I am about three months into my stay in Hanoi, and I think I have finally mastered the skill of crossing the street. Scooters and motorbikes far outnumber cars on the road, and there is a trick to manoeuvring your way through the steady flow of traffic. The best approach is to start walking confidently, keeping a steady pace all the way across the road. Drivers won’t stop for a person crossing the street, but they will slow down or swerve to avoid you by an inch or two, so changing your pace partway across the street can throw off their timing and cause an accident. When crossing as a group, my friends and I abide by the sticky rice principle – sticking as close together as possible and travelling as one mass. This strategy has served us well when crossing the eight lanes of traffic between the UN building and our favourite coconut coffee shop.
This month I spent a weekend exploring the southeast-most stretch of the Hoang Lien Son mountains at Xuan Son National Park. The village of Ban Coi remains seemingly untouched by tourism, so I was able to watch rice farmers working in their fields before parading down from the village to hop into a swimming hole at the end of the day. I was excited to get a glimpse into some of the more traditional ways of life that have been preserved by villagers in Ban Coi – Hanoi is a fantastic city, but the influence of the large number of Westerners who live here is evidenced by the ease with which a person can find a Starbucks. Experiencing traditional culture at Xuan Son also meant trying some local dishes, and while I was grateful for an authentic Vietnamese meal, I could have done without the chicken foot in my soup.
Over the past few weeks I have also had the chance to interact with some of the other UN agencies working in Vietnam. The Green One UN House (GOUNH) where UNDP Vietnam is based is also home to organizations including UN Women, FAO, IOM, UNICEF, WHO, IMF, and myriad others. Working at GOUNH means that I have had the opportunity to gain exposure to the work of these agencies, many of which are housed only a few desks away.
Last month I attended a screening of a documentary about rapidly disappearing coral reefs hosted by the EU Delegation to Vietnam, and later that week I sat in on an IOM outreach event after meeting the Head of Office for the IOM outside the café at GOUNH. Last week I unknowingly sat down at a lunch table with someone from the UNDP Mine Action Team, and we chatted about his work toward eradicating the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war. I sometimes take a moment to appreciate just how incredibly neat it is to be so close to the diverse work each of the agencies housed at GOUNH is doing to contribute to their respective areas of sustainable development and global cooperation.