Ha Noi was a mix of beauty and chaos. The city never sleeps. Everyone is awake at five in the morning and you can’t help but get up too. It is, afterall, a bit hard to stay asleep amidst the chatter. So you start the day together with the rest of the city. You get the special treat known as bread and jam on some days, because it’s hard to prepare breakfast for some one who’s vegetarian – or as they call it, someone who eats diet food. After breakfast, you pick up the helmet and hop onto a motorbike. You curl your toes and refuse to relax your shoulders the first couple of times, but eventually you sit back with your arms on your laps and enjoy the ride like everyone else. You even manage to hold your camera on one hand and a parking ticket on the other.
The people and the city confuse you at times. They insist on drinking wine during meals, but use the wrong glasses. You miss how clean it is back home. You use your hand sanitiser more often than you thought you would. The rich are concerned about sophistication, but seem to neglect basic hygiene and manners. Some anecdotes are simply beyond amusing, such as the middle-aged ladies in the gym who sleep on the sofas while waiting for the yoga session to begin, then crowd around the reception 10 minutes before the sesson starts to fight for a better spot. It is hard to equate them with quiet, and extremely frustrating as you struggle to prepare for the session, but they eventually become silent when the instructor enters.
But when you step back and take in the city for what it is, all isn’t bad. The elderly sit by the road with their friends, tilting their heads back as they laugh over trivial matters. People exercise along the lake and play badminton in public open spaces. You walk into small alleys and people are selling meat, vegetables and snacks at others’ doorsteps. Small, local businesses work much better than large enterprises here, and you love it. You look up and you see webs of electrical cables hanging above you – scary, but mesmerising.
You don’t know what to think of this land. It’s beautiful, but ugly. It’s ugly, but also beautiful.