This is the street where I live in Ha Noi.

There are numerous, wonderful charms of the city of Hanoi. Coming from Cape Town and Sao Paulo, it would be pretty easy to write about the almost complete lack of crime in the streets, the lack of divisive social/racial antagonisms splitting the city apart, or the absurd affordability of a bowl of pho noodles. Cape Town and Sao Paulo so efficiently stood as manifestations of Mike Davis' geography of fear; gigantic walls, shocking socioeconomic inequality, and a disquieting nagging feeling of walking aroudn in a dystopian neoliberal global cities made the cities so fascinating to visit, and the last three weeks in Hanoi, while fraught with culture shock and food-related illnesses, have given me at least a glimpse of the way the Urban Global South can follow alternative trajectories. This is not to gloss over Hanoi's struggles in governance (rigid), transportation planning (don't even ask), or the gradual influence of increased investment from foreign entities. It's just that in so many ways, seeing Hanoi through the eyes of this International Honors Program (as opposed to the lens of a tourist as I did three years ago) has piqued not a moral outrage about urban social inequality the way Cape Town and Sao Paulo did but a curiousity about a different narrative of development and economic advancement.

This is a wordy way to say that, while I could write about so many pleasant things in the city of Hanoi (and so many tiny little frustrations that make me anticipate my May 15th arrival in the United States even more), I think that I'm most drawn to the way the city feels like a patchwork quilt of thousands of streetside, Vietnamese renditions of Edward Hopper's infamous Nighthawks Painting. Whether getting up at five in the morning or arriving home at from the late shift at eleven at night (and the Vietnamese work ethic propels many to choose both), the cityscape is covered with impromptu, informal little pho vendors serving out the same food for any meal of the day. Usually lit by harsh flourescent, office park luminaries, it's possible to see groups of Vietnamese, young and old, men and women, huddled in tiny plastic chairs along the streets at any time of day, fighting the humidity with a glass of bia hoi and engaged in friendly, warm conversation. Many a writer has ruminated on The City as a place for lonliness and alienation and contempt for existentialist nihilism that comes with being around so many unfamiliar people, but the tiny pho noodle vendors and their makeshift, portable restaurants set up in streets and gutters and sidewalks and first floor living rooms are emblematic to me of an alternative way to acheive a sense of belonging and a sense of meaning. This is, of course, enhanced by Vietnamese culture's strong preference towards kinship and powerful family ties, the Hanoian humid climate that refuses to unstick to your body, and lack of housing space that therefore encourages citizens to spend their evenings outdoors and outside of family houses. In short, it'd be difficult to build such outdoor communal spaces in Minneapolis in January, or in any city where the vast majority of the citizens can easily hop in their cars back to the outer suburbs to spend their afterhours in climate-controlled, cable television anonymity/bliss.

These feelings of urban anomie are, at least to me, the night owl, exacerbated late at night; in Portland, I can't count the number of good nights shared with friends at 2 in the morning at Hotcake House or Coffee Time. So in Hanoi, where the city veritibly shuts down at eleven every night to get ready for the next early morning, and every single bustling store has closed its gates for the evening and the streets loom largely unlit, the tiny florescent lights at the corners of intersections that illuminate a ten foot white bubble forming a delineated space of social interaction and a good bowl of cheap food, is, to me, the antithesis of alienation in the city.

Good lord, I should finish this paper. Since when did 1500 word essays become so difficult?

Go Blazers in games six and seven! Go Timbers in the homeopener tomorrow night!

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