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.