hooooonkkkk then the person is probably pissed. Little beeps? No problem.
- The night market in Hanoi is a spectacle. Happens every Friday, Saturday, Sunday all around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake. Went a few times, but this week appreciated the section for small electric kids cars. Just a whole strip of little jeeps, firetrucks, construction trucks, hello kitty cars. My six year old self would’ve been in heaven.
Week in Review:
- Took a spin class in Vietnamese! Honestly the music was so loud, then the instructor was so loud over it, that I wouldn’t have been able to understand even if it was in English. I did here “No pain, no gain!” though and died laughing.
- Went to a dog café called K’s Coffee. Exactly what it sounds like: sip coffee surrounded by dogs. However the idea sounded nicer in theory, it was a really hot, smelly place with questionably clean dogs. At least some of them were cute.
- Late night chats about psychology and sexuality, always a good time
- Lunch at Nét Huế Restaurant as our Parea Partea ‘city good-bye’, lots of weird slimy rice stuff coating things
- Early morning stroll around Hoàn Kiếm Lake. 6am and honestly SO worth it. Wish I saw the city at this time earlier because people are just starting out, the streets are somewhat quiet, and going alone allowed me to really take in the sights:
- Saw one man jump off the public bus, buy food off the side of the street, then jump right back on
- Lots of people eating pho on little stools, had no idea they did it that early
- Ladies prepping pineapples and fruit baskets for a day roaming the streets selling it
- Around the lake, there are so many groups of people exercising. There’s the badminton section, the aerobics, yoga, tai chi, you name it. The sidewalks are filled with runners all around the lake, and the road is filled with bikers.
- One area had: aerobics for young people, aerobics for old people, a soccer match, a cha cha lesson, a ballroom dancing section, and my personal favorite: laughing aerobics.
- Story time: I was sitting on a stone wall observing all these classes when an old man comes over to me and tells me I’m beautiful. I smile and thank him and he goes back to the laughing class. Then he and his friends wave me over and insist I join, so what the heck!? We throw our hands in the air and just start laughing to the music. After that bit, we hold hands in a circle and sway while an old man says some stuff. Thennn all of a sudden I’m in a massage train and I have a little lady pounding my back and I have to do the same to this poor old man. It was a bizarre and beautiful experience. Laughing really is the best medicine though.
- Also in this section, a young boy comes up to me and talks to me, tells me what I’m seeing. He was 13, wanted to be a tour guide around the world, and goes to the lake every morning at 5:30 for exercises.
- Overall, I was in awe at how many people were up and moving. Guess there’s a reason everyone seems healthy and trim here.
- Final dinner at a Remote favorite: Phở Gia Truyền Bát Đàn. The only serve beef pho or pho with no meat, but very yummy! And get to eat on the tiny plastic stools.
- Final dessert is coconut ice cream at Sinh Tố Hoa Béo, super delish.
- Stayed up to watch the USA Women’s team advance to the semifinals of the World Cup before rolling out around 11 for the airport. PSA: the Lotus Lounge in Hanoi has a lot of snacks you can smuggle into your suitcase before boarding.
Wednesday- POSITIVE IMPACT DAY
- This month’s project was at the Phuc Tue Center- a school for orphanage children and children with intellectual disability and autism disorder
- When we first arrived, I (and I think others) was very overwhelmed. I had never worked with this community of people before and when you have a fairly grown boy running at you trying to grab the things in your hand, my first instinct wasn’t ‘oh how cute’. Didn’t help that there was no air conditioning and we couldn’t communicate in English.
- Learned about the center through our city team translating the director’s information. Some facts about the center:
- Privately funded
- 50% of students are orphans and live at the center, others have homes
- Only 2 girls out of about 30 students (20 during the summer)
- Center we visited is one of two, opened in 2009
- Start attending at age 7, until forever
- 90% of students need medical treatment but it’s sponsored by government
- Most interesting: 5 in 6 of the students are products of Agent Orange poisoning, either second or third generation. Yikes. (Agent Orange is the chemical the US used against Nam during Vietnam War)
- Participated in activities that the teachers led, which was key because none of us were equipped to lead things with these special needs children. This included tug-of-war, ‘slug’ racing, and catch with a ball
- Most humbling part: they also requested our help in the garden, so two of us went out in the 100 degree heat, no clouds, to lend a hand. After 15 minutes, I was WIPED, dripping in sweat like never before. Meanwhile this older Vietnamese lady grabs my hoe and with her handbag still on, hacks away and slays. I don’t even know the term for what we were doing but loosening dirt…? Anyway, blew my mind people could do this all day.
- How can we continue to make an impact? The center is always looking for donations, financially and goods. Honestly, just another couple balls would be fun. Bigger donations would go towards improving the housing for those living there.
- Later that night, Parea hosted a fundraiser at a local expat bar called Snug Pub. We crashed their weekly trivia night and raised some money for the center.
- My team came in third out of maybe 25 teams but to take any credit would be unfair.
- Side note: expat bars? Yup, definitely a thing. Felt like I was in an Irish pub in London. Zero locals, minus the staff.
The best part of transitioning every month? You get 12 reset buttons. Let’s be real, this was the lowest month of the program so far. BUT I have arrived in Chiang Mai and I LOVE IT. Almost cried as we landed because I saw mountains, I have a balcony with a nice view and can hear the birds chirping, the neighborhood we live in is clean and QUIET! It’s a beautiful thing. I don’t think I realized how much I was struggling in Hanoi until I arrived here. Anywayyyy, don’t discount Vietnam entirely, there were parts that I really liked! But part of this year is learning more about me, and for me, it was not a city I could live in.
Here’s to lots of Pad Thai and a beautiful new country!