Monday, 21 November 2011

Ode to a Hanoi Autumn

I recently did a morning’s work of interviewing a large number of locals to test their general English skills. One of the questions I asked was why they prefer Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (as Hanoians, it is out of the question that they would actually prefer the other place). Their initial response was immediate and universal: because Hanoi has four seasons, and Saigon only has two.

This might sound like the kind of arbitrary answer you give to the kind of meaningless question you get asked in language tests, but it’s actually a really pervasive, definitive aspect of living in Hanoi. In contrast to Saigon, where it’s always hot, but sometimes wet and hot, and sometimes dry and hot, Hanoi has four completely different dispositions that transform both the city and its inhabitants.

The Summer is unbearably hot and unproductive, the Winter is unbearably cold and grumpy, but they’re both worth it for the Spring, and even more so, the Autumn. Oh, the Autumn!

For this brief window, you can open your windows. The air temporarily stops dripping with humidity, the nights are cool, the mornings are mysteriously misty, and the afternoons are breezy and golden with blue, blue, blue skies. It’s enough to make the most jaded Hanoian use adjectives that are usually only the domain of travel-guide writers - otherworldly, romantic, charming – without any irony.  

Unlike in Saigon, where they have so much fine weather they don’t know what to do with it, Hanoians ensure they make the figurative hay. This weekend our neighbourhood was swarming with families enjoying lakeside hot-pot and teenagers on swan boats enjoying an autumnal pedal-pash.

Everyone seems chipper. The weather is the first topic of conversation, as we try to consciously revel in every moment of it, and applaud our good judgment in making such a town our home. Tomorrow we might be in fur-trimmed puffy parkas, still mouldy from last year, but right now, the only thing dividing Hanoi from heaven is all that blue sky.



Post-script: Naturally, as soon as I posted this, the weather turned grey.

20 comments:

  1. You mean this isn't the way things are all year round?! I just got here two weeks ago and have been raving about how fine it is.

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  2. When we had guests here I had to remind them EVERY DAY how lucky they were. Like going to the Metropole on the first day, they just didn't get it.

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  3. Koki: Ummmm, yes, it's exactly like this ALL THE TIME. Cough.

    Jodeska: I'm sure your constant, overbearing demands that they appreciate it really helped them to appreciate it.

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  4. In your face HCMC! (the place in which I will be fleeing to in the winter)

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  5. moving to melbourne also gave me a newfound appreciation for autumn. autumn in sydney is often wet and grey, but in melbourne it's crisp and sunny, the skies are blue and the leaves are all sorts of reds and oranges. without a doubt, autumn is melbourne's best season.

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  6. Sarita: Yeah, who needs a year-round tropical paradise, eh?

    Mischa: I like how you've moved the Hanoi vs HCMC comparison to a Sydney vs Melbourne one! Very sly (actually, I also often reflect on the similarity in competitiveness between the two). I look back at Sydney weather through such rose-coloured glasses, that I'm afraid even the Sydney Autumn is perfect to me right now. :)

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  7. If I click on the ad for the traveller's credit card on your blog page, do you get money?

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  8. Yes, Dez, I do! I don't think I'll be retiring off Google ad revenue any time soon, but it pays for my coffee and coconuts here in Nam.

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  9. This is my first Autumn in Hanoi, and I have to say it is lovely.
    When we got here (urgh, in July) I asked a few Hanoians which month was their favourite. They all said October.
    I have to disagree though, November is better. And not just because mine and my husbands birthdays are in November ;)
    It's my birthday on Sunday 27th Nov - I hope you're all saving for my present?!

    Oh yeah...and thanks for jinxing the weather!

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  10. Tropical paradise!
    It's horrible here in Saigon lately. The air is just thick with sweat and dust. And urine stains.

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  11. Vickie: I can guarantee you that last November wasn't like this (it was October), so in my mind this can only mean one thing: a balmy, glorious Winter. Right? Riiiiight?? And happy birthday in advance!

    Katrina: Well, well. It sounds like Nathan and I might have done TOO GOOD A JOB at convincing you Hanoi is better than Saigon...

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  12. Thnk you for reminding me why i love this city .

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  13. Glad to be of service, Anonymous. :)

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  14. I concur it is a proven fact that a Hanoian will never ever admit anything about their city that is less than the other place. People at the other place however rarely even think about the apparent competition between the two.

    I wonder if the insistence on superiority is actually, as usually the case, a sign of inferiority complex? ;)

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  15. I love the Hanoi autumn, its one of the best five days of place and weather combinations available anywhere. One of my favorite Hanoi memories was that afternoon demolishing the all you can eat Mexican rooftop buffet at Don's with all you can drink sangria and the two of you and Sarah last October.

    Simon

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  16. Scrbbld, I think you're spot on there. This is why Melbournians are always going on about the competition with Sydney, and Sydney-siders are indifferent. JOKING.

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  17. Ah, autumn...I do miss it. I look forward to the few nights at the end of December/beginning of January when it sort of...maybe gets down to about 23 or 24 at night here in Saigon.

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  18. Bellingen autumn is definitely recommended. As is Bellingen spring. Bellingen winter isn't too bad, except at our house where it feels like spring will never come, even though its only 3 months away. And Bellingen summer? Well, we have a little pool for those 30 degree plus days, so who's complaining? Flood days, when you can't get out of town due to water over the roads, are just the icing on the cake!

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  19. Simon: Ah yes, I remember around about that Mexican-eating time last year you claiming that posting photos on the blog from that golden five-day window of perfect weather was like false advertising. Turns out I'm still doing it.

    Michael: I feel like I spend so much of my life talking about the weather, I don't know what I'd do with myself in such predictable climes!

    Buster: Are you surreptitiously trying to turn this Hanoi blog into a blog about Bellingen? Are you getting paid by the Bellingen Tourism Committee?

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  20. as a saigonese , of course i prefer my sai gon than other cities . So thump up for SAI GON ..and between SYDNEY and MELBOURNE , i probably rate for Sydney ..

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