poorly lit

nights as a boy often went like this

I remember sprinting home from school, throwing my backpack down and bundling up in my toque and jacket. A flurry of boots and mitts, I sprinted back across the street to the parking lot.

Where, on the daily, magic happened.

Usually me and a buddy or two, a hockey stick and tennis ball, and a rusted, falling-apart goal held together mostly by love. We’d play through dusk into dark. Being the north, this was, of course, well before dinner.

So, we played under a little old , lonely streetlight attached to the school, orange-tinted, and not all that bright. But warm enough. It watched over us, all scuffle and hubbub, lighting our way, just enough.

For magic.

he shoots

he scorrrrrrreeeessss!

And, now, here, tonight, it’s like that.

The setting is different, warmer, quieter.

But equally dark.

Nobody around now, these days and nights.

Instead of hockey, it’s a soft, nerf-ish football arcing delicately through the air. The light is coming from an equally-lonely streetlight, seemingly wondering

where are all the people

For now, two of us are here.

And it is enough.

Our throws bending spiral bats, echolocating, impossible to see until the last minute. Flapping their way, and once in a while, even landing in our hands.

Like magic.

getting closure

I tend to hold on.

Sometimes, too tightly.

And in a moment where control, any control, is a darting fly, daggering here and there, unpredictable.

so much is beyond us

But, what is not beyond us, today, is a morning trip to the park.

We meander towards the entrance. All is in order, under control.

And then I spot the two employees, out of place, chatting, a four-legged sandwich board sandwiched between, making a four-legged sandwich.

Park closed

We apologize for any inconvenience

I am hacked.

THIS IS INCONVENIENT

I want to say to them, as perhaps I raise a fist, in a sweeping gesture befitting a noble gentleman.

I SHALL BE WRITING A STRONGLY-WORDED LETTER TO YOUR SUPERIORS

But I don’t.

Instead I smile and wave. From a distance, of course.

This was to be the respite, the one place, the source and space for sanity.

But these are unusual, challenging times.

Sanity is at a premium.

We turn around and head back, and I attempt to make the best of it. Luckily, the boys are unfazed, like this pandemic thing is just another way to pay homage to Plastic Man

It’s okay Papa. We can be flexible.

As I get older, I fear that I am becoming less so. My joints creak, I’m not nimble, my energy fades faster. I can’t bend like I used to. And I used to not bend much.

I tend to hold on.

But the lads have my back, today.

We wander down the road and Rhino suggests stopping at a patch of grass just off the now-shuttered golf course. We kick the ball back and forth a couple times when the course truck slowly pulls up.

Hey guys, sorry, course is closed.

IT’S OKAY, WE DON’T WANT TO GOLF

I want to yell, with a flourish.

AND I AM NOW GOING TO PEN A STERNLY-WORDED MISSIVE TO YOUR OVERSEER

But, instead. I take a breath and consider the circumstances. This random and good natured fella doesn’t mean to ruin our fun

And there’s something bigger at play

So.

We pick up the ball. Wish him good health, with a nod. Look up at the sky. And practice

letting go

abundance

At first, I’m not sure what to say

I wander through the produce section, and it all feels foreign

but familiar at the same time.

Perhaps it’s the four-odd years’ absence from these stores that has made my heart grow. I’m awestruck, at what is here, in front of me.

Almost ripe, immaculate avocados, impossibly perfect hothouse tomatoes, three (!) kinds of kale, the biggest, orangest, juiciest looking oranges I’ve seen in a couple years.

It’s out of context because I’ve been out of context.

This abundance that I’d previously taken for granted, it stares me in the face and hits me between the eyes.

we have so much

Malaysian Ronny Chieng, like all great comedians, captures the absurdity. His amazing (NSFW, btw) take comes to mind as I navigate the choices of onions (there are 5, because of course there are 5).

We are breaking the laws of reality with the abundance

He opines, hitting so close to the mark.

I pause briefly to gape in wonder, finishing my turn through this impossible collection of plants become food

And round the corner to the rice aisle

Only to see the handwritten sign

Out of consideration for shortages and other customers, please limit rice purchases to one bag

And I gape, once again, this time

at the empty shelves

steady, now

drip

At first

the faucet has a spartan – yet not beyond notice – leak.

At first.

drip

The reports begin

here

and there

News outlets making a couple extra bucks with a couple extra baits.

drip

Wuhan has shut things down. People in China can’t leave their homes.

drip

First case in Korea. First case in Iran. In Italy. In Japan.

drip drip drip drip

At some point, thanks to the wonders of biology, statistics, and human nature

Something changes.

The drip steadies

flushes

And then, a torrent

I keep my distance from the group of workers not keeping theirs, clustered nearby.

They’re engaged in a feverish conversation

I overhear

Test kit

And

Only people who have had the test.

And I find myself wondering about the impact of the first global pandemic in, well, a while.

The trickles down, the threads connected, the intricate links between industries. Between lives.

The impact on one of us.

The impact on all.

Sometimes a drip becomes a wave

We see it. We stand firm.

We wait. Because we have no choice, really

But to stand, and simply,

hold our breath

cubed

The ramen shop is perfect for these times

It’s late, or early, depending on how you look at it. And we need noodles. We step off the street and pass through a deserted lobby. A flight of red stairs and a quick bend, and we’re passing under the hanging red fabric marking the entrance.

Irrashaimasse!

The staff are heard, but not seen.

We find ourselves in a room, not more than 500 square feet. What jumps out immediately is the absence of tables. And people.

Instead, straight out of a credit union or DMV. A series of small cubicles, each wide enough for one customer, partitioned by thick wood barriers, perfectly designed for social distance. Each cube backed against a hanging curtain of bamboo, separating customer from server.

We sit at two adjacent slots. For a moment we’re not sure what to do. That’s when the curtain slides up and a faceless arm attached to a faceless torso slides over a small slip of paper.

And that’s when the fun begins.

Order sheet

Circle your preference

Dashi (seasoning stock): light, medium, strong

Richness: none, light, medium, rich, extra rich

Garlic: none, drop, medium, half clove, 1 clove

Green Onion: without, with

Original Spicy Red Sauce: none, mild, medium, spicy, 3~10x

Noodle texture: extra firm, firm, medium, soft, extra soft

There is nothing on this sheet that is not my preference.

So I stick with the chef’s recommendations, but ramp up the garlic and spice.

For immunity, natch.

I complete the order, present it to the faceless torso.

He returns minutes later. The steam bounces, Original Spicy Red Sauce lays in wait atop a bed of medium-firm noodles, green onions floating at the ready.

I pause. Mix. Inhale.

And bring the first taste of noodles to my lips.

Undaunted

the alley is impossible

Impossibly narrow, impossibly long, and impossibly home, to hundreds.

Elephant is undaunted.

His used new bike has opened all options

It offers the impossible

Shows him what could be

He pauses, sizing up, weighing possibility

Are you sure you want to go that way? It’s pretty tight

He doesn’t respond, just nods, tilts his head slightly

And hits the pedal

all i’ve got today

It’s an exhausting decision. And its been on our minds all week.

Should we stay or should we go

The warnings from the embassy pile up, each new notice layering on top, and we’re the princesses on a pea, shifting and uncomfortable

In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.

Our life here is rich, comfortable, and the Vietnamese response has been steadfast. But we still balance a multitude of factors, not least of which is mental strain, that clash.

Should we stay or should we go

But as we ponder, I pause and remember. And I am grateful.

At least we, unlike many, have the choice.

buzzard

The echo catches me as I approach the lake

At first, I’m not sure where it’s coming from or what it might be.

A massive hive of ornery bees

A power drill prepped for duty

A downed power line

A drone, preparing to buzz the tower

All seem unrealistic, or at least misguided

When I round the bend and the buzz assaults my ears, this time up close.

I see a small group of spectators leaning against the rail, looking down at the water. I follow their gaze, and finally spot the source.

It’s a toy.

Specifically, a toy boat. running at the speed of sound. Unleashing a wake five times its size. Blowing by the hushed watchers, it spins, dips, dives along the calm waters of Tay Ho. Putting on a show, and making a fuss, on a day when surely any distraction is welcomed.

The lake is quiet today, few people are about

But because this is Hanoi, there’s still a buzz.

canned

Four perfect, round, stainless, large silver cylinders

invite wonder

Hollow cans offer a peek through, if you find the proper angle. Randomly scattered against a rapidly oxidizing fence, snaking the perimeter of the lake, they grab my eye, here and there.

I notice one can.

Then, meters later, another.

And then, a few paces forward, yet another.

I am left to consider

What

and

Why

On the fourth can we pass I look closer, and note the silky, near-transparent line snaking from can lip into murky waters, and realize

they’re fishing

It’s then that I see the two fishermen.

One slides off his hat and tweaks his head. He’s spotted a sudden movement back down the walk. He barks orders at the other, who sprints toward one of the cans. He arrives quickly, takes his net down from an adjacent tree, and reaches into the water.

A couple small splashes, then a couple bigger ones. He massages, winds, and eventually pulls out a second green net that is at once a maelstrom of violent flipping and scaly goodness.

It’s a good haul

Of four perfect, round, stainless, large silver cylinders

Hai

We don’t push too hard

Making our way around the 17k loop, endless coffee shops, conical hatted flower sellers, the mist-shrouded lake always on our right

On a clear day, we can see straight across. Today, the mist encompasses all. But, even today,

there is so much to see here

We pause at the ornate, timeless temple. Wooden carved archways invite travelers and monks alike. But today, this month, it is shuttered.

We’re on the lookout for a ride, on this ride, for Rhino. It’s been too long and a teenager needs a bike.

I’ll never buy one new, partly out of concern for the planet, partly for the pocketbook.

We pass a couple tiny bike shops and pop in. My buddy knows a bit about bikes, he spent a few weeks on the lookout before he grabbed his. He knows where to stop.

The first features what appear to be second-hand bikes. Neatly organized, hanging grapes on a vine. A workstation with tools, arrayed in kind. Clean. In retrospect probably too clean.

Do you have used bikes?

He’s not particularly friendly. A curt nod, he motions and grunts, towel in hand, to the back of the store. A light green ten speed catches my eye.

Looks like a good fit

I think, until I see the price and do some mental math.

That can’t be right for a used bike

I look again at the tag, double check my thinking on my phone

and realize I have completely misjudged this shop.

We bid goodbye to curt, it’s not the shop for me.

Nice bikes though

Continue the loop. Endless bends. Today, with its damp breeze and mist on the wind, is perfect for a spin. By my count we pass five more shops. Some fitted for the aspiring peloton, others more my speed.

Like Mr. Hai’s shop.

A modest, tiny opening in the endless wall of brick. Two men idly smoking, a motley collection of used bikes tightly wound in front. The shop is messy, but purposefully so. One of the men has a wire brush and is diligently cleaning a cog and a derailleur.

He knows his stuff, or at the least, cares enough to do his work well.

We wheel our bikes around and step off to inspect.

There are a couple possibilities – a black 5-speed, single cog in front catches my eye.

Bao nhieu?

4 million

Now, he’s speaking my language.

I call home, ask J to put Rhino in a cab, send him my way.

And prep him that we’ve found his ride home.