At home in Hanoi; My favorite placeThere...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

At home in Hanoi; My favorite place

There are places I have been to for which I have no address, but could, if pressed, describe how to find them. And then there are others that I could never find again if I tried, like the noodle shop in Hanoi where I ate a steaming bowl of po, seated on a pail turned upside down next to a young man named Tran. I arrived there on the back of Tran's moped and the insides of my calves were black with motor oil. I was one of only two women in this lean-to on a downtown side street, and this made me an oddity. I would eat what they served me. I was eager to prove my masculinity.

The soup, loaded with bok choy and lemon grass, swollen noodles and cilantro, ginger and wafers of chicken floating in a rich broth, was still bubbling when it arrived. Travelers are always warned about eating outside of established restaurants, but I was banking on old Girl Scout survival skills: When lost in the woods, always boil your water. High heat is a vampire's cross to germs.

Squatting at a little wooden table, elbows resting on my knees, balancing on my pail, I felt authentic. I was one with the old men who, after my first labored bites, stopped watching me. I was no longer novel, I was shoveling with chopsticks and slurping my noodles, and drinking the broth like a tonic.

Without asking, the cook brought me more dishes - little meatballs in a savory gravy, shrimp grilled in crushed peanuts - then a surprisingly cold bottle of Ba Ba Ba beer, the national brew with three bright red "3s" on its label. (Ba is Vietnamese for three.) To order a beer, say ba ba ba, very fast. It works every

time.

I ate in quiet happiness. The fluorescent lights, two parallel tubes above the cement floor, flickered and night's bugs drifted in and out of the open side. From the street I could hear the backfire of a thousand mopeds, the quintessential sound of Asia. The city was a sea of motorbikes, pedicabs and black bicycles, even at midnight. The air was hot with smog and the sky was smoky.

With a full belly, I crawled back on my scooter and, clinging to my friend, Tran, joined this throng of night owls roaring through the streets of Hanoi.

Ann Schlott lives in Baltimore.

Three young lions digest a night-time kill on the Serengeti plains in northern Tanzania. Several lion prides lived around our camp. A lion researcher camped in an anti-poaching operation nearby had given them all names. Pictured here are Absolut, Jack Daniels and Tia Maria. Acclimated to the presence of humans, and confidently vain of their regal status, lions will give you a majestic pose if you are quiet, patient and respectfully distant - a 300mm lens helps.

Chick Lord, Baltimore

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