Decidedly Dilly Divas and other Dramas
Confucius say “short man who dance with tall woman get bust in mouth”. That is indeed a pearl of wisdom! As we were privy to local lore we were treated to strange customs in Ha Noi. So instead of watching the famous Water Puppets we went in pursuit of Fre Astair and Ginga Roger (in keeping with local pronunciation I’ll chop the last letters off too).
In a park on the other side of the road from Ho Chi Mingh’s humble abode and Mausoleum there is a lake and a park with a large concrete area, where citizens gather and dance to the beat of tinny music. Yes they dance under the stars. The weather calls for it, such perfect balmy nights. It’s a family gathering of sorts, everyone is welcome and you just go with the flow of your partner and the music. What’s so nice about it is that one can be single to enjoy this social interaction. Everyone’s there to enjoy the night and the music. There’re chairs to sit on for the wallflowers like me (I’m tone deaf so no amount of coaxing will get me to Rumba, Samba or Tango). We sat there mesmerised and just enjoyed the moment and sometimes even tapped a foot and put in a little sway. It brought back memories of house parties and country weddings where children run around twirl, and play ring-a-ring-a-Rosie or dance with their dads. A group of girls did the Macarena. I thought it best not to burst their bubble, you see I’m the reigning Queen of the Macarena in Otjiwarongo in Namibia. My crown might be a tad tarnished but I have a C.D to prove it. Not Mari-cha-cha for nothing.We wandered off and strolled around the lake where girls and boys were getting to know each other better, fishermen were trying their luck in the murky waters and parents were buying their children balloons and eating ice creams. We had a delicious iced coffee and waited until the monsoon rain passed and then happily drifted off to our Hotel. Unlike Parisians Vietnamese do not have any public displays of affection. That would be most improper and would certainly be frowned upon.
The Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel must be Hanoi’s most prestigious and probably oldest hotel and landmark; we were headed that way to rest and have a pre-luncheon drink when we spotted the second “tradition” in Vietnam. Brides. Everywhere you looked, they were dressed up all frothy and looking like Pavlova’s in their white wedding dresses. The story goes that having wedding photographs taken before the wedding is really important. The bride will not only have one outfit but often a few. A huge entourage accompanies her and a proper “shoot” with all the bells and whistles will follow, including, hairdressers, make-up artists, a dresser, family, friends, the photographer and his assistants. Photographs will be taken all over the city and of course the Metropole Hotel is a favourite locale. There must’ve been 5 brides posing when we arrived.
In a side-street sitting in her froth, legs akimbo on a hat case was another bride awaiting her turn to pose! Brides would even do a change of dress right there for the world to see without any embarrassment or discomfort! That’s show business I suppose.
This didn’t just happen in Hanoi but all over Vietnam. I loved it. I did wonder whether all the brides were “genuine” though. Some looked a little dodgy especially the two girls who were both dressed to the 9’s taking selfies before our departure on the Russian train in Dalat, another very popular shoot destination. While we waited for our train to pull out of the station at least 5 brides were being photographed.
I thought this a very good idea none the less. I wish I’d done something like that. You see my nerves were shot on the day of my wedding, my future in-laws were furious as my mother had cancelled the “cousin who’d driven up from P.E to sing in the Church”, the light of my life had not spoken to me for a week and threatened to call the whole thing off because of said cousin, my dress was a disaster, and my hair a shocker! I’m sure my photographs would’ve been far better while the flush of love and excitement was still visible. I could also have hired a number of dresses, had the whole retinue of stylists and helpful friends instead of a bunch of family who were already divided, sulking and silent. If their lips were tyres they’d have been at the 2 Barr mark.
There are two golden hours in a day, the one is in the evening and the other at daybreak, and that’s when serious photographers set off to shoot, so we would drag ourselves out of bed at the crack of dawn on most mornings, not to let the side down of course, and rush off to take some fantastic photographs. On this particular morning we sallied forth to the Hoan Kiem lake, the heart of the city and it's people, the Huc, or Sunbeam bridge, a famous landmark. I experienced a jaw-dropping moment, everybody was there! Of course I mused, this is the best time of the day, old people don’t sleep late, the temperature is perfect and the streets are quiet with only the occasional motorbike or taxi heard.
The perimeter pathway and open spaces around the lake are abuzz with activity, people are walking, jogging, doing morning prayers, Thai Chi. A group of ladies were fencing, dancing and some energetic men were even weight-lifting. People were doing stretching excerises, hopefuls were casting bread onto the waters for a fish. A fresh produce market sprang up but within half an hour the street was clear as if it never happened. I doubled back to make sure I'd not missed it. Farmers were selling fruits, vegetables and herbs fresh from the soil and doing a brisk trade too.
They say one must never knock something unless you've tried it. I didn't try this morning ritual, but I must confess it looked great. On one courtyard you could do ballroom dancing, laughter excercise, aerobics or play soccer, tinny music was blaring from huge megaphones (in days gone by used for spreading propaganda and news) or from ancient ghetto blasters. I must assume this is a relic of a bygone age which is still followed avidly.We stayed until we'd exhausted ourselves, watched the sun rise over the lake, a perfectly round red wheel in the sky. Magic. We strolled amongst Ha Noians until we reached the nearest restaurant where we had a stunning view and had ourselves a hearty French inspired breakfast and coffee.