Less than a week in Hanoi and already I have too many pictures and stories than I could feasibly share with the world. It’s rough when every day is an adventure in a place 7,000 miles (by boat) from home. Oh well. Let me tell you about my mornings.
Before I left, I watched the weather reports for Hanoi, but I failed to understand that 80 degrees fahrenheit and 90% humidity at 6 a.m. meant that I would be running in that. On my second morning here, I stumbled out of the mosquito net that protects me at six and replaced my sweaty sleeping clothes with my not-yet-sweaty running clothes. Downstairs, my host mother, who does not speak much English, saw me holding my running shoes. “Ah!” she said, then gestured with her arms while counting in rhythm on her way to unlock the five deadbolts between me and the outside world.
Next, I was to attempt for the first time a feat that has frightened many a Westerner: crossing the street alone. Traffic in Hanoi (and most of Southeast Asia from what I can tell) is a kaleidoscope of motorbikes, bicycles, taxis, and buses all intent on moving forward at all costs. This means that unlike good old Oregon, pedestrians never have the right-of-way. Not even a little bit. Even among the vehicles, everyone and no one has the right-of-way. So, to get from one side to the other, you must start walking and trust that the vehicles will find their way around you. Every crossing is a mini adrenaline rush right outside your door. For free! Five days later, I now consider myself a professional street-crosser.
Once I made my way to the park less than a mile from my homestay, I saw that my whole exercise early idea was not only unoriginal, but mainstream. Swarms of people walked the path around the reservoir while women danced to music (with the same gestures that my host mother had used earlier) and children climbed all over the playground. I ran in circles and began my quick descent into sweat-drenched status. Several people said, “Hello!” when they saw me (this happens everywhere; it’s adorable) and I passed one man several times who said, “Wow!” and “Yes!” On my Sunday long run, one hour deep and reviewing the symptoms of heatstroke in my head, a man ran the opposite direction and said, “Never…give up.” I love Vietnam.
After recovering, I returned home, still drenched, and wondered how I was supposed to get in the house. Desperate and thirsty, I called one of my local buddies, but over the phone he could not understand my dilemma so I had to wait for my host mother to notice that I was outside. She shooed me up to the shower, where I welcomed the cold water (they have hot water too, I just wanted a cold shower) and enjoyed my daily five minutes of cleanliness before I left the shower and felt the sweat return. My poor sweat glands. I hope they survive the next ten weeks.
When I went downstairs for breakfast, I ate as much of the food they made me as I could, but I have no idea what it’s called or how to describe it. As with most of what my host family feeds me, I know only that there is a lot and they do not understand how I could feel full before everything is gone. So I power through, mostly because I know that fruit will follow and the fruit here is incredible. Plus one for semi-tropical climates.
My days also include twelve more hours of culture-infused activities, but I cannot describe them all, so I will post a highlight reel of pictures as a substitute. In short, Hanoi rules, but I am beyond excited to move to my village in the Bac Giang province tomorrow. After our excursion to Trang An yesterday, I can confirm that I belong in the countryside. Until later, tạm biệt!