This poem is inspired by the fact that, for the first month or so after moving to Hanoi, I was unable to locate my own house with any confidence.
First into the maelstrom,
the swirling tumult
of people going places
that are far more important
than anywhere you are.
Then suddenly into serenity:
bearing furtive lovers
across a neon-lit lake.
Down a tree-lined side street,
past unseen embassies
and gangly soldiers in guard posts
ringed with sunflower seed shells.
Out on to Dọi Cán,
past a shoeless Santa on a plastic stool
yelling at a man up a ladder
without ever losing grip on his dog-end.
Left at the pile of rubble
in the middle of a choked intersection,
scattering hooting Hondas
among the fruit and chickens.
Past the hospital
and the lady xe-om drivers
who pat their bike seats maternally
and cackle uproariously
when you say no.
Then the free-for-all at the gas stand,
and left-right-left down the winding street
that my landlord describes as “go straight”.
Through the narrow lane
that rings with the sound of construction
and shy hellos
from upper floors.
Follow the shrieks to the school and
under a spreading tree,
past eurodisco aerobics
and razor-sharp pyjama-clad badminton stand-offs.
Thread through the tea drinkers
outside the second staircase
of the faded ochre building
and then up.
Skirt the ping pong match
in the fourth floor corridor
and skip over the skeleton of a kumquat tree
to my front door.
Please take your shoes off
and don’t mind my geckos.
The view from my balcony.
From here on October 6th 2011.
Ha Noi’s 1000th anniversary – let’s all go for a drive at once!
It’s 8pm, and I am sitting on a wooden “sofa” marking 16 discursive essays on the benefits of online learning. On the fifth floor of an apartment block, on an unnamed lane at the end of a windy street left from the petrol station past the school and under the big tree, Hanoi, Vietnam. Someone downstairs is playing loud patriotic music, and across the dirty dribble that passes for a summertime river, it’s the festival of hitting bins. The local canine population is protesting vigorously. My ears, eyes and bottom are all protesting vigorously.
My living room is, comparatively speaking, an oasis of calm. Outside there’s the aerobics in the park, and beyond that and the maze of winding streets there’s the non-stop onrush of mopeds, motorbikes, and – new since I was last here – cars. Beyond that, somewhere, the city is flocking to yet another 1000th birthday Hanoi celebration, merrily blocking streets until the small hours.
I think now I understand why I failed to write anything meaningful during my first months in Japan. I’ve long kicked myself for letting such an opportunity pass me by, but perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I’d forgotten how draining it is when nothing is for certain, when every conversation is an elaborate mime, when you’re not certain to be able to find your own house again without tying a piece of string to your wrist. It’s physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting – but one hell of a buzz nonetheless. And I sure would never have had a gecko if I’d stayed at home.
From here on October 5th 2010.