Starin offers the sensory complexities of Vietnam's capital @ Asia Literary Review. ABOVE MY HEAD, the wires: electric; telephone; loudspeaker; cables; some obsolete, some illegal. Transporting the must-have news, the must-know slogan, the must-repeat motto. The ropes and cords and hooks for hanging laundry and household pots and pans and shop goods and cages imprisoning birds and signs advertising the cheapest clothes and red-and-yellow banners flapping the latest dictum. Head-height boxes holding mirrors and combs and brushes and razors and creams and clippers for servicing the many manly facial needs, for the young and old as they make their way home, to work, to play, to school. The branches of trees planted by the French that witnessed devastation wrought by American bombs gently hold the last remaining bones and bits of a traditional singing kite from the northern regions of this land. The loudspeakers broadcasting the rumours and gossip, repeating the hearsay, accompany the sound, the non-stop, blasting, screaming, yelling, honking sound of this twenty-first-century city wrapped around the muddy, swirling, silt-rich, iron-rich, flood-prone, cholera-laden, arsenic-laced waters of the primordial artery Song Hong, the mother of all sources, the ancient Red River as it awakens, as it eats, when it retires, as it moves from place to place throughout the day, shrinking to its lowest level in one hundred years.
All these wires and cords and ropes and boxes and messages and speakers hang in the trees, winding in and out of the branches, swaying in breezes, creating knots and snarls and whorls and curls of amazing opinionated chaos while the live bats, with no political agenda, hang upside down on the branches spanning the street theatre that is Hanoi, and the dead bats lie in handmade baskets soon to become part of a night’s meal.
On the edge, beside the kerb, below my feet, the gutters grey and smelly, scary and foul, spreading cholera germs over the city carried on phlegm-stained, piss-covered pieces of tightly controlled, overly censored newspapers written in a script created by a French Jesuit priest, and candy wrappers and dead and dying leaves and wisps of corn silk and fag ends and empty, cracked and cooked crab shells and broken bamboo toothpicks made by poor indigenous tribeswomen cursed by the state and used and broken condoms for preventing the masses from growing and the politicians from instituting baby-boom rules; floating around corners, attaching themselves to the bottoms of mass-produced Chinese sandals and flat tyres and homemade baskets swollen with fungi-shaped, tasty green and yellow and orange and red and white produce carried by swaying, smiling old women in conical hats, wrinkled and gnarled and balancing bamboo poles, carrying goods on shoulders bent with age and long histories of plying their trade up and down the alleys and lanes, calling out in voices made of a hundred thousand musical tones: ‘Buy my goods, buy my goods . . .’
Image: Robert Moran @ F-Stop Magazine