Out of immigration and into the cab. "Duong thak duong" my cab driver keeps repeating these words and several other variations of it with someone else on the phone. That was my cue to check if I had Google translator on my phone. It's misty here. A Stephen King novel could get inspiration from the level of fog around us. Distant buildings stand tall but diminished at the horizon. Been a good hour's journey from the airport to the central part of Hanoi. So far I haven't found any chain of restaurants that we usually take for granted in most known cities. No subway, no Pepsi logos, no KFC. Instead, every five minutes I catch a building that stood apart from the rest, like a joker card in a deck of cards. Each of these 'in-your-face-babbi-lehri' structures have the word 'KARAOKE' embellished in gold or in some other fancy way. Ok, so we have a lot of aspiring singers here in Vietnam. I see lots of cars though, the Hyundai and Toyotas have been breeding well in this part. This part around the airport reminds me a lot of Bangalore's airport area- in the midst of nowhere, lush and green. Those who aren't driving in cars are on two wheeler mopeds - all riders are wearing that surgical mask to rid off the smog perhaps. OH I finally find a Pepsi hoarding, maybe we are closer to the heart of this town.
As we reach the A1 hotel, roads get narrower and busier, I encounter atleast twenty picture perfect scenes of locals sitting idly by their own stalls, waiting for tourist customers. Wish I had those huge ass SLR's that could spot the worried wrinkles on that old lady's face as she checks the rain with her narrowly slit eyes eyes. I leave the hotel, began recalibrating myself about where I am. I left my mind out to wander, and that's when I hear Vietnam's calling. The street. The sound of it's people. The strong smell of welcoming hits me instantly. Stronger than their coffee. It wasn't even a minute's walk past the small shops, and about three people stop me on my way: One offers a ride on his tram, a lady offers me local sweets, and a boy from the other side of the road offers to fix my torn shoes. I wonder how he spotted the tear from so far across.
It's way past lunch time, and my stomach's killing me. I've always been skeptical about eating in this country, and being allergic to sea-food was the primary reason. What am I even doing here? I go to a nearby restaurant that looked 'clean' and 'airconditioned'. It was a 'make your own roll' kind of place. Food is the one part of my trip I thought I would fear the most. Pork, rice, wraps and lettuce did all the talking in my mouth, and the verdict: delicious..! Tiger beer seems to be selling at large, more than Heinekens. I also ordered for some Vietnamese samosas that had spring onions in them, really tasty when served with BBQ sauce.
I begin walking around a lake that was recommended by the A1 receptionist. Seemed pretty popular amongst the people around here. I get around to explore more about the people here. All kinds of people. Joggers, lovers, hawkers and ramp walkers. I am amazed by the number of couples getting their wedding pictures taken along that lake. Man and woman in wedding attire are surrounded by professional photographers. This couple with roses in hand seem to be posing, both smiling innocently towards the cameras. Not more than ten metres away, I find an other couple, and then another - each with their own set of photographers. The serenity of that evening, and it's simple story around it consumed me that evening. I'm back in the room thinking about today, and all that really comes to mind is the reflection of the city street lights off it's water body.