Destinations / Vietnam

A Love Letter to Hanoi

When I’m still awake,
Hanoi oi, how I miss you.

Back in my old Europe, away
From your hustle and bustle,
At times,
You come rushing down like a wave of motorbikes,
And the magic happens as I cross along with memories,
Like the first time I crossed from one side
of Âu Co to the other, where now I stand
Like now I stand, on the other
Side of the world.

Your great chaos — or is it mine
is happening as I can’t fall asleep.
Three months away from you and I miss
Your absence of sunshine.
The absence of sunshine
through the clouds
of Amsterdam, Paris or Berlin,
their light
is different.

I remember
your streets, your sounds, your heat, your soul
talks to me.
I remember
your taste, your voices, your smells, especially your smells,
I can feel
On my skin, the humid warmth of your wind,
On my face, the lashes of your air while riding
my Dream.
Tiny yet robust.
They don’t break.

And always on my skin the burn of your sky.
I never got to wear
the blossoming ao mua that would have made me your wife, Hanoi.
I guess it was a sign that I would walk away,

But on my lips,
the tingling of perilla leaves
an aroma of coffee skipping between my heartbeats
every morning.
On my tongue,
the sweet and salty ngoc mam love sauce,
in every meal.
And on my fingers,
the perfume of all those fruits, herbs, drinks.
All those things travelers find too strong: your eats, your smells, your nights — are the things your lovers come back to.

For nothing is ever too strong for you, Hanoi.
You can soften hearts with your thousand shouts.
You can tame the fierce in your back streets and courtyards.
In your labyrinth of a city, we would never feel trapped.
You’re the most intense and surprising lover one could ever have.

With your sun
rising red over your lakes,
Hanoi oi,
You’re the theater of romances over water — awkward dates too
They all sink down between two dragons,
behind the pond of lotus flowers
where you drowned my soul.

I was a traveler,
Hanoi, you made me rise and shine,
Washed away my doubts,
And my tears sometimes,
In the dubious waters of West Lake.

You made me fearless because I knew I could always come back
Eat my feelings out in the market behind the station.
There’s nothing like a pile of banh cuon with the right cha.
And a glass of tra da waiting for the Hanoi-Lao Cai train to rush through
Hanoi Train Street at night.
The 7 pm train — My daily Rendez-Vous.

Hanoi oi.
You made me joyful
With your variety, smiles and colorful language.
I was never worthy of you pouring sweet words to me.
Sometimes not so sweet but I guess I deserved it.
Xin loi I wasn’t the greatest learner
of your love language,
but I promise I loved you fully when I swallowed your pho.
And your bun moc. And your chè.

You revealed the most adventurous me,
Made me find the most unique banh me,
Become the tastiest chi. She. Em. Aime. Yeu. You.
I cannot speak your language but I will voice you out loud,
And it will always come down to Yeu.

I loved the person I was when I was in you,
And when you were in me,
As you will forever be,


To the city that healed me.

This love letter is a poem I first published on Medium in 2019 when I moved from Hanoi after two years of living there. The memories still spark nostalgia in my heart. It’s an essential part of life on the road to be able to remember what we miss from the cities we’ve roamed, and I sure will hold dear those memories until my last day because they have made me who I am today.

Night view over Hanoi
Photo credits: Jean-Guy Audéoud

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