Crossing the street with some market wares
Hanoi is a special place for me. In 2001, I spent a summer interning there. It was my first experience working in a foreign country, and I knew absolutely nothing about Vietnam before I arrived. Figuring out the country on my own was a challenge, and when I left a few months later, I was really proud of myself that I’d not only survived Hanoi, but also fallen in love with it.
It was fitting, then, that our first trip with the Gravy Baby was a return trip to Hanoi. Traveling with baby brought a lot of unknown into our normal travel routine. Would the Gravy Baby take to flying? Would the chaos of the motorbikes and all of the street noises be too overwhelming?
The lights on the bridge crossing over Hoan Kiem Lake
As it turns out, the Gravy Baby takes after his parents, and we had a delightful weekend wandering the streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. Our traveling style has changed pretty dramatically, but for the better. Rather than cram in as many sights and tastes as we can, we tried to see and experience while paying respect to the Gravy Baby’s schedule. In practical terms, we’d find somewhere to sit every three hours or so for the Gravy Baby’s mealtimes. And we were mindful to give him a break from the baby carrier we lugged him around in, stopping for a couple of hours in the afternoon so he could nap at the hotel.
Flowers in a basket for Tet (the Vietnamese New Year)
The Gravy Baby’s natural routine taught us a new way to travel. The hubby and I discovered a gentler way to see the world, a way that demands that we slow down, look around, and simply enjoy being where we are. Instead of waking up each morning with a battle plan to find at least five places to eat and squeeze in two attractions, we’d amble down each morning to the cafe next to our hotel for a ca phe sua nong (a hot Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk). As we sat and enjoyed our coffee, the Gravy Baby would inevitably attract attention from a local or two. The Vietnamese, we soon discovered, are absolutely enamored of babies, and would cross busy streets of traffic, fight their way through a crowded cafe, or even interrupt a nursing session to try to pry our little guy out of our hands to coo and giggle at him. It was heartwarming to see a new side of this country.
Top left: the lantern choices at a shop selling Tet decorations; bottom left: the Gravy Baby after a nice morning nap; right: the French influence shows up in these old doors leading to an alleyway in the French Quarter
After breakfast, we spent our day wandering around the city, getting lost in the narrow, antiquated streets of the French Quarter and stopping to snack every once in awhile. It’s hard to know what a four month old thinks about a world he barely knows, much less a chaotic environment like the streets of Hanoi. The Gravy Baby seemed pretty calm about it all, though, even when we were delayed on our way to Hanoi and had to sit on the tarmac for two hours while our plane crew worked out some technical issues. Judging by the swearing and the rage exhibited by some of the other passengers on our flight, we could all take a page out of the Gravy Baby’s book: when in doubt, go to sleep. Maybe things will make more sense after a nice long nap.