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A Street in Sepia
By Thomas King
30 October 2010

There’s nothing special about Nam Nu Street. Perhaps it’s a little shorter than any of the others I’ve encountered in Hanoi. I should know. I must have trod down nearly all of them over the past three days I’ve been roaming around Vietnam’s 1000 year old capital. I like Nam Nu Street. It’s quiet. And in a city of five or so million that’s a big plus. I reckon half the population in Hanoi must have motorbikes. And probably half of them were whizzing back and forth on Hang Bong Street, a few minutes ago.
Hang Bong is one of those major arterials leading to the iconic Hoan Kiem Lake. The modest body of tranquil water surrounded by hectic city is at one end of shop stocked Hang Bong. With a bit of curving and crossing an intersection Nam Mu is at the other. I’ve left the noise and traffic behind as I reach Nam Mu Street.
I walk past two old ladies sharing the day’s gossip, a hole in the wall restaurant where the battered kettle is boiling its head off and settle down at a little café. There’s nothing special about this place. It’s nothing like the atmospheric Indochine where I dined on spring rolls to die for last night or the La Badiane a few doors away where French favourites were dished up the night before that. Two great restaurants on the same nondescript street. What luck! And I didn’t even know about them until I arrived at the Avira Hotel and set out to explore the surrounds. My comfortable place of residence is just a few doors away from where I’m sitting now. I order a Hanoi Beer. A 450 ml bottle is plopped on the table. The bill is 15,000 dong. It sounds like a lot of money …. but it’s just .75 cents. No deals like this in Sydney.
The meal for two last night was $15. No deals like that in Sydney, either. Two young fellows walk in, sit down at a table and order tall glasses of tea. I’m happy with my cold beer. A motorbike passes by, breaking the silence. I hear the boys practicing English and can’t resist asking a few questions. No, they’re not students but office workers on a break. Yes, they know about Australia …. kangaroos and all that. I order another beer. “Cum Un”, I say to the waitress trying my best to get the very tonal Vietnamese words for “thank you” just right. I don’t succeed. One of the boys corrects my pronunciation. I try again. Wrong. I try again. Sort of right. Ah, at least I can pronounce Hanoi Beer! The boys turn their attention from tourist to texting and are soon tapping away secret messages to girlfriends … or their offices.
A man comes in from the street and goes up to the boys. Yes, they want shoe shines. He brings back super shined footwear in a minute or two and then motions if I want the same. “No,” I say. He understands my pronunciation and leaves. Another motorbike speeds by. Is this the start of rush hour? A lady walks down the street holding scores of brightly coloured balloons. Is this the start of a circus?
I order another Hanoi Beer and wait for the show to begin.

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Keywords: explore, happy, Hear, Noise, young, Hanoi

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