For some reason, her face struck me with its quiet beauty and innocence. We had just arrived from the other side of the Perfume River, and had not yet gone on our adventure with the cyclo drivers. We knew that we were not anywhere near the entrance to the Forbidden City, but it is my nature to make the best of any situation.
a street divider with impeccably trimmed lawn with flowersWe passed a large gate; it's hard to keep track of how many of these there are. Then a great expanse of green grass, and some beautifully manicured lawn with bright red flowers in its center. Those are the things that hint that this city had a glorious and esthetically beautiful past. But then, modern signs of poverty intertwine with this beauty. On the side of the road was a half covered basket of something that looked like beans, or huge peanuts.
We started walking, and I saw a girl selling fruit and other snacks near the road. To my great delight, I found out she was selling guavas on a stick. As I approached to get two of them, a man suddenly appeared behind me, and tried his hand at brokering a deal with the price. Under no uncertain terms, I told him to get lost, and that my business was with the girl.
One of the interesting things they do with guava here is dip it in chili which is so hot, I personally couldn't handle it. So I ordered them plain, and we went to sit down to enjoy our fruit on two marble benches. No sooner had we sat down, that I saw two girls making their way toward us. At moments like these, you do realize that speaking the same language is really not necessary. The gesturing, the eyes, the body language,-all of these things come into play. I had brought some New York souvenirs with me, and offered her one of them. She showed no interest. I motioned her to sit next to me, and she did. She then rubbed her belly to indicate hunger. She had no interest in the guava,- she wanted money. She rubbed her thumb and forefinger together several times, which is indicative of $$, or in her case, dong.
Even though I knew she would not understand me, I was telling her that she ought to be in school. I was torn between giving in to her demands, and taking her home with me (which of course, would have been totally illegal). I found an American coin and gave it to her...at which point, our cyclo drivers were making their pitch to us for a ride. One of them showed me a notebook he had been carrying around, which was a "portfolio" of his work. Testimonials of folks he had taken around the city, coupled with "thank you's", most of them in English. We took leave of the girls, and each one of us sat comfortably in a cyclo, and I had my camera in hand. Thankfully, the pictures were not disappointing. Below is another example of the disparity between what was and what is.
there's always laundry hanging somewhere
As we were being taken away from the Imperial grounds, I wanted a snapshot of everyday life which I found on one of the side streets with some shops. As you can notice, there are no choking crowds as there might have been on a similar street in Ha Noi, or Sai Gon. All of two motorcycles are parked, and two men are engaged in conversation.
It would take about an hour for us to return to the perimeter of the Forbidden City, and even if you've never been there, the grounds tell you immediately that you have arrived. It's impossible not to know.
A side view of the main gate, called the Ngo Mon Gate