I’ll be in Hanoi, Vietnam and then ChengMai, Thailand for the next ten days, with the International Accountability Project; and will attempt to keep some sort of, I believe you call it a blog, of my impressions and activities here. — jc
April 28, Hanoi, Vietnam
First impressions of a place are, insistently, always in the comparative mode, I suppose because we seize the world through stories that are, of necessity, preconceived: Hanoi has the industrial haze of Mumbai or New Delhi; the disorderliness of Guatemala City; the old city has the rattling warren-like labyrinth of the Medina of Fez, and the lush, mildewed facades of New Orleans.
At the same time, Hanoi is not like: a) it was in 1968 when Jane Fonda and then Susan Sontag came to visit, b) an unspoiled version of some mysterious fabled orient (the tourist propaganda would have it so), or c) any other place I’ve ever been.
There are profound and superficial similarities between cities of the formerly-known-as-third-world: insane coilings of black cable strung over the broken streets that somehow manage to carry electricity; traffic without apparent rules or order – mopeds, scooters, wheelchairs, bicycles, pedestrians – but astoundingly free of accidents; the smell of cooking everywhere, families stooping in doorways and on impromptu stools eating; the frantic noise and hustle.
Without doubt, like the human animal itself, no two are the same, and yet, every one is suspiciously alike.