(Yes: furry koalas dangling from a windscreen in a Hanoi taxi.)

Dear D__,

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ENDS MIDNIGHT

Hooray, we’re in Hanoi, finally. Sixteen tedious hours: from stepping into Tullamarine to stepping out of Noi Bai International.

I hadn’t intended, but then I did. Ponder. Here’s the mulling; skip if it doesn’t please:

‘Not that which is in the mind, but in which the mind is.’
(Dedication in Greek of Everything and More by David Foster Wallace, trans. Morgan Meis)

What is the medium of mind? It is time, but it is also not-time; boredom is one example, the star of not-time; they say (Shakespeare says) the horror of boredom is its hinting foretaste of death. But perhaps it’s because boredom is the space/no-time where we circle resistingly the final ineluctable subject (yes, I do mean the Self, alas, I do). That is the horrible intent of solitary confinement. But why are we talking about that from this most appealingly gentle and enlivening city?

Sixteen time-less hours: sixteen hours subtracted. Provokes a perverse nostalgia for the era of boat travel. You’ll recall that idea of airport/airplane time being some variety of limbo? — the nowhere uniformity of plane and airport interiors. You leave Melbourne and for sixteen hours inhabit a generic no-space — that is literally the time it takes to translate (in the old Catholic church usage) a being by industrial air from southern Australia to northern Vietnam.

Anyway . . .

Driving in from Noi Bai, we were entranced by one long stretch (unphotographable in the dark and speed; our cabbie flashing high beams, impatiently tooting) — the road was raised about a floor level above the buildings on each side, those being exceedingly narrow and tall (rates were by street frontage), and designed in a wild, Asian baroque; what might be described as post-colonial third world capitalist mannerism — only a good picture will do it justice. The delicious voyeurism, whizzing past, gawking, gazing into the lit rooms — folk living right up to the street in their visually unstable towers; young people drinking and fooling in the bright vertical bars.

Surprisingly, it feels quite unlike any other major Asian town; immediately more charming and less fetid than KL; less rambunctious than Bangkok; by several factors less monied and more modest than, say, HK and Singapore; much less pressured and intense than Jakarta. But also a good deal more vibrant than we had expected. The streets were lively and rich with incident on a Saturday night. Bikes are everywhere, almost all being scooters. Once we saw this tall youth next to us move at a world class sprint among the scooters for a couple of hundred metres until he fetched up to a knot of halted bikes and after a scuffle emerge holding onto a young lass by her arm. Everyone on the kerb, eating or walking, stopped and pivoted craning as the drama escalated . . . just as our cab stuttered away.

It’s hard to convey how many scooters there are, and the peculiar electricity of crossing a road. Be still, my hair-raised heart. Our concierge advised walking very slowly and staying visible and predictable — “let them ride around you,” he advised, smiling encouragingly.

The two fellers in the middle (green and beige shirt) are crossing a junction diagonally . . . the picture doesn’t show how many bikes are gunning past them from each side. Below is a picture of sidestreet bike parking that gives some idea of the density.

One aspect of the scooter culture I’m totally into is their headgear. Everyone, man, woman, boy or girl — are likely to wear the most frivolously charming and decorated helmet. One popular model has inserts of Burberry pattern. But more of that in another post; I’ll choof off to record specimens.

Greetings to the clan,
and all my love,
me