Photo by Chim
“To rid yourself of vanities and just go with the seasons” – Jason Mraz
Hanoi, you always let me back in.
My perfect day in Hanoi starts, as with any perfect day in Vietnam, by waking up with the sun. Don’t worry if your window treatment was pulled down the night prior, the roosters and commotion of the elderly exercising will be your natural alarm. The iPhone 4S can wait, RIP Steve Jobs.
Hopefully, my ruou dan toc hangover isn’t the debilitating day-destroyer it tends to be, so I slump onto zee motorbike and slog over to Pho Thin (13 Lo Duc street). Order at the front, tell the Pho Thin mamasan exactly what I want (“Mot bat, mot trung, banh…ua, het banh roi ha? Chet!”). In bizarro Elizabeth Gilbert fashion, one must Pay, Eat, Leave. And that I do, and damn, oishii desu ka – taste the beef in that hella good broth.
Feeling like a million dong, I head over to Cafe Pho Co (11 Hang Gai). Rather, I am headed up Cafe Pho Co – through a small street-side art gallery, down a narrow, stone hallway I would barely be able to squeeze through had I stuck with my childhood diet of Super Nintendo and Filet-O-Fish. Up the whirling, chipped-paint staircase, and there I am, Ho Hoan Kiem (Hoan Kiem Lake) in all it’s turtle-power morning glory. Buzz of commute / walkers and their rounds / ca phe trung behind a Djarum clove cigarette.
Class starts at 8am and I am blessed with a batched morning schedule that has me working Mondays through Thursdays, with Fridays off to take long weekends to Sapa. I have a conversation about pedagogy with my friend Henry, before grabbing a straightforward, elegant lunch, either a bowl of Bun Cha on Hang Manh or a cut of fatty Sato bo Viet Nam with a side of Sup Cua Ca Tom at Nguyen Sinh (17-19 Nguyen Quoc Su street). Then, trick it, I goes gets me a piece of the best warm chocolate cake (evar) at Love Chocolate Cafe (26 To Ngoc Van).
Khong phai la anh yeu em…anh yeu toi
To atone the sin of that warm chocolate cake – neck and hand stretch – I jam over to NShape Fitness for my daily workout, since it’s probably going to rain tonight, ruling basketball out at the Van Phuc Sports Complex or Bach Khoa University.
- Weight-lift at least every other 2 days
- A minimum of 30 minutes of punching bag
- The mid-day Soccer Mom Yoga class, if I don’t get carried away with the punching bag
- iPad (catch up on the world through Flipboard, Reeder & TED talks) + Headphone connection: Bluetooth, of course
- Coconut juice (natural electrolytes, 12.000-20.000 VND)
- Dry sauna room
- God’s gift called this body:
Photo by Brian Nguyen
Puku (16/18 Tong Duy Tan) for a second cup of coffee and green tea, to bang out some e-mails for my friend, project manager and Cyworld Vietnam extraordinaire, Michael, work on morsels of our iOS development project, three screenplays and plan for the lessons in the days, and life ahead. Always plan.
Dusk settles, sip on a Lemongrass Martini while catching the 48-Hour Film Contest “Best Of” World selections at the Hanoi Cinematheque (22A Hai Ba Trung, yes, you can drink in the theatre) before the New Hanoian quarterly meet-up, where I’m swaying to the stylings of the band for the night, Zamina: Pilipino on the guitar, white dude bassist, African-descent vocalist with a Tiger beer, (shirtless) white dude bucket drummer, and lastly, one of my students as the keyboardist, an IT professional from Nigeria.
How it went, and went.
Question: Gin & Tonic in hand, why the front girls get giddy in my near sway?
It’s midnight, driving down Nghi Tam, listening to Blackstar’s Respiration that I put it on infinite loop, driving around more just because of it, pondering if I should pre-prevent my unpreventable hangover with a bowl of xoi from Xoi Yen (35B Nguyen Huu Huan).
Next time. Rev.
It’s nights like these – these live, low-key musical events, the Hanoi Cinematheque, the buzz as I feel the chill, autumn air on my face – when Hanoi reminds me of my hometown, Berkeley, CA – except with more beautiful Vietnamese jivesters, an actual bar scene, and better Pho.
Photo by Chim
I cross the highway over to Solace (cross the highway East of the Old Quarter and follow Chuong Duong Do all the way to the river), because it’s not just a dance club, it’s a dance club on a motherjunkin’ docked boat, on the Red River, owned by old-time friends. Hellos and how are you doings and, let me get a Gin & Tonic and I’ll be out there, handle your bitness.
It’s then, when the fifth gin & tonic kicks in – sitting out, elbows with arms crossed on the rail, watching the workers drive back home on the bridge over blue-black waters, wondering, that perhaps, she’s on that blinking plane touching down, pulling up in a taxi like a blindfold surprise, coming back to me.
Under the night, drinks in hand, smiles out of the glint of our eyes, music and conversation, there together.
Tomorrow, we’ll take the train somewhere.