It was hot and humid in Hanoi, the kind of humid that is wet the moment you step outside. The kind of humid that makes everything go in slow motion. Hazy, oppressive, hot humidity where dehydration is a real concern. We were exploring the city on foot. The previous day we had seen pretty much all of the old quarter. Our hotel had given us a map that highlighted "walking streets," of which we had walked all and then some.
Feeling confident from yesterday's safe and friendly exploration of Hanoi and the fact that so many Vietnamese there could speak English, we just went with it, walking wherever we pleased. We simply walked, following whatever was interesting. We followed meandering roads, where the streets became narrower and narrower. Each street is named for the good it sells and all of the sellers of that particular good are located on that Hang (street). We went down the woodworker's hang, the toy hang, candy hang, lantern hang, instant noodle hang, until we found ourselves on fruit hang. We continued to follow the ever narrowing non linear paths deeper and deeper into the heart of the city.
At potato hang we simultaneously realized something had changed from 15 minutes ago. We weren't in Kansas any more. The street was so narrow and crooked a car could not fit through it, and thinking of it- I hadn't seen any in a while. There were potato vendors everywhere, their traditional baskets filled to the brim with sweet potato, red potatoes and many others. How could their carrying stick take the weight of all those potatoes? The vendors were squatting on the ground, their pointy straw hats covering their heads and flimsy flip flops on their feet, if any shoes at all. And no one was calling to us; no one asking if we wanted to look in their shop, no one offering us food; no one speaking English.
Time slowed. Chickens were running around. Some of the squatting vendors noticed us with a quizzical look. The haze made it all so surreal. If ever we were foreigners, it was now. People clearly noticed us as out of place, their upturned glances lingering until they registered what was different about today's scene. Had we entered a worm hole? The world was different now, it had all changed. Time was slow, the picture hazy. Where were we? What year was this? Things were haphazard- it was hard to even move in all the chaos. Chickens, people, potatoes, baskets. If the motorbikes had been bicycles I might have been convinced we had slipped through a stargate and had transported back in time.
"Where are we?" Lindsay turned to ask.
"I don't know- we are in the real Vietnam, I guess." There were no street signs. We looked around for a hint of modern civilization- anything that would point us back to the year 2012; cars, ATM's a mini mart. In the distance, a steady stream of cars. "That way" Lindsay instructed- she had taken on the role of map keeper. When we got there, after carefully weaving through the baskets of potato vendors we were perplexed to see only a highway. We had to turn around and slip back through the stargate to get out. We followed potato hang a little ways back until we again saw signs of modern life- cars. We followed the cars until they brought us to a street with a sign and we located it on the map. We hadn't actually gone that far- our hotel was a short walk away, yet we had,we had gone far- to the other side of the Earth. A place where two white American women rarely went; through the stargate to the real Vietnam.