In 2001, Mark Rapoport and his family left New York to settle in Hanoi. The long-time expat and his Vietnamese partner run 54 Traditions, a gallery that sells handicrafts produced by ethnic minorities from all over the country. Almost every year, Rapaport’s two sons visit their parents and travel throughout the city.
“Over the last nine years, my wife, Alison, and I (with some help from our two children Robert and Jane Hughes) have put together a list of 101 reasons why we love living in Hanoi,” Rapaport said. “We presented it as a book, entitled 101 reasons to love living in Hanoi, which we published last July to celebrate the 1,000th year anniversary of Thang Long – Hanoi.”
1. The people – the hardest-working, least-complaining, most optimistic folks anywhere.
2. The city – an extremely safe place, where foreign teenagers can go walking and make their own adventures, without their parents getting (more) gray hairs worrying about them.
3. The lakes – Hanoi is a city of lakes, dozens of them, many surrounded by parks and walks.
4. Our indoor gecko lizards, skittering across walls and ceilings. It takes a little getting used to (especially when they croak at night), but they do keep the house almost insect-free. Kinda like a good “mouser” cat.
5. Early morning flower parades. If you can manage to get yourself up before 6 a.m. (it cannot be that hard; everyone else in Vietnam seems to be able to do it), you can see dozens of flower-sellers. These women (in simple clothes, bandanas and conical hats) ride into town on their bicycles, ready for market.
6. Men as active parents. Nowhere have I seen so many fathers taking care of their kids (without any complaining) as I do here. And this applies to their daughters as well as their sons!
7. “The Yelling at Your Kid” Test. This assesses frequency of parents yelling at their kids. The total I see in a week is about the same as I would see in Manhattan in an hour.
8. “The Your-Kickstand-is-Down” Test. This measures the amount of time an obviously foreign person can ride in the street after having forgotten to retract his/her motorbike kickstand before a total stranger shouts, points or honks to alert the cyclist to his/her potential risk. In Vietnam, it is about 19 seconds, an excellent score.
9. Our neighborhood People’s Committee security post – at the end of the lane, staffed by two older folks who wave every time we pass. They absolutely will not let you take their picture – unless the portrait of Uncle Ho is in the center of the photo.
10. The street cleaners of Hanoi. Virtually all women, in Day-Glo vests, wheeling small dumpsters all around their assigned bailiwick while ringing a bell to signal people to bring out their trash. They are part of what makes Hanoi much cleaner than many cities in the developing world and more than a few in the developed world.
11. The airport road – a wide road through rice paddies but passing new industrial parks. Not manicured or “gussied up”, it is both a gateway and an honest introduction to the country.
12. The Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology – a little like the anthropology part of The American Museum of Natural History in New York, USA. Great museum for exhibits on the 54 “ethnic groups” of Vietnam. In 2002, the Discovery Room for kids was re-done with 200 objects that we donated from our collection.
13. The Thirty-six Streets – the oldest part of the old city of Hanoi, with no new or tall construction, by dint of government decree. Each street named after the craft that was (and in some cases still is) practiced there.
14. Eating out – nowhere else can you eat at the top national restaurants (with white-glove service from traditionally dressed men and women) for so little money.
15. The Water Puppet Theater – a unique, funky northern Vietnamese folk entertainment – for at least the last 500 years one hundred different puppets, in a few dozen folk tales, gliding over a pool of water, guided by hidden (and sodden) puppeteers, moving to the beat of a raucous live orchestra.
16. Hanoi traffic – like no other place in the world. Guaranteed to make every daily commute worthy of inclusion in “French Connection 3” or the theme for a hair-raising video game. As far as I can tell, the speed limit is the only law that many drivers DO choose to follow.
17. Local painting galleries-there are many really talented artists in Hanoi who do paintings of every size – from wall-size to postcard-size. They portray life in Hanoi and in the countryside and mountains as they see it. Or else a copy of your favorite Old Master. Great to browse.
18. The quintessential mixed-income neighborhood pattern. Since the land under you is believed to have a lot to do with how lucky you are, financially successful people do not move to a “better” neighborhood the moment they make some money. Rather, they build up (and up) and fancy up their traditional house on their traditional street. The juxtaposition of pastel “Victorian follies” and centuries-old hovels is startling and also revealing.
19. Birdcages – the birds are nothing to write home about, but the cages themselves come in an extraordinary range of materials and styles; most notable are those in the shape of pagodas, made for female birds. Many of them are truly elegant items. No bird necessary.
20. The new four-kilometer-long mosaic mural installed along the Yen Phu dam-road in honor of 1,000th anniversary of Hanoi. A variety of styles, artists, themes, and techniques – but together saying that Hanoi is proud of its first 1,000 years, and Hanoi will be just as proud of its next 1,000 years.
Reported by Phuong Anh of Thanh Nien Weekly