I’m coming to the end of my stay in Hanoi and I’m starting to get all reflective on it. Both on the transport experiences I have had and talked to others about as well as my whole project and what does it mean to live in different cities for a couple of weeks and then move on.
I don’t think the streets and roads of Hanoi are paradise. I don’t think they are filled with smiling happy people who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. However, there is definitely something special about the people on the street and how they are as a community. There are definitely some smiles, and some people having animated conversation with each other (both between bikes and on the same bike). There are also looks of peace and some enjoying the thrill or feeling rather cool. There are also those who seem frustrated, some seem bored and others are deep in contemplation. I guess that’s life, but for me the interesting thing is you can see it. You can see what other people are doing and feeling. There is no hiding on the streets of Hanoi.
It’s noisy and smelly at times but maybe that heightens your other senses as you see and feel so much. The wind on your face, the seat between your legs (warning don’t park your bike in the sun on a hot day), the building, the people, the bikes, the movement, the trees and the sky are around you. I loved looking at what people were carrying on their bikes, firstly it was in amazement, then I became curious about how they physically managed the balance and control, and finally it was realising that this was part of life without a car – you had to move things (big, small, fragile, awkward, living, dead) by bicycle and it was possible.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve started refering to motor bikes as bikes. I guess that’s because it’s the norm with bicycles becoming less common for middle class residents in Hanoi. I have come to Hanoi in Summer and so I can appreciate that people don’t want to sweat it out here in the heat. There are lots of electric bicycles starting to hit the streets of Hanoi and I think this is a great way to try and clear up the air a little. The buses are probably the worst culprit for pollution though although there are some newer ones.
Two weeks will never be long enough to know what it really feels like to be a local traveling through their city, but I think I have had an interesting glimpse. I have been through the little motor bike sized petrol stations, to a drive in ice cream shop, I have parked my bicycle in a massive shed filled with thousands of bikes, I have cruised for 70km on my bicycle on day stopping along the way for mia da (sugar cane juice). I have also taken transport in all sorts of moods – happy, silly, excited, bored, frustrated, sleepy, hot and sometimes a little nervous. Now I feel so comfortable riding on the back of the motor bike I will happily close my eyes, look up at the moon, at the buildings or anywhere other than the road ahead. I’ve come to trust my friends to drive safely and I’ve come to trust the system which tends to allow everyone to get where they want with no major collisions.
I am nervous for the rest of my trip because it feels like no city can compare to Hanoi. And if it does I am going to be leaving each city with a tear in my eye wondering if I’ll ever come back to meet the people and see the life on the streets that I have come to love. I have even come to love how people in Hanoi never go a direct way to where they need to be. I feel like I have had many scenic tours of Hanoi as we have taken interesting paths. I love the lakes, the nights with people on the street (roller blading is all the rage at night in Hanoi), I love getting around with friends together on bicycle and I may have even learnt to love karaoke. I have eaten amazing food too – fresh fruit, smoothies, sticky rice. so much fish and all sorts of other goodies. I have had lots of fun! Goodbye Hanoi, I hope my little film and blog can do justice to your beautiful city x