When I reflect on my two months spent living in in Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi, I feel mixed emotions. On one hand, I had many positive experiences, but on the other, there are aspects that I am happy to have left behind.
Hanoi is made up of many districts, all of which have their own little identity. I lived in Tay Ho district which is home to the largest number of expats in all of Hanoi. Naturally, businesses have popped up in the area that cater to western needs. Most required services were available in English so it was easy to fix my motorbike (which I did one too many times!) and communicate needs (“Hey, can I buy a SIM card for 5GB and 100 texts?!”). A large diversity of food was available to suit any taste, so one night I could have Indian food for dinner and then for the next, Japanese. I felt pretty neutral to the vaste food selection because as a foreigner, I want as much as possible to eat similar foods to the locals be able to more fully experience its culture. Undeniably, there were times I thoroughly enjoyed having this as an option though.
Some of the Positives
1. The Quang An Night Flower Market:
The Quang An Flower Market was definitely worth a few visits. The floral aroma of the air and the feast of colors made for a sweet cocktail to the senses. Here, flowers come in any colour that the imagination can conjure. The ladies that worked at the flower stalls would wave us down to buy some of their flowers, which of course was an easy sell.
2. The Coconut and Sugar Cane Juice Lady:
With a freshly sliced coconut water going for under $2 CAN and a sugarcane juice going for less than $0.5 CAN, you have to understand why my coconut craze got to the point it did. I developed a familiar friendship with the coconut lady that lived below our apartment and I looked forward to our daily interactions. Despite the language barrier, we found alternative ways to communicate that usually involved a lot of exaggerated hand gestures.
3. The Temples:
Small Buddhist temples lined the side streets of Hanoi. I visited the temple down the street from our apartment several times. Walks through its intricately designed interior brought me a slice of peace and tranquility in this hectic city. I really enjoyed interacting with its resident animals and studying its beautifully crafted sculptures. I found serenity in sitting on one of its benches, listening to the birds and watching the resident monks go about their daily lives.
4. Drinking Beer on Miniature Chairs:
5. The Coffee and Cafes
With cafes on every street corner in Tay Ho, enjoying a nice cup of Vietnamese coffee (a must try if you’re ever in Vietnam) in a tropically decorated cafe was a daily ritual.
6. The Local Grocery Lady
In my whole time spent living in Hanoi, I visited a large grocery store once. Mostly, I just bought food from a lady that lived down the alley from us. Each day, she would receive a shipment of fresh and local veggies and fruit. Not only did I enjoy the convenience of it being only a 30 second walk from my front door, I also liked that it was local. Ten points for sustainable farming practice!!!
Some of the Downs
1. The Traffic…
2. The Traffic!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Getting through the traffic of Hanoi under a daily basis was extremely trying. More then once, I watched an accident unveil before my eyes that resulted in injuries and even death. The driving in Hanoi is absolutely insane and not for the faint of heart. No traffic rules are enforced. At intersections without lights, cars and motorbikes from every direction weave through one another, honking their horns to announce that they are coming through. To top all of this, I would wear a mask to protect my lungs from the toxic exhaust emitted from the backs of motorbikes. One thing is for certain, the drive back and forth to work is not something that I will miss.
3. The Pollution (Air, Water, Fire Earth)
Each morning I would wake-up and walk over to the window to check how the air quality was that day. More often then not, my heart would sink as a looked out and into the abyss of dirty haze. I didn’t need to look at the air quality index to know realize just how bad it was. After a few days of extreme smog, I could expect every time, without fail, to have a scratchy throat. At times, the air was literally toxic.
The pollution doesn’t stop with the air. For a city that calls itself “The City of Lakes”, most (if not all) of the lakes in Hanoi are extremely polluted and are still used for dumping trash. Beside a fisherman casting in his line, I would see plastic bags floating around. I was told by several people that at one point last year, all of the fish in Tay Ho Lake died over the span of a few months, floating to the surface and filling the air with the smell of rot for some unknown reason. Truthfully, I cannot say that this surprises me with the amount of waste that I witnessed in it.
I do not blame Hanoi’s residents for how polluted it is. I blame the lack of recycling system and proper garbage disposal techniques that don’t seem to exist there at all. It seems that a large portion of residential garbage is burned or carried off in the night to an unknown destination.
Overall, having experienced the drastic scale of what Hanoi has to offer, I can honestly say that I am happy that I lived here and that I feel likes I learned a lot from the city.