It's been one week since I moved to Hanoi to start as a trainee at the Norwegian Embassy for 6 months, and the city has already managed to take a huge grip around my heart. The trip over here was the most exhausting one in my life. After 30 hours travels, including one foot massage, lots of chocolate and long waiting hours, I finally arrived safely in the capital of Vietnam. The airport seemed overcrowded, the heat and humidity were just as expected and kids were staring. The culture and climate chock was a fact. I was relieved to see two people from the Norwegian Embassy waiting for me at the exit, driving me to my hotel. At this stage all I could think of was the heat (being a Norwegian, I'm quite confused when the temperature passes 35 degrees after 11pm), the new smells and the people trying to cool down in the streets.
My first challenge was to find a place to live, and even though I felt just a bit too safe and comfortable in my hotel room (read: air conditioning), the time was up to get out there and soak in the spirit of a city where everything seems to happen on wheels; either on the road or on the sidewalks. People drive, sleep and eat on those vehicles. People seems to be humble, strong and pensive. There are so many things I'd like to know about them, but sadly few of them speaks English (That's why it took me three days to find a supermarket). I noticed that I need to slow down my walking rhythm, because of two reasons; it is way too hot, and it is way too dangerous! As I am one of the few people that tend to cross the city by foot, I need to look everywhere twice in order to survive. Point positive: I am forced to lead a stress free life!
I was glad to find out that after having posted a message on a Hanoi community page for foreigners on Facebook, messages started to run in from agents who wanted to find me a place to live - for free! I got contacted by an adorable young Vietnamese woman that drove me around on her motorbike that seems to be the one thing a person living in Hanoi cannot live without. And as to mention the poorly developed infrastructure, I see the point. She showed me a great number of lakes that gives the city a beautiful atmosphere and a fresher look, and she was more than happy to share her life with me. She told me that she works long hours the whole week only to see her daughter in the weekends, who is 2 and of poor health. She even took me to a motorbike store so that I could buy a helmet of good quality. I was very glad to discover that on my third day here, she took me to the right apartment only 5 minutes walking distance from the Embassy. I was finally able to unpack!
When it comes to socializing, that has not been a problem so far; here are heaps of expats around. I started out by contacting the Swedish Embassy to get in contact with likeminded trainees, and a girl there took me out to meet her friends. We ended up drinking beer that was almost for free in a big hall full of life, before going to two different bars. People are really easy to talk to, they all seem to be keen on getting to know other vagabonds. To my great relieve, half of them were french. I think I'm gonna make it just fine here!
My first week at the Embassy was very interesting and l was happy to discover that my coworkers welcomed me with open arms. I have a lot of things to learn, but that's why I'm here. As I am the only trainee, I can choose how to occupy myself according to my field of interest. I'm especially drawn towards UN related matters, dealing with development aid and human rights. One of the highlights of my work week was assisting an ambassadors' meeting at the UN. I also got to cover a press conference with the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry. As Vietnam is a socialist one party system where all power lies in the hands of the communist party, freedom of expression is limited and there is no room for political competition. The press conference clearly reflected this, as the journalists were asking for information rather than criticizing or asking for explanations.
I have to say that am very eager to get a grip around the beating heart of a country so full of soul and to the brink of history. I want to understand what thoughts lie behind the eyes of the taxi driver, the street food cook, the young people hanging out next to the railway tracks. Not to mention the old lady carrying her baskets of fruits in the middle of the soaring traffic. She is to me the perfect symbol of a country that seems to be evolving into modernity with a tight grasp on tradition.