Saturday, March 15, 2008

They remind me of home

Although home for me has been the city of New York for the last 40 or so years, part of my heart and soul still yearns for Alexandria, Egypt. I am told that as soon as I go back for the first time, I can expect the aching to abate. I was surprised, as I engaged in the game of mapping my travels, that I had been in some 350 cities in the world, and yet, one country managed to envelop its aura around me like a noose. And that is Viet Nam. Let me share with you, graphically, some of the things which became so dear as they were all too familiar from another place and time.

I was in Saigon when I spotted these; I thought I was hallucinating, as I hadn't seen them since I had left Egypt. Of course, I bought some!!
Though I never did see chickens travelling by motorbike, I do remember them in cages being sold in the markets.

The only word for this is "moknessa"....

Having dinner or after dinner al fresco is the thing to do, whether in Hanoi, Saigon, Hue, Sapa or wherever you find yourself in Viet Nam. At times, it is too hot to go outside in the evenings, so you have to be rescued in a room with a/c.

The Pat'a'Chou bakery was across the street from our hotel in Saigon. As soon as they opened, we were the first to get the croissants, petits pains, and brioches before anyone else.

Spaghetti with bolognese sauce; I don't know how they learned, but they did....absolutely fabulous.

I don't have to tell you that seeing these men playing immediately brought backgammon to mind.
Except maybe for the pink color, these balconies could be part of a residential street in Alexandria. And of course, we'd have to get rid of the Viet Namese signs....
The shutters in the cities, especially in Hanoi, drove me crazy. I wanted to take a picture of all of them. Especially the green ones, since our house in Egypt had green shutters in every single room.
Yes, the most delicious oranges here are green.....

At this point in time, I had to go native. It was already my second trip to Viet Nam, and let me tell you, this stuff is heavy to carry. My hat is off to the women as I see them scurrying around the city with quite a load on their shoulders.

Depending upon your locale, this is iced coffee in the North, and white coffee in the South. Whatever you call it, it is better than the "café glacé" we used to crave from the Brazilian Coffee Shop in Alex.

The balconies are everywhere, and every building, old or new has got one. Some have cement walls, while others look like this one. This particular balcony was part of our penthouse room at the hotel and was replete with plants, a clothes hanger, and a chaise lounge. One had a fairly good view of Hanoi from this vantage point.

These humongous incense joss sticks are not ordinary; they smell like the "bakhour" we used to burn in Egypt to ward off the evil eye. I brought some back with me from the last trip, and enjoy it immensely.

And who can forget this sight? The wall which surrounded our garden in Alexandria was adorned with similar pieces of broken glass to deter thieves. This is very common in Viet Nam.

Sugar cane is available in Viet Nam just about anywhere, and you can often see people chewing on a section. What they have not yet learned to do, or at least I didn't see, is the art of sugar cane juice, which we loved so much in Egypt.

The trains and the railroad tracks; I remember when we lived in Alexandria, the rear of the house had balconies which faced the train tracks, just like these, and sometimes, I'd see kids playing or walking alongside them. And of course, the passing of the train was always a thrill for me, as I wondered what it was like to be inside. I made up for lost time; we traveled over 1500 miles by rail in Viet Nam.

This immediately struck me as déjà vu; looking down the stairs from the 5th floor where there is no elevator.

There are no closets in hotel rooms in Viet Nam; only very ornate armoires like this one, or larger. In my parents' room, there was an armoire similar to this one in color, but it was huge, with doors on both sides of a mirror which was in the center.
The chaise longues on Ha Long Bay are so reminiscent of the ones we used to have in Alexandria, though some had the actual seat made of very strong canvas instead of wooden slats.

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