It’s a cliche, but in Hanoi it’s true: When it rains, it pours. Incredibly intense downpours – and poor drainage – produce flooding of up to two and a half feet in under a half an hour.

I decided in a fit of temporary insanity to ride my own motorbike out into this mess to take a few photographs.

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Model on Motobike

I finished taking photos of Saint Joseph Cathedral and rode over to Hoan Kiem to take some photos of the lake. On the way, I stopped at a corner to capture some street shots, as well as a pic of the iconic City View Cafe.

When I was done, I glanced to my left and saw this young woman sitting on her motobike (they’re called “motobikes” in Vietnam, the “r” is dropped … and the term “scooter” is completely unknown to the locals). I don’t know if she was waiting for someone or just taking a break from the traffic, but she didn’t seem to be in any hurry, so I approached her and asked if she’d be willing to let me take her photograph. Somewhat to my surprise, she was completely comfortable with it.
I quite like this photo. I think it’s got a mood to it that represents Hanoi’s nights pretty well. The only real flaw (as far as my amateur eye can tell) is it’s a little blurry around her head and face. She did an excellent job staying still, but I had the camera set at a pretty slow shutter speed (0.8 second) and there was some slight movement.

Saint Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi

I haven’t been able to post as frequently as I’d like recently. The Korean school semester is approaching its end and I’ve been busy making final exams and tallying performance scores.  And when I actually have had time to post, the Vietnamese government has for some reason decided that WordPress is a threat – forcing me to have to use an IP proxy which even when it works often slows things down incredibly.

At any rate, I decided to take some photos of Saint Joseph Cathedral in the heart of Hanoi a couple of weeks ago. I set up my tripod on the rooftop of a place across the street called Marilyn Cafe before dusk, settled down with a nice glass of iced Vietnamese coffee, and waited for the sun to go down.

This was the second-best location on the rooftop. Unfortunately, the best spot was occupied by a couple of female tourists from Switzerland. Actually, it wasn’t so unfortunate as they were quite pleasant.  And, really, the only issue with this location was that there were some branches from a nearby tree in the frame, which was easily fixable. I just bent the branches back and lodged them behind some others.

The Crossing

I made the 20-30 minute trek on motorbike through the harrowing Hanoi traffic to take photos of Long Bien Bridge, but within moments after I had stopped on the bridge to take some shots of the dark clouds hovering imposingly over the Red River, the raindrops started to fall. And in Vietnam, when the raindrops start to fall, they fall hard. “Crap!” I thought, “I came all this way to get some evening shots of the bridge and I’ll be damned if I come away with nothing.” I turned toward the bridge and started taking photos of the structure. I had to pause intermittently to wipe raindrops from my lens. Then, there was a brief lull in the rain, so I had time to contemplate decent angles. I decided on the one you see in the photo and waited until there was a steady stream of motorbike traffic to give the photo some life. (Actually, I took a couple of pics before this one in case the rain started coming down hard again.)

A few minutes later the rain started again, but I continued on across the bridge. By the time I reached the end, the rain was pouring down. Most motorists pull over to the side of the road to take their rain parkas out from under the seats of their motorbikes upon the first few drops, but for some reason I’m quite stubborn about this. I prefer to tough it out until it reaches a point where it comes down to my getting completely drenched or not. On this day, the decision was easy. I pulled to a stop under the hanging branches of a tree and put on my parka. I felt a little discouraged because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get some wide-angle shots of the bridge and the river. Nevertheless, I decided to drive around a little to scout out locations for future shoots. Ten minutes later, the rain stopped again and soon after that I found a nice, secluded spot with a good view of the bridge.

One final note about this day: In my youth I had some uneasiness riding over bridges stemming from dreams/nightmares that I had of bridges collapsing as I crossed them. I managed to work all of that out over the years, but I felt it again while riding on my motorbike. I guess it had something to do with being in the open air. Still, it wouldn’t stop me from returning to Long Bien Bridge.

Long Bien Bridge (Wikipedia) 

Long Bien Bridge

The story behind this photo: I set up my tripod in a fairly isolated area on the east side of the Red River to take this pic. The only sign of life was a group of men drinking at a bia hoi that sat on the opposite side of the road running along the river bank. Two of the men strayed over to see what I was up to. I must admit I was a little apprehensive. They were a little drunk and – the area being isolated – I contemplated what I would do should they try to make off with my equipment. As it turned out, they were both nice enough fellows; though they weren’t too helpful suggesting that I’d get a better picture if I held the camera in my hands. I tried to explain to them in my limited Vietnamese that the slow shutter speed wouldn’t allow a good hand-held shot, but I’m afraid I failed to get the point across as they suggested three or four more times that I should take the camera off the tripod.

Bubble Boy

I took my daughter and her nanny to the Thu Le Zoo in Hanoi yesterday. They have this activity set up on the lake where people (mostly kids) climb inside an over-sized beach ball which is then filled up with air, sealed, and rolled out onto the water. The kids then enjoy bouncing around – but mostly falling down – on the water for about 15 minutes before young men working lakeside pull them back in using a tether.

It all seems like harmless fun, but I would never dream of taking my daughter in one of these. As long as it’s fully inflated, the beach ball is easy for the men to pull back to the edge of the water. But if, god forbid, it started leaking air and/or water started seeping inside, the person would start to sink and would provide considerable drag, making it difficult to pull them back. Not to mention the fact that they’d be sinking in water while fully-wrapped in plastic.

Ho Tay (West Lake) at Dusk

I bought a tripod over the weekend. Hooray! This is one of the first photos I took with it. It’s a view of Ho Tay from the roof of my apartment building.