When I first arrived in Hanoi, my friend Bagas from Yogyakarta, who had lived in Hanoi for three years, asked me to come with him to explore the city of Hanoi, the Old Square district to be exact.
For the people of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem is a historical and sacred lake. This lake stretches for 12 acres, and the Ngoc Son Temple sits on top of a small island right at the centre of the lake. This temple was built in the 18th century to honour Tran Hung Dao, a Vietnam military officer in the 13th century who led in the battle against the Mongol invaders. The Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple is one of the important symbols of Hanoi City. Every day, local people and foreign tourist would walk on the streets around the Hoan Kiem Lake.
On weekends, the streets around the Hoan Kiem Lake are usually closed for vehicles and become exclusive for pedestrians. I thought that time of the week was the most interesting time to be around the lake, especially at night time when people come to the lake from every direction. Streets that were usually full of noise from car engines and sirens turned to a street full of the noise of people doing many different activities. There were children playing soccer, street musicians singing, people exercising, men and women dancing (a community) complete with the costumes and music such as waltz, tango, salsa, or mambo that were played through a speaker. Then there were a group of young people breakdancing to hip hop music that was played from a boom box, there were also Christians conducting prayers in this street, there were children playing jump rope, bamboo jumping, and tug of war.
This last activity really caught my attention, because a group of children, not more than 10 people, didn’t just play by themselves, but also taught other people who wanted to play along. A big long rope would entice other people to join in. There were no strict rules. When they felt that each side had the same amount of man power, one of the kids would become the referee and another becomes the initiator. People who passed by will spontaneously become supporters adding to the noise of the people who were playing this competition with no prize. Unfortunately, because I was too captivated by the match, I forgot to take pictures of this moment.
The weekend here in Hoan Kiem felt as though there were no boundaries in the interactions between people. Anyone can join in any activities without needing to introduce themselves, and people cheering without even knowing who they were cheering for. Everyone seemed to be immersed in the excitement and warmth of that cold night in Hanoi. All of a sudden, I did not feel like a stranger there. I felt that this atmosphere was unique to the people of Vietnam even from day one. They were very open and warm. An atmosphere I would come to miss later on.