Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Vietnam Journal III: Hanoi’s Old Town

Photograph by Hallie Cohen
Taking a cyclo, or bicycle taxi, through Hanoi’s Old Town one wonders if there is the equivalent of a Vietnamese Dickens who has written or could write his Sketches by“Boz.” Structures are piled one on top of the other in a crush of humanity that defies gravity.Tiny stores manned by steely eyed vendors sell everything from crackers and candy to jewels. Lifetimes and products are squeezed into every inch of these mini worlds while on the street an even more micro economy of ageless women hovering over tiny stoves serves meals to squatters (literally those who squat around them). Even narrower alleyways are everywhere, each one possessing its own microscopic. Vietnam has a population of 90 million who employ around 33 million motorbikes. Hanoi’s population is 6 million with approximately 3.2 million residents owning motorbikes. The Wild One was an early Brando film about two motorcycle gangs who reek havoc in a town. It’s probably safe to say that the effect of any 50’s movie dims in comparison to the ubiquitous herds of motorbikes that indifferently pour through the old town. Yet the bikes are also like water that seems to effortlessly flow through even the most foreboding of terrains. Hitch a ride on someone’s bike and take a l0 minute ride to Ngoc Ha (where some of the more affluent residents of Hanoi escape the roaring crowds). In the middle of the district on Hu Triep Lake there a plaque proudly proclaiming the Dien Bien Phu of the air along with the wreckage of a B-52 shot down on December 31, l972.

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