But I don’t know which one to tell you. Should I tell you about eating dog in Vietnam? Or the experience of being Country Table Coordinator at the HIWC Charity Bazaar (which looks set to be a record-breaking fundraiser this year, having taken $115,000 by the end of the day), or maybe I could talk about attitudes to Christmas here in a Communist/Buddhist country? Or how about the trip to Cinematheque with my book group to meet LeLy Hayslip?
Okay, I’m going to talk about the cinema trip – if you want to hear about the others send me a message and I’ll oblige. I belong to two book groups out here and am planning to start another. Both are through the Hanoi International Women’s Club (HIWC) and both are very different in character and membership. The lunchtime group is older women (oh okay, more my own age) – generally women who aren’t working, American, British, one Indian lady and a Scottish lady who has lived in Geneva for years. We host the group in turns and the host provides lunch – either home cooked or bought in. We meet from 11.00 – 1.30 and never have any problems talking about the book and veering off into fascinating discussions sparked by the theme. We’ve read and discussed books such as ‘The House of Velvet & Glass’ and ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ and are about to meet to discuss ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ (which is short stories – a genre I would never choose and I’m loving them). Choosing books always feel a little like pulling teeth and there’s only one or two of us who suggest any – not sure why!
But, I’m digressing because it’s actually a book that I’ve been reading through evening book group that I want to talk about. Evening book group is younger women – i.e. women who work or are still active mums (as opposed to me whose kids are back in the UK and aged between 18 – 26 years). We take it in turns to choose a book and the ‘chooser’ hosts. We usually get together in the host’s house at around 7.30 and enjoy wine and nibbles whilst having some very lively debates! We’ve read books like (the fabulous) The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman and The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhharta Mukherjee (a biography of Cancer which is brilliantly written, easy to read and absolutely fascinating). Our latest book was ‘When Heaven and Earth Changed Places‘ by LeLy Hayslip. Not entirely by coincidence, this was chosen because we felt we should read some Vietnamese literature and this won out over other suggestions as LeLy was scheduled to visit Hanoi in December.
Several of us are members of a delightful independent cinema club called Cinematheque Hanoi who tend to have themes and special screenings, including Q & A sessions with the author or director of a film when possible. (They’re about to start a week of David Lean films, including the first showing in Asia of the new HD version of Lawrence of Arabia – I’ve already booked my seat!). LeLy Hayslip’s book is about her experiences growing up in Ky La, a village near Da Nang in central Vietnam – caught between the Viet Cong and the Republican Army. Her graphic account was made into a film in the 1990s (I think) by Oliver Stone. She was at the screening, having prepared (with some Buddhist monks) a fantastic vegetarian buffet supper for all guests and then conducted a Q&A at the end.
So, 6 of us met up at Cinematheque for supper and a bottle of wine, all confessed that we hadn’t finished the book but were enjoying it. We met LeLy and were blown away by the film – a little Americanised for sure but great nonetheless. The Q&A was fascinating and LeLy was so open, honest and friendly it was hard to equate her with the traumatic life of the character on the screen. She donated all proceeds on the night to a charity she established in 1998 to help to heal the wounds between America and Vietnam following the war – East Meets West Foundation. What struck me, sitting in a red velvet seat, in a 90-seat capacity, independent cinema, sipping my glass of wine, with friends was how unbelievably lucky I am to have these opportunities. Where else could I meet such an inspiring woman in person, and enjoy her food, life-story and company among friends.
And where was my husband at the time? Out with a group of French friends enjoying an evening at L’Opera Hanoi listening to a Jazz concert featuring Vietnam’s most famous saxophonist. Sometimes the choices we are having to make about how to spend our leisure time are almost absurd. I’ve always said that I wish I could have two parallel lives – one with the choices I do make, and one with the choices I didn’t make. Never has this been more true than here in Hanoi where on many occasions we’re having to choose between almost impossibly fabulous events. In the end it usually comes down to which one we’ve said yes to first! Ah, it’s a great life eh!