Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Créme Caramel and Rain

You have to question the intelligence of a Cuban who makes as his home, in order: Seattle, Pittsburgh, and now Hanoi. My people come from a tropical, sunny clime, a paradisical island where - excepting hurricane season - the sun shines over the waving palms as blue-green waves break on the shore, etc. (cue music) Why then, have I taken it upon myself to live in the wettest, grayest, most depressing locales on the planet? I might as well move to the northern coast of Britain already and get it over with. It's the logical trajectory.

Today it has been impossible to stay dry. The rain clouds arrived before sunrise, and rather than giving way to a few hours of sunshine, as they've been doing every day since I've been here, they decided to park themselves over the city and take a good, long piss. This has not been the soft romantic "rain dust" I spoke of earlier; this has been a relentless, sopping, dripping, puddling, soaking rain, a watery spanking on all the denizens of the Red River Delta.

Hanoians seem used to this. It doesn't phase them a bit. They pull out their tarps and put on their thin, plastic rain ponchos and the city's commerce continues with no apparent change, save for the morose expressions on the faces of the cyclo and xe om drivers whose livelihood has GOT to be affected by this weather. Hanoi's drainage system, however, gets overtaxed fairly easily. Last November, nearly 100 people were left dead after 36 hours of continuous rainfall caused massive floods. It's days like these that make one keep a keen eye on the loose tangles of electrical wiring dangling all over the city. 

With such crappy weather, only one recourse remains, and that is to eat sugar. Luckily, Hanoi is dotted with scores of shoebox-sized French bakeries offering delectable confections at dime store prices - one of the nicer vestiges of European colonization. I've become a fan of the créme caramels sold in little plastic containers for around US 30 cents. The quality of the custard is excellent, and while there's enough caramel syrup to flavor the dish, it's not awash in the stuff. In Vietnam the custard is usually steamed rather than baked because few households have ovens, but the difference is unnoticeable from the standpoint of both taste and consistency. 

So there is little to report this evening, and little to do other than stand under a dripping awning, while sweating inside a cheap, plasic rain poncho, and eat créme caramel. Watching people scurry to and fro under a dribbling network of electrical wires, and all the world is rain.

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