One more from the Ol’ Irish Wolf Hound in Hanoi. Last one …for at least awhile, I promise. I’ve been going through photos and just love these for some reason. Not for the “technicals”, but more for the memory really. No, not really, just actually.
Right around the corner from our hotel in the Old Quarter. Rush hour. The sun going down, almost sunset. The setting sun aligned perfectly with the street direction. Ice cold beer. A “shady” alley right across the road, filled with tattoo covered sailors playing cards, as well as other “not-to-nice” looking undesirables. The door to the right, a cheap brothel entrance. A woman serving phð right next to our table. A little girl weaving in and out of the chairs, playing and filled with laughter. The cyclo drivers, the bikes, the bicycles. Women in pajamas, girls in Ao Dai, the national dress of Vietnam, coming home from school. Walking, riding, simply gliding. White dresses fluttering in the wind and seemingly light enough to catch and be lifted by the sunlight in its folds. The conical hat, so symbolic, so useful, so Vietnam. It’s everywhere, from the heads of the working ladies passing by to the souvenir store on the corner. A symbol of a nation and a symbol of a people.
It’s getting later, the last light of the day slowly being filtered through the dust and exhaust of another Hanoi day. The owner of the bar brings out a bottle of Tequila. Cuervo. We have talked to her before. She has no one else to drink with. The natural light of the sun fades, the light of Hanoi takes its place. Nguyen shows up (pronounced “Gwen”). Shots are poured and, before drinking, lit on fire. After a while, Moon shows up, ready for a few starters before heading to the club. From the alleyway across the street comes a big man, Mongolian, Ulaanbaatar we soon find out. It’s a party now. Three Vietnamese girls, one Mongolian guy, one Thai girl, Two American brothers. International. This is what I live for, I love this sh*t. Kick forward a few hours and I probably learn more in that time than ten thousand dollars in Princeton would teach me.
We get to talking, that is after the Mongolian drags, and I mean drags, screaming, the bar owner back into the alley. Nguyen says it’s no thing, they know each other. Ten minutes later they are back, sshhhreeewww, it doesn’t look like a good alley. The shots continue, the owner parades her power, yelling to the bartends for buckets of ice and clean shot glasses, showing up somewhere around two seconds after her request.
I get to talking one-on-one to the Mongolian man. Heavy russian type accent, actually Mongolian. A fisherman, tattooed up and down with burns from what looks like cigars. “The Russian Mafia” he explains. “They are nothing, small men. I am only Mongol on the boat”. Jesus, I say under my breath. He has never met an American, but loves em’. He has heard of their strength though. He wants to arm wrestle, gulp. I poke one of his “burns”. He doesn’t like that. I tell him he’ll kill me in arm wrestling, being a Mongolian fisherman that is used to being burned by the”small” Russian mafia day after day, not to mention looking like a Roman Gladiator on steroids. He doesn’t wanna hear it. Oh Jesus, here we go. Nguyen looks at me with a sideways glance. I know, I know, this is gonna happen, whether I like it or not…
Long story short, after much “deliberation”, he beat me, but then toasted the win with much graciousness, and a bit of fire. He wouldn’t back down, and he wouldn’t let me dishonor my country or myself by backing down. I honestly wish I knew what it was like, without actually experiencing it. To be on a ship for so long, with no fiends, far from home, to land in a foreign country with nothing but your strength and your honor to rely on. Can’t be easy.
The night goes on. We drink. Nguyen doesn’t follow Moon to the club. Hanoi is still moving, still full of life. The temperature goes down and the traffic goes the opposite way. I’ve been told it’s a city that sleeps at night, but we see anything but. The alley way across the way is still full of “traffic. The tattoo covered men are still playing cards. The Pho stand is making a killing. A city full of life, well deserved, and, honestly, well-earned…
Cut to a few days later and Hanoi has only grown on me. An absolute gem in SE Asia. An old town that still has an old feel to it. A city that is slowly aging like a good wine.The French architecture is outstanding. The older Chinese even better. The center of a country and the pride of a people. It turned a thousand years old last year. My God. After a few days, it may be my favorite big city in the world, and certainly a throwback in SE Asia. It’s old, real old, yet if you’re looking for newer, it’s happy to provide. It’s alive, vibrant, decaying, moving, old, new, forward-looking, backward respecting, hip, rich, poor, fascinating, mind-boggling all at the same time. A city for the ages, a city caught in time, ancient yet modern, all in one.
It’s Hanoi, It’s awesome. A place where you can sit back and relax, let the pictures come to you. Every picture here taken with a simple 50mm lens. No need for tricks. As I look back on Vietnam from here, I think of the people. Ho Chi Minh, c’mon, it’s Saigon, call it like the locals do, it’s monumental to say the least. It’s Saigon. Hoi An, ha, nothing better in the world. Da Nang, wow. Halong, Sapa, Hue, Nha Trang, The Mekong …keep fighting, it’s worth it. What a country, what a people. Hanoi, what a city, nothing like it that I’ve seen in the world.
As for The American War, I don’t know. You could say it did exactly the opposite of what it was supposed too really. At the end it culminated a constant one hundred and twelve years of war for the nation of Vietnam and for the first time, in that time, brought the country together as one. A prosperous nation moving forward in the world with one of the most dynamic economies in the world today growing at a rate that makes most jealous. Huh. Who knew. The American War ended, unofficially but actually, with the first American naval ship sailing up the Mekong in 2003, as a friend not foe, more than forty years after the start.