Hanoi is different.
The temperature is much lower here then anywhere else I have been since I left home. It is 15℃ and that is a good 10℃ colder then Hoi An – and Hoi An was colder then most places. I made an error when I left the hotel. It was just turning dark and the temperature was a much more reasonable 20℃. I left to go for a meal wearing my usual shorts and polo shirt. Ninety minutes later this was shown to be a poor choice.
It Christmas Eve
Tonight is Christmas Eve and I am alone. I am sat in a hotel room writing. I have been aware that it is Christmas only at a functional level. I am in a foreign country where the seasonal weather is much warmer than my own. I have seen trees and decorations, but they have not really registered as ‘Christmas’. They have simply been another new thing to go with the multitude of new things that I have seen.
As I walked tonight it hit me like a thunderbolt.
It is Christmas Eve.
With the temperature being much cooler here. People dress differently. They dress as people at home would dress in winter. I walked along the street amongst people wearing big jackets, wooly hats, scarves and gloves. There is a cold mist hanging in the air which refracts the lights from the hundreds of cars and scooters that rush by creating a strange glow.
Shops with glass fronts illuminated by fairy lights and decorated with wreaths and tinsel line the roads. Between them are small food stands and other traditional small shops. Outside the food stands on the pavement, people are sat on small stools tucking into bowls of noodles. Steam pours from the stands and bowls and mixes with the mist.
It is Christmas Eve.
As I walked, I saw shops closing early. Staff gathered around the door, dressed up and ready for a night out. It is a scene that I have seen many times before.
It is Christmas Eve.
Couples walk arm in arm dressed in expensive jackets and cashmere scarves. They are laughing and joking. I wonder where they are heading.
I see families walking along the streets. Small children bundled up against the cold. I see parents pointing out Santa Claus. I see that the children are excited; and wouldn’t they be?
It is Christmas Eve
I think about what I would be doing were I at home. I would be hoping to finish work early. Perhaps I would have a few drinks with my colleagues when we finish. Later I would meet my friends. Some will have been out earlier than others and it will show. We will all turn up at different times, and we will all leave at different times. Later some of us may go for a meal, or perhaps I will simply grab a takeaway as I walk home.
It is more then likely that I will be drunk when I walk home. I will be drunk enough to start singing songs from The Muppets Christmas Carol, as this is as close to a holiday tradition that I have. When I get home, I will likely watch The Muppets, or if not I will watch the next greatest Christmas movie of all time – National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.
It wouldn’t matter that I have seen it 100 times before. I will still laugh as Clark cuts the tree and I will damn near faint from lack of oxygen as I laugh hysterically when he finally turns on the lights. I am giggling to myself now just at the thought of it.
I would be doing these things because it is Christmas Eve.
But this Christmas is different. Tonight I walked back to my hotel and I felt like a man out of place. I was dressed differently to everyone. I was not meeting friends, I was not going out and I was not heading to my home. I was walking streets I did not know, in a city I do not know and everything simply felt surreal. The colder air, the mist, the lights and decorations all felt familiar. But at the same time it all felt so completely alien. This temperature, feels like it belongs 7,000 miles away. The clothes were the same.
How could I have only travelled on a plane for one hour and arrive where things are so completely different?
I’m not at home, and tomorrow I will not be waking up to unwrap presents with my Mother and Brother and I will not be sitting down for a meal with them because I am in a different country.
Tomorrow morning I will be waking up and getting on a bus to take me to Halong Bay. I will be spending Christmas Day not at home, but on a boat cruising between towering peaks and caverns. My Christmas dinner will not be roast turkey. It will be barbecued fish, served on a boat.
It is a placed that I have long looked forward to seeing with my own eyes, and I cannot think of a better day to be there then Christmas Day.