On all sides, scooters snort under the weight of two, sometimes even three people … Here, no traffic lights. You have to be reckless and start to cross. In the humid and effervescent heat of the capital, the city comes and goes in an incessant choreography.
The oldest capital of Southeast Asia celebrated its millennium in 2010: it’s in an intriguing timelessness that Hanoi went through the war of decolonization almost intact then the bombings when the Americans invested themselves in the conflict between North and South. And it’s still in spite of long years of economic austerity that its heritage has still been preserved over the centuries. Hanoi has remained authentically Vietnamese while cultivating memories of the Chinese and French civilization. Today, it proudly displays its pulse, intense cultural life and renovated buildings.
Hanoi has become an elegant and affluent metropolis.
It’s our first day in Vietnam. Two opposite moments of the day meet themselves when we discover the old quarter for the first time; the intermittent awakening in the middle of a morning dream in Asia, and the bedtime in France. The banality of jet lag accentuates the slap: in a labyrinth of living and colorful alleys that intertwine, craftsmen grouped themselves by activity and established on the banks of the Red River their stalls of products of all kinds. Shoes, clothes, silks and objects in lacquer and bamboo, it is a profusion of goods wherever we look in this Asian tumult.
Bicycles flanked by baskets filled with crafts are pushed by conical hats. In the “city beyond the river”, poetry and adrenaline are like the surge of roaring mopeds: they intermingle without ever clashing.
The brutal immersion also alerts the smell: the stoves of makeshift kitchens distill their perfumes along the sidewalks. Not obeying any rhythm, you sit on mini stools in plastic and eat at any time of the day. In the nearby street, it’s a stall of food products, Vietnamese sweets, and various varieties of freshly ground coffees, imported alcohols, and products of the Vietnamese street food. Marinated fishes, fermented rice, saffron and galangal spices strew the entrance to the old merchant district. A few meters away, shops of another street sell imitations of material wealth. Gold ingots and other fake banknotes are all offerings that will be burned for the spirits of the ancestors.
The wide boulevards of the old French concession lead us to Hoàn Kiếm Lake. At the edge of the water, tai chi lovers already take advantage of the early hours near the flamboyant bridge.
Near the big red wooden bow, as they follow the gestures of traditional martial art in imperturbable choreography, a group of gardeners are at work. Rows of red carnations and chrysanthemum bushes surround the edge of the lake in a shady park. The clatter of traffic that has seized the main roads seems far away.
Nico has already released his camera, and while he captures the national soul of a Vietnamese woman in áo dài I’m delighted that we can already see the wearing of traditional clothing.
One can guess the special place of this place in the heart of the inhabitants, as there is a haven of peace, full of history and popular stories.
Thap Rua, the small Turtle Tower commemorates its legend on an island in the center of the lake. A magical sword was given in the fifteenth century to the nationalist leader Lê Loi by a golden turtle, which emerged from these waters. Allowing him to drive out the Chinese, who until then had been masters of the land, the sword was then returned to the sacred animal.
In the West, the Temple of Literature represents the quintessence of the cultural and millennial traditions of Vietnam. The Confucian Temple is organized around five courtyards separated by ornamental portals. At the entrance, eighty-two high steles dating from the fifteenth century are each erected on the shell of a turtle, displaying the lists of winners at the annual competitions. In front of the sacred animals, symbols of longevity and wisdom, chess games with characters in costume take place there during Tet festivities. You need to go behind the house of ceremonies to enter the Temple of Confucius, dominated by red and gold. Two cranes, birds supposed to carry the soul to the sky, frame the altar where the sovereign and his mandarins came to make offerings before a votive tablet of Confucius.
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