Hanoi had completely transformed itself with the advent of warmer weather. Its population emerged, bleary-eyed, from its winter-long hibernation and went about its business in the more spacious environs of the street. On every corner women dangled long black hair into rusty buckets, attended to their toenails, scrubbed children and the evening's vegetables with equal energy, and spat copiously into gutters. Music seeped through open windows, filling the air with the pulsating themes from Flashdance, Hawaii-5-0 and James Bond. The mobile brush man appeared in a dozen incarnations, each accompanied by a cart overflowing with handy implements to simplify spring cleaning. Mangy kittens with pus-filled eyes and lifespans slightly shorter than the average dragonfly tumbled headfirst onto the street.
Amidst the bustle of the street, it was easy to overlook a completely different social scene unfolding above our heads. Endless rows of abutting houses seemed carved from one continuous foundation, like a hedge in an outdoor maze. Balconies faced off within courting distance of each other across the narrow streets. Old women sat in plastic armchairs safely above the fracas, their toothless gums working methodically and occasionally erupting in thin, well-aimed, gobbets of spit. Long lines of laundry hung everywhere and did more to provide shade than the intermittent trees. Children played with cheap plastic balls that occasionally disappeared into the maelstrom below. It was an island of serenity safely secured above the chaos, a glimpse of the quieter side of life once the busy streets were put to bed and the frantic rush to make money set aside for another day. It made Hanoi look more human, and more humane.