In Hanoi the sip lid hole is an inconvenience.
Every single coffee shop offering takeaway has a roll of tape at the counter. Your coffee is prepared, lidded and the hole, or holes, are taped to stop spillage. The cup is bagged and the bag hooked onto your motorbike as you continue your journey to work or home.
People don’t walk in Hanoi. Nobody strolls sipping from a takeaway latte.
This is what all those tourist traffic tales and tips for crossing roads don’t get. Yes there are ways to cross the road, but most of us will go months between crossings. Hanoians don’t cross roads. When you literally park your bike in your kitchen, then on the pavement outside work, a cafe, shop or bar, why would you?
Even if you’d like to walk you can’t. The pavements are full of bikes.
The coffee is for the destination. Not the journey.
I’m not even going to link this because if I link it then you’ll follow the link and it’s best you watch this without any introduction.
But you absolutely have to see the documentary Searching for Sugar Man.
It must be just about the wisest, smartest, most uplifting movie I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t get distracted by anything other than the legend.
I watched it and there was a moment, you’ll know when you see it, when I had to try so hard, not just to fight back tears but also to stop myself breaking down into sobs altogether.
Watch it then tell someone else to do the same.
I was rather charmed by this little scene outside the back gates of the Hanoi Intercontinental Hotel this evening.
If I hadn’t been reminded of the Kitchen Gods earlier I might have passed by without giving it a thought.
But it appears the hotel’s chefs were taking a quick break to burn their offerings, sending the Kitchen Gods skywards with reports of their activities for the Jade Emperor ahead of the lunar new year.
I was writing recently of plans to gentrify the Old Quarter. I argued that for better or worse there are still large parts of Hanoi that are “real’. In trying to appease tourists you’d lose the very things that make Hanoi special.
This wasn’t a show for customers – though sadly I bet one day it will be.
As the anger at Joel Brinkley and his article on Vietnam shows no signs of disappearing I thought it was worth reminding people of this blog. As much as I’d like to post picture upon picture of their collection of birds spotted in Vietnam it’s better they get the hits and I don’t use their images without permission.
But I hope they’ll forgive me showing a list of their tags.
To remind you of the Brinkley quote:
You don’t have to spend much time in Vietnam before you notice something unusual. You hear no birds singing, see no squirrels scrambling up trees or rats scurrying among the garbage. No dogs out for a walk.
In fact, you see almost no wild or domesticated animals at all. Where’d they all go? You might be surprised to know: Most have been eaten.
Interestingly I was about to link Brinkley’s Wiki page that had a section on the controversy surrounding this article but it’s now been removed – leaving only the good stuff. Someone cleaning up after him?
Also of note is that while Tribune Media Services has added this to the post:
TMS has a rigorous editing process for its content, and in the case of Brinkley’s column that moved Jan. 29, all the required steps did not occur. We regret that this happened, and we will be vigilant in ensuring that our editing process works in the future.
…there appears to have been no attempt to stop the subsequent syndication of the article and despite all of the criticism it has since appeared in San Francisco Chronicle among others with no apparent amends and no apologies from publishers.
While TMS are obviously uncomfortable with the content Brinkley himself remains bullish. A friend who emailed him received a response citing his extensive research.
Of the comments below his original post in the Chicago Tribune this one from historian and US-born Hanoi expat Ginger Davis is among the most “liked”. It includes this snippet:
What I can tell you is that the entire neighborhood owns dogs, birds, and/or cats. They have stories of favorite pets throughout the last 30 years and earlier, especially those dogs they named “Nixon” during the war. Today dogs here even enjoy the dubious distinction of wearing sweaters in the winter as they guard their homes. Our local park put up “no pooping” signs for dog owners last year. Bird owners have clubs in cafes around town where the meet up regularly and wild birds sing so loudly that I have to sometimes turn up the radio to hear a song.
Other useful links – sourced via the Vietnam Bird News blog are Birding in Vietnam and Vietnam Birding which apparently specialises in “…custom birdwatching adventures and birding combination tours to Vietnam and beyond.”
A future trip for Mr Brinkley perhaps.
I’d rather link others’ views on here but it’s worth remembering that as much as Brinkley’s failings in research are obvious and much high-lighted we shouldn’t kid ourselves that all is well with wildlife in Vietnam. In terms of media coverage the irritation so often lies with visitors taking home their own mental snapshots from Vietnam based on first impressions and limited research. We can all be guilty of that, the problems start when it’s dressed up as fact rather than the “it appears to me” or “it would be easy to believe” level of information it is.
My final point is this, while trying to remember the url for the bird blog I googled “Birds Vietnam” and this was the third link. Just how extensive could Brinkley’s research have been?
When my wife was recently prescribed a week of rest by the doctor I took on the role of carer.
I would work from home, giving me the opportunity to do the running up and downstairs and preparing of meals.
On Sunday, ahead of the working week, I asked what I could buy at the supermarket to make this go more smoothly? Veggies, noodles, rice, meat, snacks etc?
My offer was dismissed and was followed by a week of frustration as I tried to balance work deadlines with shopping and meal-by-meal preparing of food (though I’ll admit that sister Trang ended up doing most of the cooking).
The fact that Vietnamese still shop per meal is widely noted and tends to be attributed to their love of fresh food. But it’s more than that – forward planning, or a lack of it, is a feature in all parts of work and life in Vietnam.
Back in UK office days I was told that any event requiring participation should be booked into diaries a month in advance. In Vietnam event conception, planning and happening can all be squeezed into a couple of days. During my KOTO days I’d be just winding down to six pm, when someone would suggest a meeting. It would inevitably mean me hanging around to attend. Then, sometime later, maddeningly the meeting would just as likely be cancelled.
Likewise with my parents-in-law 10ks across a congested city, I’m always amazed when my wife suggests an immediate visit.
Now? Oh right. I was just going to…
Actually, normally, I’m not about to do anything. It’s just my western mind needs time to schedule things and get used to the idea that they’re coming up. Anything much more than a coffee takes some level of advance booking.
I’ve heard this described as Vietnamese being “event based” while westerners are “time based”. But basically that’s just repeating the situation using new terms. One set of people require schedules, other don’t.
We could explain it down to times of Vietnamese poverty and of living day-to-day and hand-to-mouth but that seems too melodramatic.
More than just common sense, the benefits of longer-term planning for longer-term benefit seems so obvious as to be intuitively understood. So why fight it?