In Hanoi, crossing the street is a dance. Motorcycles don’t stop but they dodge and even more when it rains, they don’t want to get wet. 

On motorcycles they fit two, three and four people and they squeeze between cars, buses and people by opposite lanes and they respect neither the crosswalks nor the traffic lights. 

So in the capital of Vietnam and, in general, throughout the country, one has to know how to dance. 

As the locals do with their Nón La – or Vietnamese conical hat – and the Thung Chai – or basket – leaning on the shoulders as they walk along the sides of the street.

In Kyrgyzstan, apricot is one of the main fruits of the diet of the Kyrgyz, thousands of them dry in the sun to then make jam. This is eaten daily and it is spread on bread with black sesame seeds.

At our arrival at the Manas Airport in Bishkek around 5 in the morning, taxi drivers give us a warm welcome in a language similar to Russian.
We get into the taxi with two female passengers, and he drives us to our first hotel. That way is noisy, messy and normal.

As we approach the city, the imperial footprint is becoming progressively more and more present. 

Kyrgyzstan was placed under the control of the Soviet Union from 1918 (victory of The Russian Revolution) until its dissolution in 1991. As an imperial capital as it was, the city has well-developed country roads, impressive government buildings and memorials that perpetuate power.

As a result of past events, the Kyrgyz inherited the language from the Russians, which is nowadays the second official language in the country. 
As Aizada Baiushbekova says (the owner of “Baiysh yurt camp” of Song Kul lake) “Kyrgyz is being lost within generations and we have to fight to preserve it”.

In parallel, Mansur Abylaev, president of KATO (Tour operators association in Kirguistán) and CEO of “Baibol Travel” tour operator, he stated that after Soviet Union’s separation, the gap between the countryside, with more developed agriculture, and the city, more industrial, has considerably grown. Nevertheless, he says, “Russians didn’t influence us with their traditions, but they did with globalization”.

The car slows down, and we realize we are in a street market. Even though it is night now, it is possible to distinguish with clarity the van right in front of us, through the back doors we can see animal bodies hanging upside down, it is fresh meat. Women who wear colored tissues sell species, homemade food, fruits, sweets and that tasty and sophisticated bread. Men with toasted cheeks and white hats set the booth. Everything happens while they scream at each other, talk quickly and laugh.

Tourists enter one of the shops in Hanoi’s downtown and the vendor, wearing glasses and a beret, contemplates the street

Hanoi, apart from a built-up jungle – in which vines become a compact cable that distributes telephone and light -, it is also the capital of Vietnam since 1010, and it was the administrative centre of the French colony from 1802 until 1940, when it was occupied by the Japanese until 1945. 

It is for this reason that buildings of different cultures and religions coexist in the city, such as the Tran Quoc pagoda – of the Vietnamese monarch Ly Nam -, the Thang Long citadel, the One Pillar Pagoda – of different Chinese dynasties – or the temple of literature and the temple of the Jade mountain – of the Confucian and Taoist currents of thought -.

In the Tran Quoc pagoda, the spiral incense cleans the atmosphere on the Thuy Khuê river

There is also Hanoi Cathedral and the Opera House – of French colonization – and the mausoleum where the remains of the Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh rest.

On the remains of a colonial house, children left their shoes and their games

In Hanoi’s old town, Western normality is questioned again and again. 

The Vietnamese sit on little blue stools to eat their bowl of noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner in restaurants located in the chaotic environment of a city that wakes up at 5 in the morning and never stops. 

There is a street called Trân Phù, better known as the street of the train. 

In this narrow street that crosses Hanoi, citizens sell their handicrafts, cook food for their tiny restaurants and hang clothes on the third floor of their houses, chickens relax in the middle of the train tracks enjoying the morning absence of the children and in the afternoon, the little ones flutter after school. On the contrary, twice a day, everybody stops their activities to make way for the train.

Chickens enjoy the morning tranquility of Trân Phù street and the kindness of the inhabitants who give them food

A barber with an anti-pollution mask shaves the hair of a man sitting on a stool. In front, an individual mirror, hair products and the telephone number of the hairdresser

A reflection of colors

A moment

In the meanwhile, in another part of the city, a man contemplates, for hours, the building in front of him as if it were the horizon, in a chair so small that his knees are bent and brush his face.

A street vendor of sweet potatoes about to get on his Second World War motorcycle

A group of men play the game Co tuong or “game of the generals”, next to a taxi stand

A bicycle moves along a street full of motorcycles, buildings and nature while it’s getting dark

On the street, a woman carries two wicker baskets where she gathers the garbage and cleans the sidewalks. 

The receptionist of my hotel has the little fingers’ nail very long and someone tells me with all naturalness, that it is to open the cans or, to put the finger in the nose. 

Motorcycles carry as many passengers as they fit in the vehicle and go without helmets even if the law prevents it. 

It is also shocking that the normal or the habit, checks and kills a written paper, and this freedom is breathed by the antipollution masks of passers-by.

© 2020 by Gisela Sole Marron & Laetitia Daïdé