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.
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
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
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.