Today I spent the day sitting in an old rattan chair in the sun next to an open window. Well technically it’s not really a window so much as double french doors that open onto the alley I live in, with a railing to prevent you from tumbling onto the neighbors below, but this is rather unimportant. The doors were open, my rattan chair with it’s bright red cushion pulled over in front of the window, the bright light of the morning and then afternoon pouring into the living room. This house is incredibly beautiful when it’s sunny. The warm light brings the old floor tiles, aging furniture, beige walls and green window shutters to their best, the tall ceilings and whirring fan only adding to the airiness of the space. I brought another chair over so I could prop my feet up and properly enjoy the book I was reading. There’s been significantly less daytime reading since I’ve moved into the full-time world, and it’s a shame. Mid afternoon reading (especially in the sunshine and even more especially in a rattan chair with your feet propped up) is a wonderful thing, with none of the fading awareness that I have to fight off in the evenings.
Ethel sat next to me. Rather…Ethel sat next to me on her blanket that traveled with us from Madison that sits in a folded pile against the railing, tiny dog-face propped up on said railing, watching the activities of the day taking place below. Though she’s sometimes a “barky” dog, she rarely barks sitting here…I hypothesize that it’s because she really just enjoys watching everything and smelling the various smells that waft up from downstairs. Her ears perk up when recognizable people go by…but she likes this spot – in my opinion – primarily for the sun that warms her reddish brown fur until it’s hot to the touch. Eventually – when she’s had enough watching – she flops down on the blanket in full sun, eyes glassy and sleepy and content. She snored for most of the day.
Today I sat in that rattan chair, drank an iced coffee I bought on our walk this morning, listened to Ethel scarf her breakfast, and read my book. I’ve adjusted to what is most aptly described as a cacophony of noise emanating from the alley below, and I read for hours in peaceful quiet…even if it wasn’t actually that quiet. I talked to Ethel from time to time, warning her not to bark when the neighbor’s dog did, reminding her to go eat her breakfast or to go get some water because she looked a bit too warm.
It’s a holiday, so the neighborhood is a bit quieter than normal. There’s no dull roar of construction noise in the background, another thing I almost don’t hear anymore. The middle aged man across the alley spent his afternoon fixing something outside. He has some tools, some wood scraps, and spends a fair amount of time standing, looking at his project, contemplating. The grandpa from around the corner who somewhat perpetually walks around the neighborhood stops by, the young man who lives directly next to us stops by, a wandering vendor with a bicycle full paper goods stops by. Everyone takes a few minutes to contemplate it with him, exchange a few words, some advice. I watched his progress, with no clear view of the actual project. Later today, when I leave the house with Ethel for the afternoon walk, I will see him sweeping up in a way that makes me think it was a success.
Everyone is cooking. I hear the crackling of hot oil as something is deep fried, smell the pungent fish oil, hear the chopping. Knife skills here consist of a lot more hacking-motion, and a lot less of the fancy “pivot on the knife point” that American cooks do for speed and accuracy. I can hear the rough-hewn butcher knife chop chop chopping everything from vegetables to chicken bones, it’s loud against the big round cutting board and echoes through the buildings. As a vegetarian, some of the smells are nice, others…less so.
The garlic smells good, the fish smells strong; none of the smells lasting for more than10 minutes as each this is prepared and then set aside for the holiday meal. Though I love cooking, today I love that I’m not. I love that it’s quiet, that I’m sitting in this chair in the sun in my house in Hanoi, Vietnam, that I have no plans for the day.
Each time a breeze comes through the window I notice it and smile at this “look where I am” moment. So much of life is a work-in-progress…but I’ve already got this beautiful, slightly dilapidated house, this chair, this motley dog, this surprisingly beautiful Hanoi afternoon.