Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

A day in the life of the capital city


Fruity: Persimmon, a new favourite.

It seems I only write when I travel away from Ha Noi and sometimes when I go somewhere outside my norm but there is much to talk about in day-to-day life here.

Every day I laugh or go wide-eyed about things I see here, or observations I take in, and most of them are seen from over the handlebars of my bike. Fortunately, I have stayed upright on my bike, no accidents to report. But some of the things I see that sometimes make me pull over and watch is badminton.

No, I don’t think it’s truly professional but the wide age range of people who play this sport everywhere on the wide sidewalks is hard to describe. There are courts set up on any footpath wide enough to support a reasonable playing area.

This isn’t the backyard family get-together game we all played when we were young… not on your life. People carry around bags that in the US hold tennis racquets but here its badminton racquets, birdies and shoes.

I mean to tell you these folks really get into it over here. And it’s the old people that are the fiercest competitors. I would have to videotape a game for you to believe it.


Expat: The Vietnamese way of peeling a pineapple. — VNS Photos Mark Robert Carle

While talking about old people, I don’t think nursing homes exist over here, mainly because everyone is a working component in the family right until death. When a woman gets married she moves in with her husband’s family and the grandparents live in the same household and help care for the children. But that doesn’t mean they have no life of their own.

Along with the early morning badminton games, every weekend I see hundreds, probably close to thousands, of the older people at the parks walking, exercising, playing sports. It’s really amazing how close-knit the families are. I think it’s built into the Asian culture but I never saw it to this degree in my travels to China. I regularly see grandparents come to our school to have lunch with their grandkids.

In fact, when I was talking about nursing homes actually trying to explain what they are to my Vietnamese friends here they thought I was joking. And then they just flat out said they didn’t understand the need for them. Well in this kind of society they wouldn’t have a need for them. Many elderly die at home when they get old, and that’s what the family wants – to care for them until the end, just as they helped with bringing life into their family.

They see it as their responsibility to care for their parents at that stage. It’s quite an eye-watering sight.

On a different note, the last couple of months I have been training for a 10km race here in Ha Noi – Song Hong 2010, Ha Noi and there is a running group called the Red River Runners that organise it every year.

The course is flat and fast, from what I hear, but unfortunately I have been doing the bulk of my training on a treadmill so I won’t be fast. But it will be nice to get back into that competitive mode again, even though my goal will be much like the early days of my running and that is to finish without walking. I have run a few times with the group here but they begin their runs far from where I live.

The treadmill is in a gym very close, so even though it is boring, it’s also convenient. While talking healthy I have a new favourite fruit. In the US the hands-down favourite would be blueberries but here I have discovered persimmon.

I don’t know if there are adverse reactions to eating too many of them but I guess that isn’t the overdose amount. Let’s just go through all the fruits that are tasty and readily available on the street stands here and also very cheap.

Well persimmons as I mentioned and pineapple, which are small but juicy, sweet and no chewy parts like the oversized ones back home.

Once the thin skin comes off, the rest is totally edible, so be sure you have some tissues nearby because they are so juicy you will need something to clean up with when you are finished. Another nice thing is you get three already peeled ones in a bag for about US$1 or one on a stick for less.

Another very good and easy-to-find fruit is the “mang cau”, which I think is called custard apple in the west, but I never saw them till I got here. I think they get the custard label because they have a texture similar to custard and are about the size of an apple.

They don’t look anything like an apple but loosely resemble a pineapple, There are so many fruits here sold on the street everywhere but these are a few of my favourites.

I also really like jack fruit but I can’t eat too many before I tire of them so I buy small bags from the stands. It’s fascinating here that nearly all the fruit is cut and peeled for you.

Yes you can buy it whole and unpeeled but almost everyone buys it for immediate consumption. — VNS

By vivian