Mango, Ha and Agnes from Amsterdam

Two of the best women in Hanoi, Mango and Ha

Remember a few weeks back when I was um ing and ah ing about whether to come to Vietnam at all, and Agnes from Amsterdam popped up in my dorm in Hong Kong. Thank you Agnes. As well as persuading me I had to come to Vietnam, Agnes also gave me the business card of Hanoi Motorbike Street Foods – a tour company who invite you to ‘see and eat like a Hanoian’.

Street food, as you know, if you’ve been reading my blog, I can do with the best of them. Mr P less so. But Motorbikes he does do, so in the spirit of coupledom, we head to the tour office and book ourselves on a 4 hour private scooter tour, ending with lunch. And if you’ve been following the blog, you’ll also know that 2 days ago I was wondering if I’d ever cross the road here let alone get on the back of a scooter,.

They say actions speak louder than words. Mango and Ha, as well as being excellent tour guides, effortlessly glide their scooters in and out of the traffic so that you feel quite safe, despite the appalling road death statistics Martin reads to me, quite sensibly AFTER our four hour foray. And feeling safe is some achievement for there are no insurance documents, or disclaimers, or anything to sign, just the ceremonious donning of two cute helmets with rabbits and bears on them, that I know for sure wouldn’t stay on if we were to collide. But we don’t die and there are no near misses, and after half an hour I’m a ‘look no hands’ passenger, taking video footage of Mr P as we speed along. I never thought I’d be saying this, but it really is the only way of taking in the culture, history and sights of native Hanoi.

Mango has a fabulous sense of humour, ‘you can eat me if you get hungry’ is tri lingual (French/English/Vietnamese) and trained as a teacher. She’s able to answer any question about history, culture, politics we throw at her and weaves in stories from her own life, making the whole experience feel personal and not at all like a package. Ha and I have a philosophical conversation about the best age to marry, the stigma of divorce in Vietnam, the challenges faced by women, as she seamlessly changes lanes to the ‘wrong’ side of the Long Bien Bridge. She’s is in her final year of her law degree and is going to specialise in family law.

But there are points of the trip when I can’t smile. The senselessness and sadness of a country devastated by two wars hits hard when we visit Ha Lo Prison. But Mango’s pragmatic forward looking approach fills me with hope when she chooses to focus on her people’s strength, cunning, resilience and forgiveness both during and after the wars. Indeed, it’s as if she herself, much smaller (and smarter!) than me, is a direct descendant of David, in the David & Goliath Vietnam War.

There is so much more I want to write. About the role of women in Vietnam, our visit to The Temple of Literature and what I’ve learnt from Mango today about Confucius, wisdom, turtles and cranes working together as a team. But it’s late, and tomorrow we are leaving Hanoi at 06.00am.

I hope one day I may come back. When I first arrived, the lyric from Miss Saigon, ‘why does nothing here make sense?’ was running in a loop around my head. Funny to think that after a few hours with these two amazing women, it’s beginning to make a lot more sense. So much so, that I hope if I come back one day, that not too much will have changed.

Published by backstagestives

Looking for my long lost family in Hong Kong And previously.... Fell in love with coastal living 5 years ago. And moved to stunning St Ives. A place to create and grow and flourish. Got me a home and a job. And never looked back. Everyone talks and writes about the famous dead people of St Ives. Virginia and Alfred and Ben and Barbara and Peter and Wilhelmina. Well I thought I’d introduce you to some very nice folk, and they’re all very much alive and make St Ives a much the better town for it.

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4 Comments

    1. Hello Lucy. What did I eat. Food, pictures and descriptions bind the Tan/Gibbs family. I have such fond memories of all the different meals we’ve shared. Creamed spinach in Torremelinos when you were 10, that grey cordrouy coat. Pavlova for breakfast with sparklers on Christmas morning. Fragrant healing rice. Pink sausages in the back of the car on the way to school. That time we searched for that tapas restaurant, dark, hung with Serrano hams (probably what turned you vegan in the end). How many saag paneer curries have we shared. That Christmas Eve lunch. Picnics. A winter barbeque in Newbold Common when we bumped into Mrs Ingram. Roast chickens and bread in the car with Laura White on the way home from Milverton to Stratford. Oh my, it makes me smile with joy the food we have shared. And always, pre Phoebe, how a posting on food, a picture or a description, was sure to gather a universal response.
      And I can’t wait to explore all the Dai Pai Dongs and vegan restaurants with you when you come to Hong Kong.
      Funny, that in this country, that is one of the few in Asia where McDonalds has not succeeded (how could it with such wonderful cheap and delicious street food, faster and more widely available than any Maccy D could ever be, and the money going back into the local economy, love this) I’ve not taken many foodie shorts, and one evening my supper was a bag of orange cheesie wotsits. How can this be?
      I’ve decided that based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’ve had to use most of my energy on meeting my basic needs. The number one in Hanoi for me being not to get run over. That there hasn’t been so much free thought and energy left to devote to the food bit. But on Christmas day I did have the most delicious dish in Cat Ba, of tofu in tomato sauce with cashew nuts. A deep, rich, ragu type affair, could have gone Italian or Asian at some point I guess. Simply served with steamed rice and only a few pounds. And a cup of honey, ginger and lemon grass tea. I didn’t take a photo, you’ll just have to imagine my darling.
      And when we are in Hong Kong we can do a vegan street food explore together. Eat dumplings. And feel very safe from scooters.
      All my love my darling x

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  1. How wonderful. Years ago when I was in Thailand I hired a moped and went off the beaten track on my own. I won’t bore you with the details but it got quite scary at times and coming back through the hills on a dirt track with no lights was hairy but it remains a treasured memory. Axx

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    1. I love creating treasured memories both on my own, and with others. I imagine that the details would be far from boring, and I look forward to hearing all about it in 2019. Scary and hairy conquered makes the memories even more treasurable I find. That is why I had to put Tufty to bed for now. x

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