A train platform at 5 am. Hanoi station. For obvious reasons, train platforms always evoke war movies and films noirs? Of course, we all look like a bunch of bleary-eyed refugees.
I hadn’t seen much of Hanoi yet, except for the suburbs leading from the Airport to the hotel. But enough to catch glimpses of a surrealistic architecture: very narrow, tall, neo-colonial row houses painted in candy colors, sometimes sprouting alone in the middle of apparently nowhere like orphan Dutch houses, sometimes within the expected rows, with peasants in conic straw hats milling about.
At 7 am, in the streets of Hanoi, the killer motorcycles are on the warpath and the sidewalks encumbered with various merchants and people slurping soup as they squat on little plastic stools, right off the sidewalk. Crossing the street has me petrified: thousands of motorcycles zoom by like swarms of killer bees. They come from right and left, across pedestrian walks, red lights, turning corners on a penny. Total anarchy and tens of thousands of dead every year I’m told. Sidewalks are not much safer. If anything happens to me here it will certainly occur under the wheels of a scooter. Until then, I grab my partner, hide behind him, eyes closed, hoping that his “you just have to make eye contact” technique keeps working. If he’s not around, any old lady will do. They seem to know where they are going and how.
-A little dog is made up to look like one of those monkey-lions or lion-dogs in Chinese iconography: shorn like a lion with the mane, pompom tail, he only needs an orange dye-job. Pretty ugly little face with protruding, crooked teeth. He’s friendly but looks a bit embarrassed at his get-up.
-Aphrodisiacs pickled in alcohol: lizards, snakes and scorpions swimming in clear liquid held in a glass jar. If it doesn’t improve your sexual performance, it will at least looks nice on your bathroom shelf. Still, I can’t think of bringing one back as a souvenir.
-In a small grocery store, the pretty salesgirl – about 17 or 18 – hugs and kisses me non-stop purring “mama-mama”. I haven’t figured that one out yet. My long lost Vietnamese daughter. I played the game. What could I do?
-Several women whiling time away looking for lice in each other’s and their children’s hair. Memories of delousing my own kids. Nobody seems to escape those little monsters.