I’ve been attempting to sketch. I haven’t sketched or drawn anything since I sat for my ‘O’ level in Art a very, very long time ago. I got a B then. I doubt I’d get even a D now. I based this first attempt on a photograph of a typical street scene in Hanoi.
When I first lived in Hanoi I had a regular Xe ôm driver. His name was Dương. He drove me on his ancient Honda 50cc all over the city over a period of months. I'd visted his home, had tea with his mother, we ocassionally shared Bia hơi together, he recommended street stalls for me and, most importantly, he knew my routine. I didn't need to book him, he always arrived on time, waiting there on the pavement ready to take me to work.
Then one day, he didn't. The day after he didn't show up, I moved house, my worked changed, my routine likewise. I never saw Dương again. I've no idea what happened to him and there was no way I'd ever find his home again down that rabbit warren he took me along in a part of town alien to me.
This is before mobile phones were commonplace in Vietnam, pagers never really caught on as they did in South Korea and Japan. The Internet was for the very, very select few in the government. In fact, in 1997, you could only have an exceptionally basic, and expensive, dial up email service at home. Email was limited to small messages. Anthing over a certain number of kilobytes was simply too large for the network to handle and it was rejected. As far as I remember, Internet for home users didn't exist until at least 2000.
I doubt there's any way I would lose touch with a regular Xe ôm driver these days. Even if I wanted to.
I think I'm too messy a writer, make too many mistakes and alter too much as I go along to make working on paper my default option. Or maybe I just need to leave more space between each line? And use pencil? You do think slightly differently doing it this way. And the process of re-reading, editing and putting the words inside the computer probably makes the finished copy better. However, I'm yet to decisively swing one way or the other on this issue. The obvious benefit, of course, is that you don't get distracted by interesting web links on an always connected computer.
Wherever you go to eat in Vietnam, you will soon learn about the "famous places" for this that and the other Vietnamese dish. In my limited experience, these famous places often become famously shit, through sheer laziness, complacency and an overdose of arrogance. Three lazy, past their prime cases in point in Hanoi:
- Phở Xào Phú Mỹ,45B Phố Bát Đàn
- Chả cá Lã Vọng, 14 Phố Chả Cá
- Bún Chả Hàng Mành, 1 Phố Hàng Mành
I haven't been to Hanoi in ages and I'd love to be proven wrong on all of these. As far as I can tell, Hanoi (or nearby) is famous for six Vietnamese dishes:
- Bún ốc
- Bún chả
- Bánh cuốn
- Chả cá Lã Vọng
- Bún đậu mắm tôm
Nailing a favourite "famous" Hanoi Phở is never going to be anything everyone agrees upon, but is there a designated "famous place" for Bún ốc, Bánh cuốn and Bún đậu mắm tôm? Are they past their prime too? Also, am I missing any other "famous" Hanoi dishes?
UPDATE: Just remembered… Bánh tôm Hồ Tây, Bún riêu (or is that Mekong?) and Nem chua are all Hanoian (I think…)
It occured to me recently that writing this Vietnam book is a bit like a dot to dot game – you just need to find your dots. The links and sense-making can come later. It takes a little bit of time to relax into this method of doing things, but creating a flexible frame is hugely helpful.
Unfortunately, the ever-nagging desire to edit, rewrite, re-edit, write again and edit again is sometimes just too strong. I found this advice from Chuck Greaves is spot on, if hard to follow,
When it comes to your first draft, okay is good enough. Use your subsequent drafts to achieve perfection. The editing will hurt less, and the writing will go a heck of a lot faster – link
I imagine the plan above will make little sense to anyone but me. It's about the tenth iteration, it's a bloody mess and it's due for a rework (again).
Photo: dot to dot