A walk in the park in Hanoi is not always the simple pleasure one would expect. Peace and quiet, a breath of fresh air, a dog chasing a tennis ball, a reader catching a chapter in their lunch hour – all normal activities I’ve witnessed in parks when I’ve been overseas.
Not so in Hanoi! In fact, the atmosphere and character of parks in the capital changes throughout the day. There seems to be a kind of a cycle of activity.
The early morning dark gives way to park attendants sweeping up any litter, perhaps moving on a few street people who spent the night under the stars. As dawn approaches, elderly people who can’t sleep start their early morning wander and the pace starts to hot up. Before long, sports equipment is in evidence, badminton nets are being erected and the players begin limbering up. The sun rises and its rays paint the trees green and the shuttlecock is suddenly much easier to see. Young teenage boys kick footballs, too. But the most frenetic action comes from the women in the park. Dozens, sometimes more than a hundred aerobics enthusiasts kick and wave to non-stop Asian dance music. In another quarter of the park, older women participate in a low impact version, waving hand fans to tai chi moves. The mornings in Hanoi’s parks amount to one big sports club.
As the traffic starts to jam on the adjacent streets, a more sedate atmosphere takes over the parks. The fitness fanatics take off for a bowl of noodle soup before their work day begins. Tea and fruit vendors set up their simple plastic stools as the heat begins to become a factor in the day. Hand fans start to wave again and the shade of the trees is the only place to be. Less strenuous pastimes like chess, cards, reading the newspaper and discussing the lottery results take over in the lead up to lunchtime. The quietest part of the park day occurs after lunch when everyone present has heavy eyelids. A few travelling vendors will attempt to get some shut-eye before setting off on their afternoon route. The park warden may not notice because he’s sleepy, too.
In the late afternoon, the sports nuts start to take over again. The park’s evening rush hour lasts longer as the sport is followed by the invasion of the evening walkers who lap the park until their dinner is settled. Then the lovers take over, wedged on park benches or parked motorbikes whispering and kissing until the girl’s curfew brings it to a premature end.
The park goes dark and dormant, ready for the cycle to begin again tomorrow