Photo of the Week: Hanoi, Vietnam


Hanoi, Vietnam (Brad A. Johnson)

This photo of mine was originally published a couple months ago in the debut issue of Montage magazine, for which I was selected to write the back page article called Wanderlust. I shot this in an alley behind the Hilton after spending half the day being wheeled around the city in a rickshaw. Here’s more or less what I wrote about this photo and why I travel: 

My rickshaw driver is peddling fast. The wind feels cool upon my face in the sweltering heat of Hanoi. In the breeze, I smell what can only be fatty pork sausages smoldering atop a charcoal fire. “Slow down a second,” I say, perking up from a half-slumber.

“Where’s that amazing smell coming from?” The driver looks around and points to the the opposite side of the street just ahead. And then without further instruction, he honks a small horn that reminds me of circus clowns. He swerves through traffic toward the smoke. A dozen motorbikes speed past us on either side, their much-louder horns frantically beeping. On the sidewalk, a petite old woman is hunched over a makeshift grill, fanning the coals with her flip-flop. A small crowd is gathered around her, crouched on small plastic stools, the sort one would expect to see in preschool.

The rickshaw pulls up to the curb, and the little woman looks up at me. She sees hunger in my eyes. “Come! Sit!” she demands. “Almost ready!”

I climb out of my cart and take a seat on the last available stool, my knees level with my chest. She hands me a plastic plate loaded with a stack of rice papers, fresh herbs, cold noodles and steaming hot pork patties. Without asking, she pops the top of a cold beer and hands it to me. I smile. She smiles. My driver smiles. This is why I travel: for food, but also for the unexpected. I travel to eat, but also to learn about other cultures through food and new experiences. I travel not just to relax but to get outside of my comfort zone, to meet people like these new friends squatting on plastic stools, to remind myself the world we share is much, much larger than the one in which I live. 

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