29 September 2009

Just sitting in Hanoi

By Tham

I was just lucky to have such a wonderful weather in Hanoi November last year. Bach (pronounced as Back, a Vietnamese whom I befriended when I was there, we became best of friends) told me that they just had a week of flood, over knee-high water covered the whole of Hanoi after a continuous rainfall for days. It took the cityhall almost a week to clear the debris and mud that flooded the city. Cars were damaged and so were properties.

When I arrived, it was just a week of settling down after the flood. Everything seemed normal, if I was not told of the flood, it wasn’t obvious. I did notice mud on the sidewalks, but that was like some leftover debris from construction sites. I was surprised when Bach told me about nature’s onslaught.

Hanoi seems to be so resilient to a lot of going-ons or had-beens. And yet so humble and hard-working. It was really relaxing sitting beside Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Returned Sword) while watching so many people sitting around enjoying the peace albeit the noise of traffic around it. Everyone was doing something but I did not feel the busy-ness. Someone approached me and tried to chat me up asking questions, speaking a little English. He asked where I was from, what do I do, where do I live, what is it like in Malaysia, and finally asking if I would like to get some of his books and postcards. I often like to talk to these sales people, I like the sincerity in them, I like the way they approach a sales and I also like the way they ask questions. They were so friendly, they were really interested to know about me as I would be interested to know about them too. I will look at the products, if I want to, I will make an offer. If I do not want the products, I will just politely decline. The conversation was always smooth and no hassle. Anyway, I always welcome sales talk, I really like to just listen with an open heart, there is always something I can learn from the person who sits in front of me.

I sat at Hoan Kiem Lake overlooking the Tortoise Tower which has its remnant in the middle of the lake. The temperature stayed between a cooling 20℃ to 28℃, just perfect to sit outdoor. There were lots of willow trees all around the lake, some have bent so low, they almost touch the water. The willows take to the flow of the wind, sway softly along as if that is naturally what they are there to do – all day long, just dance to the mischievous play of the wind.

I read Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage” while looking up occasionally to see people walking past and enjoying tea. Some having lunch everywhere beside the lake. I was impressed with the way Hanoi has built itself to be like a garden city where their citizens can come out to sit and play in the open. I guess we did not have that here in KL, no wonder the scene of people having food in a group at Hoan Kiem Lake fascinated me so much.

Just walking around the lake brings you to the island-temple known as Ngoc Son Temple, very picturesque footbridge. I did not go in because I was more captivated with the scenery outside the temple. It was founded in the 14th century.

Bach told me later that the Vietnamese don’t actually have a religion. So, I said what are they praying in the temples here in Hanoi. He said they are just praying to the ancestors. So, their ancestors become their “god”, and this is passed down through generations.

And I also learned that the people have to pay for education in Vietnam. I told Bach that in Malaysia, education is free from 7 years old onwards until we are 18 if we choose to stay on to study. Aren’t we a fortunate lot to be Malaysians?