The winter weather in Hanoi makes the skies grey and you feel less inclined to spend your time outdoors. So, I sit at my desk, sip some Vietnamese coffee with its unique aroma (I suspect it comes from they way they roast their beans) and nibble on some cup cakes that a friendly soul has baked for me.
And I reflect on what attracts me so much to Vietnam. The answer is simple, of course. You might as well ask me why I live in Bansko or why I have moved my German base back to Bavaria: it’s the people!
Here people still have values that govern their lives, and traditions – in other words: more culture than most Western (and increasingly also Eastern) nations have left. Ethical values that define what’s good and bad and (derived from that) rules that regulate how people deal with each other. Respect for each other and especially for elderly people are one of the foundations of local society. A situation where, despite the modern times, people actually still care about each other.
Why Hanoi and not Saigon? Because there is a big difference in the mentatility of the Northern and the Southern people. South Vietnam developed rather late through immigrants from the north and has less “tradition”. South Vietnam was also the area that was most exposed to European and Western influences. Yes, the South undoubtedly has a lot of charm and I like it also very much – for a relaxed holiday. The people there are more easy-going, open, “European” but also superficial.
“My” Northern Vietnamese on the other side are more guarded, have a talent for frugality that enables them to achieve something even with low income. They exude a sense of duty and zeal that one would never expect in such a tropical area. They have a pride, hidden behind their Confucian modesty, that says: I am Vietnamese! When you listen to their conversations even if you don’t understand anything (like me) you hear the word “Viet Nam” all the time. They care about their country!
That’s why my “territory” is the North and not the South! Because of the people. And nowadays also the food.
I remember when, on my first tour of Vietnam, I asked Northern people what they considered the difference between the North and the South, quite a few of them said: “you can’t eat their food. They add sugar to everything”. I laughed at that and thought they were just conceiving this to proof their superiority. After all I had heard that in the South they would use more chillies…well, I understand them now. Especially after my trip to sugar-kingdom Malaysia
A few more differences that meet the eye:
- Northern Vietnamese women NEVER smoke – and I also have not seen them drinking alcohol (in public) – in contrast to the South.
- The traditional clothes for farm workers are brown in the North and black in the South – but black seems to spreading to everywhere nowadays.
- In the North green army-coloured shirts and blouses are still standard and same-coloured tropical helmets for male workers.
I am very happy that I have chosen Hanoi as my autumn domicile. And I have met some wonderful people here that inspire me and encourage me to continue on my anti-materialistic path of happiness…