by Paul Whymark, Greenheart Travel Greenheart Grant Winner in Vietnam
It’s sometimes said there is a market for every thing. After seeing the local market and wandering the streets of the larger Old Quarter in Hanoi, one can be forgiven for thinking everything is right in front of you! In practical terms it probably is.
During my time teaching abroad in Vietnam, I have been able to explore the old quarter and some parts of Hanoi. These streets are set out like a big supermarket/ department store isle in that everything down on each street is of the same market. For example, there is a street for ‘moto- bike’ parts, or a street for home and kitchen goods, or temples, or flowers, or specific foods, or shoes, or whatever one can imagine and probably a lot of things one can’t. Markets and traders are present everywhere, from the side of the road, to any annex or part of a building, from a park, to outside on the pavement. Day or night people are there to sell something if not almost anything.
If the markets and traders in the old quarter represent the ‘work’ side of life then maybe the park markets represent the ‘play’ in life being situated outside. Even though this set up is somewhat different from a park in an Essex town in England, there are parallels and it does make me kind of think of the chorus of the song ‘Park life’ by ‘Blur’ from the early 1990’s. These type of market is in an encased area of about half a mile within the park, there is also a lake alongside that is said to be home to a 300 year old turtle. Sightings are rare, a bit like the Loch Ness monster, but that adds some intrigue and interest.
There seems to be something for every one in the park. For the commercial world there are sponsor’s logos, for the government, communist décor and artifacts such as the statue of Ho Chi Min. For the public there is everything and anything, from eastern ballroom dancing late in the afternoon, to an electro outdoor Gym on the other side of the lake. There are more trees than elsewhere.
Different parts of the park hold different facilities and have their own little world within. For example a model railway and overhead cable car, dodgems (not presently in service) swings, and children play areas. In the circuit around the lake there are endless walkers, joggers, and a minority on bicycle. The heat is too much for anyone to work out too hard or fast and there is an occasional ‘moto-bike’ slowly ridden around. Some activities are ageless and the young and old are seen side by side. Fishing is one such example where there appears to be no status divides. Some fisherman sport expensive kits and others have make shift sticks and lines. Age or status seems to have no bearing on the choice/ option of fishing being undertaken, and all just stand quietly side by side on the bank looking out for their own and other’s fishing lines.
There is a game, the name of which is still not known to me, where a stripped down and modified badminton style shuttle cock is kicked to and amongst each other. This can be over a space of maybe 15 meters or in a badminton style court with a net across. The game seems a cross between badminton and beach volley ball (with out the beach also). Then there is an impromptu badminton game being played, which is a wide spread popular game in Vietnam. I have seen it being played from city to countryside in make shift courts, the UK equivalent of football (soccer) with jumpers as goal posts. Sports aren’t the only activities and civic events, wedding photo shoots are all simultaneously going on.
Who else is in the park at any one time? People practicing Tai chi, meditation, and those having health check ups. One thing seems highly likely, that between the markets and traders and park life most of Vietnamese culture is present, alive and happening all around.