Hanoi

The capital of Vietnam is a beautiful city, with tree-lined streets, a fascinating "Old Quarter" full of small shops, the grounds of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the presidential palace with surrounding green space, and the One Pillar Pagoda. Not far away is the Temple of Literature that dates from the Ly Dynasty. As you might expect, Vietnamese food is served in Hanoi (surprise!) and it's better here than anywhere else. Over the last several years (I've been visiting Hanoi since 1998) the mix of bicycles/motorbikes/automobiles has swung in the direction of greater size and weight.

I got there a day late, due mostly to necessary de-icing of the airliner in Denver that took me to San Francisco--but too late for my flight to Hong Kong. I phoned a friend in the U.S., who phoned Tran Xuan Hung in Ho Chi Minh City, and he met me at Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport a day later than planned.

Excavation had begun for a new parliament building not far from the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. But soon, something momentous was found: Parliament will now build elsewhere, and archeologists are excavating and studying the buried "Old Citadel" that was discovered. Old foundations and numerous artifacts have been unearthed here. Investigation is ongoing, artifacts are in large stacks of plastic baskets, and wonders from the 15th Century Ly Dynasty are turning up. This is not yet open to the public, but Xuan Hung and I received special dispensation from the appropriate offices in Hanoi to visit. It was amazing.

The water puppet theater in Hanoi presents a show that is truly unique in the world, and even in Vietnam. Water puppetry is done on a stage that is a pool of water probably about three feet deep (I'm guessing) by puppeteers who are behind a curtain, controlling the puppets. There are several musicians at one side of the stage, and the show consists of a series of short stories acted out by the puppets. I've read that you could learn to be a quarterback in the NFL quicker than you could learn to be one of those puppeteers. And this time, we went to the water puppet show after I'd been in Vietnam for more than two weeks! I did not fight jet lag all evening, and the show was truly memorable. Fortunately, photography is allowed and some results are here.

I found myself with extra time in Hanoi in 2004, so I went for a long walk across the city. I felt entirely safe, walking fast only to keep ahead of the many postcard sellers. I would not have done this in most large cities, but in Hanoi it felt fine. The photo above was taken during that walk. I also found a place that served pizza! So I repeated my walk at dinner time, and returned after dark. That was fine, too. Hanoi is one of my favorite cities, anywhere.