At a certain point I asked someone when the bus to Theth would arrive, at which he laughed heartily, said “minute!” and shrugged. So the two of us have just stood here, watching local life cartwheel by, until, just as we’ve given up hope, everyone around us starts shouting “Theth!” and pointing to an ancient yellow minibus that has magically appeared across the road.
Nick Johns-Wickberg writes: My fingers wrap tighter around the Jesus bar as I see the taxi’s speedometer break 80km/h. He’s moved over to the left hand side of the road, because the decrepit car in front of us isn’t capable of breaking the 30km/h speed limit, and, despite the oncoming truck, he’s decided to stay left to avoid the potholes.
He keeps his line, daring the truck to pull over, but neither vehicle is prepared to concede the smooth side of the road in this insane game of chicken. We’re within spitting distance when, at the last minute, my man swerves right, narrowly avoiding the truck, various farm animals, and a group of local children, all of whom look completely unfazed. I release a little bit of breath, and possibly a tear, but, alas, my terror is not over yet.
In the lead-up to Tết the streets in Hanoi become, somehow, even more hectic than usual. Knots of interlaced motorbikes jam every intersection as Hanoians buzz about the city, furiously stocking up on potted orchids, paper votives and individually-wrapped snacks, all of which are essential to the lunar new year.
For a foreigner, Tết is a stressful time, and not just because of the traffic and the short supply of individually-wrapped snacks. It’s also a cultural minefield.
“What is the fatal charm of Italy? What do we find there that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human, which other places, other countries, lost long ago.” — Erica Jong
Binoy Kampmark writes: The city of mink, lying on ladies who seem to have stepped out of abundant wardrobes, worn not even in the name of extravagance so much as expected formality. This is the first impression you get in Milan, as you take to the streets of a city that prides itself as being Italy’s exception. It is the exception, because here, one finds banking that presumably works, a situation that does not prevent transactions with your international bank card as being declared ‘void’. (Italian bancomats are notoriously rude.)
Henry Bateman writes: There is a truism, which I can vouch for from direct observation, that tricycle drivers know the longest way between any two points. These 125cc motorcycles with their enclosed side cars carry their passengers from door to door within and to neighbouring barangays (suburbs).
Restricted from using the main thoroughfares, they wend their way through the back streets negotiating a plethora of speed humps along the way. With their human cargo on board, along with whatever goods and chattels are deemed necessary for the journey, they chug their way through the narrow streets that are old Manila.
So you’ve just launched into a travel story. An amazing tale of bravery, derring-do and batik shopping in the face of extreme food poisoning. And you’re just about to reach the climax when someone pipes up:
‘Oh, Baluchistan. I was there before it was trendy.’
Yes, it’s infuriating. No, I can’t help myself. Because (with all due respect to Tabitha Carvan) I did a Vietnamese Christmas, too.
Beneath the midday sun, I reluctantly inhale the overwhelming stench, which distinctly reminds me of festering road-kill baking in the heat of an Australian summer.
As subtly as possible, I hold my wrist over my nose and breathe through my mouth, not wanting to offend the smiling and impeccably dressed man walking towards me.
“Bonjour,” he says gregariously, holding out his hand to take mine. “Je m’appelle Monsieur Dossou. Bienvenue a la marche des fétiches.”
With the new year just past, I find myself reflecting on 2011. It was a year in which Hanoi taught me many lessons, for which I’m truly grateful. I present for you some highlights of What I Learned In 2011:
1. Your eyeballs can sweat
A year in Hanoi can be divided into three parts:
a) Dreading the summer;
b) OMG IT IS SUMMER; then
c) Dreading the summer.