Hanoi, surroundings and constituents
I can’t believe it has been 11 months. It feels surreal that I have to step out of this microcosm and return to my African spot in the grid on the other side of the world. I have to step out of this unique blend of people, bikes, smog, dogs, rats, phở, bún, coffee and beer that became the backdrop to this significant time of growth. I lived next to a pagoda, a cathedral, a metal workshop, a chicken/frog farm and many building sites. I learned to drive in your chaos and glide through the masses with ease. I came to love the yellow buildings, the warm wind and your tree lined streets scattered with kids shoes. I have been baffled, scared and grossed out. I have been profoundly happy and at peace. I have met hundreds of your beautiful inhabitants. The butchers, the bakers, the hawkers, the moto drivers, the serial gamblers, the war vets, the kind cooks and the many students of English. I have to leave it all behind and just hope to the Pope that my heart has the capacity to remember all of this because my head sure as hell does not.
You are many things to me:
– You are like that asshole friend we all have. Initially you are hard to tolerate and impossible to love. You are not easy, pleasant, comfortable or nice to look at. But you persist and you grow on people. You are, like asshole friends, not for the fainthearted but those who stick it out are richly rewarded. You have never-ending layers waiting to be peeled back and explored. Your surface is so hard to comprehend but your true substance is breath taking. It took time and perseverance and I still understand very little, but now I appreciate so many of your small things. I have invested so much time and energy in getting to know and learning to love you.. I can’t stop now.
– You are like a caravan park (of which I have numerous childhood memories) but one with millions of people. People who live in make shift structures with little to no plumbing. People who pee, brush their teeth, do the dishes, barbecue and have beers on the sidewalk. People with no fences or pretences. After dark they walk around in the streets with pyjamas and wet hair. Everyone flocks to parks to play badminton and chess, do line dancing, rollerblade or just eat ice cream. All for the sake of giving the kids a good time.
– You are like a funhouse hall-of-mirrors. Distorting everything to a point where attendees forget what normal and familiar looked like. You forced me to look at myself from angles and vantage points I have never been exposed to. On the days when your peculiar bits started to feel normal I could look at my own concept of normal with new eyes. On the days when your jaw-dropping flaws made me laugh or at least shrug, I could turn back to my own flaws and be a little kinder.
– Most of all you feel like an older sibling to me. A thousand years my senior, but a sibling nonetheless. You bullied me and you pushed all my buttons. You made me angry and you made me laugh. You made me sad but you had my back. You stuck your fingers in my food but you made sure I ate. Over time we built a grand love-hate relationship. You taught me lessons that only such an old soul could convey. Above all you feel like a sibling because many weeks you kicked my ass six ways to Sunday but when I got really tired and discouraged, you let up. You sat back and chewed on your sunflower seeds and taught me to not take myself so seriously.
This has been one hell of a ride! Your bizarre became familiar. Your sleepless streets became soothing. Your dirty alleys became comforting. Your quirks became endearing. You truly became my second home.
A city is not just a place where people eat and sleep. It has a soul and a personality. It swallows you and spits you out. Effortlessly and repeatedly.
Hanoi, you have altered my view of the world and myself for good. I will forever remember and cherish your resilience and all you taught me.
Cảm ơn và tạm biệt.
Forever in my heart,