The Hanoitimes - There are not many cities which have a myriad of small alleys like Hanoi. Here you see alleys with or without names, and village alleys turn into city streets. And I want to tell about Hanoi`s unnamed alleys.
I still travel everyday, taking shortcut through the streets of Hanoi, especially the Old Quarter. I can count at least 7 unnamed alleys of Hanoi. Chances are that even the people living in the anonymous alleys do not know that these lanes lead to another street.
The formation of the alleys is also a story on its own which has made the people living there want to move away, and yet has made tourists earnestly seek to experience.
After the liberation of the capital, for the government to take control over the city, the bourgeois villas were divided into small dwellings for families, especially for the cadres/officials with origin outside the city who had been charged with maintaining and taking control over the capital during the resistance period.
A thousands-square-meter house was divided into dozens of apartments; even the courtyard, the air ventilation well inside the house were also used to maximize the living space. When the big house was such divided, there would be a common path between families and that was how an anonymous alley was formed.
After the liberation, the country was still facing difficulties, hence the daily life in the nameless alleys was suffocatingly tight. People burnt coal, wood to cook rice in the alleys. The distance between families might be just slim partition walls, such that standing on your family’s balcony, you could reach out to shake hand and greet the head of the other family. The household size of each family multiplied generation after generation.
Hanoi is more prosperous these days compared to the newly liberated days. Families in an alley no longer shared the alley common toilet; instead, each family had expanded its livable area, creating a toilet room inside its apartment. Yet such privacy further squeezed the living space in each apartment.
People living in alleys also reflect the style of various provinces from where they came. Hanoi culture with inherent nature has integrated with regional cultures across the country.
Before liberation, Hanoian behavior had been influenced, in appearance, by Chinese culture and especially French culture. Children were polite, folding their arms upon coming home to greet grandparents and parents. Women always had a long dress hung on the hook readily to put on whenever guests came to their house. In spite of that, due to the influence of Western culture, the lifestyle was more advanced, freer in love affairs.
All the roads of a nation lead to the nation’s capital. That is the rule, especially for the capital Hanoi. The up-and-down movement of history has caused a “great permutation” in the community. The regional personality and culture are the luggage that people carry on to the peaceful (or insecure) land, seeking for a place to settle in; henceforth the Hanoians today demonstrate multi-personality, in which dynamism has replaced elegance as the main characteristic. As such the beauty of Hanoi nowadays embodies the cultural quintessence contributed by citizens coming from different regions.
Many residents of unnamed alleys have evacuated to the new quarters of Hanoi. Many cling to the houses in alleys, partly for living, partly for sparing space for tourism. Foreigners, even many Vietnamese, rent houses in alleys instead of hotel rooms, to experience the life of the people in Hanoi old town, to just walk out of the house door for tea drinks or daily snacks at nearby sitting or standing stalls/booths, and from food sellers occasionally walking or cycling by. Behavior and lifestyle of the people in Hanoi old town thus formed from the alleys. Occasionally I still take the old town people to explore their old town.