Saturday, October 2, 2010
Thang Long Chaotic
Hanoi is always bustling. Making your way down the street, whether by foot or motorbike is a process that requires exceptional navigational skills and alertness. You ever know when you’ll have to dodge someone down the wrong side of the road or simply stopping without rhyme or reason. I often find myself breathing a sigh of relief and mentally patting myself on the back when I’ve reached by destination successfully and in one piece.
I thought I was used to the traffic and craziness here. I had gotten to the point where I felt like nothing I could see here would surprise or shock me anymore. I wouldn’t say I am oblivious to it, but have merely accepted the way of life here and look at wide eyed tourists with amusement as they nervously plan the best way to cross the street.
That was before Thang Long.
For those of you who aren’t engulfed in the Vietnam culture, Thang Long is the 1000th year celebration of Hanoi. When I first found out that I’d be living here during this time, I called my parents and told them how cool it was, how exciting. Being a major history buff and nerd, I was relishing in the fact that I’d be right in the middle of the action, That a phenomenal piece of history was right on my doorstep. While I anticipated celebrations and commemorations to take place, I was (and still am) completely unaware of what the ten day festivities would entail.
It started with the lights. The last two weeks in September the roads became more and more lit up as strings of lanterns in all shapes and colors were hung up. Some people find it cheesy but I think it’s beautiful. It reminded me of New York City at Christmastime. The cold month of December was always miserable and made me grumpy until I walked down 5th Avenue and saw all of the stores lit up with a majestic glow. It is impossible to miss and even more impossible to not feel affected by it. My grumbling slowly turned into excitement and inevitably my Scrooge-ness was replaced by holiday cheer. Hanoi is no different, and each night as I drove home, a new batch had cropped up and I, like so many Vietnamese, ooohed and ahhed at the glow. (I spent a few evenings trying to capture the essence of it all but found that I failed due to my amateur photography skills and my point and go camera.)
The lights should have been a gentle prelude to the madness to come but I guess I am naïve. I underestimated Hanoi’s ability to party and turn more chaotic. I started noticing that my twenty-five minute drove from West Lake to Old Quarter (where I live) was getting longer and longer. The streets got more and more crowded by people enjoying the lights, walking around the monuments and coming into the center of town to engage in their own forms of celebrations complete with flags, dragons, music, parades and stopping their motorbikes in the middle of the road and taking pictures.
I found quickly that my life is going to drastically alter during this time:
1. I will not be able to drive anywhere. Nor do I want to
2. It will take me quadruple the time to get anywhere
3. I may not be able to leave the OQ area because so many streets will be blocked off, and when they're not blocked off the traffic is so jammed it's not even worth it.
4. There are more people the I have ever seen gathered in a confined area, and that confined area is in front of my doorstep
Once again, I am awestruck by the pride the wonderful Vietnamese have for their country. Their sense of nationalism is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere and I love it. I am enjoying the buzz and the energy of being here and drinking in the experience....that being said, I’m looking forward to my commute dwindling back down to twenty five minutes instead of an hour (or longer) and getting the streets around my house getting back to “normal.”