Every time I have spoken to my mother over the past month the conversation has gone like this:
Mother: How are you?
Me: I'm really cold.
Mother: Oh no! You couldn't possibly be! Not in Hanoi!
I guess since I milked the summer months for endless horror stories involving litres of sweat spraying from my every pore, I can't then expect to get sympathy for the frigid, bone-chilling winter too.
So just believe me. It's not exactly tropical here at the moment.
I have been spending disgusting amounts of time indoors (probably for the best if I'm wearing outfits like that) but I still manage to find ample distraction, such as surveying the neighbourhood from my desk, Rear Window-style.
Most of the activity centres around the bin: people putting things in it, and then other people taking those things out:
This is how waste gets sorted for recycling. I am always particularly interested to see which are the most prized items amongst our detritus, making me feel simultaneously proud ("Ooh! They fished out our old chickpea tin!"), embarrassed ("Hmm, that's quite a lot of ice-cream containers when you look at it from this angle") and violated ("That's our private life being strewn about on the ground there!").
I am not above going through the bin myself. I once pulled out this beautiful spray of orchids which lasted for weeks:
If you’re worried about your rubbish being violated, then you can always set it on fire, like this guy, who burned a whole heap of printed documents, but every now and then would pick one up from the flames and have a last-minute read:
Being from Australia, where we believe that any kind of innocent-looking fire is just one small step away from being a raging inferno that will singe the paws of the nation’s koalas, I find the nonchalant approach to fires in Hanoi a little alarming. Once, while walking to lunch with some friends, we noticed that a large telegraph pole - with electricity wires attached - was on fire by the side of the road. We went into a nearby shop and the most skilled Vietnamese-speaker among us skillfully said “Fire-tree-road” and pointed. The shopkeeper came out, saw the flaming pole and just kind of nodded as if to say, “Yes, you’re right! Fire-tree-road!” Having done our civic duty, we walked away. Very quickly.
Unfortunately, the bin also seems to attract weeing men:
I think France's most abiding legacy to L'Indochine was the weeing man, for nowhere outside of Paris have I seen so much public urination. I have often thought about throwing things at the weeing men from the perfect aspect that our window affords, but I guess I'll save that activity for when I get sick of creepily photographing them.
Then there's the screaming kids who fill the street every evening, often engaged in some kind of hopscotch game that involves throwing your shoe:
Just like children the world over, Vietnamese children find Nathan to be a lovable buffoon, and me completely uninteresting. I always know when he's on his way home because of the howls of "Hello! How are you!" which follow him up the street. I get no such reception. The upside to being uninteresting to children is that small boys don't come up to me, point at my nether regions and then laugh uproariously, as happened to Nathan recently.
Occasionally, I'll see something really exciting from the window. Like, the MSG delivery truck will come:
Or one of the city’s many ridiculous Hummers will park there:
(No need to throw things at it: I get all the gratification I need from watching it have to do a 23-point turn to get around the corner.)
Or some novel item will be conveyed along:
But most of the time, it’s just taxi drivers snoozing in their cars, or cycling salespeople, or the bin scavengers. If you’re lucky, you’ll get all three at once:
That lady took our old pizza box out of the bin, and after an extremely long negotiation, the taxi driver bought a feather duster for 30,000 dong. I remained at my desk, slippers on my feet, hot cup of tea in my hand, and frog on my head.