The Asian winter extended to the maximum of its geographic limit and despite being almost 40º in Ho Chi-Minh – 1600 km south of Hanoi, a little less in Hue – it is unusually cold in the Vietnamese capital.
Having just arrived, we are taken by surprise and we move as fast as we can through the streets looking for a store that sells us coats something more modern than the post-communist look still in fashion around these parts.
Despite the icy fog, the day unfolds as usual in the garden of Hoam Kiem lake (Lake of the Restored Sword).
Groups of seniors indulge in endless matches of traditional Asian games like XiangQi and Mahjong. Or exercise the body playing badminton or practicing tai chi.
Meanwhile, vendors run after visitors to the Ngoc Son temple and The Huc bridge that gives access to it. They are foisted on postcards, photocopied Lonely Planet guides and small handicrafts, usually made by family members.
The First Serious Confrontation with Traffic Chaos in Hanoi
Crossing the garden and the lake does not present us with any major difficulties. We could no longer say the same about Dinh Tien Hoang Street, right next door, and the intersections where it ends.
Endless motorbikes pass at full speed. They skilfully avoid those that come from other streets and in the opposite direction. Cyclists do the same, more slowly.
Like the motorcycles and the scooters, bypass cars, the occasional lorry and old buses that force their way through and contaminate the urban atmosphere with immense discharges of black smoke.
Apart from these vehicles, the streets of Hanoi still hold room for the eventual overloaded cart drawn by horses or buffaloes.
And for the fearless or unconscious pedestrians who cross them endlessly, confident that everyone else will avoid them.
In Rome, be a Roman. In Vietnam, Vietnamese.
We get tired of waiting for an open that insists on not appearing. We have faith in the faith of these passersby. we hit the road. Like Moses backpackers, we separate the traffic to get to the other side.
Things are going well for us. But bad for a woman trying her luck just a few feet away.
Two motorbikes and a bicycle hesitated as to which direction to detour. In the middle of the disturbance, one of the motorcycles knocked her down and hit her head on the ground.
Only accidents like these force traffic officers to abandon their uselessness. One of them, identified by his old-fashioned dark green uniform, leaves his small pulpit protected.
Appears to get up and recompose the lady who appears to be only slightly injured. Once the incident has been resolved, the police officer returns to his post.
Hang Dao Avenue Down Below, By a Profusion of Funeral Homes
We gained the desired access to the long Hang Dao avenue. We walk through it pressed by the unpleasant temperature, keeping an eye on all the stores and businesses that appear.
In Hanoi, as in neighboring China, trade is organized in a compartmentalized way. We hit the nail on the burial and funeral sector. We first pass dozens of competing florists with stalls full of gaudy wreaths that employees refresh.
There follows an area of tombstone makers that keep our attention and our pace.
Inside one of these workshops, an artisan inscribes commissioned messages on the blackboard. we see him surrounded by golden plaques in honor of the dead Vietnamese, immortalized in color and black and white photographs.
Among others, we find Lê Van Luc who died in 2001 at the age of 72. Nguyen Thi Hat who died in 1954.
And, to our surprise, Anna Duong Tu Huong, a Catholic who was declared dead on March 12.3.1982, XNUMX, is blessed with several sacred illustrations of Our Lady but, for lack of a more credible image, appears with the temporary face of Britney Spears.
It is not the amazement that deters us either. A few blocks down, we finally come to an area with sportswear stores. We buy Polartecs of reasonable quality.
Back to the Chaos at the Heart of Hanoi
The newly acquired comfort and the city map that we are equipped with inspire us to return to the center by a different path.
This alternative arrests us with the eccentric view of a street occupied by barbers, all of them installed against a wall, under the protection of small removable tarpaulins.
Even though it's the coldest season in northern Vietnam, judging by the amount of hair that has accumulated on the ground, business is booming. It demands maximum dedication from each artist.
Once again in the vicinity of Hoam Kiem Lake, the traffic noise increases. A lone biker stands on the far side of the yard.
During Vietnam War, the entire Communist era and, until some time ago, any motorbike fulfilled the most unreasonable dreams of the Vietnamese. After the fusion of the North with the South and the opening of the country to the capitalist virtues – which, in part, followed the Chinese molds – the financial power of Vietnam increased enormously.
How the ambitions of the Vietnamese who dared to want more and more grew. On a wide leather seat, supported by the chrome handlebars, raised and hung with fur fringes, a young man from Hanoi seems to have just fulfilled one of his dreams.
Shows a new Harley Davidson to the city, indifferent to the common motor scooters and scooters that pass by.
The Chaotic Transit of Hanoi, Seen from Above
We thought of returning to the guest-house that hosts us, but we noticed a bar installed on an outdoor terrace on top of a building.
We had already faced and conquered the harmonious chaos of traffic in Hanoi. We had also witnessed one of their incidents. It was time for us to admire and celebrate.
Without haste, without cold or any other kind of limitations, we climbed to the communist heights of the building. We settled at a table overlooking the avenues ahead.
We taste the “Hanoi” beer and enjoy the motorbikes, bicycles, cars and pedestrians flowing in the famous orderly chaos of the city.