What it is like to be living in and moving out of Hanoi-I

In two days I am moving out of a country, probably for good.

My old apartment is in one of the tallest building in Hanoi, from the bedroom window I can see as far as the bridge on the outskirt of the city–The poor thing has been wrapped by yellowish light bulbs since late December, along with many tress and bushes. The apartment building is allegedly to be one of the best in the city (even country) with a monthly rent at 1,000 USD, and this fare includes the water marks in the bathroom ceiling, were splits on bedroom wall, constant roaring noise from the fume extractor in the kitchen as if there is a storm going on in that micro world.

Overtime, my attitudes toward our cockroach flatmates have transformed from jumping and screaming to calmly watching them running around alongside my barefoot while brushing my teeth over a sink where I always bump my head to the water tap. But a recent encounter with a small lizard swiftly glided through my glass shower door still triggered some heart-wrenching crying for help.

The expensive rent might also be found worthy in that the bathroom smells delicious, literally I mean delicious. It is the smell of real traditional Vietnamese cooking: combination of meat, spice and fresh herbs. It was initially surprising to know that our bathroom vent fan is connected to someone’s kitchen, then it became concerning wondering whose toilet is our kitchen connected to.

But it is in all these ridicules that I enjoyed the city more and more each day, despite I was almost choked by second-hand smoke in a bar last night, and I think it needs a bit explanation.

It was a shabby cuban bar with decent Latino music. The manager is a guy from cuban who twist his tongue when saying “America”. The place was only open for eight months and was somehow the only place to go after late at night.

There is this government regulation for clubs and pubs in Hanoi saying that all must shut down before midnight, and they do try to carry it out by sending out police patrols to each place. Most of the time those police could be bribed, by amount from 10 USD to 100 USD, depending on the capacity of the venue. Some other times, pub landlords or club managers have to actually clear everyone out and close the place until two hours later, and re-open the place again, regardless of the bribes. And there are times when bribing and faking close do not move the Hanoi night police, then the only way to do business is to enclose the customers inside the bar, turn the volume of music down, shut down the iron curtain from the outside and cheat the police into driving pass the place without realizing that behind the wall there are bunches of drunken westerners.


Last night was such a night when Hanoi police were particular determined to crack down such illegal behavior as to open a bar after midnight. We got on the scooters after being driven out from one club called Cowboy at around midnight, made an attempt to go to a bar that we have been to, only to find  that it was also closed, and the scooter driver recommended the cuban place. We were dropped off in a quite ally, someone was there to meet us but asked us to keep quiet. We lined up and walked into small parking lot, where we could vaguely hear music and talking. Following the man we walked up two floors and then behind a closely shut dark glass door it was the bar. A place of about 6 square metres and all windows shut. A dozens of people were already there drinking and smoking, and my dear friend started a very pleasant conversation on how people in Philippine de-skin and roast and eat giant rats: I almost puked.



“Lying down” photo collection explores real Hanoi

This gallery contains 8 photos.

A little girl in black dress lies face up over a pile of rubbles and stones, near her are a section of concrete pipe and a gigantic earth remover. Brand new high-rises and the typical gloomy Hanoi sky silently narrate the recent real estate boom in this emerging economy. This is one of the 31 […]

Wall installation exhibited in Hanoi reminding visitors of war and death

A tentative foray into war and death, the Wall Installation of a Vietnamese-Cambodian artist invites modern people to reflect upon the troublesome past of Southeast Asia.

Wall Installation, 2012

Wall Installation, 2012

Inspired by the Cambodian genocide in the era of Khmer Rouge, Le Huy Hoang built a wall using animal bones.

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Tasty Hanoi

My days in Hanoi usually started by a fresh mango or passion fruit juice, accompanied by Vietnamese bread to which I had totally surrendered my taste buds and my soul.  They say that the Vietnamese people’s taste for bread is a treasonous relish cultivated during colonial past, but in my opinion,  bread is Vietnam.

Banh MiMy lunch time was about taking a stroll down the street full of scooters, walking pass numerous French style buildings and finally stopping at a Banh Mi (Vietnamese style bread roll) stool. With excitement I watched the woman putting a baguette into a tiny charcoal oven and simultaneously grilling two thin pieces of pork. My appetite was stirred up once more. By the time the minced pork turned brown and gave a seductive fragrance, my stomach and my throat were playing a symphony.  With hardly enough patience I waited for her to squeeze in some sliced green chilli pepper and carrots , some herbs and a few bean sprout on board, to top everything with a rich stream of chilli sauce, then to wrap the whole thing with half a piece of yesterday’s newspaper and, finally, she handed it over to me. Standing there I would take a first bite—my teeth pierced through the crunchiness of bread and landed on a multi-textured frenzy of freshness—the thing was bliss.

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