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.