At 1:30 am, we meet Linh, our youngest student, and her buddy Nghia at the flower market. As Linh and I wander the market filming women vendors organizing bundles of brightly hued roses, daisies and gladiolas and men driving motorcycles heaped with bright yellow chrysanthemums while keeping an eye out for stray dogs and random rats, Nghia tells Paolo that the best way to maintain peace is to have friends and that’s why the Vietnamese want to be friends with everyone. You certainly feel that energy… all day long folks on the street randomly yell Hello! and Goodbye! at us and every person you meet wants to know where we’re from, whether we have children, what we’re doing in Vietnam and when we can go eat Pho together.
Then it’s a loooooooooooooong ride to the other side of town for the 5 am shoot. When people say Hanoi is an early to rise early to bed kind of town, they aren’t kidding. Streets that are thronged with noisy traffic all day long are virtually deserted come midnight. Suddenly, it’s just us, our bikes and the secret, silent city. Magical.
We get to our destination with plenty of time to spare. Our student Hien will be meeting us here when the bus station opens at 4:30 but right now the place locked up tight as a drum. It’s without a doubt the coldest night of the year. We sit down at the only snack kiosk around and enjoy some instant coffee and dried shrimp ramen with a group of jovial off-duty taxi-drivers. The wind blows like the dickens. People begin arriving with huge bags and bundles… they throw the stuff over the fence, squeeze through the gate somehow and disappear. Finally the bus station opens, Hien arrives and we go over the camera mechanics with him (he missed the first class), attracting quite a crowd of lookie-loos in the process. As soon as he starts actually filming, security guards appear and haul him into the office. Hien returns, starts filming again, security guards appear and haul him into the office. This goes on several times. Then we all get hauled in to the office where the head of security very slowly and politely explains to Hien that he can’t film on the bus station property but he can film the bus station activity from outside the property. So be it.
By six am, we’re riding back to Doclab. The city is waking up.
At 10 am, Thanh arrives and we walk the neighborhood filming trees and leaves. A nice zen way to spend the morning.
At noon, Nam’s back for his second shoot and we ride over to the historic Long Bien Bridge. Built by the French in 1903, bombed repeatedly by the Americans, used as a crossing by zillions of bikes, motorcycles and trains each day, the “dragon of the river banks” spans the Red River and stands as an enduring symbol of resilience for the Vietnamese people. The island beneath the bridge, one of Nam’s favorite spots, is a haven for the poor, the homeless, nature lovers, urban farmers and nude bathers and has a kind of dreamy, tropical quality with sandy paths through groves of banana trees and stunning views of both the Long Bien and Chuong Duong bridges. It’s lovely to just sit for a while and watch the barges go by…