Wednesday 17 October 2012

Hà Nội

I had told my friends Loc and Huy that I would come to Saigon to visit them on my way to Paris, before I learned that the plane would make a stop over in Hanoi instead. 
The disappointment quickly vanished when I set foot again in this city. I had six hours. Enough time to see my friend Nam, have a stroll in the old city and take some pictures. Tim urged me to pay a visit to a writer he knew and helped publish a book. "A very talented writer!!! He has a coffee shop in Hanoi. You must pay him a visit. Tell him you come on my behalf and have a martini on me!"
I didn't have a martini, but I certainly enjoyed the few hours there. The coffee shop, named Tadioto (which means 'I take the car') was a delightful place where exhibitions and small concerts were held.
It was exquisitely decorated. The owner, Qui Duc, also designed furniture. 
"Quy Duc says that he and your father were apparently related!" Tim wrote. Quy Duc wrote to me to invite me to drop by and have a martini (sic) and I realised that a dear cousin of mine was or common link. 

I didn't imagine how happy I would be to come back to Vietnam. For too long did I postpone a possible trip there. Hearing my own language me after months of Chinese was more than a relief. Hanoi is a beautiful city. The houses are charming and colourful, in high contrast to the unimaginative architecture in Taipei. Nam picked me up at the Hoang Kiêm lake. I took a couple of hours to wander in the old city and take pictures. in five years, many new buildings have sprouted out around Hanoi, but the old city has been left fairly unscathed. I was just happy and lighthearted.
Nam drove me to Tadioto. He picked me up exactly at the same time and the same place where we met for the very first time some five years ago. There's something moving, meeting up again after all this time as if only a few weeks have passed by...
I found it hard to realise I was in Vietnam. 
"By the time I realise it, I will already be on the plane, flying to Paris..." I thought, watching people having a walk or jogging around the lake. Behind me, a little boy was escalading a little mound. The weather was ideal, as in Taipei: warm, but not too hot. Why was I going to Paris at this very season!

Tadioto was not only a café but also an art gallery as well as a workshop for Quy Duc's creations. Many of the customers that evening were French. Quy Duc also could speak perfect French. He re-created an atmosphere  which reminded me of the gatherings my parents would attend when I was still very young. They would meet at my parents' friend's place, in the northern suburb of Paris. A large house and its outbuilding at the back of the garden. The husband, a small man with moustache and glasses, had a printing company which he used to publish a Vietnamese magazine. Now as I write about it, I remember a beautiful white peacock pigeon which I would invariably see on the window sill. I had wanted to come near it to watch it, but never dared to... We children would play together while adults would discuss serious matters. The Vietnam war had just ended and they needed to meet regularly to comfort each other. Naturally, as children, we were hardly aware of the tragedy. It may a relief for the parents that the children were so carefree. I suddenly recalled some long forgotten scent as I was sitting in the backyard of the café with Nam.
"What do you wish to eat? We can order anything!" Quy Duc asked. 
"Oh my request would be food from Huê... I've been craving that for years!!! Vietnamese food in Taipei is a calamity!!!!" I said laughing. So food from Huê we had. Quy Duc ordered a perfect selection of dishes. My palate was in trance.
It was nearly time for me to go. I counted one hour to go back to the airport but didn't want to take any chances.
"Have the last one!" Quy Duc pointed to the remaining bánh ran, a sort of salty mochi made of glutinous rice filled with meat and peanuts, served on a small and very crispy cracker.  I swallowed it in one go and noticed something strange in my mouth... Half of a back teeth had gone down to my stomach with the glutinous rice!!!

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