Sunday, October 18, 2009

My House and Neighbourhood in Hanoi

My camera has been stolen, so until then you will have to put up with photos from my mobile phone.

I should mention that I am moving to a new house soon. I figure now would be a good time to post about my current neighbourhood and house.

I live in the middle of a giant block. Between the two streets is a densely packed neighbourhood that one can access only through the alleyways that sprawl through the block like veins. In order to reach my house, you have to take a right from the main street, turn right, then turn left, go through a covered tunnel-like structure, pass the canal, take a right, then the left, then right, then left, then right, then left, then right again until you get to a dead end. This is about 10 minutes walk from the main road upon which my address is based. Taxi's cannot reach my house, let alone the fire truck (if there even is one in this city).

I find it completely amazing how houses organically sprung up from the ground. Pressures as a result of the loosening up of the tightly controlled Vietnamese market, called Đổi Mới, allowed for the dividing up of previously large tracts of land. As a result, you often see small one-level buildings surrounding by narrow 5-floor houses that were built on what I assume was one large housing-lot. The average house is only about 3-4 metres wide, but stretches 5 metres deep and 5 storeys tall, mainly because local taxes are based on the width of a building rather than the actual area.

Walking through the maze of alleyways, it seems like houses were pieced together like a puzzle, one house being built to another, and other just filling up spaces between two randomly places houses on a lot. The alleys came later, as spaces between buildings for moving people, bicycles and motorbikes. Alleyways hold their own businesses and shops. Along the way to my house from the street I pass by a school, a vegetarian-food lady, many hair salons, guesthouses, food sellers, motorbike repair and wash shops, etc. Within the same block, there are many other alleys that are densely lined with these businesses, mimicking a main street. The block also has a huge square surrounded by houses where vegetables, meat and prepared foods are sold. You wouldn't know such a place was there unless you lived in the area and came across it somehow.

Starting in the morning, people on bicycles ride through the maze of alleys singing a jingle for the products they sell. There's people selling phở, bread, fried rice cakes, and people willing to buy your recyclables, or broken appliances, etc. It's a city within a city. And the best part is aside from the singing of the sellers and the kids playing in the alley, there is no street noise.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vegetarian Hanoi

I've been here for about 9 months now. On the first day I arrived, I headed straight to this vegetarian restaurant I found on the New Hanoian. It is still one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants, and I go there at least once a week, if not several times a week. However, I have discovered quite a few vegetarian places within a 15-20 minute radius of my house. I use places because most of them are not really restaurants. They are usually people who set up some plastic stools and tables on the main floor and cook out of their kitchens once or twice a day (the picture above is of a street vendor who sells vegetarian Bun Cha and spring rolls at lunch).  Just counting on my hand, there are 6 of these places, if I include the lady who sells vegetarian food out of her freezer in my alley.

I imagine there are many more of these places, as about 4 of them were discovered just by chance of walking by and actually paying attention to what a sign says (ie. there was a certain threshold I passed in learning Vietnamese where I realised I can read and understand the world around me). The best places are usually these, the ones that are far into the alleys and are serving food in their living room! They also usually sell food for less than a dollar.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dairy Is Hot...

Thinking about pocketting that disk of La Vache Qui Rit or that brick of butter? Think again!