Monday, December 15, 2008

Leilana in Wonderland

Today I decided to do the unthinkable - Walk to Work. No, it wasn't world environmental day - I was broke (it costs $2 to get a motorbike taxi) and besides, I wanted to get to know my area better.

Walking is something I did a great deal of back in New Zealand - almost every day I would walk to work and back, and think nothing much of it. This is because of several luxuries we have in New Zealand which make pedestrian life enjoyable, and - possible. Sidewalks, clean air, traffic rules - all of these things serve to make things easier for those who like to go by foot.

In Hanoi, none of the above apply. If there is a 'sidewalk' it is usually used as: a parking space for motorbikes, and a place to set up your stall. In the amazingly rare event of a free sidewalk, everyone will take advantage - including motorbikers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the road. Add to this: the extremely dusty, smelly air (I don't know how, but it's worse than Bangkok) and the cacophony of novelty horns, street stand sellers yelling and tinny remixed Christmas carols and you know why most people don't go for relaxing strolls around the streets of Hanoi.

Finally: you take your life into your hands everytime you cross the road. When I saw Jenna's post about crossing the road in Korea, a petty part of me smirked, because her road looked so much more accessible than mine - given that mine are an almost constant stream of speeding motorbike. How to cross the street in Hanoi: walk out slowly, looking confident and pray the drivers see you and swerve accordingly. Never stop walking, or you will 1. almost get hit, and 2. induce the stares and angry mutterings of the Vietnamese. Even if there is a bus coming at you, keep walking calmly as if you're surrounded by an invisible shield.

The best part (truly) about walking in Hanoi is the insane street system of TINY alleyways. Many of these alleyways are seriously about 1 - 2 m wide, with motorbikes driving up and down, people selling things and the few insane people trying to walk somewhere. The alleyways curve and go in multiple directions, never straight ahead, so absolutely everyone new to Hanoi gets lost at least once. A map is of only limited use, as no map could realistically try to list all of these alleys without becoming uselessly large, so the map only lists the major streets - the ones that actually take you in, and out of these mazes. However, a 'major street' may not be instantly obvious.

For example: refer to my painting here. Watch it fast, because it's really boring as I have no artistic talent to speak of.

As you can see, there is one obvious, brightly lit small road, and one creepy dark alley which goes down the side of a house, and is only about 2 metres wide. In fact (this is based on a real thing which happened to me today) - The brightly lit road leads to someones house and is a dead-end with a scary dog at the end, and the dark alleyway is
the main road.

I'm serious.

This is how, for the first time in my adult life, I got lost in a city - and ended up wandering around weird alleys for about 30 minutes, before popping out very close to where I began. It was actually hilarious (at least for the Vietnamese watching me) and I did end up finding my way through.

I'll see if I can get my time down tomorrow.

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