I am in Hanoi
It's familiar in many ways, though I haven't been here before. The food stalls with variations of noodles, meat and soup. The business of exchanges and transactions with few greetings and little fuss. The dust, tangle of wires, teeth and body odour remind me of China. So does the blankness of faces suddenly replaced by flares of fury when something disturbs the ordered chaos.
One thing, though, that is wholly Hanoi, is the motorbikes. The thousands and thousands of them, 10 for every car, with pillion riders texting, filing their nails, sitting side saddle and cross-legged; kids propped in their parents' arms with cloths covering their noses and mouths from the exhaust that has given me headaches. Crossing the street is scary business, even for me. Traffic lights are frequently ignored. The city will be in a gridlock when the cars take over.
After a week, I have learnt the words for one, five, thank you, ginger tea, a type of beer/place to drink beer, several types of noodles, rice porridge, rice, chicken, beef, mangosteen and bill (which sounds like 'listen to the sky' in Mandarin).
Tonight I went to a tailor to get measured for three ao dais. The girl helping me to translate, pick out the silk, collars and sleeves was back on holiday from Finland of all places, visiting her family the tailors. When I broached the subject of cheaper prices since I was getting three, she gently chided me by reminding me of how impossible it is to get tailor-made silk outfits made for you in Europe at these prices. I felt like a downright exploiter of cheap labour.
Anyway folks, it's a lovely 25 degrees. I just have to gloat.