The next morning we were up before the sun to meet Duq from Vietnam in Focus, a photography tour company. It turned out we were the only participants so had all his attention. Normally he would give a lot of guidance and instruction, but as Bill has been a professional for decades, we used him more to get around to areas we would not likely get to. The focus of this tour was life around the railroad tracks and markets.
The driver dropped us off at Long Bien Bridge where the trains run and a huge bustling produce market is found street level. As we waited for the sun to rise and the train to pass, we observed the hustle of deliveries by motos and yokes. A road parallels the tracks on the bridge and all sorts of vehicles passed us, some transporting goods. Conical hats are commonly worn by the locals which added to the photographic interest. After the train finally passed we walked down to market level and meandered the numerous alleys lined with vendors. Duq said organic produce is hard to find and verify, but he knows of one woman who has her own small garden that he trusts sells the quality he seeks. By the time we got there, just after 6, selling had calmed down and money was already being counted and transactions recorded in notebooks. In the market’s parking area delivery trucks were waiting, cleaners were sweeping the debris, and there was still a bustle of vendors.
From there we moved to another raised track and waited for the next passing. This train moved slowly and stopped to pick up passengers. Another market we stopped at is totally indoors with three floors of dry goods. Herbs, textiles, clothing, dried fish, etc. are crammed together stall by stall with just enough room to walk past. In one area several men and women were dealing with huge cylinders of material and a couple of men were dead to world while napping on others. Even though the three of us took numerous photos of them, they never moved or even seemed to be breathing.
We also spent some time sitting on a curb at a busy intersections watching the complicated dance of the motos, cars, pedestrians, and street sweepers. How no one got hurt was amazing. Duq had us try to set our cameras at a low shutter speed to capture one person crossing the street in focus while the background was a blur. My settings didn’t quite go low enough and success was difficult even for the well practiced.
After a bit we stopped for a refreshment. My tea was really sweet so Duq kindly bought me another. While we rested he became quite political regarding our questions on life in Vietnam. He thinks the youth of today will become more vocal about the general unhappiness as the adults of today do not want to upset the peace after being under rule of China for a thousand years, the French for decades, and fighting the American War. He believes that although it is purported that everyone works for the greater good, the reality is everyone looks after themselves only. He was quite disdainful of the culture. When we mentioned that our river guide and told us a lot of napkins on the ground indicated tasty food at the restaurant, he again was disgusted with his own people. Education and health care are not free in their version of communism, and he claimed parents even to help pay for the school janitors.
The highlight of the tour was probably the train tracks closer to Hanoi Station where people live just feet away. They cook their meals and hang their laundry right in the mix of the passing trains. Not many go through in a day and the residents work around the schedule. There are cafes, a homestay, and hair salons nestled there as well. A group of middle-aged adults sat on chairs by and on the tracks and invited us to join them. Not having the language, we passed even though Duq could have interpreted. It was really quite a fascinating neighborhood.
The Hanoi Station was closed off to us so about 10:00 he finally fed us a very late breakfast. He scouted a few options and we decided on chicken pho at a stall he felt was safe, but I never did find out what he meant by that. Mine was prepared without spices and was really quite tasty. I was rather nervous eating “street food” but it never seemed to have a negative on me. Perhaps it was the larger dose of Pepto Bismol that morning…Afterwards he called a taxi for us and paid our transport back to the hotel. We could have walked but I was weary and the ride was free.
The next morning we returned to the tracks to get photos of the passing trains we had missed the day before. Two women guards set up the road block just before the trains came and indicated we were to stand on one side of the track and well back. Not being sure which way the train was coming we asked a fellow traveler, perhaps an Aussie, and he and the resident nearby indicated we were not to be close at all to the track. Bill and I wanted to be on the other side, though, for a better angle, where there was even less room. A kind woman, who had likely seen a few tourists before, invited me stand just inside the doorway of what might have been her shed. Even at that the seeming rush of the train just emerging from the station exit created a bit of wind and a blur of the cars.
While in Hanoi we had to have a cyclo ride which turned out not to be as long as we had thought. Not speaking the language meant not being able to communicate our deal but it was kind of cool sitting in front of the bike with no protection to the oncoming crazy drivers. Maybe it was just as well that it was a short ride.
More jaunts around the Old Quarter, the lake, and a return to the organic restaurant finished our remaining hours. The people are fascinating and craziness intriguing, once accepted it is the way it is. You have to go with the flow or get run down, in any sense you want to take it.