John McCain Crashed His Plane Just Outside Our New Flat

It was a few years ago (1967), but still- he ejected just over there- you can see it from our living room window.


John McCain was here


About two weeks ago, we moved house. Again. I may have mentioned the reluctant need to uproot, yet again.

The construction work, the noise, the dust, the madness. Remember? Yeah, that.

We packed up and moved to a much smaller, calmer, more sensible place on the edge of a lake just below our previous lake.



The new lake! Don’t look too closely though- the actual water is pretty grim and gross.


Above is our new view.

This time, however, instead of an unwieldy four story house with bars on all the windows in a narrow laneway, caked in dust and poured concrete, surrounded by construction sites on all sides, we are in a long, narrow, 5th floor apartment, with a wall of windows looking out over the lake. The other lake. The plane crash lake. It’s a lot calmer now. No American prisoners of war here now.

It’s really quiet.

And compared to the, er, semi rural suburban wilds of Tay Ho, with its big embassy houses and rich Hanoians with their mirrored glass black SUVs (so you can’t look them in the eyes when they run over you again) and lotus farms and temples and shrimp donuts (with heads on, beady eyes pleading, asking why you had to deep fry them like that…) and dusty noisy construction sites and nice restaurants and cafes, where we are now in Truc Bach is like a tiny little blip of an urban village, tightly formed, snaking lanes, not much leverage for monster vehicles or ostentatious building projects (so far).



Good bye, Tay Ho. It was sort of mostly good.


Let me give you a brief tour of our new hood, before the boy wakes up from his increasingly brief nap.

Truc Bach, the lake and neighborhood, is in Ba Dinh, the district of Hanoi that is also home to Ho Chi Minh’s carefully preserved self. We’ve walked down there a few times because it’s one of the few areas in the city where I can safely let Thwack out of his carrier to walk around freely without getting hit by a bike or car or bus or whatever. It’s also home to a lot of government buildings, all painted a curious yellow. The Ministry of Defense takes up one whole block of one road– the block having been elongated to several kilometers without a turn-off, with the guarded side interrupted by marching soldiers on the sidewalk and security guards insisting I cross over to the other side of the street. Which would have been okay if the meridian hadn’t been three feet high and covered in trees and shrubs. Not an easy crossing, dudes.

It’s also home to pho cuon, which is a lovely invention for those who fancy a big bowl of beefy pho but, well, without the soup aspect. It’s essentially all the solid bits you’d find in your average pho, but wrapped up in the noodle, broadly. They’re very good. There’s one intersection deep in the middle of Truc Bach where, like Starbucks in Vancouver, there is a pho cuon joint on all all four corners. And down the street. And around the corner.


pho cuon

She has pho cuon on her head


We are also in hotpot territory, with a remarkable number of frog specialists. And snails. We shall see about that.

Curiously, compared with Tay Ho, which is widely lauded for its relatively wide open spaces and greenery and whatnot (it’s the ‘burbs, in a manner of speaking), Ba Dinh has a respectable number of leafy green parks, some of which even have foot-high gates across all entry points to prevent motorbikes from doing what they will inevitably do unless forcibly prevented from doing so:



Ah, peaceful pedestrian pathways!


There are a lot of new places for me and Thwack to walk during the day, and walk we do. Sometimes dodging mad motorbikes (do you really have to drive right up to that park bench, you lazy twit?) or having to cross four or five (suggested) lanes of relentless traffic to reach anything just over there (and there are lots of over-theres around us, what with being surrounded, roughly, on three sides by big ring roads and boulevards).



There are, however, lovely swan boats to look at out on both lakes.


Curiously, however, we seem to be in a food desert. I mean, unless we want to eat street food or order a tandoori wrap from Foodshop 45 up the road.

There are no supermarkets around here.


Not even a tiny grocery store, as one might define a grocery store (a store where you can buy groceries, right).

On the other side of the big road dividing Truc Bach from Tay Ho, there’s an overpriced gringo expat import shop where you can buy $10 bags of Doritos and $8 bottles of Duvel (and $2 Haribo gummies! Wooo!) and blocks of foreign cheese and whatnot, but other than that, you have a trad wet market on the far side of the lake that is good for nice veggies (until maybe 10am when the vendors start closing up their stalls) or unchilled, fly-friendly hunks of meats (not advisable after early morning) and a few, um, convenience stores consisting of an open doorway with a handful of bottles of iced tea stacked on a box and maybe some boxes of tissues and cheap snacks in bags (crab puffs!). They may or may not be open or staffed as they are family run and the families can often be seen deep inside watching TV and eating dinner.

We are still trying to figure out how we will deal with this dearth of goods when we both go back to work in September and are gone from 7am til 5pm.

Lots of pho cuon, I guess. And Doritos.



Rare calm in Hanoi can be found here.

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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.