City scenes reveal north-south differences

By Michael Smith, Thanh Nien News

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Hanoi. Full of lakes, jackets, hats and scarves, falling leaves and narrow fronted terrace houses.
It is a complete contrast to Ho Chi Minh City.
There is no city buzz like a swarm of bees, no running the gauntlet to cross the flow of traffic like an unbridged river in flood.
You can take leisurely strolls along wide open footpaths free from the pileup of ticketed scooters.
Visitors to the capital can enjoy parks, waterside walkways, temples on the banks of lakes, mazes of narrow old streets, tunnels of bargains and little French cups of hot coffee in smoke-filled bistros.
Every street seems to have its resident trio of female litter collectors with scarves wrapped vertically around their heads, gossiping on their favorite step.
Pedestrians on quiet street corners look up to see small drops of rain falling straight down, lights in upstairs cafe windows and wet overhanging trees.
The overcast days are punctuated with light drizzle and quick downpours.
In the old quarter there are fifty-year-old Ca Ran (fried fish) restaurants that don’t have menus and only one dish.
Patrons climb the worn wooden stairs with the lacquered railings to enter the cacophony of conversations over clinking cutlery on old wooden tables and chairs.
The sound of boots resounds on wooden floors.
In Hanoi, in stalls along the lanes to the temples, worshippers commission calligraphers to write Chinese prayers to burn.
There are old temples at every turn with colorful flags and banners and yellow walls glowing like gold.
Motorbikes park half-on the street half-off the street, leaving the footpaths for walking.
The wholesale markets near the old rusty iron bridge over the Red River thrive with a tiger’s intensity.
Shoppers wear gloves, old coats and warm hats, tight fitting leather jackets against the rain.
Doorways on the street lead into long dark passages between the buildings conjuring images of the close-knit communities in residence.
Men smoke rich tobacco through dark brown bamboo water pipes in groups outside shops.
They wear hats with ear warmers and turned-up jacket collars.
Ho Chi Minh City. The Saigon River sends a ragged parade of floating islands of water plants down to the sea.
Lopsided barges piled with containers race past with the current, in trains.
The staring red eye on the bows of the black wooden work boats make one almost indistinguishable from the next, their gunnels an inch above the water.
The Saigon riverside open air night cafe opposite the monument to Tran Hung Dao has folding plastic strapped chairs set out along the water.
Boisterous parties and quiet couples drink iced coffee and take in the startlingly lit massive billboards on the opposite bank.
Bui Vien Street in the Pham Ngu Lao backpackers area is like a cruise ship partying through the night, oblivious to the ocean around it.
People come and go, some never get off.
Lottery sellers, children peddling gum and sunglasses sellers with their big boards hanging beside them constantly stop to make enquiries.
Phu My Hung. The tall apartments, beside the open roads of the new city to the south of Saigon, invite more developments to fill the vacant lots.
Thatched work sheds sit beside massive cleared tracts of land.
Thousands of slowly moving people wearing helmets and masks cross the bridge from District 7 to District 4.
The grey sunlight filters through the smog.
Families on motorbikes merge endlessly through the teaming roundabout, their young children craning forward over the motorcycle dashboard while infants with fine nets over their faces are cradled between their mother and father.

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