Today Hanoi has turned dull and cold. For a warm-to-hot climate enthusiast, inclined to temperatures in the 30s (C) and skies of blue, there is reason to be downcast with overcast. From now until April, barring the weeks leading to Christmas where there will be the odd nice day, I am resigned to infuriating drizzle, poor visibility and a depressing cloak of grey overhead. I would be lashing the noose now if it weren't for upcoming travel plans to Australia (summer!) and Nha Trang (tropical Vietnam) in January and February.
Until I can escape, I shall seek solace in the memory of heat.
Last year at about this time, the god and I were enjoying the perspiration induced by Rangoon. In our exploits there, the gilded gold beacon of Shwedagon Pagoda was not only a landmark for orienting ourselves but also a kind of second source of heat and light, a shimmering focal point on the landscape like the sun is one in the sky, radiant and radiating. Rudyard Kipling once wrote "...the golden dome said: 'This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.'"
In a short five day jaunt, I knew that to be true after only a few minutes. But of course, Rangoon's location in South-east Asia offers me a certain easy familiarity. The street-life is vibrant like a circus, as in other parts of the region, with - to the western eye at least - a prismatic set of what are essentially daily tasks becoming a mesmerising show. In my home in Hanoi or there in Rangoon, it takes discipline not to stare.
At the feather duster salesman marching along with his fluffy batons. At the barrel hauler, seemingly sinewy and skinny, but a real strongman in his longyi. At the banana sculptor sitting back with a sigh, an eye on his next casting. Or at the mobile fritter vendor, side-stepping through the market crowd with his wares balanced in a basin on his head. From a shady position under a tree, my furtive observations took place and, truth be told, I could have sat there all day.
But I stepped out into the hot light of mid morning for some sustenance. Across the way, I'd had half an eye on a woman working ingredients in a doorway. Simply equipped with a hot flat griddle plate over a brazier, she was rather gracefully turning out that southern Indian specialty, the dosa. Not unlike Vietnam's bánh xèo, a pancake batter made from ground rice and lentil (or perhaps chickpea flour in Burma) is poured and very thinly spread across the griddle. The dosa is not flipped. The vendor scatters shredded cabbage, shavings of carrot, sliced tomato, mung beans and coriander leaves onto the batter. A mere moment later, she folds the golden underneaths over to form an envelope, which is stacked on top of those made earlier.
Whoever said heat acts as an appetite suppressant didn't canvass enough views. I immediately relieved her of one, then a further two once the first was down the hatch. They were bursting with capacity to please; a satisfying crunch-through at the bite combined with moist savoury vegetable inside.