Hanoi is difficult to encapsulate in a few words.
On the one hand it's chaos personified with the constant whir of motorbikes whizzing past -in all directions without any traffic signals (note: when crossing the street, pedestrians should not glance both ways and instead focus solely on looking ahead, walking at a constant pace so as to assist the passing motorists who are anticipating their every move).
On the other hand, people seem to live very simply. I observed thousands sitting on the ground just watching as others walked by. Some people played cards, while others (women) plucked grey hairs from a friend's head. But mostly, people just watched.
Hanoi is hardly the poster child for communism. Poverty is rampant and virtually inescapable. I saw numerous people digging through trash looking for scraps of anything (cans, straws, wire, plastic caps, etc.) that could be repurposed or sold.
And yet... there are pockets of luxury which seem freakishly out-of-place. I am embarrassed to admit that I sought out a few of these places to temporarily escape from the destitution which envelops Hanoi. The Metropole Hotel was like an oasis of calm in the midst of the chaos, and some of the most incredible meals I've had in my life were in the city's fine restaurants (more on that later).
If there's a principal takeaway from my brief experience in Hanoi it is this: my life is abundantly rich and not because of my own doing -through Providence alone I have more than I need; to hoard these resources would be unconscionable.