An Afternoon Walking around Hoan Kiem Lake

An Afternoon Walking around Hoan Kiem Lake

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An Afternoon in the Park with Roman

I go to Hoàn Kiếm Lake to sit down on a bench, enjoy the sunshine, and wait. Because I know that soon enough someone will sit down next to me and start a conversation.

Sometimes, when I have some free time during the day, and it’s a nice day, I like to go to Hoàn Kiếm Lake. It’s not my favorite part of the city – Reunification Park is, because it is far more removed from the endless noise of the traffic and there is just much more room to move around. I go to Hoàn Kiếm Lake to sit down on a bench, enjoy the sunshine, and wait. Because I know that soon enough someone will sit next to me and start a conversation. Sometimes it’s a vendor, but they get to the point quickly, and just as quickly I make them understand I don’t wish to buy anything. On rare occasions the vendor will stay anyway and talk to me. But, most often it’s one of the many students who wander around the lake looking for people like I. Of course the conversation always starts the same, but I try to steer them toward some more interesting subjects than my age, nationality, and job. Then, we have a fun time as they are ever friendly and eager, and I like to make then both laugh and think. It’s a lovely way to spend a few hours in the waning afternoon.

Today, though, no students sat down next to me. Today, first one of the many helpers of the many photographers of the many wedding couples who are always having their pictures taken sat down next to me. We talked for a short time in Vietnamese about his job and my job. He is 25. He said he doesn’t like his job. When I asked what job he would like better, he said he’d rather be a guard. Then, the wedding couple moved on and he had to go, too.

Then, a woman who has one leg amputated sat down next to me. She speaks English very well. She told me she sells tangerines and other fresh fruit out of her bag. She wasn’t much interested in talking, but she did ask my age, and when I told her I am 51, she said she is my age, too. But, she looks like she’s around 30, so I don’t believe her. When I asked her how she knew English so well, she would not tell me, but she said she would make a good guide, or a good translator. Then, she went off to sell more products.

My last bench partner was another vendor – postcards. He had only 4 packs of postcards, and they looked pretty worn. When I said I live in Hanoi and already have too many post cards, he sat down, and that was nice. I asked how many packs he had sold that day, and he said none. I was incredulous. So, I asked how long he had been trying, and he said since the morning. Again I asked, and he confirmed – he had sold none all day long. We talked about me, and we talked about him. He’s 24, he comes from a city not but 1 hour outside of Hanoi, he can no longer stay with his parents, he sleeps on the bench, he’s been at this since he was about 18 years old. He smokes almost non-stop and is very cheerful and very enterprising, asking me variously to be my Vietnamese teacher, my driver, my house cleaner, etc. He’s willing to talk about anything and everything.

This event was researched and written up in both Vietnamese and English by Yên Thị Bùi, who is one of the children of the Blue Dragon, a non-governmental organization helping Vietnamese children in crisis lead productive successful lives. See to help.

I need your help: If you know of any upcoming event for this column, please let me know.

Hanoi Grapevine focuses mainly on contemporary art and culture in Vietnam, but we also post information about events that are part of Vietnam’s rich cultural heritage.
Mr. Roman Szlam, a student of Vietnamese language, history and culture, has a passion for attending and learning about the world of Vietnamese traditional cultural events. He has offered to provide us with information that crosses his path about such events in Hanoi as he explores this aspect of life in Vietnam. Roman also maintains a website with a schedule of local activities which are beyond the range of Hanoi Grapevine at


  1. Roman
    what a delightful piece. most people dont understand why i love Hanoi so much, but it is these little experiences and the chance to share them with friends that make living here so much more interesting.

    the last time someone sat next to me to want to talk (i am vietnamese, so i dont attract as much attention), was when a group of postcard sellers wanting to know whether i was vietnamese or not -i was writing my journal in english. Their only way was to swear in Vietnamese loudly and suddenly to see my reaction. my eyebrows lifted slightly, and was a a dead give away….

    looking forward to your next observations

  2. Hi Roman,
    I am one of your friends in FVH. Although I met you twice and talked with you for a while, I feel that you are friendly to Vnese people. After reading your post, I am sure of my feeling. Thank you so much for loving our country and people. Walking around HK lake is my interest, I hope I will meet you sometime.

  3. Dear Tra My, Dear Hang,
    Thank you for your kind comments. I will continue to enjoy getting to know the lovely people of Vietnam – that is my greatest pleasure as I travel and live around the world – and to write about it.

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