Hanoi: An Attack on the Senses

Warning: in keeping with my usual story telling tendencies, this post is both sarcastic and melodramtic throughout

At the risk of sounding like a corny, walking cliché… whenever I’m away from home for a long time, I notice my senses become heightened. In unfamiliar places I immediately begin to notice my senses playing a much bigger part in my day to day life. Adapting to different surroundings forces me compare new experiences with my usual home comforts. We are all guilty of becoming accustomed to our daily routines which in turn causes us to stop taking so much notice of the stuff around us. At home, I just expect to encounter the same sights, sounds and smells when going about my daily business. But here in Hanoi there is always something new to see or smell or taste, and in traditional Vietnamese fashion it is normally thrust upon you. Here there is no such luxury as politely declining, this place is quite literally an attack on the senses.

After 11 weeks in Vietnam, I can say with confidence that no two days have been remotely similar. This Wednesday bares no resemblance to last Wednesday. I would say it is physically impossible to become complacent here; Hanoi keeps you on your toes. I never have any idea what is coming around the corner (literally when it comes to the traffic) and most the time this is an exciting concept, but at times a royal pain in the arse. My time here so far has made me realise how good the Western World has it, and how much we take even basic, straight forward things for granted. Even the hairiest of situations in London would seem like a walk in the God damn park compared to the daily struggles of life here.

I’m going to try my best to paint a picture of a typical day for me here in Hanoi…

It will be a sensual account in the sense that it has been compiled using my five senses, if that makes sense?

4 am roughly – the friendly neighbourhood cockerel decides to wake up and wreak havoc

5 am – cockerel still at it, he has now recruited the help of several local dogs and farmyard animals (awaiting the slaughter on the market street parallel to our house) who have decided to get involved in the early morning fiesta currently unfolding on Hoàng Ngân

6 am – despite lying awake in bed for the last few hours thanks to the riot created by the neighbourhood zoo (the concept of silence has become a foggy, distant memory) I’m finally forced out of bed by the incessant honking of horns, and my puny phone alarm…

7 am – now in a taxi, breakfast Banh My in hand, my appetite is put on hold while my driver apparently makes what I can only describe as, a ‘vibrating phlegm’ sound. absolutely oblivious to the death stare radiating from the seat next to him, he continues to do this, while driving like what would be described in England as ‘a fucking nutter’. we narrowly avoid approximately 247 near fatal accidents on this 25 minute journey to school


8 am – sat in the staff room before my first lesson. welcomed by the distinctly pungent smell of piss (note: the ‘toilets’ in an above average primary school in Hanoi smell similar to a row of port-a-loos on the Sunday evening at a grungy music festival) and then seated in amongst the Vietnamese teachers who pointedly stare and talk about me, sometimes picking up my hair and aggressively shouting ‘BEAUTIFUL’ at me, if I’m lucky. I am then greeted by my first class of lovely crazies. these little people will scream until they are blue in the face and my ears are rendered useless.

9 am ish – after attempting to duck and dive from the sticky/snotty grasp of my first two classes, I am now having my morning Berocca – a vital precaution which must be taken when an army of six year olds spend the entire morning coughing in your face.

10 am – more screaming (them), more ‘GUYS, LISTEN’ (me), followed by more, desperate ‘If Your Happy and You Know It’-ing

11 am – finally a break. a three hour break, in fact…

*I normally spend this outrageously long lunch break wandering around a bit, soaking up the smog and the smell of what can only be described as ‘mystery meat’ roasting on the streets, chowing down on some noodles and getting a hit of that sweet, sweet Vietnamese coffee. depending where the school is situated, I do all of the above with an audience of eager, bewildered spectators… *

2 pm – my last three classes of the day. at this point of the day I tend to resort to bribing the children with sweeties. they go nuts for bland, Vietnamese ‘red bean’ or ‘green tea’ flavoured boiled sweets, I can only imagine what they would do for a packet of starburst and a milky bar..


4 pm ish – while waiting for my taxi home, I do my best to avoid being hit by the 7429128 motorbikes pulling into the playground at the end of the school day. I’m aggressively told I’m ‘BEAUTIFUL’ a few more times, on a good day some of my favourite kids come and give me stuff… my taxi inevitably doesn’t turn up so I resort to getting a Xeom (motorbike taxi) home to save time.

5 pm – the insane traffic of Hanoi is normally at a standstill around 5pm, but if I’m lucky I’m home by then.

6 pm – there are two big boy options on offer on the humble market street right by our house. the first is rice box, often referred to as ‘pick and mix’ but nowhere near as exciting as a Woolworths goodie bag. it’s more ‘hit and miss’ than ‘pick and mix’ but sometimes the food is above room temperature, so that’s a bonus. the other alternative is dog lady noodles. just to clarify we don’t eat dog (not quite yet) – but the lady who cooks the noodles is located NEXT to the lady who sells the dog meat, so soz about that, lady. I know you’re probably chundering in your mouth/considering buying me a flight home after these charming descriptions but both rice box and dog lady noodles cost less than 70p so, I’m actually winning at life.


7 – 9 pm – end the day perched on plastic miniature garden furniture while sippin pon a few 30p Bia Hoi’s down the road from us.

10 pm – incapable of keeping my eyes open for any longer, I let the soothing sounds of late night roadworks and the screams of assorted tortured animals-soon-to-be-meat, lull me to sleep.


2 thoughts on “Hanoi: An Attack on the Senses

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your latest ‘April abroad’ report April. It made me feel quite tired to hear about your day. Well done. Love Granma

    Sent from my iPad



  2. Ha, I totally get this after having lived in Hanoi for an academic year! I seriously think I lost some of my hearing after teaching in public schools and spent most of the year with one illness or another, caught from my delightful students. Yuck – the school toilets! Do they have a communal squat one in your school? I never got used to walking in on other teachers peeing! They thought I was super-weird for using the cubicle. I really had a love-hate relationship with Hanoi, but you know what, I do actually miss it sometimes!


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