Vietnam: a culture of the streets

The second we stepped out of the door of our hostel located in the old quarter of Hanoi, we were introduced to the sidewalk culture of the entire city. Although very clean and well swept (with traditional twig brooms), the Vietnamese way of life sat staring at us from the sidewalks. People crouched, stood, sold, ate, drank, lived on the sides of every street. The buildings were all skinny and tall—at least 3 stories—where the families’ shop occupied the first floor (whether clothing, a small market, a food vendor) and the living quarters above where barefoot children would run in and out. Food was everywhere. In pots, on stands, hung to dry, in soup, on sticks, in buns, set out to view, in the hands and mouths of those who sold or served it. There was meat of every kind, raw or cooked, fruit left out in the heat all day, which produced a sweet decaying odor. Opposed to Indonesia where the streets were dirty and littered with trash, and the locals screamed and pulled at you to buy their wares, the Vietnamese kept mostly to themselves, going about their day, eating and talking in the heat on their sidewalk—their very own stretch of pavement. Summer and I walked through the crowded streets, trying to avoid stepping in the lives on display, and dodging motorbikes carrying entire families. We took in the sights and smells, the sound of the incessant honking traffic or the clank clank of a chopping knife on a wooden block dicing raw meat methodically like hands beating on a drum. The rhythm of the city ensnared us.

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