Tạm Biệt Hà Nội - A Photo Journal
by Eva Barnsley
Vietnam has a very special place in my heart. I first visited Vietnam before I had reached age two. I then moved to Saigon at age nine, and later moved to Hanoi at age fourteen. I had planned to live in Hanoi for years to come, my naive mind believed that I would live there forever until I unexpectedly moved to Malaysia. In late November of 2018 I went home to Hanoi, only this time it was the first time that I was visiting rather than returning. It was strange to get on my motorbike after leaving Cong Caphe and realizing that I no longer had my own house to drive back to. It was strange to drive through my old neighborhood and realize that this is no longer where I live. From the beginning of this trip I knew that I could either wallow in self pity over the fact that I don’t have a home here anymore, or I could embrace gratitude for the chance of being able to visit Hanoi for the last time in a long time.
I chose the latter.
One of the first things that I did when I got back, was drive my yellow Honda Cub (that I share with a friend who still lives in Hanoi) to my favourite bánh mì lady on Đặng Thai Mai. A bánh mì ốp la (baguette with egg, cilantro and cucumber) with garlic soy sauce, chilli and a trà dá (ice tea) always hits the spot. The store is set up on the side of the road and workers sit around on small plastic stools smoking from a tobacco pipe.
When I lived in Hanoi, my friends and I were daily frequenters of Cộng Cà Phê, a Vietnamese chain cafe. It is a running joke between us and anyone that knows us, that you could always find us at Cộng. We were friends with the staff despite language barriers and it was a second home. When I came back, our favourite Cộng had closed down, which broke our hearts, but we made ourselves very comfortable at another branch and took lots of photos by the lake in front of the cafe. From our seats we watched men fishing, children riding their bikes home from school, couples riding in swan boats, ladies collecting recyclables on bicycles, and lots of tourists taking photos of the cafe. We laughed and wished that we had have asked them for the photos as you would be able to see us all sitting in a row on the second floor. Instead, I took the photo myself of my friends sitting up top, and as I did, I noticed two other customers downstairs who started to take photos of me. Hanoians are so lovely, everyone is connected and so friendly and kind.
After finding that our Cộng has shut down, I was anxious to discover what else had changed in the months that I had been in Malaysia. One morning, I visited what westerners call ‘Coconut Corner’, a cafe that sells excellent “egg bread” and smoothies where the sweetest shoe shiner sits underneath a tree. He always makes my shoes look better than new and I was so pleased to see him there… so were my shoes.
My friends; Seb and Sorcha, and I drove around the lakes of Hanoi on our patriotic red and yellow motorbikes, accompanied with Vietnamese flags from Vietnam’s soccer win. Sorch and I loved to pick up a Bò Bía, a delightful package of shredded coconut, bars of malt sugar and sesame seeds wrapped in thin flour paper.
My family was in Hanoi for a week while I was there, and we walked around our old neighborhood, past familiar temples, corner stores and ladies in conical hats selling fruit and flowers from the back of their bicycles.
One day Seb and I drove into the city, which despite being a less than twenty minute drive from where we lived, we rarely visited. The Old Quarter was bustling with tourists, motorbikes, cyclos and children with balloons. Power lines are tangled amongst each other everywhere you go, a beautiful mess. We drove past shoe street, toy street, spice street and eventually stumbled upon a live concert in front of the opera house. Hanoi is always full of surprises.
Living abroad means leaving what you love; fruit sellers, shoe shiners, waiters, cafes, houses, dogs and cats, cafes, motorbikes and friends. Living abroad also means experiencing beautiful cultures, meeting incredible people and making amazing memories. I am so thankful for my four years living in Hanoi, and my recent visit back reminded me of how lucky I was to live in such a beautiful city that will always live in my heart. I love you, Hanoi.
For more on Eva’s trip, check out her YouTube channel! Where she posts beautiful content regularly <3