1. Shortcut extremists, going for it
Every nut on a bike in Hanoi is on the hunt for a quicker way to work, and I’m one of them. This city is littered with back-alleys, dirt paths, sidewalks and secret portals that can shave chunks of valuable time off of daily commutes. Sometimes however, there is resistance to this kind of frisky driving and an interesting scene unfolds.
A great example of a passive yet passionate, ongoing feud between commuters and road workers is on Kim Mã street, and this ever-changing situation has been hot as a pistol lately.
It’s like this—I get to the end of Vạn Bảo where it meets Kim Mã and all I want to do is go directly across to Ngọc Khánh, but there are a bunch of annoying, yellow and black barriers connected by wire running for about 50 meters. I don’t think I stand alone when I say that there are about 10,000 things I would rather do than drive 50 meters to make a pointless, time-consuming U-turn. In fact, I know I don’t stand alone because a bunch of people forcefully removed one of the barriers and then barged it. I was there.
Nobody knows what became of the barrier itself but it was actually rumored that it was thrown into a construction site or scrapped for cold, hard đồng. To add to the chaos, this pile of dirt also mysteriously appeared two days after the barrier disappeared. I’m not sure if it was put there to deter motorists or to make things smoother for them, but I’m glad I’m wondering.
The next day though, the tables have turned. Wire and tape have been jerry-rigged between the last barrier and a tree and the passage is a no-go. The vibe is sullen and U-turns are banged all day. Night falls, a drizzle, more turns are made.
Well, this doesn’t last long. The next day we see commuters happily cruising over the bump once again. Yeehaw!
However, it’s not long before reality sets in and again we’re faced with the possibility of being late for work and getting fired. This time the resistance has upped the ante with a low, brown picket fence, a classic orange road cone and reinforced wires
For a few days the outlook is bleak and to be honest I even find myself daydreaming—completely lost in the nostalgia of zipping over that little bump and on to Ngọc Khánh as I often went. Once I almost bite the dust taking the sandy U-turn and twice I am nearly late for work! It’s all too much.
Then On February 28th, 2018 a phoenix rises!
This is a small victory for commuters, but don’t be surprised to see updates as this an ongoing situation.
Update: As of March 8th, 2018 the expressway has been blocked off with feeble wire and a small, twigged tree branch. Expect a breach in the coming days.
Update 2: March 15th, 2018. Game over……..
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2. Robots, flying signs
One good thing about getting hopelessly lost in this city is that I usually find robots waving signs somewhere. They may not show me the way home, but they do shed light on some pretty amazing deals.
This is cheap, portable advertising that adds some pizzazz to a lackluster storefront. Power ain’t an issue as they’ve got a battery on their heels, making it possible for them to groove literally all night. My only complaint is their limited range of motion and the lack of male robots, of which I have seen none. I’d also love to see someone remove the governor on one of these so we could get an idea of raw potential. Other than that, these things are superb tools for advertising sales, discounts, clearances, BOGOs or GOOBs.
Looking behind the sign though, I see sadness, mystery and a thing that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s waldeinsamkeit, which is the German word that describes the feeling you get when you’re alone in the woods. I’m not sure, but all I know is that there is just something about them.
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3. The điếu cày, on the move
In the countryside it’s the sound of crickets, but in Hanoi it’s the soothing whistle of the điếu cày tobacco bong that lulls us all to sleep night after night.
Maybe it’s just me but I take great pleasure in hearing some joe in the ngõ (alley), late at night, just freaking getting after it.
While the days are mostly dominated by the sounds of traffic, roosters, construction and street vendors, the classic điếu cày whistle is still a prominent part of the Hanoi soundscape, and god bless.
Recently I’ve found myself captured by the charm of seeing these pipes on the go. Strapped to a bike, being ripped by garbage guys in the cab of the truck, or just lightly dangling from a passenger’s hand—my heart is forever theirs.
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4. Mannequins, used and abused
Everywhere I go I see mannequins being mistreated, and Hanoi is certainly no exception. Dismembered, occasionally bald, and always beaten, there they stand: the mannequins. If not buck naked and exposed to passersby, then they’ve fallen prey to some cruel and unusual fashion experiment whilst inhaling noxious, roadside fumes. Enough is enough.
See something, say something! Send your pictures of demented mannequins to firstname.lastname@example.org!
5. The Láng Hạ urban photography exhibition
Without hesitation, I can say that this is the best show I’ve seen all year.
The expeditious development of greater Hanoi and the questions that loom are the subject that the photographer, who remains nameless for reasons unknown, has created at the Láng Hạ urban art gallery. The choice of modern, composite photography coupled with a run down gallery space that lives in the soot of recent construction is thoughtful and consummate.
The viewing process of the show takes on a curious approach as visitors are forced to dart back and forth through traffic to view different mediums on a dirty median as well as large photographs on canvas which obstruct stairways and hamper public footbridge access. High stakes art viewing, while thrilling for some, may not make waves in the future due to liability, injuries and general anxiety. However, in the absence of refreshments at Láng Hạ, hard hats at the door would provide the comfort and courtesy that the experience lacks and could encourage conservative factions of the art viewership to come bounding over to the gallery in unprecedented numbers.
Upon entering the gallery, a dusty and derelict scene unfolds. There are people around, some loitering under the bridge and some gallery-going, but it soon becomes a challenge to decipher who is who: the game within the game. Once one forgets about such nonsense and lends focus to the art on display it is easy to recognize the sentiment, which is pure.
What will become of this bridge, this gallery, and lastly, this art, when the claws of urban development come clamping down? The question is left poised at Láng Hạ.
6. Bollards and an emergency removal
Bollards have been around for quite some time. They are essentially posts, poles, or pillars. Their primary purpose is to protect things like docks from boats, buildings from traffic, and pedestrians from reckless motorists. Sometimes though, in this day and age, they seem to have no purpose at all.
Every once in a while a city planner can go a little bollard crazy and there comes a time when, well, a few of those babies need to be yanked out. Easier said then done, pal. What we have here though is a very confusing situation. Are they taking this bollard out to make way for a fire truck or was the fire department called to do the job? It’s kind of like a chicken or egg type deal, I guess. Maybe though, they drove up, realized they were blocked, then one guy was like “well we’ve got that sledge” and then another was like “actually, we have two.” Third guy’s like “it’s on.”
It’s also fair to assume that this was some kind of emergency and that bollard had to go because something was on fire. Judging by the silver, flame retardant suit that gives a stern nod to the Tin Man, this guy was ready for a fire and not a bollard bashing affair. In any case, it’s a neat photo.
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7. Đông Tác market, a frikin’ photo feast
Out in Dong Da district there lies yet another Vincom center. The building is nothing short of awesome with it’s modern design and immense presence in an otherwise underdeveloped and crowded pocket of the city. It is here that one can buy pants at high prices. One can also buy shorts if one wants—of course one can. One goes in, one peruses, đồng flies out of pocket, one goes out. All the hits are played on the radio and air conditioning roars with limitless vigor all day.
Step outside the Vincom, cross the busy street, and nip down a small alley. There you will find a different narrative playing out. I’m talking no AC, no radio booming all the hits, no fancy shopping bags, and no pants. Just kidding, tons of pants and everything else because it’s a freakin’ second hand clothing market for the ages!
All goofs aside, Đông Tác is a great market with thrifty threads galore, but it’s not a recent discovery and it’s been written about. What I personally like about Đông Tác is the atmosphere and the light. It’s already tight and most of the stalls have big awnings as a way of obscuring shop owners from the sun and rain. There are, however, patches where the sun rides on through, making for some pretty interesting light; hence a frikin’ feast is offered to photographers.
If you’re not in the mood for shopping you can always stroll around, take some snaps, or even enjoy a cup of chè with the lads.
As the stalls get sparser perhaps the most intriguing area of the market present itself: the old playground. It’s unclear when exactly it fell out of operation, but the remnants still hang around, occasionally being used as drying racks.
Well, there’s quite a lot to see so get over there and check it out! The guy who parks the motorbikes (no photos unfortunately) is as friendly as they come, so you’re bike will be in good hands.
8. Street furniture, chilling.
I sometimes fall asleep at night worrying about all the plastic in the ocean (there is a plastic island the size of Texas now fyi a.k.a let’s do something about it) and this ever-changing climate only to wake up wondering why there is so much dated, porny-looking furniture hanging around the streets of Hanoi.
Did some sexy hotels have a blowout sale? If not, who is pumping all these love seats? Ever seen a kinky chesterfield under a bridge? Two men playing a chill game of chess on a dusty davenport? Yup, and it’s a miracle, really.
With snazzy color schemes, interesting placements, and curious occupants, these pieces are straight eye candy. Sure, they’re a little dirty, a little ripped, stain here, stain there—I get it. What we’re not taking into account is the extra points you get for looking chill, and this is roadside chill now so that’s worth even more, probably. And we’re not done. Factor in more points for being resourceful and it’s straight cash from there on out. If for some reason you don’t care about points (some don’t) then, well, bingo, you’ve just earned more chill points for not even giving a fuck.
Alas, sooner or later the weather will have its way with a lot of these chill, roadside furnishings but with all the massage parlors and karaoke joints peppered around Hanoi I can only imagine that the ten year forecast is looking pretty damn chill.
Seen anything sexy streetside? Let us know and send an email to tenthingshn.@gmail.com
Okay so I’m just gonna’ say it: I dig a pony. Ponytails are all around us and if you haven’t noticed them then you’re probably living under a sack of rice or something. Next point—it’s getting hot. If you sport a pony and you love your hair, which any sane guy or gal should, then set it free. Don’t keep it stuffed up inside your helmet, getting all mangy and damp, because that’s bush league. Even if you fly a part-time pony, I suggest you go to your local helmet provider and buy something with a ponyhole to brace yourself for the approaching summer heat.
If you find that you’re not satisfied with the selection of helmets or you can’t find a hole that really fits then remember that you can always customize.
If you do end up going the custom route and you decide to order something, please make sure you get your specs right.
Take pride in your hair, take care of your body, and be yourself.
10. Ten photos!
Just a reminder that Hanoi is a wonderful place. Stay positive, stay interested and look around.