I have now been in Ha Noi for a week. I am less overwhelmed than when I wrote that last post, which, I should note, significantly understated the degree to which I was overwhelmed.
But now I can cross streets (still terrifying), cook good food, work with the money, survive haggling, and even explore.
Today I went to Ngoc Son Temple at Hoan Kiem Lake, after visiting the Old Quarter to get Patty her birthday gift. I am so ridiculously glad that I am living two miles from the Old Quarter. It was the first time I’ve seen tourists since I got here, and I immediately wanted nothing to do with it. People wouldn’t even haggle with me in stores tourists were in, because they were just jumping on whatever price was named, so that was annoying.
What wasn’t annoying was the lake or the temple or the bridge or the park around it, where I had this lovely moment stumbling on a group of people jamming with guitars and a fiddle and lots of people gathered around them randomly to sing along (I have awesome video; what I don’t have is an Internet connection that will let me upload it in any reasonable amount of time).
You know, I picked up guitar again recently because I wanted the experience of communal, casual music-making, which isn’t something that’s been a part of my limited music experience and something that makes me sad to have missed: when I’m in a room with a bunch of people screwing around on instruments for fun, I feel exiled from something that is really a very good fit for me. So it was nice to stand there and watch people play and sing songs in a language I don’t know, but be able to recognize finger positions and chords. That was a new thing for me, and the moment was perfect, and felt very private despite all the people.
It reminded me a little bit of when I was in Australia and went to a big deal sushi restaurant alone, and got a little bit wrecked off of my first legal glass of absinthe that was mixed with apple juice and shredded carrots. The food and drink were divine, but none of it was a big deal; it was awfully silly and internally self-indulgent, but it was the thing I didn’t know I had gone to Australia to do, but was surely, absolutely and completely, was why I was there. The guitars and the fiddle might prove to have been that moment here for me.
Meanwhile, even as work and exploration here continues apace, Patty and I are planning our India trip. She’ll be picking me up at the Delhi airport, and then we’ll see Jaipur, Agra and Fatehpur Sikri and spend several days in Delhi while I’m there. It won’t be long enough, mainly since she won’t be leaving India with me, but it’s a much needed reunion, and I should have her back at least relatively soon thereafter.
Of course, I also know I desperately owe you all some pop-culture time. It’s hard, all the way over here, although I confess I have moments where I try to imagine this city through Jack Harkness’s eyes or Blaine Anderson’s. It’s a defense mechanism, of course, the search for a fictional character’s comfort or discomfort with a place, other than my own, but it’s also how my brain works, as someone who both writes and pays attention to stories. I am many people, perhaps too much of the time.
But good topics for writing here do seem at least close at hand suddenly. Glee has offered up the bizarre possibility of an episode of The Who’s Tommy, which is fascinating and distressing all at once, and almost too juicy not to rub my brain all over. Additionally, I read The Hunger Games on the flight here from Warsaw, and that (and Jennifer Lawrence’s publicity tour dresses), are certainly also worthy of commentary; for a book I felt completely outside of, I was startlingly moved by the language in just a few small passages. It is really, astoundingly, a story of cadences.
So more soon, I guess, from a less real world. But for now, have some images of the very real, but completely dreamy to photograph, Ha Noi.