Embrace the wetness in Việt Nam’s capital city

The other day, on a Facebook group popular here with both expats and locals, a newcomer to Hà Nội posted this comment:

“This is some serious rain.

How long does this last?

How does everyone stay dry?

I got soaked on the way to work today.”

Welcome to Hà Nội!

My advice:

In addition to getting some good rain gear, try to look on the bright side.

Better still, embrace the wetness.

A good drenching from Mother Nature can be cleansing and even purifying.

Without water, there is no life.

Why, another friend back in the USA posted something about how he decided to venture out in a downpour, much colder than the rain in these parts.

Feeling the rain for five minutes, he declared, raised his spirits.

Doing this sort of thing, he explained, was unthinkable before he survived cancer.

RainA woman walks in the rain in Hà Nội

As my family approaches our fourth anniversary in Việt Nam – after a life spent in the distinctly dry, pleasant climate of California – I’ve come to appreciate the monsoons that come and go before they come and stay.

Lightning and thunder add to the suspense. I’m reminded that, during my first week in Hà Nội, an Aussie who had lived here for years told me how much she enjoyed the “dramatic weather.”

This isn’t to suggest I always enjoy the precipitation or delight in the humidity, but Việt Nam just wouldn’t be Việt Nam without this temperamental tropical weather.

A couple of weeks back, when we stepped out of the air-conditioned confines of Korean Air carrier and into the hot, moist air on the enclosed bridge to the terminal, my 13-year-old son turned and smiled:

“Wow!”

Months had passed since we felt anything like it.

There is a lush quality to Hà Nội’s natural hothouse that nurtures the lotus ponds brimming with green.

The Vietnamese culture thrives along the rivers, deltas, and rice paddies.

Puppetry is a universal folk art – but Việt Nam’s water puppets, dating back many centuries, are unique in the world.

Hot and moist is the late summer norm, cooling a bit as the rains come.

The weather can change quickly, but my daughter is convinced that low-flying dragonflies are a sign of impending rain, even when the sky seems unthreatening.

I’m not convinced, but I’m glad she notices the natural elements in an urban environment.

We also enjoy how, at dusk, the bats dart and swoop to feed on insects at sunset around Tây Hồ.

As a family, we’ve gradually learned to roll with the weather.

After one midday downpour, I considered the skies and placed our kindergartner in front of me on the motorbike, as my wife got on the back.

We met friends at a café, lunched on a patio, and then headed indoors during a fresh round of rain.

There was about 45 minutes of real rain.

Once it eased up, I wiped down the seat of the motorbike, loaded my two passengers, and made it home in a light sprinkle.

As I write these words, I hear the rain starting to fall again, a comforting sound that may or may not be interrupted with the boom of thunder.

And I find myself thinking of another recent day and a not-so-pleasant sound – the cacophony of shoppers inside the Vincom Royal City Mega Mall, a Mecca for Việt Nam’s fast-growing consumer culture.

It was my wife’s idea.

She loves to shop and loves shopping malls.

But speaking of water, the purpose of this particular Sunday outing was to treat the kids and a friend to the Vinpearl Water Park. It’s the first indoors water park in my experience.

While they frolicked, I parked my butt at a café inside the mall, my mind more on my laptop screen than my surroundings.

But there was no escaping the noise.

Việt Nam is a noisy place – and it was amplified inside the mall.

When this emporium opened more than a year back, I wondered whether Hanoi’s middle class could sustain it.

But the place was crowded – and the Westerners were few and far between.

I found myself thinking about the yin and yang of modern Việt Nam, which I’ve likened here before to the turtle and the dragon.

Việt Nam, more than most places, is a land where the old contrast with the new, the natural with the artificial, the real with the surreal.

Lately it seems that the new, artificial, and surreal are gaining the upper hand.

Consumerism, it seems to me, is still ascendant, rising like a dragon in Việt Nam.

You can see it in the crowded mall and upwardly mobile skyline. 

But while soaring towers make Manhattan, Hong Kong, and Shanghai what they are, man-made edifices just don’t seem to be of the essence of Hà Nội at all.

It’s the water that sets Hanoi apart, its character reflected in lakes like Hoàn Kiếm, Hồ Tây, Trúc Bạch, and more.

Việt Nam is changing, yes.

But there’s something to be said for a sweaty excursion into the Old Quarter instead of a visit to an air-conditioned mall – even if you get caught in a cloudburst. 

By SCOTT DUKE HARRIS

Source: Tuổi Trẻ News

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