Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Hanoi flower market

When I lived in Lismore I liked those moonless nights that would cover the sky in stars. A moonless night free of clouds was always spectacular. The nights seemed vast and deafening. I saw specks of meteors flaring over the hills trailing greenish tails that would wink out of existence moments before reaching some distant hills. It was something only possible where light was sparse and time slow.

The stars and sky were vast, something I had never encountered before. Beyond the dome of light that always covered the cities they had been there but always invisible and occluded, distant and ineffectual.

In Hanoi I marveled at the noise. It would wrap around my ears and cloud the air, as dense as a swarm, coming in ceaseless waves. Then at night, riding home drunk with beer, the road empty and welcoming, the sounds would have all left. The city would feel empty and solitary as though everyone had packed up and left the stage. Then the sound of my own engine could fill a street, the drop of my feet onto the path bounce around inside the walls of the alleys.The scrape of metal when the gates heavy lock gets pried from the wall could seem immense and warning. In the same sense that the stars had remained hidden by the lights of the city, I got to feel that this silence had always lain hidden behind the noise that crowded the air. In that late night emptiness you get a sense of ownership over the world. You can stand alone in it and feel peacefully happy.

When parties would spring up, the local Hanoi Vietnamese in turn spring from their chairs at 10 o’clock and unanimously leave. Meals get eaten early and lights turned out before 11. Most often the gate to the laneway is shut before this even and lingering in the bars beyond always involves a spell of sitting in darkness while the bar feigns emptiness to patrolling police trucks. Early to bed is the rallying call.

Mornings in contrast are exasperatingly active. Badminton courts spring up on sidewalks and in parks, as masses of shuttlecocks dive about through the air. Bowls of soup and noodles in oceanic proportions get divided and conquered from footstool like chairs on the concrete while shoe shine boys send flurries of brushes rising and falling, the bows of an energetic black polish orchestra intent on removing scuffs, scrapes and scars from footwear.

I felt compelled at night. Somehow the emptiness drives you towards a goal you have no secure impression of. Too drunk or tired to actively participate in conversation or actions, I would often find myself willingly being coerced into late night forays to the flower markets, out on the major Dyke road far from home. Here at 2.30 or 3am the day seems to have its beginning. The motorbikes and bicycles would arrive straddled with vast bundles of flowers and in the weak streetlight of the Dyke road weave in amongst each other searching for space to prop and stand, allowing their owner to wander off in search of beer or food.

Roses come in vast quantities with their petals singularly clasped in a newspaper hood tied with grass. The reverent look they then possessed delicately contrived to prevent damage on the long journey here. Irises and Gladioli’s come in bundles thick as the trunks of trees, heavy enough to send bicycles weaving in to a stop. Here before the day can really begin and night still holds sway in darkness their colors are muted and dim, yet by day they break through the static roadside chaos of the stalls, and the traffic, to draw in buyers with sudden flaring colors. Color it seems begins here as well, in the muted streetlights from the Dyke.

At night we always arrived before the market could begin in earnest. At the times we would be there, you could watch the market being constructed, the space of what by day turned into an empty parking lot for the motorcycle market that slept next door. We seemed to always arrive before selling had begun, the earnest business of trade would begin after we had left. We saw the edge of the torment and got to enjoy the breeze that stirred the night. We were spared the later flurry of blusterous energy, when the real buyers came in to cut and quarter the price of each petal down to a fine bone. When we went we bought armfuls of flowers for a pittance and drank watery icy beer from the stalls between mouthfuls of rice cake or noodles.

There where the city seems to begin the noises are low, the conversations muted by tiredness and darkness. The hustle would flow out from here gaining strength from the day and the throngs of people rising to meet it, till awakening sober and aching next morning you can see the bounding chaos of noise and activity that had been born in the emptiness of a parking lot along a near empty road at the edges of the city.


At 10:31 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheers Mark, thanks for the images....you're definitely onto something re the origin of Hanoian noise. To lose the flower market would not I dare say stop the noise....too many decibel nursuries bedded in the courtyards and the streets......you taken care of that pesky bird yet? Nigel

At 4:02 am, Blogger Irma resources said...

Searching for a cool flower directory i came across your blog. I felt like I needed to send her flower myself. I totally agree with your post and then some!!



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