Return to Hanoi
Yesterday Hanoi’s air was like a smog-scented foam at some ostentatious restaurant. The drive from the airport was the usual honking and unexpected lane changes, passing dusty food shops and booming tea stalls. Some factory had just let out and a section of the road was full of blue and white uniformed workers, looking like lego-men until they piled onto motorbikes.
The house was sparkling in the damp dreary grey, full of apricot roses and purple orchids. It’d be an oasis of calm if it weren’t for the karaoke music and construction happening right next door. There was cut up apple at in the fridge, peeled and cored, sweet and crunchy. Boxes of pomelo segments and perfectly peeled pineapple too, spirals cut out of the sides in that way the sellers can do with their eyes closed. Mum and I snacked, a much-needed respite from airplane food, and gossiped and I layered on more clothes.
We went out into the drizzle and sat at a local expat bar, drinking gin and surprising acquaintances who didn’t know I was back in town. The menu was all takes on western food, a good thing as local food in a place like this is usually half-hearted at best. The nachos were crisp, cheesy, spicy and lacking only in avocado, a deficiency I find more often than not.
This morning, on closer inspection, I realise the fridge is bare. A few bendy carrots and a large packet of garlic, leftover from when I was here last. There wasn’t even any coffee, so I’m drinking earl gray, sweetened from a glass 70’s-style jar kept in the fridge with memories of the last several bags of sugar stuck up the sides, the different varieties mottled. And with, embarrassingly, high-calcium, low-fat UHT milk. I really need to go shopping.
But first, I’ll stop for my favourite hidden local bun cha. They play music and serve up a particularly garlicky brew washed down with glasses of strong, icy green tea. Every visit there are different tiny creatures in the fish tank, crabs, frogs, see-through prawns. Then I’ll brave the traffic and the expats and sit on my favourite balcony for thick sweet coffee, preparing me for the supermarket shopping. Tomorrow, early I’ll head to the market, no preparation necessary.