Come tomorrow, I will complete all of one week in Hanoi. A standing ovation would be welcome here. So far, all I have managed to figure out is that Ga is chicken and Bo is beef and Heo is pork, so I at least know the kind of meat I am buying from the super mart which sells crocodile meat as a Sunday delicacy. I know Mo is one, and Hai is two and Ba is three, and that’s all I have managed when it comes to numbers. Not that it helps. I know Cam On Ba is thank you, but I haven’t been able to pronounce it in a way that my maid can understand. And well, I know not to ever buy five whole kilos of rice at the first go because now we are stuck with five kilos of amazingly sticky rice that doesn’t quite go well with Indian curry.
The husband and I landed in Hanoi last Tuesday sometime in the afternoon. Oh, just in the passing, I should probably mention that I got married. And next month on the 7th we complete a month. Another standing ovation, please? But I digress. I was talking about how in the airport itself, I got the taste of how things happen in Hanoi. I am saving my opinion about Ho Chi Minh City until when I actually visit it so I won’t talk about how things happen in Vietnam. But while all I had to do in Singapore to clear immigration was wait in a line for all of three minutes before being asked to approach a desk, in Hanoi, I had to huddle with a group of other people waiting for something, anything to happen. Twenty minutes later, I somehow happen to see my passport being held up and my name being called out (funny thing, even in my country people couldn’t pronounce my name, out here my name should just be “Unpronounceable”) and I try push my way to the counter to get my visa-on-arrival done. And once I have the visa, I say byes to the acquaintances I had made even while standing in that not-a-queue.
Once we are in the taxi on the way to our new apartment, I had my eyes glued to the road, and my first thought was that had it not been for the Vietnamese on the billboards, I would have thought myself to be in Delhi. After glitzy Singapore and beautiful Indonesia, Hanoi was a bit of a let down at first sight, but well, three hours of air travel, one hour of airport struggle and another hour in a taxi, and we were finally home. For some strange reason, I was smiling when I got off the taxi. I didn’t care that I was two thousand miles away from home. I didn’t care that all I had to hold on to was my brand new husband right next to me, and I didn’t care that I didn’t understand a single thing on the sign boards around me. This was to be my home. My first ever. And our house agent waiting for us with a basket of flowers on the table and chilled water in the refrigerator just made me smile a little more. It was love at first sight with the house. And what sealed it was the wooden floors and my very own bath tub.
Although normally it takes me about three days to recover from three hours of flying, all I could think of at that point of time was “I need stuff to put in this house!” and so, without waiting to change or even freshen up, off we went to the mart nearby, Big C. Big C is quite the Hanoi equivalent of our very own Big Bazaar. It is just as crowded, just as chaotic and just as loud. If someone had told me the shopping spree would continue for three whole days maybe I would have waited to take a breather before diving in head first. But well, you gotta do what you gotta do.
First came the pots and pans, although I took four days to find the perfect pretty ones. Our aim on the very first day was the “survival kit” and novices that we both are, we left out crucial stuff while we picked up trivial ones. So although we bought the pan to fry eggs, we didn’t find salt to cook it with. Although we had the strainer for tea, we couldn’t actually find the tea. I realized the importance of label graphics the moment I realized that they were all I could count on since all the labels were in Vietnamese.Two hours of running around trying to decipher labels and we were finally ready to give up for the day.
The next day being Diwali, I wanted to set up my prayer room. Yes, you heard right. My. Prayer. Room. Which has a Chinese style wooden temple and our “Kirtan Ghuxa” and “Goonamala” wrapped up in a “gamusa”, and the book of Borgeet on it. I actually found tamul-paan (betel nut and betel leaf) to offer on my “thapona” along with a bronze Singaporean dollar on an actual “kaahor bota”. You call it fusion, I call it management with limited resources. I even made a rangoli on our wooden floor, and lit up “diya”s and lights we had brought from India. We had a Vietnamese family over for dinner, and all in all, the first Diwali went pretty much the way I had imagined it would be.
It is with immense pride that I say that I now have a full fledged up and running kitchen, and I can whisk up almost anything from humble everyday meals to fancy gourmet ones. Just spare me the rice though. The husband and I will work it out in maybe another week’s time, and then I can serve you rice with pride. Until then, it has to be frozen roti pratas or over cooked and under cooked (at the same time, mind you) rice. And over dinner, we can talk about the amazingly cold weather and wedding photography (quite a hot thing out here, let me tell you) by the Hoan Kiem lake. Or we could just skip the dinner bit and go have coffee in the Highlands Coffee by the Opera House and stare at the backside of the Hilton. Or I could just sit right here and listen to my bamboo wind chimes and miss my people back in India some more.