Hanoi, second time around
I had been here before, and yet I hadn’t. Same same but different, as they say in Southeast Asia. When I said goodbye to Hanoi 11 years ago it was bright and sunny. Now all I could see were dark blurry shapes up ahead waiting to pounce on me.
I was at Gia Lam station, it was 4.45 in the morning and I had just arrived from China.
“Taxi, miss?” a dark silhouette approached me. I wasn’t wearing my contact lenses and the spectacles I had on needed cleaning so I had no idea what this man looked like. “No, no taxi,” I replied. I needed a taxi, but I wasn’t about to take one so close to the train station.
Another blurry shape came forward. “Taxi? Taxi to hotel?” I declined and walked on.
When I left Hanoi in September 2001, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to come back again. Crossing the road was a feat in itself. The place was a nightmare. I hated the traffic, hated the constant honking of the cars and motorbikes and I hated that I found fish bones on my bed after checking into my hotel.
This year, visiting Hanoi was unavoidable. I was travelling from Russia and my train from Nanning terminated here, so here I was.
The next few days proved just how much Hanoi had changed. The entire city had gotten busier; it was choked with cyclos and motorbikes more than before. Crossing the road was such a chore that I dreaded doing it. The Old Quarter had become dirtier- I saw restaurant workers throwing water and sweeping their rubbish onto the roads, knowing full well that the city authorities would clean up for them.
And yet there is always something nice about returning to a place you’ve been to. You remember why you chose to come here the first time- it was a different country, and you were curious. This time around, after the rush of China, I was able to slow down and find peace in Hanoi’s shady boulevards and beautiful lakes.
Two days later, it was time for me to head for Ho Chi Minh City. My taxi driver took me past Le Duan and Ly Thuong Kiet, streets which I recalled from my first visit. We passed the Rooftop Club on the way. A group of young Vietnamese in black leggings and boots were striking killer poses at the entrance for their photographer.
It was about 10.30 when we reached Ga Ha Noi, the train station. It was only after I got down from the taxi that I remembered. I had been there before. This happens sometimes when you come back to a place you’ve been to.
I had stood in that same spot in 2001 and taken a photo of Ga Ha Noi, imagining how wonderful it would be if I could take a train from there one day.
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