Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam. Seven million people live there today. It feels like a combination of New York City and Paris. According to one guide book, space in the Old Quarter is the most costly per square meter in the world. Luckily, our room at the Charming Hotel II on Hang Ga Street costs only $38 per night, breakfast included.
Houses in the Old Quarter have narrow frontages, as little as three or four meters. Then the house runs back, room after room, courtyard after courtyard, sometimes all the way to the next street. Between the houses run shoulder-width alleys. You can just glimpse the households full of life down those alleys.
In the Old Quarter, parts of a street are named by what is sold in the shops there. So you have Silk Street, Coffin Street, Bamboo Street. Our hotel is one door away from a bamboo shop. They make everything from ladders to water pipes out of bamboo, right there on the sidewalk. Above is a birdcage shop.
Walking up past the night market we came upon a performance of Cheo, traditional theater and music.
There is no way to convey the cultural richness of this city in a few photos. We arrived Friday night, met with contacts on Saturday, walked around on Sunday and walked around today, too, Monday. Here are some photos from walking around today:
War memorial, 1946, on a tree-lined boulevard at the top of the Old Quarter. The trees have bark like plane trees, which are the trees of Paris (and a lot of Berkeley, too) but the leaves are different, so they are something else. Besides, they are much taller than plane trees. This part of the city was developed under the French, starting in the 1880s. Huge, elegant yellow stucco mansions with louvered casement windows. Some in serious disrepair; others, re-purposed.
Here is the new National Assembly Building. The glass flying saucer effect in the right rear must be where the Assembly meets. You can’t see how big it is from this picture; it’s huge.
You remember this guy.
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is actually a university. It was founded in the 11th Century to create a space where scholars could meet, study, live and teach. This is one of the central inner gardens.
The great scholars who came there are honored with stone stellae erected in a long loggia. Onto the surface of each stela is carved the text of the essence of that scholar’s wisdom. Each stela sits on the back of a turtle, because obviously they were all Terry Pratchett fans, even back then.
When the inscriptions on the stone stellae are rubbed and pulled so that they can be read, they look like this:
The characters are Chinese, a form called “Southern” because it was adapted to Vietnam.
Vietnamese did not have its own written language until the 1700’s when French missionaries created a romanized script to convey Vietnamese, called Quoc Nur. Under the French, the language of education was French; after 1946, Quoc Nur became the national language
We also went to the Hanoi Fine Arts Museum and saw a contemporary exhibit called “Realism,” or at least that is how the title was translated. This was such an interesting experience that I’m going to deal with it in a separate post.
Our hotel is on a street corner where they sell bamboo. They make everything from ladders to flutes to water pipes to signs out of bamboo.
Tea or traditional medicine? Maybe both.
Five-story coffee shop on a side street near the ILO:
Soviet-built Friendship Palace. Across the street from the VGCL. Now a cultural activity venue.
View from our hotel window: