What Has Changed? (VN Diary No. 19)

When peope I meet -- both Vietnamese and Westerners -- hear that I have returned to Vietnam after eight years away, they invariably ask what has changed. Much has stayed the same. The essential character of Hanoi is the same, as does the ambience. Folks still spend a great deal of time out on the street because houses and apartments are small and the weather is hot; there are still boradcasts of irritating music and occasional propaganda broadcast over loudspeakes by the state, there are still many poor women who come in from the country every morning carrying two baskets on shoulder poles to sell vegitables, flowers, and other produce; there is still a fair amount of business activity specifically geared to expats and tourists. The traffic is worse, not so much in total volume, but because of the addition of many more cars to the million motorbikes; but it is somewhat better behaved because of the addition of a pretty effective system of traffic lights. It's still chaotic, but perhaps a little more predictable. Another change is the almost total absence of touts and postcard boys in the center of town; there are still lots of guys lounging on Hondas who will offer to give you a ride -- it's called xe om, meaning hang on -- but they are much less aggressive than they were before, asking once and then letting it go. At heart, though, Hanoi remains a cultured, friendly city in a developing country. That's what I liked about it before and that's what I still like about it. street_sm

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

2 thoughts on “What Has Changed? (VN Diary No. 19)”


    Up the ruffled shirts
    of the red pomegranate flowers
    the sweet fingers
    of the bees you know
    what’s happening.

    How we all want to germinate
    in some imaginary country
    that sounds like this language
    in some faces so different
    we may be lost again.

    A sound I hear sometimes
    sitting among the silences and
    swoosh of passing planes and dogs
    it could be an insect or a bird dying
    or all that travels coming home to me.

  2. You name the characterstics of my Hanoi :) something has stayed the same but some has changed. but Hanoi is always still like that, i mean the Spirit !!!

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