From our window in the Old Quarter of Hanoi you can observe the ins and outs of daily life: motorbikes plowing through crowds of bicycles plowing through crowds of ladies with fruit hanging from their shoulders plowing through crowds of grannies sitting on the ground selling fish. Where we fit in the hierarchy, I’m not sure, but everyone from the top on down wants to sell us something.
A walk in any direction will reveal a marketplace of different products. One block specializes in straw mats, another block specializes in paper money for use in funerals, spices on another and metalworks on yet another. You get the feeling they’ve been doing things much the same for hundreds of years, only with fewer people getting run over by motorbikes.
A further walk will reveal that the concept of sidewalks actually has made it to Vietnam, that Ho Chi Minh is keeping nicely (unless he’s made of wax), and that the Temple of Literature is rather photogenic and Chinese looking.
But the further you get from the Old Quarter the more character is lost to KFCs and moped dealerships. Loop back into the fray and things get interesting again. Especially if you are in the market for live frogs, a slew of organs and what appear to be fried chicken feet. Judging by the relentless sales pitches, we must look like we’re in the market for all those things.