Summertime

Bathers crowd the pool at the Hotel La Thanh, July 2010

At a small lunchtime restaurant near my office, which sells noodle soup for a dollar, office workers sit on ancient plastic stools next to dingy walls that have not been painted in many years.

Yet the owners have just installed a brand spanking new plate-glass door and windows, plus an air conditioner, at the front of the establishment. In this hot, sticky summer they’ve got their priorities right.

It was even hotter than usual for several weeks during June and July; temperatures were in the high 30s and humidity was at 80 or 90 percent. The city is far from the ocean, so no sea breezes waft in at night.

Air-conditioned homes, restaurants and shops are welcome oases in the stifling heat, for those who can afford them.

The expatriate community is depleted as many head home for weeks or months, or choose this time to leave Hanoi permanently. It’s a good time to rent a place if you are a foreigner, as it’s a buyer’s market now.

Most local people stay put, don’t have air conditioners, and escape the heat at night by sitting outside their homes, in laneways and streets and in parks. There are also a few public swimming pools and many hotel pools are open to the public (the entry fee varies from about $1 to $10), and they are well patronised. In the evening men sit drinking bia hoi (draught beer) in establishments on street corners and in open-air bars and beer halls.

Ice-cream vendors wheel bicycles around with the ice-creams packed into an insulated box on the back. Motorbike riders deliver bags of ice from similar boxes to cafes, which often don’t have a fridge on the premises, for cold drinks.

New businesses and products pop up. Stalls appear on many streets selling sugarcane juice freshly squeezed on the spot by ferocious looking presses that chew up the cane.

Brightly printed cotton jackets designed to shield women motorbike riders from the sun are strung up on shop fronts across the city. Each one has a hood large enough to fit over a motorbike helmet, and also flaps attached to the cuffs of the sleeves to cover the rider’s hands as she grip the handlebars. Some women wear opera-style long gloves instead.

While I have not taken those precautions myself, I’m getting good mileage out of my $2 folding umbrella to ward off blazing sunshine as well as summer rain.

There have been regular downpours over the last couple of weeks, and on July 13 Hanoi experienced the first flood of the summer – but probably not the last. The rain bucketed down overnight, putting the streets, and the ground floors of many buildings, knee-deep in water. (See this video of the flood in my own neighbourhood on YouTube taken by a work colleague who lives nearby).

Flooding aside, the rain has given Hanoians a welcome break from the extreme summer heat, if not from the humidity.

For me, as well as the relief that comes from lower temperatures it has also been a pleasure to experience really drenching downpours after so many years of drought back in Australia. I luxuriate in the curtain of rain falling outside my window, water coursing down gutters, glistening wet surfaces and the lights reflecting off them at night, and the thunder of raindrops on the roof.

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