Tiny Notes From Hanoi: Everything is Amazing When You Leave Your Phone at Home


Let’s play Spot the Thwack


Yesterday I left my phone in the hotel room when I went out with Thwack strapped to my front. We were just popping out for a moment to hunt and gather some sort of lunch for me before I had to take a cranky, snoozy baby back to the room for a midday nap.

The thing is, our neighbourhood is kind of limited when it comes to food- or at least food that can be eaten on the spot, as is, no kitchen required. It would be very easy to live on stodgy banh mi, pho, mountains of rice and mystery meat and coffee.

However, after living in a hotel room for pretty much the entire month of October, I’m quite tired of stodgy banh mi, pho, rice and mystery meat and coffee.

Actually, no- the coffee is fine.

I just miss cooking and I miss being able to just have toast for breakfast.

But that’s beside the point. The point was that I was heading out to find something to eat that I wasn’t tired of.  With Thwack strapped to my front, I tromped out of the hotel and headed right, as I knew what I’d get if I turned left. I always turned left because there was really good pho, banh mi and coffee that way. Turning right, there were a half dozen sidewalk set ups selling variations on rice and meat.  I carried on. I turned off our street onto the big, noisy main road, the one with a million scooters and their horns and roars and dust and detritus. I passed a place selling fancy boxes of imported fruit, a series of bakeries selling cakes that looked like they were made of pretty styrofoam (or at least tasted like they did), a tiny corner shop not on a corner selling crackers and milk in sachets.


I turned around and marched over the uneven paving with Thwack thwacking away in his carrier, kicking at my legs. More sidewalk stalls full of people eating mounds of rice on low stools.

I really wanted a salad. A Greek salad with lots of peppers and feta.

I turned down a narrow side street. Just ahead was a little eating place that was both indoor and outdoor, with both low stools and wooden booths. And even though we were nowhere near tourist land, they had a picture menu framing the door. They had dishes with lots of greenery in them. You know, like all the guides to Vietnamese food swear there is but that isn’t necessarily the case (at least not where I’ve eaten recently). I pointed to the greenest one.



The one on the top, right.


It was really green! And pretty! And fresh! And yummy! So dilly! Who knew the Vietnamese were so into tons of fresh dill?

So much more photogenic than everything else I’d been eating for a while.

And no phone to take a picture.

And over there- the restaurant staff were off playing with Thwack so I could eat! When they brought my bowl filled with rice vermicelli, tons of dill, little strips of grilled fish cakes, spring onions, chopped fresh tomatoes, lovely clear broth and a side plate of fresh mint, basil, fresh chilies and little tiny green citrussy things (kumquat?), they swapped the food for my baby. I could eat in peace, without a grabby hand stealing my chopsticks or a thwacky foot kicking my bowl over.

No photo of Thwack being passed around between all of the women on staff. They’ve all got photos of it on their phones (he’s a media whore in the making), but I don’t. He was being agreeably sociable.

When we left and continued down the small, busy street, checking out veggie sellers and cafes, it started to rain. A lot. Like, in that full on SE Asian kind of way, where there is a very good chance that you’ll be walking home through a foot of water soon enough. I dashed between awnings, trying to keep Thwack at least vaguely unsoaked, so as to not confirm my Worst Mother Ever status (hey, Turkish friends- he hasn’t worn shoes or socks in over two months and doesn’t own a single undershirt!). That didn’t work, but still, Thwack made friends with everyone he met under each awning we paused at.

No photos of that, or of the amazing wall of falling water, or of the gently flooding, quiet, empty streets suddenly devoid of scooters and taxis.

Or of the woman in her shop, curled up on the shelf under the railing of hanging dresses, snoring.

Or of the corner shop guy who tore off a big hunk of cardboard box for me to use as an umbrella.

Or of the uniformed women at the tiny gas station who insisted we take shelter under the tiny roof of the pumps, in spite of the gas fumes and mad traffic of a dozen bikes and cars refuelling.

Or the guy in the cafe we always go to, who brought me a glass of hot water to warm me up (though it wasn’t exactly a cold rain) while he made my coffee. I like his cafe because he has a bunch of Murakami books on the shelves (in Vietnamese).

No photos at all.

It was an interesting afternoon though.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.