We met David at the Hanoi airport this morning. Waiting for him was grand – people waiting for relatives, holding bouquets, greetings with smiles and tears, hugs, happiness. I’m thinking some people together after a long time apart. Being here at the airport as well as on the streets it’s like when I’ve been in Vietnam in recent years, thinking about what a shame about the war with these people – I mean, look at them! It’s not that I think we were necessarily wrong to fight the war (remembering the exodus and pain of millions of SE Asian refugees), but more that we were caught up in a matrix of karma related to colonialism, international communism, South VN’s struggle for independence, and
other factors. Whatever the issues and complexities, it’s sad to me that we were fighting these people (as if all war isn’t sad). So there I was at the Hanoi airport, waiting for my son seeing the smiles and flowers and tears and of course tears in my eyes. Vietnam! Photo: Proud relatives of one of the new PhDs (see below). This post begins and ends with beauty.
Walking around Hanoi we pass many women’s clothing stores selling some pretty bad looking clothes, but we hardly ever see a woman who doesn’t look good, showing that the woman makes the clothes rather than the clothes making the woman. The fact is, the huge majority of Vietnamese women are very very spiff, and a pretty large percentage are very good-looking.
We passed the French-fry alley today, right past
the bun cha place on Ha Tien (according to noodlepie, one of the best). The bun cha place is closed for the day and what was a place to eat is now a living room and what was an alley earlier in the day is now a hang-out for high school or college students eating fried potatoes and fried something else – just like the last time we were here. Just like the last time it’s the wonder of the streets that calls us. Photo: As I've told you so many times, do not eat vegetables and fruits that haven't just been peeled (leave 'em for me). This is bun cha, a great dish and good for you.
So, happily we’re together with David (who is tired after a stout flight SFO to Taipei to Hanoi), going to Halong Bay day after tomorrow, then flying to Hue a few days later. Trains in VN are pretty grand, but we’re getting a little old for a squat toilet on a train rocking along down the tracks.
At the moment DK and I are headed for a walk around the block and to the satay lady across the street. Well, that didn’t work out too well. Photo: The satay lady. You can dine in or take it to go.
When we first saw her she had plenty of satay left, but by the time we got around the block she only had 3 sticks and 5 pig feet left. So we got the satay on a bun for Leslie and left the pig feet for someone else. 15 minutes later the lady had packed up and left. We took the sandwich to Leslie and went back to the King Café and had pork with onion and extra garlic + rice. Can you get extra garlic in Vietnam? If you took the garlic, nuoc mam, and sugar out of Vietnamese food, the whole place would just collapse.
Listening to Jerry Garcia singing these Visions of Johanna ...Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet? We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it … Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues, You can tell by the way she smiles … 10,000 or more Mona Lisas sitting straight and fine riding motorcycles through this city and if you could see the woman sitting on her tiny stool defining elegance as she fries the nem at the bun cha place on Hang Manh Street you’d know what I mean or if you’ve been to Vietnam with eyes wide open, you know what I mean. Photo above: On the street
At breakfast I talked with two (South) Vietnamese men from, wait for this, Mississippi on their first visit to Hanoi. There was also a table with some French women on their way to Saigon to work with an NGO. We’re Americans, one of us Khmer-American. And of course the people working at the hotel are Vietnamese from the north. We were like a microcosm of the past 50 years of VN and SE Asia history,
representing a lot of shed blood – by ourselves, our families, our people.
David stayed at the hotel working on a paper while Leslie and I went to the Temple of Literature (where for a 1000 years scholars took exams for higher learning based on Confucian principles) for an hour or so of sheer magic. It was graduation day for one of the universities and there were students all over the place, posing for photographs, laughing, having a grand time, unimaginably beautiful in their ao dais and happiness. They were more than happy to share with us, posing for our photos, sharing the joy. As we
went further into the complex we came upon a group of about 8 people in their 40s and 50s – PhD candidates in the final moments of receiving their degrees. Serious men and women receiving high honors in a country and culture that honors learning, families bursting with pride, an American couple deeply moved by it all. It doesn’t get much better than this either.
Dedicated to mrmookie and the joy and beauty of Vietnam. We're lucky alright.