A Day in Hanoi

Once upon a time I had a post up called ‘The Daily Routine’ but somehow it ended up in the wrong place so I’m re-writing it, with some changes to reflect the changing times.

A day in Hanoi usually starts early with the sounds of the sports club aerobics and tennis across the lane plus the sounds of construction next door. Now the weather’s cooler I think they’ve closed the doors on the aerobics room so the pounding disco at 5:30am isn’t quite so loud. First thing is make a cup of the delicious Trung Nguyen coffee, using the local drip method.

cup of Trang Nguyen coffee
Morning Coffee Brewing

The coffee we buy at the local supermarket comes in 5 grades; the grade 5 is velvety smooth. Be assured: we’ll be bringing pounds of this home!

While drinking coffee we usually check the local weather, the Vietnam news, news from CBC, BBC and NY Times and check our email. The Vietnam news can be quite entertaining. Check out the stories about the man who sleeps with his dead wife or the ceaseless job or trying to keep Hanoi’s streets clean(ish).

If we go to the local markets we try to get there before lunch as the vendors usually clean-up and go home for afternoon siesta. The street markets are the best (and cheapest) places to buy local produce, fruit and eggs. When we eat meat we go to a restaurant, rather than buying it from the market and cooking it at home.

Sue shopping in a Cau Giay market, Hanoi, Vietnam
Sue Making a Deal

Buying in the market involves hand language, displays of various sizes of bills, trying to identify what things are and a lot of laughter. Once in awhile a student who speaks English happens along and helps us out. Often we end up with far more of one thing than we meant to buy. Occasionally we may pay too much, but usually the vendors seem to charge us a reasonable price and are quite happy to see us. Laden with our purchases we return to our apartment, sometimes emerging once more to buy those things we can’t get in the street market. Recently we started buying the large, 5 gal., bottles of water which we then haul back. You don’t want to drink the water from the tap. The locals don’t. Besides high levels of arsenic there’s sometimes E-Coli and other nasties.

Recently I read in the news that Hanoi is going to start cleaning up the many little lakes around the city, which means they may start dealing with the water system in general. But it could all take years. Garbage is another issue they’re talking about. Currently a lot of it just gets dumped wherever and then burned. Yesterday we passed plumes of black smoke issuing from a riverside fire on a wooden pallet, right next to a busy bridge. It’s not uncommon to see people burn paper waste right in front of their homes, or street food vendors to leave their waste on the street for the cleaners (and rats) to take care of.

In the afternoons we sometimes venture out to sightsee. Last week we visited the Temple of Literature, site of Vietnam’s first university founded in 1076. This is one of Hanoi’s most popular tourist spots and also popular with locals who go there for wedding and graduation photo shoots.

gate at Temple of Literature, Hanoi, VietnamKhuê Văn Các
wedding photography in Temple of Literature, Hanoi, VietnamWedding Photos
university graduates at Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam
Graduates being Photographed

The women graduates were all wearing traditional gowns; very colourful and beautiful. Sue chatted with one who said that visiting the Temple of Literature was a tradition for the graduates because of its history as a university and also, because of its limited number of graduates, it honored high academic achievement. The names of the graduates are inscribed on stone steles which rest of the backs of large stone tortoises.

stone steles, Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam
Stone Steles

We spotted one of the live beasts catching some sun on the edge of one of the ponds.

turtle at the Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam
Sunning Turtle

Of course there’s also a bit of Hanoi’s ubiquitous trash floating around too.

The Temple of Literature was originally built as a temple to Confucius, and the main hall still has an altar dedicated to him and other other altars to his four closest disciples.

altar with statue of Confucius, Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam
Statue of Confucius on Altar

Beside the temples, buildings, gates and ponds were lovely grounds with topiaries; naturally the water buffalo one appealed to my artistic sensibilities.

water buffalo topiary, Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam
Water Buffalo Topiary

After we visited the Temple of Literature we crossed the street to Koto Restaurant for a bit of lunch. We ascended to the second floor, where the comfy seats are. Sue scanned the information on cooking classes presented by the restaurant. Koto is famous for its program of training street kids to be restaurant chefs and staff. Sue wasn’t hungry so only had a drink but I tried one of their specials, a traditional Hanoin dish featuring green banana and fresh tumeric.

Koto Restaurant, Hanoi, Vietnam
Sue at Koto

In the afternoons I prepare for my evening classes if I have not already done so. And then it’s off into the traffic chaos.

traffic in Hanoi, Vietnam
Cau Giay Street Chaos

Although it’s only a 10-15 minute ride to school it’s fraught with danger and excitement as vehicles of all shapes and sizes, but mostly motor bikes, weave in and out, crowding to the front, cutting each other off, stopping and dismounting without looking or a care in the world. I’ve learned to take it slow, to keep my cool (mostly, sometimes I mutter or curse into my dust mask). The only thing I have to really watch for are the buses because they go where they want to go, and you have to look out for them as they’re not going to look out for you. Fortunately they have the loudest horns (unfortunately for one’s eardrums). Somedays the traffic is so thick the rumble sound is incredible at street level. To say nothing of the smoke. And then I arrive at EduCare,

EduCare English training centre, Hanoi, Vietnam

and spend the evening teaching my students, who are mostly university students.

EduCare students, Hanoi, Vietnam
Self with Students

The above photo is of one of my  ‘Sped-Up English’ classes, an intermediate level. They’ve finished now and currently I’m teaching three different levels, which keeps me on my toes!

And then it’s off home through the now dark streets.

Nighttime on Cau Giay Street, Hanoi, Vietnam
Night Drive on Cau Giay Street

The traffic is much lighter, the air fresher and the night light is nice.

So that’s a kind of typical day in the life, here in Hanoi. Sue also spends several mornings a week volunteering at Morning Star School working with mainly autistic kids (she may post about that herself). We keep busy but have down time when we chillout with a book or movie. In all the chaos of this city, and the culture shock, that’s important.

Next up: Sue and Kelly escape Hanoi for a weekend excursion to Ha Long Bay! Wowee!

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