Today I went to the Starbucks here for some coffee and a croissant. I like to sit and read on my phone even though they only give an hour of internet for each thing you buy. I have a good cell phone provider so I don’t mind crunching up some cell data. I will need to buy a scratcher for Viettel next few weeks and “top up”. Here you just find a place with the logo and buy the little card and then send the code in and you get the goodies. Happens there is a place down the street from my hotel that has them. Easy peasy.
I lingered over some beers at one of my usual places and listened to all the people mostly tourists exchanging their map ideas, places to go, things to see, food to eat. I had decided to go get a Banh Mi or two at my favorite place called Banh Mi Pho in the old quarter. I get two sandwiches for about $2.73. Cheap but delicious dinner! Now I am working my way through the second one and will soon have a beer carefully stored in my hotel fridge.
This morning whilst at Starbucks I met an Australian retired couple traveling for a few weeks. We discussed old cars, travel, how to find things to do, food to eat, places to go. They were an interesting pair and the guy probably would have stayed longer but I think his wife was gently urging him to not waste more time on conversation. So off they went. Its amazing to me of all the people I meet how little time most people decide to spend here in Hanoi. To me, Hanoi is this wonderful place with culture, food, history and streets that lead to other streets. A novice and hobbyist photographer’s extravaganza! But people have their schedules and timings. Three days here and 4 there. See only the old quarter. What? There’s more? I told them a bit of the history of Long Bien Bridge and how they should get there since its not terribly far from West Lake at least by my foot wandering.
But lets face it. Conversations are places. You come from a place and are going to one. Your path on that route crosses another and they have a place to tell you about. Its all about the conversation and the place. You know you have a story to tell that is made up of intricate and wonderful things called places. Your memories strike the iron foundry of yesterdays and perhaps are captured by a photo gallery or a journal or a blog. But each way station reminds me the journey is not complete. You may meet another that is traveling a path not so similar. They perhaps are going to a place that you will not or their conversation is about a whole bunch of yesterdays that you can never share. Those places are locked away and no matter if you visit one, it will be different.
So I left that conversation and it dawned on me. Each time we talk to another we are exchanging not only ideas but places. Perhaps at first it comes slowly. You try to find common ground. There are always good things to start with. Food, travel, home. But soon the vagabond in you strikes out and so do theirs. You know their mysteries are not yours. You will travel a grand road made of turns and hills and dips and stops. Their road can never equal. No matter how much you want, the vaunted goal of commonality is perhaps jaded. In the end you each come from a place so unique that with a touch and a smile and perhaps a laugh and a story you find a place that each can meet at.
Other times there is no connection and no commonality. The words are slow and the other person will not meet you at a common place. Its easier to just move on. Find another place. Maybe its a solitary one. A place where its you and a thing. A sunset. A cliff. A limestone karst in Halong Bay.
And then you know. You can reach 1000 miles but sometimes the other person is just out of reach. Maybe you have a moment like I did. The words come easier. But soon the coffee cup is empty and the wife is telling him gently but brooking no argument its time to go.
So ends the places you went of that one conversation. Is there another? Who knows. Time will tell. And its fickle and it does not give away the happenings to come.
Stay tuned and perhaps you will see.