What is Hanoi


What is Hanoi – Part One

Rooftops and Balconies


Like Vietnam’s dirty laundry the air hangs in the sky

Covering the bikes, trees, children and lining the lungs of the infants

Empty beer cans roll around on my balcony from the occasional

Gust of wind

The neighbouring rooster clucks. Occasionally cock-a-doodle-doos

From the adjacent balcony in his bird-cage hell.

We talk to him – the rooster – we speak in chicken and he responds

The motorbikes hum up and down the alleyway

Down at street level the kids run, chasing rats

Cockroaches, kittens, chickens and dogs.

Moisture in the air constantly threatening damp

The smell of mould behind the bathroom tiles

Red-tin rooftops as far as the eye can see

Ho Chi Minh’s flag – red as a dildo in the night

Flaps a mile away next to the local hero’s final resting place.

Balcony upon balcony with hanging clothes, Bonsai trees and

The ever-present silver and blue tanks that sit on every rooftop.

Lightning rods and cell-phone towers jostle for position

In a city where the lightning prefers to hit people riding scooters in the rain during the insane summer storm season with all its torrential rain.

Massive flooding and an hilarious increase in poncho wearing.

Ponchos for bikes, double ponchos for families and lovers

Long ponchos, green ponchos, multi-coloured ponchos

with viewing windows. But, no helmets for the kids.

Just plastic caps – high mortality rates in the rain.



What is Hanoi? Part two.

Doi Can Street provides.


Down at street level the sidewalks – pavements are packed

Food stalls spill in to the road where adults sit on kindergarten stools

Food is plentiful and cheap

Everything you would come to expect from a Vietnamese road side

Mi Xao, Banh Cuon, Bun Rieu Ca, Ga, Bo, Tea stores straight from Taiwan

Popeyes chicken, BK, Dominos, Loterria, coffe shops

Coffee shops slinging coffee laced with amphetamines,

Stay out of the Old Quarter if you want good VN cuisine

The street food always lives where the working-class do.

Doi Can st. provides. The two mile stretch I’ve called home.

Our purple, giraffe-skin blanket, all my clothes and shoes

All the food we could ever eat, padlocks, scooters, toys, lottery tickets

Vodka, beers, cabbage, eye-pleasing tropical fruits, karaoke bars,

Artisan Korean ice noodles, a downed B-52 bomber, toolshops, cigarettes,

Brooms, chickens – live chickens, fighting chickens, baby chickens,

Chickens under up-turned beer crates, western bars, Bia Hoi, post offices, online gaming, trees, weed, haircuts and paint.

No pornography.

All this beside a constant stream of scooters, mopeds and motorcycles

But, the cars can only go one way and the trucks blast through

The over-cropping trees that smash branches down

on unsuspecting pedestrians.

You have to watch your step while meandering along Doi Can st.

Burning charcoals and fans with no protective cages sit on the ground next to angry dogs chained to trees.

All the wonderful things to burn, lacerate, bite and infect the careless.

Scooters drive the wrong way down the street so you have to keep your eye on the road at all times. Because the little electric scooters creep up on you and threaten to run you over in silent murder.

You have to learn to weave and see ten paces ahead of you at all times.

Don’t get mad at the elderly lady lazily strolling in front of you.

She’s walking slow because she’s been walking her whole life towards a job

That is undoubtedly a lot worse then any I’ve ever had.




What is Hanoi Part Three.

That one hellish summer.


A year in Vietnam sounds fun, right? Well, hold your horses, slow your roll.

Think on it for a minute. Cause it’s a hell of a commitment.

Because when you’re not used to heat – unbelievable, unbearable

Unfathomable, disgusting, humid, insane, lung destroying

Stinking, stormy, hot tropical madness.

You’re not ready. Nobody is.

Not. A. Single human that has never spent a summer in Hanoi

Could possibly know – even guess

How insanely uncomfortable a Hanoi summer is.

Imagine – if you will, an obese human’s sweat evaporated

And was collected and stored within the filter of a gas mask.

And then every sweaty day you have to wear said mask

And inhale that stinking, sweat-essence.

It gets in your lungs and lives there, mix that up

With arguably the most polluted city in the world

Sip it down, swallow it whole and integrate it into your drowning soul.

Drowning in your own sweat.

Now you’re a little closer, closer to the truth

Of the purgatory you will experience because

You don’t wanna go outside, because if you’re lucky enough

To have air conditioning you should stay inside.

You should really just stay inside.

Because, hiding out where the city isn’t trying to actively murder you

Is safer.

I like to sleep in a cold room – it brings me peaceful sleep

And I’ve slept sans-aircon in Uganda, Valencia in high summer

In a little caravan, the Nevada desert, London when it’s brutal

And NOTHING compares to the relentless un-comfort you feel

When trying to sleep in Hanoi in August.

Blast the air condition, balls out – no covers and good luck

I had a balcony, it was wonderful – the sun rose over the rusty rooftops

sun dancing over Cardinals arguing on lightning rods

But, during those three summer months

When the sun is hell-bent on burning your retinas

You can sit up all night drinking Bia Ha Nois as the aircon soothes you

But, the very millisecond the morning sun rises over the giant red flag

With yellow star,

You can’t breathe, your skin turns to jerky

Your beer turns to warm piss

And you have to shut the doors – draw the curtains

And Cry into your bed-soup while you pray for December.



What is Hanoi? Part 4

Stinky River


I walk to work past this river five days a week

It stinks like a sweaty ball sack.

Stuck to the hairy leg.

Of an obese, alcoholic Vietnamese gentleman

With a rotten colon

Hotter days bring the humidity – which means you are literally inhaling

All of the drowned, festering rats the live in the holes between the bricks

Of the crumbling walls that surround the once-fancy houses

Owned by the offspring of French colonialists and their annoying dogs.

Little dogs that shit out little turds right in the middle of the path

Where I will inevitably step into them because of my oft-hungover condition

The two chickens – dirty and fat – kick around in the trash

Hunting for little bugs to feast on, or a worm, maybe a cockroach. Scratchy little talons lifting up minute piles of waste and pecking at the ground with their little pink beaks. Fearless birds, without a care in the world – especially not afraid of the tall Tay strolling past with a cigarette hanging from his bottom lip and sweat on his brow.

A wise old mutt with cropped ears and a coat way too thick for the weather

Sits in front of the shack where the recyclers recycle everything

From rubber hoses to entire apartments stripped bare and dumped

By the side of the river where the river runs grey.

I’d never seen a grey river before I walked past the stinky river.

I call the dog ‘Big Pup’ and he has kind eyes and a fair temperament.

More deterrent than attack dog – big enough to scare off the locals,

But, we’re buddies – me and Big Pup – we say hello on weekday evenings

And weekend mornings.

A giant teddy bear lies dead, face down in a pile of garbage and rat skeletons. This once-white giant, probably loved by someone small for a minute or two, is now covered in shit in the most disgusting pile in Hanoi.

I think about taking photos, calling in a crime scene investigation team, because the poor bear has been dumped like so many puppies by the side of the water to rot and decay with his little button nose resting on a faded three of diamonds.

One evening when strolling home with that post-Sunday work swagger it was dark in the alleyway along the stinky river. The sepia glow from the street lamps had burnt out – leaving the walk more treacherous than usual as it was almost impossible to see the bank. A wrong foot could mean a grey dip.

In the immediate distance I noticed a ping-pong paddle sticking straight up.

A peculiar place to find such a thing. But, as I inched closer it moved, flapped and jumped and headed straight for me.

I have never seen a Jurrasic night butterfly before, but now I have.

It made me shriek and perform a small dance of fear in the dark.

A snail the size of a softball tripped me once, a chicken took the feet right out from beneath me.

The day the water flooded I had to wade through the water to get home. All the clothes I was wearing went directly into the trash. I had grey ankles for a week.



What is Hanoi part five… Animals


I’ll start with dogs – an extra toe shows apparent pedigree

Just an extra little useless appendage flapping on the ankle

A neck – through spine – to tail Mohawk runs long the back

All black and tan, like little German Shepherds running around

Get up to their own business in harmless, inquisitive packs

I’m a fan of the chickens, a fan of all chickens

Scratching about and shouting at strangers and other chickens

That they hear in distant alleyways, crowing in echoes of the walls

Flapping their wings, trying to fly I presume, but never getting far

Cockroaches everywhere, from tiny little ones to prehistoric monsters skittering around on floors and walls.

Children yell at them in neon hallways while pointing fingers

And dancing on their toes.

Ants, for the most part are harmless and non invasive

And happy to clean up the mosquitoes I kill

I’ve massacred hundreds of them, the ear-buzzing little assholes

Geckos chirp at you from the darkness of cracks in walls

Noisy little warriors screaming at their green foes who encroach on their feeding territories. Eating up all the flying stingers and biters that make a person itch in the morning if you leave a window open.

An urban owl that flies among the rooftops hunting bats in an aerial dog-fight under the hot sky sits atop a rusted water tank.

A guardian of the night, swooping to feast on squeaking rats

Rats that climb up the insane, tangled phone lines that snake through every corner of every alleyway and road in Hanoi.

Everywhere the rats – hopping around – acrobats of the fading hours, ducking into holes under kerbs and burrowing into giant trash piles. Dinner for the rats.

Me and the rats should go out for a beer – I bet they have stories.

Giant snails and butterflies always surprise, not so used to the giant bugs. I don’t think I ever will be.

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