Gypsy Vendor, Hanoi, by Charlie Grosso

Here in Hanoi, there are two different kinds of street vendors. The one with a stall or a shop front, however small they might be, they are stationary. The stall might be occupying part of the alley, blocking traffic, and the menu could be vinyl letters on the outside of the building just above the giant pot of stock. It doesn’t matter how impromptu it is, you know where to find them and if you like what they are selling, you can go back. Pho ma will be on this same corner tomorrow.

Then there is what I like to call the gypsy vendors. They are either carrying their goods in two baskets, balanced on a stick; or elaborately staged on a pushbike and once in a while a two-wheel cart. The selection goods run the gamut. From feather dusters, to toilet papers, to fresh fruit, to various kinds of snacks and even congee. These gypsy vendors wander up and down the street, intently peering into shop windows, trying to catch your eye to see if you want what they’ve got.

All afternoon long, there is a long parade of gypsy vendors passing by my “office.”
I often wonder what they are selling. The home goods and fresh produce are obvious. It’s the ones who pass by with snacks that are a complete mystery. What kind of deliciousness do you have inside of your basket? Hiding in the cart?

You have to be quick in these matters. The gypsy vendors might not be running a mile a minute but they do have a certain momentum. They don’t linger from window to window, they casually walk-by, at a leisurely pace, and if you don’t catch their eye before they look away, or vice versa, it is too late. I guess I could grab my wallet and chase them down the street — except, I don’t know what I am chasing after. It could be snake bile for all I know.

I managed to luck out and catch the gypsy snack ladies on two separate occasions. The first one, I jumped up at the sight of the cart and rushed out the coffee shop. Thank god it was deliciousness (adzuki bean soup, grass jelly and a bit of shredded coconut on top) and not something horrible. I would have felt bad if I made her stop, looked inside her pot and shook my head from revulsion. The second time it was congee with crullers and fish floss.

However the gypsy street snack business is infuriatingly inefficient.
I would like a snack. Given enough time, a yummy snack will walk by my office window. Except, I don’t know when and if I am stopping the right lady. What if I stop someone selling congee when I want something sweet? The need to pay attention to what is going on outside distracts me from work. I would like a snack now; it could be another hour before the right lady walks by.

Everyday is an adventure.

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