Saturday, November 20, 2010

Happy Happy Happy in Hanoi

Caught in a shroud of smog and incense, Cape Town is now set a distant time and place. With Vespas zooming by within a hair’s distance of my body and heaps of noodles being dished up at every corner, South Africa couldn’t seem any further away. And for the first time on this trip, I feel homesick – not for Kuwait, not really for India, not even for Williams, but for the glorious city of Cape Town. Hiking up Table Mountain might be strenuous and exhausting, but once you’re at the top, it’s nirvana: mountains and oceans come together in to find a city that is truly eternal.

The last week in South Africa was our one vacation over the course of the semester. I spent it in style, first heading to the glorious winelands followed by four days at a beachside apartment in the surfer’s village of Muizenberg. Camped out in the stunning university town of Stellenbosch, the wine country’s unofficial capital, I spent the first half of our holiday reveling in one long Bacchanal. From winery to winery, restaurant to amazing restaurant, I lived in a hedonist’s paradise. With friends in tow, we went to Paarl to muck around at the Taal monument, to Franschhoek to dine in delight and around Stellenbosch to discover its tranquil splendor. Pierre, an eighteen year-old French exchange student who was living with my first home stay family through his yearlong English program, had come to join us. With his boyish good looks and instant charm, he was an immediate hit with everyone – break just would not have been the same without this amiable Frenchman’s presence and his connoisseurship of wine and good food. I miss him and his lost puppy dog ways dearly already.

We spent the second half of the week lazing around an apartment and bumming around the beach. I got to do what I’ve always wanted to do in life: wake up early to get bread fresh out of the oven at the local bakery, pick up coffee and do yoga all before everyone else in the house had woken up. Over those four days, I cooked up a storm. Best creations? Maybe it was my Thai Ramen with chicken, shitake, baby corn and snow peas? Or possibly even some French Toast with melted Brie and blueberry coulis? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

Four our last night in Cape Town, we went out with a bang. After having spent the day visiting with the penguins at Boulders Beach and then eating with the baboons at Cape Point, a bunch of us went to the Capetonian outpost of Nobu for a final celebratory dinner. Sitting on the eastbound flight the following morning, mere hours after saying goodbye to my Bo-Kaap host family, to Pierre and to Table Mountain, it was hard not to let my excitement get muddled up with the feeling that I had left something behind.

But Vietnam doesn’t allow for any sappy Eeyore-like pondering. Hanoi is has been amazing so far. As I sit under a fan, getting ready for bed in a mosquito net, I feel like I’m as close to be being back in India as I can get without actually being there. We spent the first few days in the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi where the hustle and bustle of nonstop activity had our senses abuzz. The best thing about Vietnam? The food, duh. Pho everywhere; noodles for every meal. Delicious Vietnamese coffee’s milky sweetness. It’s nothing short of amazing satisfaction.

Now if only I could be assured that I won’t get hit by a speeding motorcycle…

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