Saturday, March 26, 2011

Happy Ending

Through dense fog we cross into Vietnam.  The landscape remains the same the people slightly change.  Red flags still abound, yellow stars replacing the sickles and the hammers.  The bus conductor, a hustler, tries to pull a fast one on us, pissing me off and in the process bringing out my inner Ric Flair.  Woooooooooo! 

We head East. 

Brutal communist buildings greet us in Vinh and oversee every step of a slow walk through the city towards the train station.  The train arrives on time, in eight hours we’ll be in Hanoi. 

We head North. 

The great city between the rivers is reached in the early morning hours to witness it arise out of a slumber and into full-blown chaos in a minute.  Below grey skies, the streets are filled with motorcycles, bicycles, and cars: an endless flow of humanity.  Sidewalks become impromptu restaurants serving the typical breakfast fare, Phô bô, beef broth noodle soup.  We slalom the course of small plastic stools and maneuver through an endless stream of hotel-mongers trying to get us a room. 
We cross the street.  …ohhh, we cross the street.  The exhilarating rush of uncertainty, fearing for your life, feeling like your playing Frogger and you are The Frog.  That’s the second thing I’ll miss the most about Hanoi.

The first.
We’ll get there.

Yellow Star

Sea of Bikes

Vietnamese Crossing

Stare into the eyes of tradition

Balloon Umbrella 

Hanoi is a living city with a unique rhythm and a flow.  It rises with the sun, the streets in a constant go, with peaks at dawn, noon and just before dusk.  Nights remain vibrant especially around the markets, the backpacker ghetto and the Hoan Kiem Lake where we would join the locals for a nightly stroll. 

The Huc Bridge
Hoan Kiem Lake
Ha Noi, Viet Nam
Everything has an end, like El Gran Combo would say. 
In Hanoi, the end was sweet.  The end was what we waited all day for.  In fact, days were planned around the glorious moment. 

The place: Anh Tú Bakery.  A small spot that we decided to check out because of our close adherence to one the time-proven axioms of my uncle El Cacique: “if a place is full, it must be good.”   We notice the crowd and inch towards it full of curiosity.  The scent seduces us to move closer.  A hypnotized mass stares at a small oven on the sidewalk.  I scan the surroundings for a sign, an explanation as to why these people are here.  A small handwritten sign above the oven reads Bánh Sôcôla. A woman, the gatekeeper to the treasure rising behind the glass curtain, returns my curious stare and in broken English says: “bread with chocolate”.
“How much?”  I inquire. 
She shows me a 10,000 dong and a 2,000 dong bill.  12,000 dong! ($0.60). 
I turn to ask Clari if she wants one, she says it’s too late to eat.  I know better.  I turn around, look back at the lady and give her a peace sign.
I want TWO. 
She returns an open hand, “5 minutes”. 
“No worry, no hurry.”

The Wait
Anh Tú Bakery
We wait as more people stand in the cue. To the side of the oven we notice her husband making a fresh batch.  Out of a small plastic tub he scoops out a creamy sugary paste that he spreads on top of each fist-sized ball of dough containing a nugget of chocolaty goodness inside.  He finishes the batch and puts it to the side, making space for the ones that will soon come out of the oven. 

The oven door swings open.  The serene scene instantly morphs into the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  Frantic nondescript screaming, bills flying in the air, hand signs and gestures left and right.  The husband and wife team commence to execute the perfectly synchronized ballet they repeat every 12 minutes.  Buns fly from pan, to bag, to hand.  Cash flows back from hand, to hand, to pocket.  In a matter of a minute the tray is empty, their pockets are full.  The people who had just arrived will have to wait another 12.  Lucky for me, I got mine.

The warm fluffy bun sits in my right hand.  I tear a piece off with my left releasing a plume of freshness as a small cascade of chocolate starts to drip from the interior.  I stare at it intensely for a second, my mind engulfed in the sensations of sight, smell and touch with only the sound of the crumpling paper bag resonating in my ear drums.  A Pavlovian response ensues as the fifth sense awaits gratification; millions of receptors in my mouth aching for their fix.  The left hand is prompted into motion by a motor system overridden with desire.  Once there is contact and the bread slowly melts away into a wave of excitation, the neural networks spike without discrimination and my brain registers only one thing:  BLISS!

Editorial Note:  Our staff photographer was too busy stuffing his face to take a picture of the Bánh Sôcôla.  You will have to use your imagination.  


  1. I was hoping for visuals you need to learn the recipe and make me one or ship one =) Suena biiiieeen rico!

  2. Mala mia Walle. Tu sabes que yo soy esmayao' primero y fotografo segundo. Vengan pa'ca que me hacen falta!

  3. Walle:

    Pa cucarte un poco.

  4. tus entradas en el blog me transportan a los sitio de tu aventura... gracias!!!

  5. @Bali: Pa' eso estamos. Que lo disfrutes y gracias por el apoyo!

  6. Las fotos van de estupendas a insuperables...tus vivencias escritas igual y mejorando... estamos super orgullosas de ustedes dos...te extraño mucho, un fuerte abrazo, Marina