Memories of Hanoi

As I reflect on my experience celebrating Chinese New Year in Guangzhou this past week, I’ve been contemplating the many times I’ve felt nervous and overwhelmed by crowded places and local customs only to find joy outside of my comfort zone. I carry my past experiences with me as I continue to delve into the pace of life here. This week, my mind has often gone back to being stuck in a crowd in Hanoi, Vietnam and learning to embrace joy over nerves.

Here’s a deeper glimpse into one of my favorite experiences in Hanoi, as I continue to gather my thoughts about celebrating a different lunar festival here in China:

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We were surrounded.

Walking in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the pungent smell of a durian fruit vendor overpowered even the juicy smell of grilled meats sizzling nearby. The air was thick with the smoke of motorbikes, cooking fires, and incense. Despite the late hour, the street was brightly lit, colorful lanterns bobbing over hundreds of people walking together. We were packed in tightly, moving slowly forward in a jumble of limbs, portable fairy lights, balloons, and noisemakers.

A sensory overload of smells, sights, and the deafening noise of drumming, singing, pop music, and what seemed like all of Hanoi out celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival.

Earlier that evening, my husband and I had decadently filled up on Vietnamese spring rolls, pho, succulent Bún chả (grilled pork with noodles), and the many tips of our local waiter Kevin. With a panache for storytelling and a guidebook-worthy understanding of his hometown, Kevin easily kept our attention. As our meal drew to a close, he asked, “Now, will you go celebrate at the parade?”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” I replied, taking his words as a question, not a suggestion. “Won’t it be crowded and busy?”

“Yes, yes it will,” he smiled. “But it will be a happy noise. You must go, it’s a holiday!”

We had planned to avoid Hanoi’s Mid-Autumn Festival parade, a celebration of the harvest and mid-point of the Lunar New Year, after reading it would be busy and chaotic. But, newly convinced that Kevin was the expert on all things Hanoi, opted to head back to our hotel through the midst of the parade.

The Old Quarter was teeming with people, but the joy rising radiantly into the lantern-lit sky replaced our fears.

We joined the river of bodies exuberantly making its way to no particular destination. Hopeful motorcyclists painstakingly wound their bikes down the road, moving slower than pedestrians to avoid running over feet. One man hoisted his son high up onto his shoulders, taking him out of the sea of legs and feet to float instead on top of the revelry.

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The contagious happiness overflowing from each person boosted me up as well to a heightened sense calm within the crowd. Where before I may have rushed, I paused. At an intersection, we unanimously chose to head away from our hotel and toward more festive chaos.

Eventually, we were thoroughly lost and thoroughly at ease. My mindful state opened to a feeling of complete belonging, of letting go, of recognizing the value of striking out into the unknown.

Hanoi’s Mid-Autumn Festival was a local celebration that was big enough to let me in. A reminder to always seek out the happy noise.


 

More on our happy Hanoi trip here.

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