- PhÆ°Æ¡ng works in a restaurant & goes to college, studying English. I met her because, standing behind me & speaking to another waiter, I found I could understand her Vietnamese. (Usually, I get anywhere from ten to thirty percent of overheard conversations.) I introduced myself & the next day she took me for a cup of coffee. (Iâ€™m so old now that young Vietnamese women know they need have no fear of me.) When I mentioned that there was a character in a Graham Greene novel who shared her name, PhÆ°Æ¡ng corrected me: â€œPhÆ°á»£ng has the low short tone (náº·ng) and means phoenix, but my name has the level tone (ngang) and means way or direction.â€ One wonders whether Graham Greene was aware of this distinction, since he spells the name stripped of itâ€™s diacritical marks.
- Hanoi streets in the hour before dinner: Jammed with traffic ranging from bicycles & cyclos to motorbikes in all stages of repair, trucks & cars from little Korean compacts to Land Rovers & BMWs. Sitting in my taxi, stopped dead in a shoal of these vehicles, I gaze out the window at a family of three sitting on their motorbike, each looking placid ahead as the massive tide of traffic pauses & prepares to surge forward again.
- 70Âº in Hanoi & most Vietnamese are wearing jackets, even parkas; tourists in tee shirts & shorts.
- A version of Lou Reedâ€™s â€œWalk on the Wild Sideâ€ playing on the restaurant sound system that can only be described as bubblegum-disco, produced & performed by people who do not know what the words mean. Or if they do know . . .
- Rainy morning on LÃ½ Quá»‘c SÆ° across from the ugly cathedral: the usually snarled traffic even more snarled because a work crew in bright blue ponchos is running new wires under the street. I suppose this means that the overhead tangles of electrical wires will eventually be replaced, leaving visitors one less thing to be astonished by.
Note: Before coming to Hanoi I loaded up my Kindle with several things I thought would suit the short attention span of traveling. Among the things I downloaded was Greil Marcusâ€™s Real Life Rock: The Complete Top Ten Columns, 1986 - 2014. When Marcus is not showcasing his mastery of the most obscure details of popular culture, he is an incisive analyst of contemporary American myth. While I do not aspire to anything so engaged, I have decided to adopt the literary genre of the list, posting an occasional list of items here. The list as not-quite-literary form has the advantage of cutting short the compulsion toward completion, a fatal check, ironically, to finishing anything. My lists will not always run to ten items, but ten will be the upper limit--otherwise infinity might beckon. Iâ€™ll begin with a list of five items: