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In the Old Quarter of Hanoi, a short walk from the landmark Hoan Kiem Lake, there is a street unlike any other you will ever see. Most people refer to it simply as Train Street. For the Hanoians who live along this slice of track, it is their home. It’s where kids play, laundry hangs, men shout and moms gossip as they hover over pots of steaming broth. It’s a normal Vietnamese community—well, almost.
If you ignore the two steel tracks weaving a parallel arch through this neighborhood, you’d have a hard time distinguishing it from any of the dozens of other narrow alleys cutting jagged paths through the cement landscape of old Hanoi. Lush trees dangle over head, while uneven stones leave you staggering every couple of steps. Delicious aromas waft from kitchen windows, while smog hangs in the air and leaves a faint taste of exhaust on your tongue. Train street is just like many other similar streets throughout Vietnam.
The trains come rumbling through twice a day, at 3:30pm and 7:30pm. There’s no warning siren, and certainly no wild panic as residents flee the oncoming behemoth. Rather, the community seems to operate on an internal clock of routines. As the time approaches, everything crowding the tracks just disappears into the tall homes and businesses lining the way. By the time the train actually arrives, there’s usually just a few curious foreigners left outside to brush noses with the iron beast.
Even during the hours when there’s a risk a train could fly around the corner any second, life still happens. The people living along Train Street still have errands and jobs to do. The tracks stay cleared, but the sides are tiny lanes for motorbikes and bicycles. They’re also an overflow area for when the kitchen runs out of space.
You can feel the tracks vibrating long before you see the train. It approaches in a low roar of screeching metal and blaring horns to shoo away the last few stragglers who’ve grown accustomed to the train and no longer fear it, or those moronic tourists who play chicken with the train for a bit of adrenaline. The train itself is long, painted blue and red. When it goes by, the train leaves gusts of smoke and dust. It’s a wild sensation to be on a tiny street next to a rumbling giant.
And then, like water behind a boat, life spills back onto the tracks. The kids are let outside to play again, and watchful grandmas perch on their stools to keep an eye on the comings and goings of daily life. The people who live on Train Street have developed a harmonious coexistence with the dangers inherent to their community. Resilience is synonymous with Vietnamese, and this unique street is one of the best showcases.