Hanoi's Marketplace Tumbles into the Streets

Travelers love markets.  One senses the vitality and gets a glimpse into the culture of a country from the hubbub of its marketplaces.  And of course, the more exotic, the more fun. 

I always think we have to temper this with the idea that these markets tell us something of the inner city but can't really describe the whole country.  It's a little like going to Los Angeles' Grand Central Market downtown and thinking you understand the culture of America.  And a Farmers' Market in a suburban area will give you a much different picture. 

Still, inner city markets are fascinating.  So, here are some of my favorite pictures from the market area in Hanoi.


Dong Xuan Market - Old Quarter of HanoiDong Xuan Market - Old Quarter of Hanoi

Produce salesman

Poultry...Meat...and fish sold on the street


Vietnamese sidewalk cafe

Vietnamese sidewalk cafe

Vietnamese sidewalk cafe


Name says it allMy favorite

And next time, we’ll visit the Saigon market which has a slightly different flavor.


Dylan—and Me—in Vietnam

It was our first night in Saigon, hot and muggy, befitting the Tropics.  And we were at an historic Dylan concert.  To my generation--now you know, I’m over 30—this was the land of war and upheaval, and Bob Dylan’s songs became anthems for the ‘60’s anti-Vietnam war movement.

“Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They are A-Changin’” were to became chants of that movement, even though Dylan himself has said he never wrote them for that purpose.  Today I think they are as much a part of the American songbook as “Yankee Doodle” or “Stars and Stripes forever.”

Despite it’s commerce and commercialism Vietnam is still not the Free World.  Dylan, we were told, was prohibited from singing those very songs at this concert, held outdoors on the grounds of a university. It was his first appearance here---and quite possibly his only one—and part of a Far East engagement.  We weren’t sure if the young Vietnamese  would even know who Bob Dylan was, would understand the historic nature of this night, or if they had much exposure to American music.  About four thousand people showed up, but the venue was only half full.

It was a heavily international crowd, split between Asians and Westerners.   I met two very sharp young American women who were in the country to teach English and they fully understood the significance of this appearance.  Two young Vietnamese girls giggled their explanation that they were great fans of the singer.  An older couple from New Zealand had made this a deliberate stop in a several-nation tour just to be at the concert. And then there was our group of 60-ish attorneys and tag-a-longs (that would be me) who were reliving their college days.

Most of the crowd stood in the mosh-pit, but some of us dished out more money for chairs and tables in the VIP area, where there was even some waiter service for the beer.   We swayed to about 18 songs over two hours.  We had been told “no cameras,” though everyone else seemed not to get the message, and my cell phone was inadequate, so I have no video the historic night.  (Sorry).

Now, we interrupt thus narrative for a disclosure:  I have never been much of a Dylan fan.  Part of the reason is I could never understand him, and this night was no different.  A second reason is that there is a tangential family relationship.  My first cousin married his first cousin.  It was sort of ‘local boy makes good’ to me, and that doesn’t carry much mystique. After all, how can someone whose relative married into my family be an icon?  When my cousin heard that I’d been to the concert, she asked, “Did you talk to Bob.”  “Of course not,” I said, “he doesn’t talk to anybody.”

And that was true.  He didn’t say a word all night, except to introduce his band.  He played the electric guitar, the keyboard and the harmonica, decked out in a black outfit and his signature hat.  His mood seemed good-natured; he was enjoying his work.  A lot of his tunes were more recent works.  But I noticed that the longer he sang, the older he became.  In other words, the classic Dylan raspy sing-song comments and vocal inflections came out.  To my aging ears, now we were talking Dylan.

There were souvenir booths all along the area’s perimeter, and they were sold out of official tee shirts before the concert began.  So I had to do a lot of sprinting around to get my hands on some souvenirs which seemed almost as important as watching the performance.

But as I finally relaxed in my lawn chair and was taking some notes, a very young Vietnamese waiter who had been bringing us beer, squatted down beside me and said sweetly,

“When I see you, I remember my Grandmother.  She was a writer, too.”  I gritted my teeth.

And then Dylan played his last song:  “Forever Young.”


For more information about Dylan, visit:

Bob Dylan - Wikipedia

Bob Dylan - Bob Links - 2011 Tour Guide

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Bob Dylan | Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan on Facebook


In Vietnam Today

[I went to Vietnam with a local Bar Association, and this is this is the article I wrote for their journal from a non-lawyer’s point of view. I’ll be elaborating on these things and more in future pieces.]

A bunch of lawyers, myself and Bob Dylan arrived in Vietnam at the same time in April.  A defining moment for most of us.  We had come full circle.

Traveling with a bunch of lawyers (I am not one, but I live with a couple) is not much different from being with regular people (I am one, I hope).  The Vietnam war had affected us all, to the point where one or two in group went to law school to avoid being drafted into that hoary conflict.  Now, here we were at the scene of the crimes, amazed to be at the hotel where Hanoi Jane stayed (Fonda, for those who are underage), uttering phrases we never imagined we would,  "Is that in dollars or dong?" And watching Dylan perform in the country that was the focus of his anti-war songs.

This was a bunch of especially thoughtful and insightful folks compared to your usual tour group.   For instance, one of our members speculated that our Saigon guide's "attitude" may have resulted from his family having been Viet Cong.   She asked, and indeed, they were.  What followed was a fascinating tale of how his grandmother had been a courier, his grandfather had died as a result of the war, and his family felt that they were fighting for their independence and right to self-determination.  The irony is, we were told we were fighting to give them the same thing.

I  thought we never quite  got insight as to how the typical Vietnamese feel about Americans today.  But we certainly got the official line, and that bothered many of our group.  For instance, at the "Hanoi Hilton" we were exposed to much propaganda, but never told anything about its use as a hardscrabble prison for shot-down American fliers.  The War Remnants Museum (formally the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes) has three floors dedicated to U.S. atrocities and use of Agent Orange.  There was no recognition that the Vietnamese had any role in this conflict...a balance we expect as Americans.  It made me wonder what image children, who are shown what passes as "history," have of the West.   

Nevertheless, we were able to travel where we wished and were never hampered in our movements or watched--that we knew of.  This is an emerging country, with a capitalistic economy and hunger for our tourist dollars.   There is enough noise and air pollution to give you a headache. Motorcycles are the mode of transportation, and crossing the street is a death-defying act.

One benefit of our trip not accorded to the usual tourist was that ours was the first group of American attorneys to be admitted into a Saigon courtroom.  The "people's court” was a dingy, informal place.  Unrobed justices, defendants casually dressed in flip flops or sneakers.  Justice was severe.  We saw a drug case, and one of the sentences was thirty years.  The Vietnamese take drug trafficking very seriously.  Only two lawyers appeared for four defendants, and each lawyer spoke only once.  The court itself questioned the defendants directly and the outcome seemed obvious.  There was no jury.  This is, after all, still a Communist country.

The bargaining power of our lawyers was in full force in the markets--always interesting places in emerging countries.  There's a huge indoor market in Ho Chi Mihn City and that's where our group found The Watches.  In the four  days we were there, some folks went to that watch kiosk at least three or four times...or more?  Bargaining was of the highest quality, even if the merchandise wasn't.  It's rumored one person acquired ten timepieces.  Later, one of our group in Cambodia lamented that her "designer" watchband was deteriorating from the deet and the heat.  Anyway, if you should encounter a person in some dark alley with Rolexes up his arm for sale, be nice.  He could be a member of your local Bar Association.

And, in thirty years, some of us will be planning our next trip--or maybe our  children's--to Afghanistan and Iraq.


NEXT: The historic Dylan concert

For more information visit:

Notable Documents: The Navy and Indochina, 1945-1965

Top 18 Secret Mercenary Armies of the CIA

Ronald Reagan: The Bad and the Ugly - The Daily Nugget

Jihad Jane: First American Woman Terrorist

Good morning, Vietnam: first Apple computer store opens in Ho Chi Minn City