I couldn’t wait to leave Singapore; its sterile streets and overbearing rules had depressed me, and I was in search of a different kind of adventure.
Before I knew it, I was standing on the side of the road beside the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, waiting for a gap in the thick flood of traffic so that I could cross – and slowly, like water climbing to a boil, it dawned on me that I had found the sweet disorder that I had been craving. I had landed myself in its centre. I was going to have to enter this amoebic mass of vehicles, to become part of it, and then to emerge from it a new person.
Hanoi is a vascular system; a complex twist of narrow streets and tangled wires, walled by the looming romance of crumbling French facades. Scooters flow staccato through the city’s veins and arteries, from a throbbing heart somewhere nearby. There are no interludes, there is no order, but there is synergy. Beautiful synergy.
The pavements in the Old Quarter are not for pedestrians. Shops spill out onto the road, rows of scooters stand stationary on the sidewalk, and street-food vendors somehow preserve for themselves sacred little spaces amid the chaos. The streets ooze at the edges and pulsate in the middle. You have to have a new kind of spatial awareness to survive it.
Always lost; overwhelmed by the city’s unyielding onslaught, and never able to take it all in, I was in love with Hanoi. I moved, purposeless, through its streets; at first trying to gain some kind of traction and then gradually, finally letting go, simply absorbing. The colourful disorder fed my soul, and the contrast of my solitude against the unrelenting chaos became my quietest comfort in the heart of Hanoi.