A walk, a temple, and a park

Local people played badminton, practiced kick-boxing, pushed babies in strollers, power-walked, stretched and performed calisthenics — about 6 p.m. in a pretty green park beside the Văn Miếu temple in Hanoi. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Children ran around, laughing, watching the kick-boxers, playing catch with a denim hat. Three grandmothers chatted beside a big fountain. Flowering trees with lavender, yellow, or red-orange blooms brightened as the sun sank lower.

So strange to remember this is a place I was supposed to believe was my enemy when I was a kid — Hanoi. I saw postcards of smiling Ho Chi Minh in the gift shop at the temple. A young soldier in uniform leaned against a wall surrounding a reflecting pool, chatting with some girls, with that red star on his army-green hat.

Old man in the park, Hanoi

Yesterday (Friday) I completed the workshop for journalists in Saigon, and the participants really honored me with their thanks and their compliments. They made a Soundslides as a gift for me (link to come) and gave me a pair of lanterns decorated with folk paintings — what a surprise! Kit from the U.S. Consulate said she heard that they thought I spoke clearly and was easy to understand. Good to hear that!

Anyway, I’m a bit tired now. New photos on Flickr. I arrived in Hanoi about noon and went for a walk, ate some phở, drank cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee), marveled at the crazy traffic, and eventually found Văn Miếu, the Temple of Literature. Very beautiful and calm. The park next door, however, was almost as interesting! At least three badminton matches went on simultaneously. (I saw a lot of people playing badminton in Cambodia too.) People bring their racquets in canvas cases and play without a net. Tonight a woman played for almost an hour with a boy who was probably her grandson, and both of them laughed continually, obviously having a fine time together, smacking that little shuttlecock around.

Another popular game is similar to Hacky Sack, but instead of a footbag, a variation on a shuttlecock is used. I saw this game played on Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh, and also in Saigon, but apparently it is super-popular here in Hanoi. In the park, a middle-aged man wearing a sleeveless undershirt managed to keep up with a much younger, bare-chested guy who seemed tireless.

Inside Văn Miếu

Rain clouds rolled in, and I took a motorbike ride back to the hotel — it’s really an act of faith to enter the street traffic here. Arriving safely in one piece makes me feel lucky.


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